Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): Top six recommendations for your farm market – Vegetable Crops Hotline

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): Top six recommendations for your farm market

Running a CSA can be a long journey throughout the season, requiring one to stay on top of many weekly tasks and decisions. Some are more important to think about than others. Here is a list of what the Purdue Student Farm sees as some of the most essential tasks in the decision-making process and how we use these to help guide us through our program before and during the production season.


Communication, even over-communication, is essential. We contact customers weekly before pickup and provide folks with photos of what will be provided in the CSA box that week. When adding new or novel produce during the season, we include a recipe for folks needing to learn how to prepare that item. Another way to limit surprises for customers is to provide a season road map that gives a rough idea of when different produce will be available during the season. The last and potentially most important part of communication is recognizing and staying on top of problems that can arise quickly.

Staple crops

There is much to think about when filling out your box from week to week. When planning for the season, we like to look at what our staple or core crops will be for the box. The goal is to provide a consistent supply of items like onion, tomato, pepper, herbs, eggplant, or root crops that the customer can count on weekly. These staple crops will hopefully cut a trip to the grocery store each week. Be careful, though, as over-harvesting one week can leave you short the following week and overburden customers with too much of a good thing.


Along with your staple crops, you need variety within the box. This includes an assortment of crops each week, but also make sure to add diversity within a crop group. A great example would be adjusting your greens production, so you do not oversaturate customers with the same kind of green week after week. Switching each week between flat-leaf kale, curly kale, Swiss chard, collards, lettuce, baby kale, or a bundled mix can keep customers interested in new items and prevent you from over-harvesting any single crop. Another great crop you can vary is peppers, as they are diverse in shape, size, color, flavor, and heat while also providing good bulk. This can allow you to increase the variety of peppers grown and used in each box as the different categories of sweet, green, mild (poblano), and hot peppers (jalapeño, habañero) have their uniqueness in cooking and provide a variety without overwhelming the customer.

Food safety and quality

One of the more critical things to focus on and to stay on top of is food safety and the quality of the produce. Food safety is a make-or-break element for your CSA program. One incident could cause folks to mistrust your produce, leading to lasting repercussions in future seasons and decreased participation in your program. Ensure to wash and store produce correctly and avoid mixing washed produce with dirty produce. Besides food safety, produce quality is a significant factor in retaining customers. Maintaining a high level of produce quality can cause folks to yearn for your level of flavor and freshness that may not be provided by just going to the grocery store. An easy way to check quality and freshness is to taste-test everything yourself. If it tastes terrible, it will also taste bad to your customer. Always look for off-flavors that may result from high-stress conditions in the field or prior to storage. High heat can significantly change the taste of leafy greens, making them bitter or extremely spicy. Not only is taste important, but looks can also impact perceived quality. Storage temperatures can change the look and flavor of your produce over time. Tomatoes stored at low temperatures can lose some sweetness and flavor, while eggplant can show pock marking on the fruit from cold burn.


Consistent recordkeeping is a great way to check your progress for the season compared to last season and an easy way to help plan and make changes for the following season. Keeping information about the composition of each weekly box is essential, especially information about weights, counts, and bundles of different crops and how you used them each week. This information can also help you tell a story or show when something goes wrong. A great example would be providing many beet greens instead of beets, as voles ate the roots badly enough to make them unmarketable. Not only can this help keep track of what went wrong in the past but help prepare for those issues in the future. Keeping weekly records can also show how productive a crop was for that season and allow for comparison across multiple seasons. Different crops can do better or worse depending on seasonal weather conditions.


The last but potentially most important advice that can help you in your CSA is flexibility. The communication you send the day before box pickup is always a guide, not the end-all-be-all. Allow yourself to drop items from the box if you are unhappy with them (taste, quality issues), even if it is the day of packing. This can cause supply and box value issues, so it is helpful to over-produce some crops that store well, allowing you to adjust as problems arise. Some examples include carrots, kohlrabi, turnips, beets, or radish, all of which can make up for a potentially bad crop that week. We also provide some wiggle room in box pick-up times. The Purdue Student Farm has a relatively narrow pick-up window of 2 hours on Fridays. Most customers can make it every week, but we are flexible for folks who may have forgotten to pick it up or need to pick it up earlier in the day as they are heading out of town for the weekend. These situations can sometimes throw a wrench into your plans, but we always try to adjust and help our customers, as that provides an excellent foundation of trust for our CSA program.

For more information about the Purdue Student Farm or our CSA program, reach out to Chris Adair at


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