A CSA, which stands for community-supported agriculture, can be a wonderful way to learn about different kinds of produce while supporting local communities. From the farmers' perspectives, the model provides a reliable base of customers for their seasonal produce, which can be a crucial lifeline for smaller operations. For the consumers, CSAs can also be a great way to force home cooks out of their comfort zones with whatever they're given that week or month.
CSAs have grown in popularity in recent years, and these days, you can get practically anything via its model. No longer just for vegetables, CSAs run the gamut from community-supported fisheries to gelato shares. Yep, gelato.
Here are just some of the many CSAs you can sign up for:
Grain shares, like Massachusetts-based Pioneer Valley, offer whole grains and flours. If you're up for milling your own wheat or simply getting flour that hasn't been overly processed, a grain CSA may be for you.
In light of the honeybee crisis--"more than 40 percent of honeybee colonies died" between April 2012 and April 2013, the Wall Street Journal reports--joining a honey CSA right now is more responsible than ever. You're not just getting locally produced honey when you join communities like Urban Bee Co., but you're also joining the stewardship movement.
Community-supported fisheries, like Mermaid's Garden in Brooklyn or Community Seafood in Santa Barbara, are an excellent way to support sustainable fishing methods, another crucial issue right now. Say so long to fish fraud and hello to sustainable seafood.
Call it "ranch to table." Thanks to places like New York's 8 O'clock Ranch or Garden of Eve, the meat CSA movement is alive and thriving, delivering sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken to the meat lovers of America. Carnivores can finally participate.
In addition to meat, many farms, like New York's Greyrock Farm, are also offering dairy in CSAs. This means milk, and, yes, it also means cheese. Milk Not Jails takes the CSA mission to the next level by not only supporting community agriculture but also advocating for prison reform in New York State.
Speaking of dairy CSAs going the extra mile, Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery in Illinois offers gelato in its CSA during certain times of the year. Pints of gelato delivered straight to your door: Just think about that.
"Community-supported alcohol," as it's come to be called, is pretty easy to get behind. Unlike a wine-of-the-month club, winemakers offer shares of wine, often limited edition, that buyers agree to purchase in advance of production. Hudson Valley-based Enlightenment Wines also follows the CSA model by delivering directly to the consumer, and the winery goes so far as to welcome customer feedback, suggestions and even participation.
Of course, vegetable-centric CSAs aren't going out of style either, and some go beyond simply delivering seasonal produce. Wisconsin's Harvest Moon Farms offers a multimedia experience with its deliveries, including e-newsletters and videos. Transplanting Traditions supports refugee adults and children by giving them access to land and then facilitating their sales.
Also on HuffPost: