A CSA Share Is a Valuable Lesson in the Seasonality of Food

Kids especially can learn a lot about where and when vegetables grow.

CSA share

Getty Images/AC Smith

It is challenging to teach children about seasonal foods in a modern-day grocery store. The enormous selection of fresh produce from all around the world means that a sense of the seasons is lost, replaced by the mind-boggling abundance that certainly makes our diets more varied and interesting, but tends to disconnect us from harvest cycles that, once upon a time, shaped our lives significantly.

That's why I like being part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Every week I receive a share of vegetables that comes from a nearby organic farm. I do not know in advance what I'm getting, nor do I have any say in what comes home; I take whatever was harvested earlier that same day, based on the week's weather conditions, and use them to the best of my ability.

This gives my children a unique peek into how and when food grows. They have discovered that lettuce is not something one can eat in January unless it's flown in from a California greenhouse, and that usual kitchen staples like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers don't actually ripen until late summer—contrary to what the supermarket might lead you to believe.

My kids have become familiar with the glut of certain vegetables that happens throughout the harvesting season—the micro-seasons of produce, if you will. They know what it's like to gorge oneself on asparagus until you're sick of it, only to move on to dark greens and leafy salads, then zucchini, eggplants, and tomatoes, and eventually the root vegetables that mark the arrival of cold weather. 

The funny thing is, when you've eaten a ton of something for a few weeks, you're ready to move on to the next crop and leave the other behind; but when its time rolls around the following year, the anticipation has returned. In this way, a CSA share creates excitement around vegetables that does not exist when everything is available all the time, as it is in a grocery store.

CSA share on my e-bike
Picking up the weekly CSA share on my e-bike.

K Martinko

A farmer's market can offer similar lessons in seasonality to a CSA, but it differs in that you have more choice about what you buy. A CSA share, by contrast, foists vegetables, herbs, and occasional fruits upon you, forcing you to figure out ways of using them up. I enjoy this challenge because it tests my cooking skills (how to sneak garlic scapes into everything) and introduces my family to new and unusual items (mustard greens, kohlrabi). Furthermore, it is satisfying to know I'm supporting local farmers by eating what they want to grow, not just what I'm used to eating.

I have been a member of my CSA for nearly a decade and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Not all shares are run in the same way, but it's fair to expect that all offer the same valuable lessons in local, seasonal eating to families everywhere. If you have not yet tried it, I do urge you to give it a try. It's not too late in the season to call a farm that offers one and try to sign up. Visit LocalHarvest.org to find a CSA near you.