Sunday, February 7, 2016

The Top 10 Reasons Why I Subscribe to a CSA

Eating well has never felt so good.

All the colors nature can provide.
Over the years, a ton of people have asked me about joining my CSA. I've been a proud, card carrying member of Community Homestead's CSA program for over four years now and I can't imagine what I'd do without it.

For those who are unfamiliar, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Here's how it works: a customer buys stock in a farm up-front over the spring; in return, the customer is paid in "dividends" of food over the course of the summer, as the produce matures. The system is great for the customer, who gets a discount on super-fresh produce because the cost of the middleman (aka grocery store, shippers, etc.) is cut out, and great for the farmer, who has a guaranteed profit on their crops regardless of unforeseen challenges that can decimate a small organic farm (growing un-subsidized produce, growing in small amounts, unforeseen weather events, etc.).
Vegetarian lettuce wraps with CSA produce.
In addition, some CSAs offer political benefits. Community Homestead in particular makes a point of not only growing eco-friendly, amazing produce, but treating animals humanely and providing a workplace for people with disabilities. Here are several reasons I'd encourage you to sign up:

1. It is way, way cheaper than buying organic produce at the grocery store. For example, Community Homestead charges $455 for a straight box of vegetables (no fancy add-ons) for two people, which runs for 20 weeks. Each box contains at least 10 pounds but often more like 20 or 30 pounds of produce, and costs $22.75. At the most expensive estimate, that's a little over $2/lb for super fresh, super organic produce - when is the last time you had a single organic bell pepper for less than that in a grocery store?* And keep in mind, this price is for two people - if you go for the family boxes, the price per person is even lower.
All of this could be yours, for $25/week.
2. The money goes straight to the farmers and allows them to not only be paid fairly for their labor but reinvest into making the farm ever more efficient and environmentally friendly. Fair hourly wage is a big political issue now; if you support it, seek out programs like CSAs that pay people adequately for their hard work.

3. The produce is DELICIOUS. I cannot tell you how many people have liked dishes we made with veggies they always assumed they hated, because they'd never had good ones. Beets are a perfect example; most of my friends hate them, unless they eat at my house. It's all due to proper growing practices and treating the veggies with love.
So many dishes to make with CSA produce, so little time...see the zoodles in the soup?
4. These farmers really give a shit. Not only do they hold themselves to the highest production and environmental standards, which you can verify at any time (I've visited my farm in person, and most CSAs encourage you to do the same), but my particular community hires people with disabilities to work there. This is super important, because often people with downs syndrome and other conditions have a hard time finding fair, enjoyable employment, especially at a good wage. The many people Community Homestead supports (who you can meet in person!) are extremely well cared for, live and eat on the farm, and have amazing interpersonal relationships. 
CSA chili made entirely with ingredients from less than 50 miles away from home, for pennies on the dollar.
5. By supporting a CSA you are supporting local business and keeping money in your community. This grows your local economy, provides security for more people than shopping in a big box store, and gives you all the good feels. 

6. The inevitability of knowing another box of produce WILL be coming within a week forces you to eat the vegetables, thereby improving your diet. When you have to mow through a bushel+ of farm fresh produce every week, it definitely changes the way you cook - and the fit on your jeans. 
Feeling like a cocktail? Add some CSA fruit or veggies into your blend to make it a little healthier.
7. It forces you to use ingredients you normally wouldn't. Because you don't get to choose what gets grown or is put in your box, you are bound to get vegetables you've never seen. Haruki turnips, kohlrabi, lovage, sorrel, and myriad heirloom varieties are bound to be mixed in with your tomatoes and cucumbers. I've found a host of new faves (hellooooo kohlrabi) this way.
Diversity in the soil, diversity in my mouth. 
8. It promotes ecological diversity. Many CSAs prefer to grow long-lost heirloom varieties of vegetables and are very careful to rotate their crops every year. By doing so, they create healthier soil, healthier air, and provide our bodies with the diverse sources of nutrition they need to thrive.

9. There are CSAs for EVERYTHING. Not a huge vegetable fan yet? No problem. You can find CSAs for meat, cheese, mushrooms, yarn, fruit, baked goods, pickles** and all sorts of other things - you just have to dig a little. Regardless, it's a pretty safe bet that whatever you receive will be fresh and different, or at least of a higher quality, from what you could find in a store.
This roast was literally so big it didn't fit in the crock pot. #CSAftw
10. It's the gift that keeps on giving. With such a revolving door of food, it's inevitable that you won't be able to eat all of it, all the time. When that happens: freeze, can, or otherwise preserve your leftovers. It will be a huge blessing in the winter months when you are fresh out of flavorful produce.

Supporting a CSA is super important, and this is the time of year that registrations are open. There are tons of awesome resources, particularly the CSA fair at Seward Co-op, where you can meet a selection of CSA farmers in person to ask questions about the produce and sign up on the spot. You can link to their amazing resources by clicking here.

*I kid, but honestly....organics are EXPENSIVE.

**We went deluxe with Community Homestead last year and have never looked back. The pickles/bread/cookies/pies/meats are also sold a much lower prices than a grocery store and are beyond worth it.