The selection and amount of produce in a weekly share varies by season, by farm, and by CSA group. Shares are typically larger in August than in June. Some farms have great soil for onions; others have the perfect conditions for squash. Some communities like a lot of tomatoes while others want bok choi or yams.
There are no rules about which or how many vegetables should make up a weekly share. The share size and content ought to be designed to meet the needs of both the farmers and the members. After all, the CSA will only be successful if members are happy and want to rejoin, while farmers feel satisfied with their workload and income. This tipsheet is intended to give you some ideas for creating mutually beneficial shares.
Talking with Your Farmer
Before your first season, at the initial farmer/city group meeting, Just Food will help to begin the conversation about what your farmer is able to provide and your community’s preferences. The kinds of vegetables that are included in a share will be determined both by the farmers’ expertise, equipment and soil as well as by the members’ desires. As you develop your CSAs relationship with your farmer over time, the farmer will try to take into consideration member requests. Members should make suggestions for new crops to include or for large or smaller amounts of vegetables. The farmer will have to balance all of the requests (one member may wish for beets every week while another feels that beets twice a season is too often!)
At the beginning of the season your farmer will explain to you the size and content of her basic share. She will usually describe the share in terms of how many people it will feed (i.e. a family of 4 non-vegetarians for a week) and the number of different items each week (i.e. 6-10 different items). She will also share with you her crop plan- the different types of vegetables that she is growing throughout the season. This information will help you to explain the share to potential new members but, since one aspect of CSA is sharing the risk of farming, there is no guarantee of how large or varied the shares will be each week.
Different community groups may like different things, but most farmers and many members like learning about unfamiliar produce. Still, it can take more than one season for a farmer to learn to grow a new crop or for members to incorporate a new vegetable into their diets. Have patience, share recipes, and don't be afraid to try new things.
Share Size Options
Farms also vary in the complexity of their share options. Some farms do one size share only. Others offer family shares, extra large shares, individual shares, or half shares. You can request additional share options from your farmer but keep in mind that multiple share options increases the complexity both for the farmer and for the core group. The farmer must plan for and deliver different amounts of vegetables and the core group must manage variety in membership sign up, money collection and distribution.
The most frequently requested share option is a half share. Some CSAs have found that offering half shares is helpful for singles or couples or for families who are only beginning to eat more vegetables. Half shares can be organized in different ways.
- Every Week - One way to structure half shares is for members to pair up, purchase one share and divide it equally each week. Partners can either plan to come to the distribution at the same time, they can alternate picking it up for each other, or one member can come and bag up both halves of the share, label the second half and leave it in a designated spot at the site for the other member. Some groups ask members who want to split a share to find their own share partners, while others will keep a list of interested sharers and help match people up. It is recommended that whichever method is chosen, contact information is kept for both members. This ensures that if one member moves away or drops out, you can still contact the other.
- Alternate Weeks - Half shares can also be structured by asking members to pick up the whole share amount every other week. In this case, half share members are assigned to A or B weeks. This eliminates the difficulty pairing members up and of splitting single items (i.e. a head of cabbage) between two members. However, it takes some initial coordination on the groups part to balance A and B weeks and, on the farms part, to try and offer similar items two weeks in a row.
CSAs must keep in mind that offering half shares means that they will have to recruit more people to meet the farmer’s minimum number of shares sold.