Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Joining a CSA

I've been meaning to write about this for some time.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Its a nifty little arrangement wherein you pay a fee and get weekly deliveries of in-season produce all summer long from a farm near you. Usually, CSAs are started within your community/town/city and they require a certain number of people to participate. The delivery point may be a community center, or sometimes its a local farm market.

The reason I'm writing about this now is because enrollment usually happens in late winter/early spring so the farm knows how many people it will be providing food for. The money you paid goes directly to the farm, aside from (normally) a small administration fee to the CSA. The produce is usually organic - not to get into that whole gigantic, messed up issue, but it must be addressed.

For some people, organic produce is a high priority. In my opinion, local produce is more important than organic produce. Before you get super hung-up on "organic", consider that small, family run farms sometimes would rather devote their energies to consciencious farming than to the expensive and grueling process of becoming "certified organic". Let us not forget that "organic" doesn't mean grown without pesticides - it means grown without the use of SYNTHETIC pesticides. And frankly, there are organic pesticides that are far more poisonous than synthetics. Most importantly, in a CSA, the farmer is a member of your community and if he/she can look you in the eye and tell you that the produce you are about to eat is safe, well, thats worht a lot more than the government telling you that the farmer jumped through the right hoops and paid enough money to be "certified organic".

(shudder. I hate the organic debate.)

This will be our second season in the Sunnyside CSA. We end up paying something like $21 a week for our share, with the season running from the week of Memorial Day (weather dependent) to the week of Thanksgiving. Its a little high, to be sure. And you might struggle with the price, so I wanted to share my experience and maybe it will help you decide:

Is joining a CSA right for you?

1. You have to like vegetables. A lot.
2. You have to like cooking.
3. You have to be willing to break out of your cooking comfort zone and try new recipes.
4. if you have a lot of cook books, or like searching for recipes on the internet, you'll be in heaven.
5. you have to want to eat at home most nights of the week.
6. You like to be challenged in your cooking.
7. You want to eat more salad. Lots more salad.
8. You'd spend around $20 a week in fresh produce anyway.

there is no set amount for what you receive, like a weight or something. My CSA provides something like 6-8 different vegetables every week. I love to cook and my husband and I both love vegetables, so between the two of us, we had almost zero wasted produce for the entire six months (but remember, we also have a rabbit who ate his share!). I defintely learned a lot of new recipes. And we definitely ate a LOT more salad. I don't think we got a single delivery that didn't have lettuce, arugula, or some type of salad green in it. I liked being given vegetables I wouldn't normally buy and finding ways to cook and enjoy them, but I know this is something that would freak out some people.

The good people who set up our CSA went the extra mile and have a meat vendor at our pick ups, which was so great. The meat guy isn't affiliated with the farm where the vegetables are grown, but they raise natural meats with minimal processing - and again, local is the key.

My CSA also offers a fruit share for an additional cost. I think this is what we enjoyed most, because getting seriously good, ripe fruit at a grocery store is next to impossible. When we had too many plums, we threw them in a bottle and infused vodka with them - a delicious way to use up a windfall!

Ready to find your CSA? Start by googling "CSA" and your town. Try your local health food shop, community center, or visit your local farmer's market. Visit Local Harvest, which will help you find a CSA in your area. This would be a great place to start looking for a farm if you want to organize a CSA in your community. And do it soon - most CSAs are full before the seeds are even in the ground!

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