Monday, November 23, 2009

Think Before Giving the Gift of CSA

This post is a gentle warning to well meaning relatives and friends of locavores.

Do not buy a CSA share/membership for your locavore as a holiday or birthday gift unless you are really sure that this will be a welcome thing. I have had a few of experiences as a CSA grower where this has happened. Once it turned out well because the buyer was (and is) one of the pillars of the international locavore community and was positive the recipients got the whole CSA idea. And these people had been members of a CSA in Iowa where they lived before moving to Ohio.

The other two gifts did not turn out well. In both cases the giftees had never been a CSA member before and simply did not get the whole concept. Fortunately for Boulder belt Eco-Farm we sell monthly memberships and in both cases where the experience was less than good the gift was for a one month membership. One giftee did not want to drive to the farm so asked if she could do all 4 weeks at once. I told her no but I could do 2 weeks at a time. She was amazed at the amount of food she got the one time she picked up and almost understood why I would not make a 4 week share for her (almost). She flaked out on the second pick-up which was not good for her but a nice donation to our farm. the other giftee I believe picked up one time (and this was at a time we had delivery points) and we did not see that person ever again.

I feel that buying a CSA membership for someone is a bit like buying a puppy for another person. it seems like a great idea at the time but in the case of a puppy, if the person is not a competent dog person the end result could be disastrous (think "Marley and Me").

Okay, I do not believe that there is any way being a member of a CSA farm could ever be disastrous. For one the food is inanimate and will not try to destroy your home or year. But joining a CSA means the member must have cooking skills and know how to deal with raw whole foods, many of which will not be familiar. the member better be into the local foods movement as well and already sourcing a good % of their food needs locally via farmers markets, farm stands, etc.. And by this I mean the person is a very regular (weekly) attendee of at least one farmers market. Casual locavores should not be given such gifts as a CSA share.

What I believe happens to the giftee (remember I am a farmer and have never been a CSA member so I am going on what I have observed over the past 13 or so years I have run CSA farms) is they get overwhelmed with the food, especially if they are not a good cook. And the feeling of being overwhelmed gets worse as the season goes on. They are struggling to use the food and find they cannot use up all the food in a share in a week. So now they start throwing out food and that leads to food guilt. Members also tend to get burned out after months and months of CSA shares (even the long term member can feel this way).

So what one ends up with is a person who feels really guilty they are not using the fresh whole food well and they may quietly drop out (this is fairly common with CSA's everywhere and not just with members who joined because they received a gift membership). This is not good for the member who may have in the future become a great CSA member but needed more time to become comfortable with their locavoreness and now may never ever join a CSA again because they had a bad experience. The giftee may avoid the with the gifter over this whole thing because they do not want to talk about the gift because it is a disappointment for them. And the giftee is likely not to communicate with the farmer well over the issues they are having which always leads to hard feelings and a less than good experience (and with communication most things can be remedied).

So think long and hard before signing a dear friend or relation up for a CSA share at one of the many wonderful local CSA farms in the area and by no means make this surprise gift. If you feel you really have to do this talk about it with the giftee.

If your intended giftee is a member of a CSA already than to buy them a share in the CSA that they have been a member of for years is a horse of a different color. That would be a welcome gift.

So do not give a CSA membership this Holiday season unless the recipient already is a CSA member and intends on doing so in 2010 than go right ahead and buy a membership for that person.

Now if you are still set on giving a locavore a locavore gift it is much much safer to find out which farmers market(s) they attend regularly and buy them some gift certificates for that market. A gift like that will be welcomed and not turn into a food guilt fest.

Lucy Goodman
Boulder Belt Eco-Farm, Eaton OH


valereee said...

Excellent advice, Lucy!

Chiot's Run said...

I agree, although a meat CSA would most likely we welcomed by just about anyone. Many people don't know how to cook with fresh veggies, especially the winter varieties that would be handed out after Christmas. I bet most people don't even know what the celeriac is on my counter and would have no idea how to cook it.

I think perhaps giving jams/jellies made with local ingredients is great. Or gift certificates to a restaurant feating local food.

Lucy said...

A meat CSA would be hated by a vegetarian and I have had years when my CSA was around 90% vegetarian/vegan. Though lately most my members have been meat eaters whicg is bucking the stereotype that people who eat local organic foods are all raw foodist vegans which simply is not the case.

But again you have to know the person's eating and cooking habits pretty well to buy them a CSA membership be it produce meat or a combination