C H I C A G O L A N D' S L O C A L F A R M C O A L I T I O N
Factors to Consider When Choosing a CSA Farm
Given the number of high quality CSA farms serving the Chicago metro region, finding your farm can be daunting. All of the farms in the Band of Farmers follow the basic CSA model, grow a wide variety of sustainably grown or certified organic vegetables and/or humanely raised meats. Beyond these similarities, each CSA farm has characteristics which are uniquely their own. It is important to consider which farm will best meet your needs and expectations. Browse through the following list and note the factors that are important to you.
CSA farms serving the greater Chicago area are located throughout Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. Consider how often you want to be involved in on-farm activities and how far you would be willing to drive. Remember that some of the longest drives are the most scenic.
Some CSA farms have small operations with fewer than 10 families enrolled while others are large and feed more than 1,000. Within these size categories there are those farms that grow exclusively for their CSA members and other farms that do CSA along with selling at farmers markets, stores, restaurants, etc.
Price of Share
It is not recommended that you select your CSA share solely on price. Comparing each farm’s price is like comparing apples to oranges (or carrots to cucumbers, if you will); each farm has different season lengths, crops, share sizes, etc. Purchasing a CSA share can often save you money on high quality, organically grown food; however, we encourage CSA members to consider the wider CSA experience of community, connectedness and education rather than a traditional consumer/producer commodity arrangement. The value of your commitment to local farms and their commitment to growing high quality food is priceless.
Length of Season/Number of Deliveries
A typical Midwest CSA produce farm delivers their CSA boxes from June to October, but this is another way in which CSA farms vary. Band of Farmers members' seasons for produce range from 12 weeks to 42 weeks--and everything in between. Those with longer seasons utilize season-extending devices such as hoop houses and also focus in the cooler months on winter storage crops and farm-processed products such as canned tomatoes, frozen squash, etc. Farms that offer meat CSAs typically deliver their shares year round.
Most of the farms have pickup sites in the greater Chicago area where their shares are dropped off; some offer pickup directly from the farm and some offer home delivery either as an option or as their only means of receiving your box. Consider how important it is to you to have a pick-up site located near your home, school, or work, or to have direct home delivery. If there's no pickup site or delivery option where you live or work, consider starting one.
Delivery Day and Time
The days and times that farms make their deliveries varies. Some CSA members prefer receiving their shares at the end of the week or the weekend so you can supplement your box at the farmers market, other folks prefer to cook up a storm on all week long! Be sure to note the pickup time range; is it a time frame you can consistently meet?
Types of Produce and Other Food Items
Most CSA farms offer a wide variety of seasonal produce, while others offer meat shares, and some do both. Some also have specialty items, which are included in the share or can be purchased at additional cost. These may include flowers, honey, meat, apples, cheese, grains, wool/yarn, and eggs. Additionally, some farms have arrangements for receiving additional or larger quantities of produce including U-picks and canning shares.
All the Band of Farmers farms are small-scale and/or family farms; some are certified organic, in transition to certification, or have received approval from another agency or organization. There is also a wide spectrum of mechanization levels between farms. Band of Farmers promotes transparency of its farmer-members so you can make an informed decision. View the farms' profiles on our searchable CSA Directory to find information on how each farm engages with their environment.
Opportunities for Involvement
Few CSA farms require work from their members, but many welcome this kind of involvement. Most farms organize one or more on-farm events each season and some farms encourage their members to “drop in" (with notice, please!). The farms put different amounts of emphasis on volunteer workdays, community/celebration events, educational opportunities, involvement with planning and administration, and other projects. Be sure you’re familiar with opportunities through your farm and the expectations for participation.
Communication with Farmers
One of the core tenets of CSA is to connect farm members with farms and farmers. Farms offer a variety of ways to keep in touch with the farmers through on-farm activities, newsletters, recipes, blogs, community event presence and more. Beyond that, you should feel free to contact your farmer about both good and bad experiences. For more on this, check out On Being a Good CSA Member.
Opportunities for Education
Some farms offer educational opportunities for consumers, which might include farm tours, canning workshops, herbal workshops, educational pieces in newsletters, children’s’ workshops, and education through work opportunities.
Personality of the Farm
Each farm has its own unique personality. This may come out via their website, newsletters, farm events, crop selections, or artistic capabilities. Do you want to work with a farmer who also raises sheep and spins wool? who builds one-of-a-kind cabinetry in his spare time? who focuses on heirloom varieties and saves seeds? Poke around the farm profiles on our CSA Directory and on the farm's own website, and get to know the unique aspects of the farms and find one that is right for you!