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Chelsea Zero Waste Coalition: CSAs, a primer

Courtesy photo. An example of some of the items that can be found in a weekly CSA.

By Noelle Dronen

Noelle Dronen is a farmer-educator who lives with her family on a small homestead north of Chelsea.

The term CSA is kind of a clumsy acronym that even those becoming active in the local food movement might not be fully familiar with. It stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” In its most basic form, it describes a relationship of support between people who eat food and people who grow food. 

Before the growing season gets started, CSA members invest in “shares” of a farm by paying money upfront. This early investment is very important in the winter, a time of year when farmers need financial capital to pay for seeds, fencing, compost, and other infrastructure. In return for their contributions, members receive farm-fresh food throughout the growing season. This often takes the shape of weekly CSA boxes, filled with fruits and vegetables; CSAs have diversified to also include eggs, flowers, meat, and more.

The CSA model has many benefits, for the health of our communities, our environment, and our own bodies. CSAs allow us to invest in our neighbors and their businesses. And, in doing so, we can also choose to support farms whose growing practices and ecological values mirror our own.

We can ask our farmers about how they treat their livestock, whether they spray with chemicals, and where they source their seeds.

CSAs also put us back in touch with seasonal eating. The average fruit or vegetable has traveled 1,500 miles by the time it reaches you at the grocery store, at a great environmental expense. When it arrives, it is often under-ripe, flavorless, and lacking in nutritional quality.

The produce in your CSA share, on the other hand, is picked at peak ripeness, and often distributed that same day, fresh, delicious, and nutritious: ripe juicy strawberries in June, loads of colorful tomatoes in August, frost-sweetened carrots in the fall.

With Michigan’s diverse agricultural offerings, we really can eat seasonally without sacrificing flavor and abundance.

Because CSAs localize our food system—by reducing the huge carbon footprint associated with the transportation of agricultural products (“food miles”), minimizing food packaging, and encouraging us to cook and eat seasonally—choosing to join one is a great zero waste strategy. 

To learn more about CSAs, consider visiting these two upcoming events:

Sunday, Feb. 16: Washtenaw County CSA Fair,  noon-3 p.m., Downtown Public Library,  Ann Arbor

Sunday, Feb. 23: 4th Annual Chelsea CSA Fair, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.,  Agricole Farm Stop, Chelsea

Courtesy photo. Another example of what customers might find in their weekly CSA.
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