i absolutely *love* my CSA, and i want to share my love for it with you, so that maybe you will go out an join a CSA too (if you live in so cal, you can join ours!).
first of all, what is a CSA?
CSA stands for "community supported agriculture". it is a way of getting produce straight from a local farm, usually through a subscription. most commonly, people subscribe for a whole season and get a weekly share of the farm's produce. in this way you are sharing in the risk of a farm: in good years you get lots of produce, in bad years you get less, but its always local, fresh and delicious.
secondly, what is the benefit of joining a CSA, rather than getting produce from a store or farmer's market?
the consumer benefits from a CSA in many ways. the produce from a CSA is often cheaper than in a store, since it is local and in season. it is also more nutritious and tastes better, since it was usually harvested within a few days of coming to you. you also benefit by knowing the growing practices of your farmer: many small farmers cannot afford official organic certification (which costs a lot of money) but may practice all organic methods. you also become more connected with the source of your food, possibly even building a friendship with your farmer.
the farmers benefit by not having to go out and look for customers: when people subscribe at the beginning of the season, they already knows who has paid for the farm's produce. also, they get to hear directly from the consumers, which can be encouraging to them especially when they are putting in 16 hour days at harvest time. furthermore, a CSA cuts out the middle man, so the farmer gets a greater profit from his hard work (many farmers are way underpaid for the work they do, while food companies and grocery stores continue to rake in cash).
where can i find out about a CSA near me?
Local Harvest is a great place to start. if you live in so cal, you can ask me, as i am familiar with several around here, but of course i love ours the best :)
there is a great variety in CSA's: some focusing more on fruit or veggies, some delivering weekly, some bi-weekly, etc. some are certified organic, some are completely conventional, some are bio-dynamic without an organic label. some CSA's require a seasonal subscription, some yearly, and some monthly (although ours just goes week to week). there are even meat and dairy CSA's, though produce is much more common. look around at the options and find what works for you and your family!
why i love our CSA
to be honest, at first i didn't really like our CSA. the veggies that came in our box (lots of strange things i had never made before like kale, chard, kohlrabi) were difficult to cook with and didn't taste very good. but i was committed to the idea of the CSA and this was much cheaper than any other CSA, so i kept ordering.
fortunately, things went up from there. i learned better and new recipes, and i also learned lots of ways to hide strange veggies in recipes that we already enjoy. many things that were formerly weird are now normal parts of our routine. and now, every time we get a box, i smile as i open it, thankful for the delicious and nutritious contents inside.
every week is a surprise. though our CSA does send out an email each week to give you a heads up for what to expect, it still usually varies from what they predict. i love opening a box to see what is inside, creating menu plans for the week in my head.
the box saves time shopping. when i pick up our box, i know that we are set for the most part for veggies for the next two weeks. no deliberating over which veggies to buy because they are on sale, or trying to decide before i go to the store what the menu plan for the week is going to be. one trip to pick up a box and we are set.
the veggies are often heirloom varieties. which means they usually look weird. we get yellow tomatoes and purple basil in the summer. our broccoli is almost more leaf than floret. but i like it that way, knowing that they aren't genetically altered, and that people have probably been eating this variety for decades, or even hundreds of years.
last week, while cutting up parsley, i got stung by a thorny weed. now, the sting wasn't too fun, but i had to smile knowing that they don't use round-up or any herbicides on the fields. which means that weeds will happen. in fact, i regularly find weeds in our boxes, most especially crabgrass.
what could make me smile more than weeds in our box? bugs in our box. they usually hang out in the lettuce and other leafy greens. its not uncommon for a spider or beetle to crawl out while i am washing or chopping veggies. now, i am not a fan of spiders crawling around me, but again, i have to smile that the bugs were not killed by pesticides (which after i ingest them would be slowly killing me too).
i have rather enjoyed learning new veggies. i already fancied myself a pretty good cook, but my horizons have definitely been expanded through our veggie box. my favorite new recipes are turkey-cranberry arugula salad and lemon-nutmeg creamed greens. yum!
i love knowing that our veggies are regularly picked at the peak of freshness and that they didn't sit for weeks in a truck or boat, transported from some far off location. fresh not only means more nutritious, but it also contributes to much better flavor. i have heard it explained that the reason that many people don't like veggies is because they have only experienced flavorless canned veggies, or store-bough produce picked so early it never has time to develop good flavor. i couldn't agree more.
do you order from a CSA? what do you like about it? what do you dislike?