Tuesday, February 23, 2010
First, what is a CSA? CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it is a way that we as consumers can support small, sustainable farming in our own communities. In a CSA, you pay a sum of money up-front to the farmers, usually around this time of year, in exchange for a share in their harvest. This means that the farmers have the cash in hand to get their crops planted. It also means that some of the great risk that our small-scale farmers inevitably must take (due to unpredictable weather, pests, etc.) is softened somewhat. You agree to share some of the farmer's risk. Then, during the growing season, you pick up a weekly basket that represents your share in the harvest. If it's a bumper crop, you share in the bounty! And if there's a drought or a pest situation, your basket may be on the lighter side. And of course, you don't get to pick and choose what's in your basket -- but what you get will always be seasonal, local, and fresh.
So, why is my family buying a share in a CSA? Especially considering the amount of food I plan to be growing right here in my very own backyard? Just how many vegetables can one family eat, anyway? Here are five of my reasons:
1. Farms that participate in Community Supported Agriculture are exactly the kinds of farms I want to subsidize. Even those that are not certified organic (mine is) tend to practice sustainable small-scale farming that is exactly what we need to see more of in this country. Even if I wasn't getting 20 baskets of produce out of the deal, I would want to be giving these people my money, just to help ensure that they can continue doing what they're doing. The best way to support a system is with your consumer dollars -- I am voting with my money for local, sustainable farms.
2. Joining a CSA gives you a relationship with a local farm. In our case, we will pick up our share every week from the farm itself. It will be part of our routine to visit the farm, and see exactly where our food is coming from. In some cases, you can even volunteer your time during times of greatest need (harvesting a fast-ripening crop, or getting a crop planted before the rains) in exchange for a larger share. Particularly for families with children, a CSA is a great way to demonstrate that food doesn't really come from the grocery store.
3. Produce from a CSA share will invariably contain things you've never cooked, or possibly even eaten, before. As adventurous as your palette may be, I'm betting that you haven't bought and prepared every single fruit or vegetable available. All of us tend to fall into food ruts, serving green beans every week. A CSA share guarantees variety, because different veggies are ready for harvest at different times. Consider it a culinary adventure. Don't know what to do with turnips? Hey, what better time to find out?
4. Even if you have a garden, you can't grow everything. Participating in a CSA frees you up to focus on those vegetables you know you can grow well. Maybe your yard's not big enough for sweet corn, or you haven't had time to establish an asparagus patch. Let the CSA share fill in the gaps, and enjoy growing your tomatoes and peppers.
5. Food from a CSA, unlike food from the grocery store, is guaranteed to support good health. Shopping for healthful food can be confusing, with competing health claims contradicting each other every other week. Low-fat? Gluten-free? Fish oil supplements? But guess what -- fresh vegetables are always in style. And, again, variety is assured by the reliance on what is local and seasonal.
If you're interested in joining a CSA this year, there's no time to waste. LocalHarvest has a good directory of CSA programs across the USA, or you can try the USDA's information on finding a CSA as well.