I heard the term "CSA" for the first time a few years ago. My reaction to hearing that I could pay almost $600 for a season's worth of local, organic vegetables was, "You must be nuts!"
Two years later, I signed up. What changed?
First, it may help to explain what CSA means. The acronym stands for "Community Supported Agriculture" and basically works like this: a bunch of people agree to pay a farm upfront; the farmer then uses the money for seed, supplies, etc; then, once things start growing, the shareholders (those "bunch of people" just mentioned) get a portion of the items grown, usually picked up weekly from about June through October. In addition, some farms may require their shareholders to spend a certain amount of time volunteering on the farm (most farms also offer "work shares" which allow you to "pay" with hours of labor on the farm versus with cash).
What caused me to sign up was a few things. First, I started to really pay attention to how much I was spending on vegetables at the supermarket (our particular CSA does not include much fruit, although there are farms that include fruit and even flowers with their shares). Garlic, onions, potatoes, fresh herbs, carrots, celery, bagged lettuce, peppers, etc. . .it all really added up, even though I wasn't buying organic.
I also missed the gardens of my childhood. My dad has started a garden in our backyard that grew bigger and bigger every year. In the winter, he would write out his plans for where his vegetables would go. Then, he'd plant the tiny seeds and place them under lamps which would help them to grow in our dark basement.
For years of summers, he was in that garden. When harvest time came, there were pole beans, swiss chard, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini (oh, the zucchini!) and other things he wanted to try out. Root vegetables? Not too much luck. Anything that could grow up a net? Sure, no problem! While I don't recall becoming much more adventurous in my eating during those teenage years, the memories are imprinted in my brain and made me long for those summer days of bounty.
So, I sent in my check. Actually, before I did it, I had a conversation with Fairly Odd Father that went something like this:
"Listen, I want to spend almost $600 on vegetables, but it seems like a lot and I want to make sure we discuss this first".
"There are many women who would come to their husband to talk about a $600 handbag, or a pair of shoes. You? You come and talk about vegetables".
Like I said, I sent in my check.
As a "first timer", I've just started to learn about nature's timing. Our summer started out with greens----oh my goodness---3 heads of Romaine, green leaf, red leaf---all in one pick up! Then, just when I couldn't look at another lettuce leaf, we moved on to more variety: the fleeting season of the pea, the luscious taste of just-picked corn, and then pounds and pounds of the most beautiful red, orange and yellow tomatoes I've ever seen. I honestly don't think I can ever bring myself to eat a supermarket tomato again.
Now that I am "involved" in a CSA, I've become somewhat committed to eating locally. I now get my chickens from a farm nearby; my eggs from a friend in the next town. I've read this book and this, which have affected many, many people too.
I still shop at a supermarket though. Fruit is a mainstay in my kids' lives, and while we did pick blueberries and raspberries this year, things like bananas and Granny Smith apples have not been abundant in New England this summer (apples, though, soon!).
But, I notice things: the sticker on the apple that says it is from New Zealand. NEW ZEALAND? How the heck can it make sense to ship bushels of apples across the globe instead of growing them in the United States? Do we have no U.S. apple growers in warmer climates to supply us northerners? It is a bit distressing that my daughter's apple is better traveled than I.
I notice that California is our great growing state. I bow to California. Almost every fruit I purchase is from California. I just never realized this before.
I notice that farming organically is hard work. During my volunteering hours, I weeded basil, leeks and carrots for hours. When those foods arrived in my share a few weeks later, I thought about my fight with the weeds and was glad I had won a round.
I like wondering what will be in my share this week; I like knowing my farmer (hi John!) and knowing that I am, in a small way, contributing to his success; I like the challenge that comes with 10 pounds of tomatoes (sauce!) or a large bunch of turnips (mashed in with potatoes); and mostly I like that my splurge has turned out to be worth every penny.
If you'd like more information on CSA's in your area, Google "CSA" or "Community Supported Agriculture" along with your state's name. "My" CSA can be found here.