CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. CSA's allow for people to purchase local food, in season, from local farmers. Sounds like a win-win to me! We just joined a meat share CSA for this year to provide us with local pork and poultry. Let me explain to you how a CSA works, using the one we just joined as an example.
The farmer we purchased our CSA share from farms pasture raised pork, chicken and turkeys. (Beef to come next year, in the mean time, we are still searching our beef options). He offers 30 CSA shares - each share is a set cost and includes 1/4 a hog (approx. 40#), 10 chickens, 20 dozen eggs and 1 Thanksgiving turkey. Because this amount is sufficient enough for our family for the time frame the CSA runs, we chose to purchase just one share. Larger families may like to purchase additional shares.
We have our own hens joining our farm soon so I asked the farmer if we could purchase the Pork/Poultry share minus the 20 dozen eggs. He had no problem with that and deducted the cost of the eggs from the total amount of the share. Don't be afraid to ask, when inquiring on a CSA share, if something can be subtracted from it if you do not need it. Some farmers specifically state that you can request, for example, more tomato's in place of summer squash, if you do not eat summer squash. This farmer also offers a poultry only share that I was going to do, missing out on the pork, because I thought I would have to accept the eggs that came with the Pork/Poultry share. This is why it's always good to ask!
Every CSA is laid out different in terms of details, including payment. Our farmer is gracious enough to accept payments on the share, instead of requiring it in one lump sum up front. So, we have agreed to mail him 2 payments, and make the final payment on our share when we drive to his farm for our first pick-up in June! Don't hesitate to ask if the farmer offers a payment plan - most are willing to work with their customers.
Our CSA share will run from June-November. We will have a 1x a month pick-up at the farm. The hog order comes to us all at once in what will most likely be the last pick-up, in November. Obviously, the Thanksgiving turkey will come to us in the November pick up as well. This leaves June-October to be pastured chickens in our pick-ups. The farmer will email us with a schedule of pick-up dates once we get closer to the start. Some CSA's have multiple pick-up options if they attend farmer's markets; they will allow CSA members to stop at the market to pick-up their share.
When I set out to look for a meat CSA, these are the things I was looking for:
Pasture raised/grass-fed meat (humanely raised as well!)
No Hormones/Antibiotics etc given to the animals
Meats we would eat
Heritage breeds a plus
No work required
So, let me explain a few of these. Obviously, it had to be affordable for us. I wanted the share to include meats we would eat. This share, as already mentioned, includes a whole turkey and chickens. The pork cuts include an assortment of pork chops, roasts, ribs, ham steaks, bacon, sausage, kielbasa, ground pork.
When I say heritage breeds of meat are a plus, I mean, heritagee breeds are a plus! As opposed to the frankenbirds that are usually what you get at the grocery store. Now before you get all hot on me, I have purchased 99.9% of my meat from grocery stores and a local butcher. But for the .1% that came from local farms, there is just no comparison. And this is what prompted us to start purchasing meat through a CSA instead. They say, 'Know your Farmer, Know your Food'....and now, we will! Most farmers offering CSA's are also happy to give you a tour of their farm, and, no pun in tended, let you meet your food!
The pork in our CSA share comes from a heritage pig breed, the Tamworth. According to the farmer, this breed is one of the oldest and rarest breeds of pig, originating in Staffordshire, England. They have the ability to gain weight off of the pasture grasses, something not possible with modern breeds of pigs. Tamworth pork is not sold in the grocery store as these pigs grow more slowly than the modern breeds and can not tolerate the cage confinement. Due to the slow growth and the fine grain of the meat, Tamworth pork is some of the best tasting pork you will ever eat. I can't wait to try it!
The turkey is also a heritage breed, as are the chickens. The chickens will weigh in around 5# and the turkeys can be up to 26#!
Some CSA's do require you put in so many hours of work on the farm. This is great for those wanting to experience farm life, learn how their food grows, and get some hands-on experience. For us, however, we searched out a 'no work required' CSA because, as you may have gathered, we have enough work of our own on our farm!
Other things I took into account when choosing this farm were the testimonials and reviews of his meats on his Local Harvest page. This is a great website for sourcing out CSA's in your area. And there are CSA's for more than you think! I have seen CSA's for fruit, veggies, meats and even fresh cut flower, local eggs, honey and maple syrup!
And just incase you are wondering how in the heck we'll be storing our CSA bounty, we're treating ourselves to a deep chest freezer with tax-return money! Big spenders over here -- let me tell ya! Some people take a vacation somewhere tropical - we buy a deep chest freezer :)
So tell me, do you belong to a CSA; what were your experiences? Would you like to join a CSA?