As you may or may not know, we’re subscribed to a CSA over here at the Pasto household. CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture”, and what this means is that we pay for and receive a box of produce every other week (soon to be every week) from a local farm. In specific, we’re with BeWise Ranch, whom we like very much. Some CSAs deliver their box to your house. Others have drop points in your neighborhood where you pick up your box (BeWise does this), while still others have drops at local farmers’ markets.The produce is all freshly picked and local, and in our experience, super-tasty.

If you don’t live in southern California, where we’re blessed with a year-round growing season, your local options for CSAs may be limited to only certain times of the year, or they may do farm exchanges with farms that are in different climate zones so that you receive more produce and more variety.

Why CSAs are cool:

One, you’re helping your local farming community by supporting them directly. They get the money, you get the produce, and the middleman and much of the packaging is cut out. You’re putting your money to work in your own community instead of giving it to some mega-corporation that may not even be in your state.

Two: your produce is fresher than you can get it unless you pick it yourself out of your backyard. Why? Because the folks at your CSA are local, and they’ve got very few miles to go between them and you. And fresher is better — not only is the food tastier, but it’s got more of its valuable nutrients still intact due to less time in transit.

Three: CSAs are often (but not always) organic or more-sustainably designed farming operations. Not only is what you’re doing good for your community, it’s good for the earth too.

Four: CSA produce costs compare favorably with produce costs at the grocery store. And that’s not just at the whole-foods marts; they actually compare well with the megamarts too.

Why CSAs are challenging:

One: You may receive more produce than you are used to eating, and thus have more food waste until you adapt and figure out what to do with it all. You can use this as an excuse to work more fruits and veggies into your diet, of course — they’re so good for you! You may also want to seek a CSA that has options for their box sizes, or split a box with a friend or family member that you see regularly. We currently split a large bi-weekly box with a friend, but are moving to a small weekly box (also split).

Two: You will have moments of “what do I do with THAT thing?” where you’re face-to-face with a plant you’ve never eaten before. A challenge to be sure, but fortunately, we live in the golden age of the Internet, where recipes are easily found. On the bright side, this will help you vary your diet and expand your cooking repertoire, and variety is not only the spice here, but the main course. (;

Three: You will have moments of “Ugh. I don’t like that.” If you’re a picky eater, you may want to go with a CSA that allows you to select the contents of your box (some do, some don’t), or again, you may want to split your box with someone who’s got a different taste in food than you do, so each of you gets food you like. This is also an opportunity to experiment further; when we started on the CSA, neither of us thought we liked beets, but we’ve found ways to eat them that we really enjoy.

Four: You will want to plan your weekly or biweekly food menu around your box, so you may need to shift your shopping day. This can be kind of a hassle. Check your CSA and see where and when their drop points are, and try to find the most convenient time and location. If your preferred CSA is very active, you may need to wait a quarter or two to see if space opens up at the most convenient time and place.

I’m planning on taking photos of my box and describing what we get each week when we start up the new quarter and are getting a weekly box. I hope it inspires you to seek out your own local produce!