Monday, April 23, 2007

Are CSA's Right for You?

A friend emailed today looking for a local CSA which still has room. How nice that some are closed, though I hope he finds one. CSA's , Community Supported Agriculture co-ops, allow farmers to support themselves in American communities where generally it is no longer price-effective to do so, and they also provide the local population with home-grown fresh foods. Some are certified organic; others use organic principles but are not certified so the level of pesticides is generally much lower than conventional produce.
The concept is simple. A household buys a share at the beginning of the season, usually in the $400 range. (This is not for low-income folks....) This entitles you to a weekly supply of whatever the farm is producing that week, generally from May to October, depending on the growing season where you live. It offers the farmers income to cover their costs until the crops come in, and the ability to make a modest living sticking with farming instead of being forced off their land. It offers communities encroached upon by urban sprawl local farms and open space. And by consuming food grown closer to home, we lower our ecological footprints. Because the food is fresher, it is generally found to be more flavorful, and in the peak of health.
Lots of people love being members and participating in the farming community. Often CSAs hold picnic demonstration days at the farm where people get acquainted with their fellow shareholders as well as with the farmers.
I split a share with a neighbor a few years ago and found that while I loved the concept and was happy to pay for a share, the practical aspects didn't work out that well for my family's lifestyle. We are not adventurous eaters or cooks. Okay, we're picky control freaks. I got a lot of complaints about the unknown vegetables that would arrive (Chinese turnip was particularly plentiful). I also found that not having control over the quantity made me anxious, worrying about cooking the produce before it spoiled. Some CSA's are moving in the direction of giving shareholders more choice, probably because lots of folks had the same reaction.
I now just go to a weekly farmers market where I buy the specific local foods I know we will eat. But for those open to the process, it's neat to see what comes each week and learn the cycles of the growing seasons and get acquainted with all kinds of interesting vegetables. Most people who participate feel they totally get their money's worth, but since it is a share, if there is a drought or a bad growing season, the results are reflected in a smaller weekly basket. Same is true if there's a bumper crop - zucchini for the next millennium!
Any CSA members out there who can weigh in on your experiences?

1 comment:

Julie H. said...

My CSA experience mirrors yours. For a couple years I had a half-share in a lovely organic farm, and reluctantly gave it up when my vegetable-eating kid left for college. The idea of having to tackle a half-basket solo every week made no sense.

The good part: Pages of great recipes would come in each week's basket. And they would predict what was going to be in next week’s basket, so that was some help. It was good to learn to roast and enjoy all sorts of vegetables I had avoided or never noticed before. (Florence fennel? Rutabagas?) The bad part: an over-abundance of heirloom beets!

Now I shop at a local farmers’ market each week from April-December and have a tiny vegetable garden of my own in the summer. I relish the unlimited choices. I’m still glad to have had the experience of cooking whatever was picked fresh that day, with no concerns about what to shop for or what to cook. The answer to “what’s for dinner” revealed itself when it arrived on my doorstep. I wasted so little time (or money) in stores compared to now. Pretty simple! But obviously confining, too.

I love reading your blog. I would have run out of topics to write about long long ago, but yet you keep finding interesting things to cover on a daily basis. Thanks for doing this.