Should you join a CSA this summer?

Courtesy of Flatbush Farm CSA

Courtesy of Flatbush Farm Share.

How are you getting your greens this summer? If the answer is the frozen food aisle of C-Town, consider signing up with a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group instead.

The produce-buying collectives, which offer a weekly delivery of farm-fresh produce at prices less than you’d pay at a grocery store or green market, are a booming business. There are 20 new CSAs in the city this year, seven of them in Brooklyn alone. Groups in Fort Greene, Bay Ridge, and East Williamsburg have been booked solid for months (next year, sign up in February), but we found seven CSAs around Brooklyn  that are still taking new members.

They work like this: you pay up front for the season (roughly from May to November) to receive a box each week of locally grown vegetables—or in some cases, wine, eggs or fruit—that you have to pick up at a pre-arranged distribution spot.

For open CSAs, full-share price averages $500 for 22 weeks of produce. Half shares, averaging between $200 and $300, typically offer a pickup every two weeks, though the Crown Heights CSA simply shrinks the weekly portions for half-shares.

What’s in the box? Whatever the farmer just picked.

A sample June haul from Sang Lee Farms, supplier for the DUMBO/Vinegar Hill CSA and Crown Heights CSA includes: Red Boston lettuce, pea shoots, Bunched Red kale, Arrow head cabbage, 1 bunch mixed carrots, 1 bunch u-choy (like bok choy but different), Romanesco cauliflower, spaghetti squash, 2 lbs Kueka gold potatoes, and Bunched broccoli.

“You have to be adventurous in what you’ll eat; there may be things in your box that you haven’t eaten before and might never buy,” says Paula Lukats, a program manager for  Just Food, New York’s umbrella group for all things CSA.

Pickup at the Park Slope CSA.

Pickup day at the Park Slope CSA.

Members say the weekly pickup at a set time and location can be taxing, especially compared to the convenience of swinging by the market on the way home from work. Plus there are volunteer requirements with most CSAs, and even loyalists admit that grappling with a big box of vegetables each week, no matter how fresh, can feel like homework at times.

“You’re going to invest time washing, storing, cooking and freezing to make sure you don’t waste anything,”  says Liz Pilecki-Doninger, a member of the Sunset Park CSA.  “I had a half share, where I was picking up a delivery every other week, and it was still a lot of food for a family of three.”

But Pilecki-Doninger says the quality of the food “is so much better than what you buy at the grocery store” that it’s worth the extra effort. “Living in New York City, most people don’t get a chance to taste food that was in the ground a day or two beforehand.”

Interested? The following CSAs in Brooklyn are still open to new members:

Crown Heights CSA
2009 Season:  June-November: 23 weeks
Full share: $565 ($24.50/week)
Partial share: $350 ($15/week)
Requirements:  2 distribution shifts (4 hours) during the season
Pick up location: Franklin Park Bar at 618 St. John’s Place

Brooklyn Beet CSA (Downtown Brooklyn)
2009 Season: June 30-November 10: 23 weeks
Full share: $470 ($20.50/week)
Half share: $235 ($20.50/every other week)
Requirements: 4 volunteer hours over the season
Pick-up location: YWCA of Brooklyn at 30 Third Avenue between State Street & Atlantic Avenue

East New York Farms! CSA
2009 Season: June-November: 23 weeks
Full share: $350 ($15.22/week)
($224/season, low income)
Half share: $185 ($8.04/week)
($122/season low income)
Contact:, 718-649-7979 ext. 16

Flatbush Farm Share
2009 Season: June 17–October 28: 20 weeks
*Only fruit shares still available for 2009
Full share: $160 ($8/week)
Half share: $100 ($5/week).
Pick up location: Flatbush Reformed Church, 890 Flatbush Ave.
Contact: 212-741-8192 ex. 7

Park Slope Tuesday CSA
Park Slope’s CSA is currently full, but they’re making an expansion effort for a second distribution day on Tuesdays.  They currently have 20 commitments, but need 80 members to sign up for weekly deliveries to make the additional service financially viable.
Vegetables (Fruit and flowers also available)
Full share: $440 ($20/week)Half Share $220 ($20/week)
Pick up location:  Garden of Union on Union Street between 4th and 5th Avenues.Requirements:  The distribution for Tuesday is from 3 to 6:30pm, so members must be able to help at 2 pm (until 4:30pm) for at least one shift during the season.
Contact:, 718-707-1023

Red Hook CSA
Vegetables (fruit and eggs also available) :
Full share: $375 (full season)
Half share: $210 (full season)
Pickup location: 370 Van Brunt St.
Contact: 718-855-5531

Southside CSA (South Williamsburg)
2009 Season: June to November: 20 weeks
Vegetables (Fruit, wine and eggs also available)
Full share: $400 ($20/week)
Half share: $200 ($20/week, every other week)
Pick-up location: Bridget (20 Broadway, between Kent and Wythe)

6 Comment

  • As a brand new CSA member in Ditmas Park, I’m wondering what veteran CSA-ers find the best cooking month of the season?

  • the flatbush farm share is on a sliding scale system, takes food stamps and also has payment plans to encourage people who wouldn’t normally be able to make the investment. do the others csa’s operate the same way?

    to jacob – it depends on what you prefer to cook. check out these photos to get an idea of what someone got for her half share every week last year with the lefferts garden csa:

  • I was part of a CSA last summer (Kensington/Windsor Terrace CSA), and felt like it was a bit of a hoax. The situation today is that there are far more urban locavore types than there are farmers to supply CSAs. As a result many of the CSAs get booked up. Taken together w/the fact that you pay in advance, this gives the farmers little incentive to give you their best stuff. Most of them also sell at farmers’ markets, where people pick and choose based on price and quality, so of course they sell the most attractive produce there. I’m not saying my CSA experience was a disaster, but it felt a little like a city slicker being taken to the cleaners’ by country folk. There was some great stuff, but there was also wilted lettuce, moldy strawberries, leeks that had turned to wood,wormy corn, and other stuff nobody would pay money for. Part of the procedure was that the farmer would ascribe a monetary value to each share, to give people a feel for what a great bargain they were gettiing. The prices were usually hilariously inflated.
    I’m not saying I don’t like the idea of the CSA, but in practice it didn’t work for me. THis year, I am buying lots of stuff at my local frmers’ market (COrtelyou Road) instead.

  • Great point, no one I spoke to really mentioned that but it makes complete sense. I would hope some farmers would see people opting out of continuing the following year as a sign that such practices are unacceptable. But I guess it comes down to demand, if there are people lined up it doesn’t really matter.

    And winthropst, from what I gathered it seems to vary. Most offer some sort of pricing alternatives, whether it’s in share sizing, accepting food stamps, and so forth. But you’re probably best off checking with the group you’re interested in joining. Organizing a work exchange with the farmer might be another alternative to reduce cost if you have the time.

  • love the photos, winthropst–thanks for posting them. how did you keep up with all of that produce in august?

  • I am a member of the Central Brooklyn CSA in Crown Heights. Here are some photos I took yesterday.