Community Supported Agriculture
If you don’t grow your own vegetables, raise your own chickens, or maintain your own fruit orchard, the next best option is to participate in a local CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. I participated in one last year and absolutely loved it. Essentially, CSA programs allow you to buy a “share” of a local farmer’s crop in advance. Then, throughout the growing season (May through October) you receive a weekly assortment of fresh fruits, vegetables, and buttery farm-fresh eggs.
To get involved, search for a participating farms in your area. Local Harvest is an amazing database of farmers nationwide. Simply plug in your zip code and research the farms in your area. Each farmer sets his own price per share (usually $200 – $600), plus his farming practices (organic or pesticide-free), typical crops, and delivery/pickup options. If you have questions, you can contact a farmer directly. If you’re interested in my experience, here are a few highlights:
Variety, variety, variety. I could not believe the incredible variety of vegetables and fruit I received each week in my large laundry-sized basket, all of which had been picked within 24 hours. Fresh beets, asparagus, carrots, squashes, melons, berries, potatoes, mushrooms, onions, herbs, and several varieties of lettuce were among my favorites. I met vegetables I’d never heard of before and learned about different varieties of my favorites. It felt like an exciting surprise every week.
Convenience. My share was delivered to my doorstep each week because several of my neighbors also participated in shares from the same farmer. Normally, our farmer offered a local pickup spot, but because there were several of us, it was worth his time to deliver to us directly. It was ridiculously convenient. If you have several neighbors interested, you might approach your local farmers and see if they’d do the same.
Value. My share, paid in advance, worked out to about $17.50 per week for a laundry-sized basket chock full of fruits, veggies, and a dozen fresh eggs. If I bought the same items at my local grocery store, I would have easily paid double, if not triple, the amount. Plus, most of the food at my grocery store is not nearly as fresh and isn’t likely to have been grown locally.
Freshness. The food I received was so fresh, colorful, and flavorful, it put to shame every other bite of store-bought food I’d ever purchased. And because it hadn’t spent weeks traveling to get to me, it lasted forever. I had a head of lettuce that lasted nearly four weeks without wilting—amazing! And don’t even get me started on fresh eggs. There isn’t enough space here to contain my love.
Education. Not only did I get to know new foods, I got to know my farmer’s family. We’d chat a bit at each delivery and I’d get information about the food I received as well as cooking tips, recipes, and insight about how farming works and when certain vegetables are in peak season. Most of the farmers offer “farm days” where share owners can come and tour the farm, meet the staff and animals, and see their crops growing right before their eyes. It’s a great activity for kids.
Unbelievable flavor. You probably already know the enormous difference between the flavor of a garden grown tomato and one from the grocery store. Now, imagine that same difference with every other fruit and vegetable you eat throughout the season. There simply is no comparison.
CSAs are also a great way to support your local economy. Small farms are becoming more rare, so programs like these keep them in business. Additionally, small farms use little or no chemicals and hormones to treat the food. It’s better for your body and the environment. And speaking of the environment, the food isn’t crossing countries or oceans to reach you, which saves noxious fumes from boats, planes, and trucks during transportation. It really is win/win for everyone involved. If you’re interested in participating, now is the time to contact a local farm. Shares are generally sold January through March.
Have you participated in a CSA program? Share your thoughts in the comments section!