CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) have continued their momentum in recent years and are starting to become a little more mainstream. Recently, my family subscribed to a meat CSA share based on the recommendation of a co-worker.  I was always curious to see how a CSA share worked and if it was worth it. Well after taking the plunge, here are my initial thoughts along with some benefits that CSA programs can bring to Chicagoans and their communities.

For people who are new to CSAs, here is a basic explanation: People can buy shares (or subscription, membership) of a farm’s harvest in advance and then receive a portion of the vegetables (or meats) as they are harvested. Some of the advantages for farmers is that they gain important capital and cash flow and have a guaranteed market for their produce through a CSA program. For the consumer, they can enjoy access to fresh, natural (usually organic) foods that is sourced locally. As you can imagine, this type of food distribution system is more sustainable since the consumer can buy local, seasonal food directly from the farmer.

We signed up for the meat CSA at Meadow Haven Farm, which is an organic certified farm a couple hours drive west of Chicago. The CSA is 3 months per subscription and we went with the full share. The pickup for the share each month is usually at the Green City Market in Lincoln Park, which is a great farmers market. You just stop by the Meadow Haven Farm booth and they have large coolers with people’s CSA shares. What you get is a good size bag full of meats, which is fairly heavy. Here’s a look at the contents:

With the first month almost done, we have been pretty happy with the CSA so far and definitely think it has been worth it. I have to say, most of the meats we received are delicious and some of the best tasting meats we’ve ever had, such as the pork chops and chicken. The price is probably higher than what you pay at the grocery store, but since everything in the CSA is organic, the value is not out of line with what we paid. The quantity is more than enough for 2 adults, in fact we will have leftover meats going into our second month. Another plus is knowing that you purchased meats from a farm where they raised the animals responsibly and your share is supporting a local farmer that you meet each month and not a faceless corporation. That may not be important to some, but it can help when deciding on whether a CSA is for you or not.

Of course, the cost of joining a CSA may not be realistic for many people. But when researching CSAs, I learned of the positive and potential impact these programs can have here in Chicago. Not only are CSAs growing in popularity all across the Chicago area, there are actually some urban farms within the city limits that are producing CSA shares for the public. Besides producing nutritious, sustainable food, these farms and programs are involved in community development. For example, Growing Home, with farms in the Englewood and Back of the Yards neighborhoods, uses organic agriculture as a way to engage Chicagoans in need with job training, employment, and community development.

Growing Home is just one of many organizations in Chicago doing socially good things through urban farming and education on food access and healthy eating. There is enough good and helpful information on this topic for its own post, so stay tuned!