CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and is a way of marketing produce locally, directly to the consumer, by small and midsize farms. Instead of buying a few little things here and there at a farmstand or farmers market, CSA’s are a commitment to the entire bounty of produce from one particular farm (or farms, in the case of multi-farm CSAs.) The term originated from the idea that customer families in the farm’s local community commit to supporting the agricultural endeavor (farm), by paying for a “share” of that season’s produce, either up front or in seasonal installments, and then each week the customer picks up a fresh, diverse crate of whatever vegetables are in season, throughout the term of the CSA. These can range from a few months (most CSA’s in Maine) to the entire year, depending on the CSA. This way, the farm knows in advance how much produce it needs to grow, and is guaranteed the income for everything it grows, which is immensely helpful for a small or medium farm. Bad weather or crop failures can reduce availability of some items, and good weather sometimes provides surplus (bumper) crops, and the customer accepts that upon signing up. The CSA model allows families to be very in tune with their farmer and his or her farm, availability and seasonality of items, and share in both the successes and disappointments alike.
Meal Kits emerged around 2012 as a way of marketing not only produce but all groceries, on a national scale, by packaging them in kits designed around [usually] 3 meals per week. All the ingredients are pre-measured (sometimes even pre-cut or -chopped), generally individually wrapped, and most arrive in an insulated cardboard box with disposable ice packs inside to keep the perishables cool. The idea is that packaging groceries in this way makes it incredibly easy and most of all convenient, to make healthful, delicious dinners in a reasonable amount of time – which should appeal to families with barriers to successful dinner outcomes, like young children, rigorous work schedules, lack of cooking practice, or simply the exhaustion of the “mindspace” needed to plan, prepare, and procure ingredients for dinner. These come in subscription form and the customer is billed weekly, for as long as they stay subscribed.
Food Joy’s Local, Sustainable Meal Kit
We believe the seed of the idea behind Meal Kits is good insofar that they serve as a powerful tool to reducing the barriers that prevent families from eating good food around the table together. However, the sustainability challenges with excessive packaging, lack of farmer/producer transparency, food miles, and other problems make this option largely unsustainable. In conjunction with the director’s graduate work in Sustainable Food Systems, Food Joy’s local meal kit program is a local, sustainable version of the national meal kit services, and we like to think it takes the best from both worlds. It does require a seasonal commitment like a CSA, but is formatted as a subscription and centers around specific meals and their recipes. The sourcing is local and sustainable, the packing is reusable or recyclable, and the meals are designed to be efficient and delicious.