To CSA or not to CSA? That is not the question!

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[Isa Ferrall and Laney Siegner, ERG Graduate Students]

As the rains fell generously on Northern California last winter, many local farmers eagerly anticipated the healthy plants and high yields sure to come in this year’s growing season. California’s water problems are far from solved (especially when it comes to groundwater levels that remain well below average in aquifers across the state), but the high soil water content produced lush green hillsides that just two years ago were golden brown from years of intense drought. This fall, with the harvests still coming in, the time is ripe to share in the bounty, support a local farmer, and join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation! Nothing keeps you in touch with the seasons better than local food; it’s time to get your squash and pumpkin flavors from a local farm instead of that pumpkin spice latte.

For the well-informed, data-driven ERG graduate student, the choices of which CSA to pick can be paralyzing. Which farm is the closest, does the most to reduce food waste, uses the most sustainable agro-ecological practices, or supports minority farmers? Which one is going to give me the right amount of veggies, ones that I know how to cook rather than random mystery vegetables I’ve never heard of?

These questions have hung in the ERG air for months, from conversations in the student kitchen to Isha’s Water Group dinner last winter. We’ve finally decided to put together a choice table to highlight the distinguishing features of several local CSAs, with the hope that it will help ERGies select their dream CSA. Because the question should not be whether or not you join a CSA, but rather which CSA works best for your life. Read on for inspiring sources of ingredients to use for your next eggplant parmesan, butternut squash soup, persimmon bread, or other delicious home-cooked meal.

Local CSAs

Distinguishing feature
How much food?
Pick up options
Home delivery

Capay Valley, north of Sac.

(*Laney gets this one, ask for more info!)
Certified organic, leader in restorative farming practices. Veggies, value added products and flowers
Good amount for 2 people (or dinner party), can pick up every week or every other
$19/box for 4 boxes; $16.50/box for yearlong payment (48 weeks)
Tons of options in Berkeley and Oakland, every day of the week, bring own bag to pick up
Yes (+ $7/week)

Mostly Oakland farmers, others from Central Valley (Stockton, Hollister, Merced)
(*delivered to ERG kitchen every other week)
Supports local minority-owned farms and Oakland high school students who run a Youth Pickle Co., proceeds go to free veggie vouchers for local clinic
Half-share is good for 2 people, lots of variety of fruits (citrus), veggies and herbs, can get every week or every other
$17 for half-share (plenty for 2 people), $34 for full share
Lots of options for pick up, sometimes at personal residences, Tuesdays and Saturdays, come in paper bags

Various sources, large family farms in CA

(*ask Julia and Isa for more info and up to $20 off your first box!)
Reduces food waste by selling foods that aren’t conventionally marketable in grocery stores (as the name implies)
Depends on your choice of box size, small organic produce box (recommended) good for 2 people
Organic mixed, regular mixed, all veggie and all fruit options;
$15-17 for small organic produce box
Yes, normally Saturday mornings($3/box)

Mendocino County
Horse- and solar-powered biodynamic farm
Veggies, fruits, flowers, grains and meat (varying amounts)
$43.45/week for full season (varies seasonally; contact farm for more info)
Delivered on Saturday mornings by local members

Brentwood CA (1 hr from Berkeley)
Legendary certified organic farm
All fruit CSA, plus dried fruit, honey, olive oil, eggs, etc.
$15.50-$73 (mini share to triple share), available weekly or biweekly
Pick up at many East Bay locations and farmer’s markets
Yes (mail order)
Sea Forager Seafood

SF Bay
Small scale fishermen using sustainable practices
Fillets, shellfish, and small whole fish; can select dinner for 2 or 4 people
$24-47 depending on amount
Pick up at The Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley, Fridays 3-7, weekly or biweekly
No (only in SF, $8 more)

Oakland, CA
Farm is planned, planted, harvested and sold by K-8 youth in Oakland

Farmstand sales (located in Tassafaronga Park)

Humboldt County family ranches
Meat CSA- beef and pork
You choose
$129/month, can get monthly or bi-monthly deliveries
Free home delivery in CA!

Marin/Pt. Reyes, CA
Sustainably raised meat; firm commitment to ecological livestock production
You choose- meat or poultry boxes
$70 (small box) - $212 (large box)
Home delivery to East Bay

The positive testimonies have been piling in from ERGies: CSAs help you cook more, eat healthier, consume sustainably… and they are real time-savers when it comes to reducing trips to the grocery store. Cost is variable and, in some cases, there is a premium for sourcing food sustainably (especially meat). We hope our table shows, however, that you can still find an option that will work for your budget.

If you don’t have the ability to commit to a weekly or bi-weekly CSA, or are still finding your match, fear not! There are many other ways to get your food from local farms in the meantime, starting with farmers’ markets. Below, we compile a list of the most accessible farmers’ markets from Berkeley. As with the CSAs, cost is variable, often with premiums for prime locations. But again, budget friendly options do exist. Whether or not you end up going home with more than you can carry, simply going is a fun way to connect with your local community.

Local Farmer's Markets

Farmer’s Market
North Berkeley
Shattuck and Rose, Berkeley
Th 3-7pm
Combination of food, art, crafts, and music
Saturday Downtown Berkeley
1931 Center St, Berkeley
Tu 2-6:30pm
Th 3-7pm
Sa 10am-3pm
Fun scene of vendors, art, music, families, and community
South Berkeley
Alcatraz and Adeline St, Berkeley
Tu 2-6:30 pm
Very accessible, accepts SNAP/EBT, great selection and diversity of vendors
5300 Claremont Ave, Oakland
Su 9am-1pm

SF Ferry Building
One Ferry Building #50, San Francisco
Tu 10-2pm
Th 10-2pm
Sa 8am-2pm
Lots of vendors, fun to take ferry to SF, waterfront views along Embarcadero, nice breakfast/lunch spot!
Lake Merritt / Oakland
Lake Park Ave, Oakland
Sa 9am-2pm
Beautiful setting for a farmer’s market!
SF Civic Center
United Nations Plaza, San Francisco
We 7am-5:30pm
Su 7am-5pm
Cheaper than Ferry Building, but more gritty
100 Alemany Blvd, San Francisco
Sa 6am-1pm
Very large wholesale market, need a car

Supporting local farms and gaining knowledge about where your food comes from is healthy for both people and planet. We have created these choice tables with a Berkeley home-base in mind, but we encourage you to apply these ethics wherever you call home to purchase your food sustainably, eat seasonally, and support your local economy.

Have fun and bon appetit!

Photos by Isa Ferrall and Laney Siegner.
The views expressed here belong solely to the authors of each entry and are not representative of the position of the Energy and Resources Group, UC Berkeley.

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