What Is a CSA? How Do I Choose One? – Part I

What Is a CSA? How Do I Choose One? – Part I

Madison is filled with good food. No matter what part of the city we live in, we are minutes from finding quality food. Over the past five years, restaurants have provided more and more farm to table options on their menu. Local grocery stores have also jumped on board to provide more and more healthy options. However, the best part in all of this is that we have multiple farms to choose from when it comes to purchasing a CSA each year.


 But wait, what is a CSA?

CSA Stands for Community Supported Agriculture. CSA allows city residents to have direct access to high quality, fresh produce grown locally by regional farmers. When you become a member of a CSA, you’re purchasing a “share” of vegetables from a regional farmer. (http://www.justfood.org/csa)

Madison has so many CSA choices that it almost seems too intimidating to try and figure it out. The following information will help you get started. Below is a Q&A to help you in your decision-making process. At the end of this article, you will see a website for a CSA coalition. This helps you narrow down your choices. There are so many questions that can be answered around choosing the right CSA for you, that I’ve broken it into two separate articles. This first article will give you enough information to get started on your research.

When does CSA sign up take place?

CSA sign up can start as early as February, but the sign up time frame depends on which farm you are interested in. Generally speaking, you want to sign up sometime between February and April. If it is a really popular farm, you want to make sure that you sign up as quickly as possible because farms only sell so many shares of their farm. However, some farms may be new or not as well known. Rest assured, there are many farms to choose from, so even if you don’t get your first choice, there are plenty of other farms to choose from.

 How much does a CSA cost?

A CSA typically costs between $400-600 for the season (May-October), but can vary depending on what you purchase. Don’t let that scare you though. Many local health insurance companies will reimburse you some amount of money for signing up for a CSA. For example, Physician’s Plus reimburses $200 through their Good Health Bonus. You can also find a friend to share your CSA with and split the box each week after you receive it. Lastly, don’t forget that you will save money at the grocery store each week because you will not need to buy vegetables.

 Do I have to pay for my entire CSA upfront?

It depends on the farm. Some farms require that you pay for your CSA at your signup time. However, some will allow you to spread the payments between several different months. You will want to make sure you know what your payment options are before committing to a CSA.

 Where do I pick up my vegetables?

Every farm has different pickup locations. You will want to pick up your pick up location close to your work or home. When you search for a farm, always check to see where the pick up location is because that could make or break your decision about a farm. Most of the time you pick up your weekly CSA’s at a local store, a CSA shareholder’s house, the farmer’s market, or the farm directly.

 Do I get to pick the vegetables that I want?

It depends on the farm. Most farms do not give you the choice to pick out what vegetables you want. The vegetables you receive depend on what is ripe and that changes throughout the summer. That being said, it is a wonderful way for you and your children to try vegetables that you may not normally buy at the grocery store. JenEhr Family Farm (www.jenehrfamilyfarm.com), is a farm that allows you to purchase a “Market Share” CSA. Instead of picking up your vegetables box each week, you can go to the farmer’s market on Saturday and have an allowance to purchase any vegetables that you want. I’m sure there are other farms that do this as well. Farm’s typically have a website and these types of choices are indicated.

 Where do I search for a CSA in Madison?

The best place to search for a farm when you are starting from scratch is the CSA Coalition website. This website can answer just about any question that you have. You can narrow your search for a farm depending on your needs. The website is: http://www.csacoalition.org/

The questions above will give you enough information to get started. Part 2 will answer more questions and provide more resources as you consider choosing which farm to purchase your CSA from.





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3 Responses to What Is a CSA? How Do I Choose One? – Part I

  1. Courtney April 7, 2015 at 6:41 am #

    Great advice, but ironic that you included a photo of the Madison Farmer’s Market — that’s why we no longer participate in a CSA. We would rather spread our dollars out to multiple farmers to get what we want and need, as opposed to having too much of one thing and not enough of another. Plus, picking up a CSA box is a lot less fun than going to the market.

  2. Tara
    Tara April 7, 2015 at 4:40 pm #

    Great tips Katie!! We plan to do a half share or a split this year. We still will frequent the farmer’s markets but I love that I’ll be able to help support a local organic farm and have the challenge of using the produce in my box!!


  1. What Is a CSA? How Do I Choose One? – Part II | Madison Moms Blog - May 20, 2015

    […] almost time to pick up our first CSA box of the season. Last month we started out by talking about what a CSA is and how to pick a CSA. This month we will continue our Q&A about […]

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