Ever heard of Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA? It's an alternative way to support local farms and benefit communities with fresh, locally grown food. Here's how it works – at the beginning of the growing season (around this time of the year – March to April), famers offer a certain number of shares to the public, of which us us non-farmers can buy. It's like buying a share of a company, but instead of earning dollars on your investment, you receive a weekly delivery of fresh food from the farm during the growing season (typically May through October, but it varies across the country). This food can include fruit, vegetables, herbs, cut flowers, honey, eggs, dairy products, meat, and even home baked bread!
I first learned about CSA's last year, when my good friend and fellow blogger (Remember the Ladies), Rachel, shared with me and our MOMS Club chapter that she joins one every year, buying into shares of a local farm to get fresh, organic produce, meat, and even bread delivered right to her doorstep. My husband and I haven't joined one yet because we're in the process of moving, but plan on doing so soon, so I'll let Rachel tell you about her experience, in her own words:
Inspired to Join A CSA after Watching “Food, Inc.”
Two years ago on a February night, my husband and I were searching Netflix for something to watch. We came across the movie, “Food, Inc,” which I figured was about healthy eating. Since I thought we ate pretty healthy as a family, I thought this documentary might give me a couple of extra tips I hadn’t thought of before. Boy, was I wrong! Instead, it totally changed the way I define healthy food and showed us where grocery store food REALLY comes from. I knew we needed to find a more local, organic source of food for our family.
As soon as the documentary ended, we hopped on localharvest.org to search for a CSA in our area. We found Willow Haven Farm, only twenty minutes from our home, and bought a vegetable share. We could choose to have the share delivered to our door or to go to the farm and pick it up. We decided to pick it up so our children could actually see where their food came from.
In June our CSA season began and we drove to the farm to pick up our first box of vegetables. The farmland was gorgeous and Reuben, the farmer, was so friendly and kind. He paused in his plowing and planting to show us his new beehive and some of the fields where the food had grown and gave us our box of vegetables.
We Picked Up Our First Box
I couldn’t wait to go home and see what was inside! When we got home, everything in the box was green including kale, bags of lettuce and field greens, (darker in color and fresher than I’d ever seen before), and also what I thought was an usual kind of celery. Turns out it was rhubarb! Good thing Reuben emails us each week telling us what vegetables were in the box!
Simply In Season Cookbook
Preparing the vegetables received was a big adventure! I could not have known how to prepare many of the things without my favorite cookbook, Simply in Season, by Mary Beth Lind. This cookbook is divided into four sections, one for each season and the recipes for each season contain only produce that is ripe during that season, allowing me to use all the produce I am given. The recipes are also simple to follow and don’t call for a can or box of any prepackaged ingredients. Everything is from scratch, yet not complicated.
In addition to the vegetables, Willow Haven offers farm days where all the CSA members gather to visit the farm and visit with each other and share a potluck meal. There are also opportunities to come to the farm for classes in bread making, yogurt making, or beer making. Or you could volunteer your time on the farm to help with planting, harvesting, or other jobs on the farm.
We Love Being Connected to Where Our Food Comes From – A Local Farm!
We are now about to enter our family’s third year with Willow Haven. We love being so connected with where our food came from. In the grocery store, you have no idea where or how something was grown or who grew it. Chances are it was not grown nearby, but traveled thousands of miles over many days to get to the store. And it was probably picked way before it was ripe so it could make the long journey, which greatly lessens the nutritional value of the produce. But when you belong to a CSA, the farmer picked it that day or the day before and then it comes directly to your home where you get to eat the freshest, most delicious food you have ever had in your life! Do yourself a favor and try a CSA in your area this year!
According to localharvest.org, which has a database of over 4,000 CSA-participating farms, there are about two million farms in America, and about 80% of them are small, family-owned farms, so joining a CSA is a great way to support these farmers and ensure fresh food can be grown in your area. Plus,
“Most produce in the US is picked 4 to 7 days before being placed on supermarket shelves, and is shipped for an average of 1500 miles before being sold. And this is when taking into account only US grown products!” (source: https://www.localharvest.org/buylocal.jsp)
How Is Joining A CSA Green?
So joining a CSA is a great way to reduce greenhouse gases and oil dependency, which becomes more important as gas prices rise and produce prices will rise with it.
I always check to see where my produce has been grown before I buy it, after hearing from a nutritionist that food from other countries is not as tightly regulated as food grown in the USA. I usually think twice before picking up a bag of grapes that's from Chile, or clementines that flew from Morocco.
To find out more, or to see what you can buy from the farms in your area, visit https://www.localharvest.org/organic-farms/ and type in your zip code. A list of all the farms in your area will appear! Click on a farm, and you'll see how much a share costs, exactly which foods are included in that share, and their growing season, along with contact information to call the farmers themselves.