Our Lives readers know that I’m a big supporter of CSA shares. For those of you not familiar with the CSA model, in broad terms, it’s a way to support local farmers by buying a “share” of their farm up front. For the cost of your share, you get fresh veggies and fruit—and sometimes cheeses or meat—each week throughout their appointed production season.
Your CSA box gets delivered to an arranged drop-off site each week where you swing by to pick it up. The benefits to the consumer are obvious: fresh, local food delivered each week. The benefit to the farmer is that they receive the CSA payments up front, giving them a windfall of cash to buy the seeds for the year, compost, potting soil, etc. (Spring is a spendy time on the farm).
One downside for many consumers was that they were really at the mercy of the farmer in that you “got what you got” in your box. Even in our own family, we have vegetables that are in the “like” column and a few in the “dislike” column. So when we’d get two pounds of spinach (our “dislike”), we always gave it away or composted it. What a waste!
Now there’s another option: it’s called the CSA “Market Share,” and it’s brilliant! With a Market Share you still buy into the farm up front (your share), but instead of getting the weekly box of produce delivered to your area for you to pick up, you simply show up at the farmer’s stand at the farmer’s market and choose what you want. This will be a game changer for many people who shied away from a CSA share in the past. According to Tricia Bross, Owner of Luna Circle Farms, “The Market Share option is really amazing for both the consumer and for me too. They only pay for food that they’ll use, and I get to have a relationship with my CSA members because I see them at market each week.”
Another benefit for the farmer, according to Jake Hoeksema, Farm Director at the Troy Community Farm, is that the market share is a lot less work overall (less bagging, weighing, packing boxes, and so on). He also explains that a market share incentivizes their CSA members to shop frequently since they’ve already paid for their produce. Shirley Young, co-owner of Young Earth Farms, also loves the market share option because it reduces the stress on the farmer to grow massive varieties of produce to please all palates. “It allows me to grow the vegetables that produce best in our soil,” Young says.
Of course, there are some downsides to this option as well, and I’d be remiss not to share those too. For one, according to Claire Strader, Grower Program Coordinator at Fair Share CSA Coalition, it requires the consumer to actually go to the farmer’s market to get their market share food. “Not everyone has the time or desire to make another trip to go and pick up their market share food,” she explains. And then there is also the fact that you can only choose from the produce that is being offered that week by your farm. And for the farmer, the Market Share dance can be tricky. Strader says that, as a farmer, you have to be careful not to oversell the market share, otherwise you may not have enough produce to cover the standard CSA member’s boxes.
Overall, I think it’s an amazing partner offering to the standard CSA share, and I hope more people will consider buying local. For more information on farms that are offering CSAs in both formats, go to
csacoalition.org to see what’s available in your area.
Jeanne Benink is a Madison chef and the sole owner of Simply Served Personal Chef Service. Her friends often call her the soup guru, and she truly does have passion for exploring soups and stews from all over the world. You can find her online at simplyservedpersonalchef.com