CSA Montreal Organic Food Basket Pros: Affordability, Taste, Creativity & Community Support
From saving money on produce—most fruit and vegetable basket plans vary from roughly $15 to $25 a week for one to two people to $40 a week for a family—to supporting the local economy as well as giving a bigger share of your money to the farmers themselves instead of to middlemen, the pros of buying organic food baskets are as plentiful as the surprising selection, quality and quantity of produce you'll get every week when you engage in community-supported agriculture (CSA).
Examples of what you can expect to find in a weekly organic food basket suggest anywhere from 8 to 15 different fruits and vegetables in a given basket, depending on the time of year and basket size. Creative cooks adore the menu options that variety offers them as it can be difficult to purchase all organic basket items at a grocery store or market for the same price. Even non-organic grocery store produce can cost more that the deals consumers score with CSAs.
And in addition to getting to know the people who grow your food, which is kind of neat, organic farms selling food baskets in Montreal claim to protect soil food quality by avoiding synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, herbicides, antibiotics, growth hormones and genetically modified seed.
CSA Montreal Organic Food Basket Cons: Practicality, Choice Predetermined by Farms, Lump Sum & Risk
Apart from some exceptions, notably meat farmers, CSA farms generally adhere to strict weekly schedules with drop-offs at select neighborhood locations. So if your schedule is as unpredictable as a flight attendant's, you might have difficulty obtaining your pre-purchased basket.
Some farms insist on a narrow pick-up schedule coupled with a no-refund policy if not picked up at a specific time. Yet others are more flexible and make alternate arrangements to suit client schedules (such as farms specializing in meat) so do check a CSA farm's distribution policy regards scheduling, drop-off locations and refunds before signing up.
Another issue is the seasonal variety of produce --basket contents vary from week to week-- which is an advantage in the minds of many because in-season food is generally cheaper (and in-season produce just tastes better).
But some people get irritated that they don't get to choose exactly what kinds of fruits and vegetables and how much of each are in their baskets, especially when cooking is not their forte. Not everyone knows (or wants to know) what to do with that Jerusalem artichoke or those two bushels of Swiss chard that, as a result, end up rotting in the back of the fridge.
There is also an element of risk involved in that you're purchasing a share of a future harvest. Generally, members pay a yearly lump sum prior to harvest season and that covers anywhere from a few months to an entire year of weekly fresh produce. If growing season is blessed with picture-perfect weather, you benefit from the surplus just as you will see a shrinkage factor in your basket if its snows in July.
Mind you the risk of ending up with not enough vegetable is minimal thanks to the biodiversity inherent with CSA farming in Quebec. CSA farmers tend to grow many types of vegetables.
So let's say corn had a bad year but tomatoes fared well. Farmers compensate as best they can by adding more tomatoes to baskets, thus covering the lost corn. Other farmers may barter with peers. For example, if Farm A wasn't able to grow tomatoes in a given season but is exploding with green and yet Farm B is having a great tomato season, then Farm A may exchange some greens for some of Farm B's tomatoes. But every farm is different. Ask the CSA you're considering joining what strategies they use to minimize the impact of a bad crop season.
And of course, having to pay for all your vegetables in one go isn't always possible for some, even though money is saved in the long run.