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Food Choices – CSA, Farm Shares & Other Options

July 26, 2012

Food options can be confusing in the typical grocery store. In some areas just ordering water is a challenge – flavored water (what flavor?), tap water, spring water, bottled water…and you may just want wet water! So what if in your quest for local food you find even more choices? Are you ready?!

Two fairly common food choice options are CSA – community supported agriculture – and farm shares. These may have many similarities, but big differences also. Some states offer even further options, such as dairy shares where you own part of a cow or goat and thus get part of her production. This can vary from state to state, and may not be legal in your area for reasons of food safety.

Community supported agriculture you typically pay a flat fee at the beginning of the year, although many now have payments of so much per month. This allows the farmer the benefit of a ready market for his or her crop. This also balances the risk – you may get a bumper crop or may get nothing if there’s crop failure. Typically there are many choices that vary, garden produce, herbs, some provide eggs or special deals on meats. Whatever is grown is split between the number of people signed up. There usually isn’t a great deal of choice, but may be a way to try eggplant or other items that you wouldn’t try ‘from the store.’

Farm shares may be much the same, but typically are for specific things. For example, where a CSA may divide a garden area between 20-30 people, more for larger operations, a farm share you may split a hog with 1 other person, or a calf crop with 20 people. There’s a better idea, usually, of what is involved. Perhaps it’s dairy or eggs from hens or a share of a pepper project.

Both of these options are a direct way of working with a farm. There may be events during the year, or extra opportunities. Some folks find it’s too much produce and don’t want to process themselves, so it ends up not being a good fit for them.

The number of food options is incredible. For example, at the store you’ll typically see green (or yellow or red) bell peppers, sometimes jalapenos. These are the predominate choices available for those who deal with volume production that such stores require. They ship well, they handle the production level needed – they’re a known commodity. With direct purchasing you might get Big Jim, Beaver Dam or a host of other peppers. They may be not only green, yellow and red but orange, purple, ‘chocolate’, white and a rainbow of colors! There are thousands of varieties of sweet peppers, and that of hot peppers also!

Tomato varieties are many, as are many of the other produce options far beyond what grocery stores can provide in a limited room in volume required by customers. The options are many!

There are increasingly hybrid systems, such as ours, that offer customizations. For example, if you don’t like tomatoes, or are allergic to eggs, those items can be left off of your options. If you are adventurous you might choose some things you may not find or grow yourself. Perhaps you’re interested in gourds for crafts, or have pets that you’d like to feed. Increasingly, farms are offering options for vegetables for pet birds, meats for dogs, cats or snakes and a host of other options.

Some of these ‘slow food’ or ‘heritage options’ are a disappointment if they aren’t “pretty” as the grocery store. They are different, and that’s why they are in a niche market of food choices rather than mainstream. The tastes are incredible, but we’d be remiss to not mention those folks who are taken aback by appearance and don’t want “ugly food” even if it was requested.

The options are many, and local is just the first step of the journey.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 28, 2012 10:50 AM

    Nice write up on the distinctions of the various hybrids that are popping up. I’ve found a couple of new services in my area that say local but when I dug in, they were bringing in stuff out of state. You really do have to have a greater awareness.

    • July 28, 2012 12:48 PM

      Thanks for visiting Tammy. There may be reasons for that. Many, such as what we’re doing, have a limited amount of space, labor, time etc for what they do best. For us, we like herbs, tomatoes and peppers – but we may have customers who *also* want pumpkins and sweet corn. We could add that from someone else, but I agree it would be very dishonest to say we grew it. The other thing is what bothers some may not bother someone else. We’re looking at serving Nashville TN including as we get our land – which would be across the Kentucky line and out of state, but at an hour away would be closer than some in east Tennessee. That may or may not bother some. If you live near a state line it may be closer to cross the state line than drive an hour south. That said, my point in writing this series was to encourage everyone to do that digging in, to decide what is important to them in their food choices and look at alternatives. Thanks for visiting and commenting!! Agriculture is changing all the time and I think often folks don’t realize how much empowerment they have in those food choices! Both large and small operations know the truth.

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