One of the best kept secrets on small farms are CSA programs! An upfront purchase of a share from an individual provides a small farm with financial assistance to buy all the seeds and materials to kick off the garden season before the crops are harvested and sold. We’ve provided you will all the details about CSA’s in this post, and why our tagged CSA, PGH Elite is something you should join!
What is a CSA?
CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. Essentially, local farmers, typically produce farmers, offer a share of items off their farm weekly or bi-weekly and collect the money before the growing season even begins. This CSA model is essentially helping the farm operation pay bills during the more expensive off season long before farmers market starts. In return, the customer gets a “share of the farm” via a steady supply of crops all season long. It’s a great way to support local community, local food and local agriculture– typically from small farms. This mutual support benefits the producer and the consumer, making CSA shares a preferred way for many to operate.
While typically, a CSA subscription is targeted as a weekly box of vegetables, it’s important to research your particular farms method, share size, duration and products offered! In this post we will refer to PGH Elite, which is our CSA farm share program. We offer ALL the products produced on our farm, including meat, produce, honey, and eggs as part of our weekly shares. This enables our CSA shareholders to have a variety of choices each week!
At Pleasant Grove Homestead, the difference between a weekly subscription and the CSA share, called PGH Elite, is that PGH Elite members choose ANY product each week whereas our produce subscription is only PRODUCE. The other benefit is PGH Elite will have private products unlocked that only they have access to as a share holder.
* the link above will only show PGH Elite membership available in January-February timeframe.
Benefits of a CSA to the consumer:
1. You have a direct relationship with your producer. You’ll meet the same farmer each week to receive your products!
2. Typically, your products are discounted. As a thank you for investing in the farm upfront, you get a benefit. In our CSA, PGH Elite, we not only offer a roughly 5% discount, but you also get access to products that we do not provide at farmers market.
3. Many of our PGH Elite members say they never visit the grocery store during our 22 week share program! They have the best fresh food available every single week.
Benefits of a CSA to the producer:
1. CSA farms have the benefit of cash flow during the slow season. For example, in our operation, we spend over $12,000 in seeds and other resources in January and February to get the garden started, but most of those crops are not even harvested until July or later! This makes the financial support of a CSA membership critical!
2. CSA shares allow farms to predict how much product to be growing. If a producer knows they have 75 community members at the beginning of the season consistently picking up farm products from them, they can easily project how much crop to be planting and growing to meet their needs.
3. Farmers markets are an unpredictable source of income for a small producer. The community supported agriculture model ensures cash for the crops being grown, even if it’s pouring rain every Saturday of the market season.
Cons of a CSA:
1. “Shared Risk, Shared Bounty” is a typical phrase heard by those in CSA programs. Meaning, if your producer does not have a good year due to poor crop management, natural disaster or any other unforeseen circumstances, you’ve already invested in that particular farm! In our PGH Elite CSA program, this is another reason we let the customer choose their bundle. If we happen to lose our spinach to aphids, there’s other delicious crops to choose from, without affecting the size of your share!
2. Many individuals may not like the type of food or the size of the share being too much food or not enough food. Most producers offer a variety of sizes, but this is one reason PGH Elite allows people to choose all share products– through we will encourage you to try new foods as well! Ask or look for a small share if you need one, and check if the options they offer state how much comes in a standard share size.
3. It’s a big deal to commit a large sum of money way before your first CSA pickup begins! However, your farmer friends and your local economy really benefit– and staking a claim on local produce during the summer is worth the investment!
… Just imagine having first claim on that juicy strawberry in June!
What are the sizes of shares?
Each farm will determine their own share size or frequency. However, it should be clearly listed. Our farm’s CSA, PGH Elite is based on a weekly dollar amount, but generally families of 2 or individuals with small children can use our small share option. Larger families should enroll in our larger bundle, and we even have families who buy more than one share! One benefit of PGH Elite is that you may always add extra products onto your order and pay cash/card for the difference.
How to Join a CSA?
Joining a CSA typically happens during the “off-season.” Depending on where you live, this will vary, but in Iowa, shares typically open in January or February– but I have seen many farms open their share season as early as November! It’s important to ask a farm with a CSA about this process because many have a waiting list they fill before posting openings on social media! A CSA program can be a pretty close knit community of individuals, and the continual financial commitment each year from the consumers is a significant portion of a small family farms income.
We’ve been expanding our PGH Elite operation each year and hope to enroll 75 shares in 2024. Be sure to be on our email list if you are wanting to join!
CSA boxes can be distributed in a variety of ways. Traditionally, a standard CSA share is picked up on the farm that hosts the share. While we think this is a novel idea, in 2024 we have other ways planned for you to visit the farm if it’s not best for you to pick up on farm each week. Over 90% of our shares are picked up at convenient locations for the share holder.
This year we have the following pick-up locations:
We are interested in organizing a location for Ottumwa. If you’d like to help us make this happen– contact us.
Are products supplemented from other farms?
Many farms offer products from multiple local farms in their CSA program. It would be important to ask before you enroll how they are operated and what the other producer’s growing practices are if you join a CSA that sources from multiple farms. This the third year Pleasant Grove Homestead has offered a CSA and the second year of PGH Elite being our signature program. In the first year, we did offer items off the farm, but since we have changed to a customer choice model, it has eliminated the need to try and source items from other producers. If we offer items from a farm other than ours, our website description will always say who produces the item, like this image of our sourdough bread. Sweet corn is another item we do not grow, but sometimes have available from our direct relationship with other farmer friends.
What crops are available?
Each farm will have different crops available in their shares, keeping in mind that ANY of our products are available for PGH Elite membership, you can get our pastured chicken, or pork in your bundles, but here is our harvest calendar. It’s a rough guide, but we’ve updated it each season as our high tunnels have allowed us to harvest earlier and later than a traditional outside garden. If you want us to grow something particular, we are always open to suggestions! Just contact us!
We are so very thankful for families who pledge support to our garden efforts every year by participating in our CSA share, PGH Elite. We strive to offer the highest quality produce and consider each of you a part of our family!
Membership enrollment is seasonal! If you do not see the option to purchase, it is either full our out of season. Join our email list to be the first to know when a spot is available! Typically, we will send out the offer to previous participants and our email subscribers in January and leave the enrollment open until the spots are filled. In 2024 we are aiming to double the number of spots available in our membership!