Do you ever think about the future of food – your food? I talk a lot about eating home-cooked foods made with locally-grown ingredients. Some of the food we eat at our house is as local as you can get because it comes straight from our backyard. But, if you don’t have the space, time or inclination to grow your own food, then you need a farmer!
Just as you have a dentist, a family doctor, and a postman, you can “hire” a local farmer to grow fresh, seasonal food for you by getting involved in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. A CSA is one of the most reliable ways to keep your dinner plate full of the best foods and, when you join one, you’ll be helping a farmer stay in business and you’ll keep money in your local economy.
Here’s how a CSA program works: you pay a local farmer a specific amount of money before the start of the growing season, when they need it most. By doing so, you’re investing in the farm over the season – you share in its successes and the failures.
In return, you get a “share” of the harvest each and every week. Harvests are either picked up at the farm itself, or at an agreed upon drop-off location. The share may be a pre-determined box of produce or it may be “market style” where you can choose from a variety of seasonal foods.
One of the best things about a CSA program is that you will discover fruits and vegetables that you might never otherwise experience. Before I started gardening, our CSA introduced us to garlic scapes, rutabagas, celery root, and the big, warty blue and fabulous Hubbards squash. And, you’ll often see heirloom varieties of familiar foods such as a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes, purple-streaked dragon tongue beans, and Thai green eggplant. This is stuff you’ll never see at your local grocery store!
In our current industrial food system, there is no connection between the source of food and your dinner table. All of the information you have about your food is on a label, one that you may not be able to trust. When you buy industrial food, your money goes to big companies run by people who don’t care about your family. These foods have a high environmental impact too because they are transported sometimes thousands of miles before they reach your local grocer.
On the other hand, local farmers are part of the community. They have accountability to the people they feed because they know them. When you know your farmer, you can ask questions about how they grow food. Many farmers will even encourage you to visit their farm because they are proud of their operation and they are happy to show you that they produce food responsibly and with respect for the land. And, because the food is grown close to home and needs far less transportation to get to you, it’s a sustainable way to feed your family.
To find a CSA program near you, visit Local Harvest online. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your program:
- Location – Make sure the pick-up location is one that is convenient for you and that the hours suit your schedule. You don’t want your CSA to become a drag because it’s inconvenient to get your food. Also, find out if you can ask a neighbor or friend to pick up for you in case you are on vacation or cannot make a pick up. Then, split your share with your friend as thanks.
- Variety – Ideally, you want your CSA to be your main source of vegetables with little need to supplement with produce from the grocery.
- Price – A CSA will feel expensive because you pay all at once, at the beginning of the season. Divide this amount by the number of harvest pick-ups to get an idea of the weekly cost. I did not expect to save money when we joined our CSA years ago. I expected to pay a premium because I was getting organically-grown food that, in some cases, was not even available at my local supermarket. And, I believe that farmers deserve to make money for what they do.
- Planning – A CSA will transform the way you eat. Instead of eating whatever you want, whenever you want, you will need to plan meals around what is available. This will require finding new recipes and being willing to try new things so you don’t waste the food in your share.