How to Choose a CSA: Your Complete Guide

I didn’t really make any formal announcements on the blog, but on Instagram I let everyone know…I’m getting a certificate in holistic health coaching! I’m not really sure what I plan to do with that, but I knew immediately I wanted to shift my content to be more wellness focused. It was actually in my health coaching classes I first heard of a CSA and thought to myself…a blog post all about how to choose a CSA seems legit.

So, here we are. Let’s talk all things CSAs, eating local food, and supporting local farmers!

Find out how to choose a csa in this handy blog post all about finding the right community supported agriculture option for you!

What does CSA stand for?

CSA stands for community supported agriculture.

So what exactly is a CSA?

A CSA helps connect you to your local farmers and farms. When subscribing to a CSA, you’re subscribing to basically a box of fresh produce delivered to a local pick up area near you at scheduled intervals.

My husband and I are subscribed to a fruit CSA here in the Bay Area that delivers to a local drop off spot every other week. We had the option of choosing from a variety of sized boxes – we ordered a small “two person” sized box we pick up every two weeks for a price of $16.50 per box. Each box comes with a variety of fruits (we joined a fruit specific CSA), often six items at minimum.

There are many different types of CSAs, but all CSAs will include different items based on the season. I’ve been loving enjoying seasonal produce – and the accompanying seasonal recipes our farmer includes with each box!

How can I find a CSA to join?

There are a lot of CSA directories out there. I personally used this one when selecting a CSA to join and simply filtered by pick up locations near our home address. Many of our local CSAs had waitlists, so I signed up with my email address to get notifications for any openings.

Things to think about when choosing a CSA for you.

I remember when I was looking through the endless directory of CSA farm options in the Bay Area, I honestly felt overwhelmed. There are a handful of things I recommend thinking over when you’re figuring out how to choose a CSA.

Where do you want to pick up your CSA box from?

It may seem tempting to start your CSA search by filtering for all the delicious foods offered – but in all honesty I recommend first choosing a CSA based on location. If you’re picking up a box every other week, or maybe even every week, you’ll want to make sure your pickup location is convenient and easy for you to get to. Joining a CSA should be fun! Pickups shouldn’t be a chore, so finding a location that’s easy for you to get to reduces stress and makes the outing a fun event for the day.

Our CSA pickup spot is about a 15 minute walk from our apartment, making it a really nice little stroll to get some fresh air during these quarantined times. There isn’t anyone really monitoring the pickup. We simply arrive, pick up our size of box, and use our own pen to sign out on a sign out sheet left near the boxes. Boom – done! Easy as pie.

Find out how to choose a csa in this handy blog post all about finding the right community supported agriculture option for you!

What CSAs have openings in your area?

Truthfully, the biggest hurdle I had when figuring out how to choose a CSA was that so few CSA farms in our area are even accepting new members. They were all full!

I wish you all a much easier experience than I had with finding a CSA that had openings. Like I said earlier, I made sure to give my email and add myself to various waitlists, so that when openings did happen I was notified immediately and quickly signed up for the vacant spot. Thankfully it only took a few weeks for a spot to open up with the fruit CSA we are a part of now!

What type of CSA do you want to join – what do you want in your box?

Once you’ve found all the CSA pickup spots convenient to you and have found CSAs with open membership slots, the fun part is deciding what produce you want in your subscription box!

There are truly CSAs for all sorts of produce and products. From fruits to veggies, and even items like bread, honey, and cheese – there are SO many great options it makes my mouth water just writing this post.

We ended up subscribing to a fruit box purely because that was the only option available (again – all the CSAs are booked up where we live). But we’ve had no regrets. Delicious, hand picked, local fruit every week at a reasonable price? Into it.

To go certified organic, or not to go certified organic? That is the question.

One of the things you’ve probably heard about endlessly when researching how to choose a CSA is the debate about certified organic. We actually had an entire module in my health coaching school all about organic foods and when to choose them. The long story short? Organic is amazing and if you can afford it or have that option, that’s great – but choose local over organic every time.

A lot of nutrition benefits are lost when food has to come from far away – from preservatives needed to keep the food fresh to just general nutrients lost during transit time. In addition to this, the requirements needed to be a USDA certified organic farm or have USDA certified organic items may be costly and difficult for a small farm – even when they aren’t using harmful pesticides and are farming in the healthiest of ways! My recommendation would be to shoot an email to the farm to ask about growing practices rather than focusing only on USDA organic certifications.

Why join a CSA vs making trips to the farmers market?

…why not do both? See what I did there – lol! Farmers markets and CSAs honestly both have their place in my produce purchasing patterns. I love my dedicated fruit CSA because I get a curated, hand selected box filled with all the best items vs having to go booth to booth selecting those myself at the market.

That being said – we love a good stroll to the local farmers market here in San Francisco! The markets allow us to buy from multiple farmers and also share in that awesome experience with other folks at the market as well. Farmers markets bring a real sense of variety and community to our life.

My favorite thing about being part of a CSA.

By far my favorite part of joining a CSA is learning to cook not by single recipes I’m craving, but based on growing season and what is available at a specific time of year. This is SUCH a different way to cook than we all typically abide by. With grocery stores making all foods abundant at all seasons, it’s so easy to pick produce based on recipes.

There are so many amazing benefits of cooking seasonally based on what produce is grown at a specific time of year such as eating fresher foods and getting back to our primal eating basics. We didn’t always have berries or avocados all year round!

Got tips and tricks on how to choose a CSA? Drop ’em in the comments below!

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