Tis the season…to buy a CSA share

By March 11, 2011 4 Comments

Post submitted by Carrie, a contributor to

Finally we are entering that time of year in Wisconsin when the farmers markets will be starting soon. Fresh, seasonal produce will seem so good after a long winter of the same old, same old! If you enjoy fresh produce but aren’t really a gardener yourself, and/or don’t always wish to hit the market and select your own produce, a community supported agriculture (CSA) share may be something to try this season.

So what is a CSA share? Basically, the consumer (YOU!) buys a “share” of the farmer’s fresh crop of produce. For the price of the “share”, the consumer will receive fresh produce, usually weekly, at a predetermined drop-off location. Farms typically invite their “shareholders” to the farm for ¬†special events, too.

For those of you reading in the Madison/Dane County area, check out to get started. This site will link you to a listing of farms and how to sign up. If you are outside the Madison area, a simple web search for CSAs in your area should help give you a point in the right direction for what is available near you.

If you aren’t familiar with purchasing a CSA share, below are a few high points:

1. Offerings

A CSA share is typically vegetables but depending upon the farm, fruit, cheese, meat, eggs, and coffee may also be offered. If you are an adventurous eater/cook, you will probably really like receiving unusual offerings like ramps, nettles, or burdock. Many farms will include recipes for the produce that week or they have many ideas on their farm website if you receive produce you are not familiar with. If you would like more control over what you receive in your share, you may wish to look for a farm that lets you pick your own produce buffet-style (like April’s Garden between Stoughton and Cottage Grove).

2. Frequency

How often you pick up your CSA share will vary based on what you purchase and what the farm offers. Typically, shares are offered weekly, but some farms offer bi-weekly. At least one farm (Harmony Valley) offers  a flex share that would allow you to select 14 boxes in the weeks of your choosing . You can purchase your shares for the peak of the growing season, an extended season (early spring through late fall), or you can purchase shares year round and take advantage of winter root vegetable offerings, too.

3. Signing up

Contact the farm directly or fill out their registration form (many have online PDFs directly on their site). The earlier in the season you do this the better. Many farms begin accepting share enrollment in February or March, so if you know where you want to purchase a share get your registration done early because shares can run out.

4. Amount of produce

If you aren’t sure if purchasing a share is for you or are worried about using all the produce, try to find a share that is offered only for peak season (usually 3-4 months). Or, if possible split the share with another family/friend who wants to try this. I am not sure if farms do this, but inquire about cancelling your share if it turns out you aren’t utilizing the produce as you had imagined.

For those of you reading in the Madison area, there is going to be a CSA Open House on Sunday, March 13 from 1 -4 pm at Monona Terrace. This event is free and allows you to meet some of the farmers and get a better idea what CSA is all about.

There are so many different options available for getting great seasonal produce. If you haven’t purchased a CSA share before, make this the year to try it!

Have you purchased a CSA share before? If so, what pointers would you give to new buyers?