My first year as a member of a CSA has now wrapped up (and just in time; it’s frosty out!) and although I’ve surprised myself by documenting the weeks’ deliveries, I figured an overall consideration of the experience might be educational.
So, to start: a brief photo-history of 4 and a half months of weekly organic vegetables. Very tasty!
Despite all of my bitching about the beet greens, I can see that they only featured for about half the weeks. Admittedly, all those weeks were in a row, which definitely didn’t help. After those 7 weeks, they were still on offer, but I usually chose turnip greens instead.
(For those wondering, any fractions referred to will be out of 16, since it’s not particularly fair to make assumptions about what would have been in the missed shipments.)
At a glance, the vegetables that featured in roughly half (or more) of the weeks were… beet greens, cucumber, salad turnips, carrots, summer squash and tomato. It’s pretty good, but I’d gladly see fewer beet greens or even salad turnips in favour of some “meatier” leafy greens.
Let’s talk about variety, or balance of each share.
In general, each week’s box consisted of 5 or 6 different types of vegetable (the first week having 4 and a couple of the later weeks having more than 6). I think that’s very reasonable: it allows people to mix things up a bit while still (hopefully) getting enough of each veggie to really give it a shot and try it out. So good job there.
Depending on classifications*, our CSA delivered somewhere around 18-20 different types of veggies over the course of the season. (* For example, I put all the summer squash together in one category, even though I know there were 6 or 7 different types.) Again, that’s pretty good, but I do have some complaints:
- No brassicas? What is up with that? No broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or cabbages, all of which I love. Is it a logistics thing (they’re late-season crops, too late in the year?) or just would take up too much space to grow enough to include in every share? I don’t know, but I was disappointed.
- Poor spread of alliums. We didn’t get any “normal” onions this year — Farmer Gord did chat to me a bit about the issues he was running into — but we did get green onion. Twice early on, and twice toward the end. No garlic at any point, aside from the scapes the first week. This doesn’t work for me. If you’re going to provide alliums, do it semi-regularly; these aren’t “vegetables” that you just eat — they’re a flavour baseline.
I shouldn’t whine too much about this one, since Gord said his plan was to have onions every week next year, but it just irked me. I was okay with buying the “flavouring” veg (celery, onions, garlic) myself.
- Better distribution of leafy greens. Between a quarter and a half of the deliveries featured Swiss chard, often with an option to choose Napa cabbage or Mesclun/arugula instead. To me, this isn’t a fair trade. Chard should be grouped with greens of similar density: collards, kale and kohlrabi (why so few weeks of the k’s?). Similarly, lettuce, mesclun and arugula can fight it out among themselves.
Lastly in this vein, why no spinach? Boo to the lack of spinach love.
- More cabbage-shape veggies. Really. I could do with a lot less lettuce, chard and salad greens, and more bok choi, gai lan, and napa cabbage.
- Beans made only 3 appearances this season; this seems low. In the wishful thinking department, snap peas could be nice too.
That’s quite a lot of negativity. Let’s go with some positives on the experience:
- Although it never seemed like we had enough, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes were in steady supply for half (or more) of the season. Good staples to have, and well spread-out — in two crops for the carrots and turnips!
- I’m not a huge fan of summer squash, but I admit the variety of types offered was really great. Similarly, the variety of tomato types was also nice to see.
- Further, being able to choose between a couple options week to week was a nice way of catering to individual tastes within the confine of the boxes.
- Having fresh herbs occasionally was really nice. Over the course of the season we had oregano twice, basil, mint and parsley, and every time they were delicious.
- There was a pretty even 3-way divide between produce that appeared in about half the boxes, a quarter of the boxes, or sporadically. While I may have issues with which veggies appeared in which categories (see above), I think in general, the farm probably worked pretty hard to create that balance, and I think it’s probably a good formula, even if not exactly to my taste.
If you’re wondering what we got overall, but can’t decipher the veggies in the picture, here’s a rough delivery summary, complete with my opinions about it:
|Frequency||Half||Quarter||Sporadic||New to me?|
|Cabbage-form (bok choi, napa)|
|Summer squash||Some new|
|The happy faces in the frequency columns describe how happy I am with that scheduling.|
On the quality of the produce. The first batch of turnip greens and most of the arugula was a little bug-eaten, the second crop of lettuces were… extremely brown-spotty and sketchy, and most of the large tomatoes were either frost-hardened or had that “we’ve been sitting on the ground” damp damage to them. Other than that, however, the produce delivered was pretty much perfect.
Given that the farm is organic, I’m willing to relax my pickiness a fair amount here (although really, I’d rather just not get lettuce than get lettuce that clearly isn’t “right”) and overall I was really happy with the quality and freshness.
So, that brings me to the “summary” part of all my rambling:
How do I feel about my CSA experience?
Generally, it was pretty much entirely positive. It was great to know that I’m buying seasonal food from less than 50km away, to get to talk to the person growing it, and to really feel the shifting of the season as the different veggies started coming into the deliveries. I have nothing bad to say about the CSA experience, of itself. I’m happy to have supported a local farm, and am looking forward to doing it again next year.
Specifically to this farm, it was a bit of a mixed bag. One of the reasons I chose this farm is that their site advertised heavy communication with the members. I signed on, knowing full well I’d be getting vegetables I had no idea what to do with, or how to prepare. Part of the “marketing” for the farm was that there would be weekly emails keeping folks updated on the farm itself (how the crops are doing, what the family is up to, etc.) as well as a sort of “sneak preview” of what would be in that week’s share, along with hints or recipes for how to prepare some of the veggies, for anyone who hadn’t tried them before.
We did get emails, mostly in the first month, but they were just reminders of the pick-up, or to let us know (once) that a delivery would be missed.
I’m not saying I need my CSA to tell me how to cook (after all, I have the internets!), but I am really disappointed that the promised communication (which, again, was a significant part of my decision-making) wasn’t even once delivered. That, in combination with some pretty inconsistent messaging about the shares pretty much made up my decision not to sign up again with them next year.
As you might have read, we’re ready to go with a different farm next year. That farm is much closer (less than 25km away), and also prides itself on communication. We’ll see how that works out! In the meantime… it’ll be weird to go veggie-shopping at the supermarket again!