Friday, July 29, 2016

What is this CSA Nonsense?

I've been writing about our CSA since 2013, so if I'm doing the math correctly, this is our fourth year, but I guess I've never actually written about the basics. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Essentially we buy a share of a farm at the beginning of the growing season and we get a basket of vegetables every week during the growing season. It helps to offset some of the upfront costs for the farmers, but we do take on some risk because if there's a drought or plant failure we might not get some foods (there were remarkably few snap peas this year and the melon situation at our farm has never gone well, for instance).  Here are the major benefits, as I see it.

1) We are supporting a small, local business. Our farmers are Dennis and Anne at Regenerative Roots. I want them to succeed because they are great, thoughtful people who really care about the land and proper management of soil and water resources. I can't say enough about how great it is to know that our kale was planted and picked by such wonderful people.
The farm. Photo credit to Regenerative Roots.
2) We get fresh food grown locally. Sure, I'm super jealous when my friends who live in Washington state are getting garlic scapes in fucking April, but I know that when it's in our basket, it's going to be fresh and delicious, even if we do have to wait until late June to get started.

3) Joining the CSA changed how I eat. I used to wonder how people were supposed to get 7 - 9 servings of vegetables a day, but that first year we got baskets, I quickly learned. You just eat them all the time. You want a snack in my house? Your option is chopped vegetables or yogurt. Lunch? How about a vegetable soup or some more chopped vegetables? You're hungry? Great. There are some radishes in that crisper that need to get eaten.

4) It makes me branch out and not eat the same thing every day.  Life of a Doctor's Wife asked about some of the logistics of the CSA and here it goes. Our farmers send us an email on Wednesday telling us what is in the basket, along with storage tips (in the fridge or on the counter? wash first or not?), and some recipes.  Then we pick it up on Thursday and that's that.

Having a CSA has encouraged me to try a lot of new things. I really enjoy papalo iced tea, baba ganoush, and kohlrabi, none of which I had made or eaten before. There are still some troubling vegetables. Beets are a puzzle still. I just don't like them. We struggle to use all our herbs - we've wasted so much basil and sage that it's a bit embarrassing. However, overall we do use most of our baskets and we feel pretty good about it.

Our farmers also highly recommended we buy Fairshare CSA Coalition's cookbook (above), which is dedicated to recipes using ingredients local to our geographic area. We bought it the first year and used it, but honestly most of the recipes require too many steps or a combination of ingredients we get in different weeks so we don't use it very much these days, but my favorite slaw recipe came from this book.  Anyway, if you join a CSA, you should look for something similar for your area!

5) It saves us money? Okay, I phrased this as a question because I'm not entirely sure that it does save us money. Our health insurance reimburses us about half the price of our share, which brings the price down enough that I think it's worth it for us. But we do end up buying ingredients we wouldn't necessarily buy to use some of the ingredients (like pickling spice and tumeric for the pickles, tahini paste for the baba ganoush, and SO MANY LEMONS).  Our farmers keep track of how much the baskets are worth at a farmers' market and make sure we get an extra basket or two based on how much we paid up front, so it really is a deal.

Again, I think it's worth it to our family, but just be aware that it doesn't always lower our grocery bill during the season when we're getting our baskets.

6) It can build community. Our farmers usually have 2-3 events at the farm every year. They've had bonfires, potlucks, pumpkin picking in the fall, gleaning in the fields, and farm tours. We've had the chance to meet other like-minded food interested people at these events.  We don't always take advantage of these get togethers because they're frequently on weekends when I work the most, so it's not always ideal, but we do always try to get to the pumpkin picking!

Overall, I LOVE our CSA. I really do. We don't even discuss whether or not we're doing it again now. We just do it. It might not be for you or your family or it might just be the thing you need to kick you in the rear to start thinking about canning, freezing, and eating more vegetables.

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