Sunday, June 10, 2012

Why I Joined a CSA and Why You Should Too

I'm now two weeks into my CSA share, which is short for Community Supported Agriculture, a CSA is basically a share in a farm’s crop for a season.

Many CSA farms also have farm stands, where you can get local produce without joining a CSA, or as a supplement to your share. But a CSA is called a share for a reason. It’s a collective. You pay upfront, so you are actually supporting the operations of the farm. You are investing in the farm for that season. Generally, if the farm has a great week, you might get extras in your crate. Other than guaranteed fresh veggies, here are the other reasons I signed up, and why everyone should consider doing so.

It tastes and is better.
Chances are by the time something reaches your grocery store from some far away foreign country, days or weeks have past. Nutrients have degraded. So has the moisture content. You can tell by the color and smell. This means the flavor has degraded too. This means not as yummy and juicy. When was the last time you bought a tomato at the grocery store that was bright red on the inside and out? That you could smell while it was stilling on the counter? That spilled red, tomato-y juiciness when you cut it open and not a few drops of clear water. Or a cucumber that didn’t look like wax paper or green beans that actually made a snapping sound when bit into them? 

You make better eating decisions.
Every week you get your crate. You have all this produce. If you’re like me, you hate to waste it. So, I’m going to be more likely to cook because I have food in the house. I’m more likely to cook healthy, but I have healthy food in the house.  Because I cook it myself, I know exactly what and how much I’m eating. So I'm not eating the preservatives and chemicals I would be likely to eat take-out food and prepackaged food, which also has added fat and salt and who knows what to make it taste good. I’m also less likely to have pre-packaged food in my pantry and fridge, because I have to have a place to put all these fruits and vegetables.

You learn to get creative in the kitchen.
I think the most popular comment I’ve heard from first-time CSA participants is this: "What do I do with all this kale?" Well, you go on the internet and you look up recipes. And you substitute kale for other green leafy vegetables, like spinach and cabbage, in some of your recipe. Sauteed Kale in Olive Oil in Garlic tastes just as good as spinach, and Colcannon with kale is amazingly delicious. You can also get creative and come up with your own recipes, so (shameless plug alert) you should follow my recipe blog over here: 

It’s good for my economy.
My bunch of kale from a local farm still costs less than it does from a large commercial farm. When I buy from a local farm, I’m buying it direct from the producer, so there are no middle men. I’m not paying for it to be transported; I’m not paying a mark-up to a store that sells it.
While the saving may be only dollars per week, it adds up for me for the course of 22 weeks, as well as for my community. Look at the big picture. The farm owners pay local people to work at the farm stand, the owners and employees shop at the same stores I do, eat at the same restaurants, contribute to the tax-base of my town, county, and state, therefore supporting the schools, infrastructure, and services where I live. We are part of and support the same community.

There is less impact on the environment.
My CSA is about 1 mile from my house. I get 30 miles to the gallon in my car. In round-trips for the 22 weeks of my CSA, I will use less than 1½ gallons of gas getting my food.  Plus, it’s actually closer to me than my closest grocery store. A box truck gets about 10 miles to the gallon, a semi, less than 7 mpg. Do the math.

People don’t usually consider the environmental impact of processing, let alone transporting their food. Think of what went in to getting you that lettuce from Mexico, or that garlic from China. Yes. China. Did you know 60% of the US supply of apple juice comes all the way from China? That’s stuff is bulky and heavy. Think about the carbon footprint of your food next time you’re at the grocery store. It all counts. You may take public transportation to work, but with that glass of juice, you may as well be driving a Hummer.

Not everyone can have a CSA so close, but there are enough out there, with a variety of pick-up and delivery options, that you can surely find one that will work for you. And that pick-up truck that drives from the farm 30 miles out of the city to the pick-up point down the street from your house, gets better gas mileage than a delivery truck.

CSAs are better for the environment and you because, local farms tend to use…

Less chemicals and freaky stuff.
Small farms, while they can’t always afford to get certified as organic from the USDA, or their state board of agriculture, generally follow more sustainable farming practices. This doesn’t include a lot of harsh pesticides or chemical fertilizers. These practices are expensive and small farms cannot afford to abuse the land by using harsh chemicals.

They also are generally hands-on so they can keep an eye on what is going on with the crops and immediately rectify situations before they become problems.

The best part is this, if you have questions about pesticides, fertilizers, or GMO plants and seeds, guess what? You can actually ASK THE GROWER!!! And guess what, they will know the answer because they planted the seeds, they feed and watered the plants. That’s the person that grew YOUR food! You can ask them to their face. They will probably even show you how it's done.

It’s generally safer.
And speaking of that garlic and apple juice from China... As much as I have issues with the USDA and food regulatory agencies in the US, I’m even more skeptical about the food regulations of third-world and developing countries which may not even have any regulations on food production, storage, and transportation. Let alone regulations and standards on the water supply or pollution.

And most importantly...
It connects me with the land and it feeds my soul.
As a Pagan, I worship the cycles of the Earth. My holidays are based in agricultural seasons: sowing, growing, harvesting, and lying fallow. Until the last century, people ate food in cycle with nature. They worked the land and in return it gave them life-sustaining food. They ate what was fresh and in season.
I worship the land, give offerings, and work with nature spirits where I live.  By eating food from the land that I live and worship on, it creates a relationship with land around me and creates a cycle of give and take. I may not tend to the plants that become my food, but this connect is made when I tend my flowers in my yard, when pick up litter in the stream that feeds into the same river that the farm uses as a reservoir for water, when I feed the birds that help pollination and the spreading of seeds to grow the farm's crops.

It makes me smile when I know that the land that I stand on also supports my body from the inside out.  It makes me care more what happens to this land I step on. It reminds me that I have an impact on the Earth, and that impact goes beyond the tiny speck of Earth that I am standing on. It makes me ask what more can I do? How far I can reach?

All these factors together make a huge impact on your health and environment. It all adds up, for the better.

For more information on eating local and CSAs, go to:

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