Though they have been around, in some form or another, for a long time now, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are becoming more and more relevant to the modern food market. For those new to the scene, Community Supported Agriculture is a way of buying crops and products directly from local farmers. Basically, consumers purchase a “share” in the farm’s growing season, which is paid back in the form of fresh produce.
More and more, CSA programs are available for folks to enjoy. They can be easily found at farmers’ markets and co-ops, but they can also be found online. Essentially, it’s like investing up front to get delicious returns once the crops are grown. Farmers will deliver baskets, have them ready for pick up at markets or bring them to designated spots each week. What’s in the basket is what’s in season and at the height of flavor and freshness.
There are numerous reasons to try out a CSA program.
Food miles is something that’s cropping up more often these days. In a nutshell, we are moving our food around the planet far too much to feed ourselves sustainably. This is largely a result of eating imported crops and subsisting too often on processed foods.
With a CSA program, our food miles are cut substantially. Instead of buying imports, we buy what grows at local farms. Instead of relying on processed foods, we are eating fresh fruits and vegetables. That means our food isn’t coming from thousands of miles away.
Reducing our food miles comes with another great bonus: We are supporting the local economy. Small businesses — local farms — are earning better profits by dealing directly with customers rather than corporations, and the exchanged money is staying in the immediate vicinity.
The stronger our local economies become, the more self-reliant our communities will be. We can learn to support each other, and, in turn, we support ourselves by keeping the economics near home. CSAs are a remarkably good way of doing this with food.
In addition to food miles being a plague to the planet, they are an easy way of pointing out just how few fresh ingredients we actually get to use. Tomatoes from Mexico, strawberries from Chile, and citrus from Spain can equate to everything being available year-round, but it’s not really all that fresh.
Fresh ingredients taste it. That’s why we can recognize the difference between a homegrown tomato versus a hydroponically-grown one. That’s why eating asparagus in the spring is such a different experience than eating it in December. Freshness matters, and CSA baskets are full of the freshest stuff, often picked just before they make it to the customer.
While leaving grocery selections in the hands of others scares some cooks, it can also be exciting. CSA programs are typically based on what’s growing at the farm, and particularly, what’s growing well. Consequently, baskets often have unusual vegetables and fruits, sometimes ones customers have never seen.
Usually, farmers will have great suggestions for how to use unfamiliar vegetables, including free recipes. It also adds some spontaneity to the weekly meal plan because most of us tend to be creatures of habit, stuck on the same produce each week. CSA baskets help us break out of that rut.
In order to keep the produce fresh, CSA baskets and boxes change with the season. When berries are bursting, they’ll likely be in the basket. When rhubarb is thriving, a few stalks will probably be there to play with. When tomatoes are booming, when squashes are abundant, when corn finally makes it on stage… new stuff comes with each season.
Very few of us eat seasonally, but it’s a fun thing to do. It keeps our staple vegetables cycling, and it keeps us eating what’s freshest. In general, greens of some sort are available year-round, and gardens are always pumping out huge harvests of seasonal treats. Nature seems to work with our bodies by providing the right conditions at the right time for what we need.
Perhaps, most obviously, the health attributes of eating locally-grown, hopefully organic (plenty organic CSA programs are available) and plant-based are extremely high. A weekly basket of fresh produce helps us stay focused on taking advantage of the amazingness the earth offers to feed us, and that means we’ll be steering clear of what factories are offering.
CSA programs are the way we should be moving with our food. They are the right answer to so many of the problems with the food system. They reduce food miles. They clean up our food, replacing the processed with fresh ingredients and taking chemicals out of the mix. They build up our local economies and bond our communities. And, we get to eat incredibly tasty stuff. That’s doing life right.
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