January 2010: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Happy New Year!   It’s that time when we look ahead to set some goals and think about ways we can do things better in the coming year.  There are a myriad of new year resolutions, and I’d love to suggest one that you might want to think about adding to your list— eating fresh, local, seasonal produce.  We’ve talked about “why” before (see March 2009 Growing a Family Garden, April 2009 Spring Seasonal Eating, November 2009 Fall/Winter Seasonal Eating, and a few additional points at the end of this email under “Thinking Outside the Shopping Cart”, below) but now let’s focus on the “how”.  This month’s newsletter is all about CSAs—Community Supported Agriculture, and how this can be a fun way to engage your kids in eating more veggies and fruits and getting in tune with Mother Nature.

What is Community Supported Agriculture? It is a partnership between farmers and consumers (known as shareholders or members) through which the shareholders provide enough money in early spring to meet a farmer’s operating expenses for the upcoming season.  In return for this upfront payment, shareholders receive a portion of the farm’s produce each week throughout the season.  It is truly a risk-sharing agreement in that if the farmer has a crop failure (like flooding, bad weather, or this past year’s blight) members may not receive certain crops.  However, with crop success (good weather and lack of disease), shareholders benefit from the abundant harvest.

How do you get a CSA share? My research for the North Shore suburbs of Chicago turned up the same name over and over:  Angelic Organics http://www.angelicorganics.com.  There are probably many more (I just got an email recently from someone who sent me info on Farmer Tom’s farm:  http://farmertomscsa.com/).  If you are not in this area, try doing a search through Local Harvest (http://www.localharvest.org) or even Google.  For those of you in the Chicagoland area, let me tell you how it works with Angelic Organics:  First, find out where the nearest drop off site is: http://www.angelicorganics.com/Vegetables/vegetablescontent.php?contentfile=dropsites.  Then find out when the drop off is made—it will be either Wednesday or Thursday.  Based on your schedule, determine whether you will be able to go by this site each week to pick up your goodies.  Check out the prices and options on their Sign-up Overview and Form.  You will need to decide what you want –veggies only?  fruit and veggies?– and for how many weeks.  (By the way, you are not allowed to get fruit only—you must eat your veggies too! J).  I’ll tell you what I did last year:  I took the plunge and got a 20 week veggie share plus a winter share (which extends it to 24 weeks) and a fruit share.  The fruit share came only once every other week, so it works out to a 10 week share over roughly the same period of time (and you just pick up two boxes instead of one).  That meant fresh produce from June until the first week of December!  Then I looked for a person to split my share with—it is a lot of food! – and found a willing friend/neighbor.  When the delivery dates arrive, you just pick up your box and bring it home to divide.

What kind of stuff would you expect from a CSA share? I need to tell you that I was very excited about the stuff we received each week.  I always involved my kids and cheerfully exclaimed, “it’s farm box day!” and then, “who will help me to unload/sort all the goodies!?”.  Usually my daughter and sometimes my son would help, asking “what’s that!?” when we pulled out the celeriac or colorful radishes.  Their favorite stuff by far was the popcorn on the cob and the strangely shaped carrots (the ones you buy in the grocery store are way too perfect—our farm carrots would sometimes have multiple root fingers or be somehow misshapen, which my kids loved).  Another favorite to unpack was Kohlrabi, which they called the “alien” when it would arrive.  Every week I would get an email from the farm telling me what we would expect to see in our box, and so I kept a log all throughout the time of our share.  To see the log, click here.  I must say, however, that the log looks overwhelming.  Just remember that when I list an item, we often would get just one.  So we really wouldn’t get all that stuff (as we were splitting it).  And items are sometimes listed as being in the box, but they don’t show up (or something else does).  I believe that is all due to the surprises in harvesting.  So when you look at the list, think half.

What is the experience like of having a share? I asked my box mate (and friend/neighbor), Mary Griffin, what her favorite things were about having a share and her least favorite things.  Here is what she had to say:

Favorite things
–        Eating toxin-free foods
–        Easy and convenient option to getting organic vegetables and fruits delivered to your house
–        Delivery always arrives on Wednesdays so you get organized with your delivery and meals – you are expecting a delivery so it can help with meal planning
–        Wide variety of in-season vegetables and fruits in the box – get to try things you may not have ever purchased at the grocery store
–        Good size delivery so always have vegetables and fruits around for family to eat
–        Quality of food is impressive
–        CSA is very organized and provides a ‘what’s in the box’ prior to the delivery

Not so favorite:
–        “Sometimes I get things that I’m not sure how to use and some of it goes to waste.”

I would add that my own favorite thing was going through the process with the farm—getting their emails and hearing about their trials and tribulations with the weather and how it affected the harvest—and comparing this all to my own experience in our home garden.  It was great to see the varieties that are grown in the exact same climate that we live in, and what crops do best here (and which don’t).  The process helped me tremendously in optimizing my own garden (and finding my new favorite green-Tatsoi).   The downside?  I guess I would say dealing with the pick up and sorting every week—yes life gets in the way— and I  apologize to Mary for not getting her ½ of her share to her until after dark on numerous occassions!

I hope this information has given you some new food for thought in the new year.  Happy January everyone!

Best,
Kathryn


“Thinking Outside the Shopping Cart” (excerpt from Asparagus to Zucchini, a Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce)


·         In the conventional food system, food travels 1,500 or more miles on average from farm to table.  CSAs reduce this to typically less than 100 miles.
·         Only about 10% of the fossil fuel used in the world’s food system is used for producing the food;  the other 90% goes into packaging, transporting and marketing.  Locally produced food is more energy efficient.
·         On any given day more than 50% of the U.S. population eats no fruit and vegetables.  Only 1 in 10 children ages 6 to 11 eats the recommended 5 daily serving of fruit and vegetables. CSAs ensure your family a weekly supply of fresh, delicious and nutritious vegetables.
·         Since the turn of the 20th century 97% of fruit and vegetable varieties have become unavailable commercially, replaced by uniform varieties.  CSA farms are extremely diverse, growing 30 to 50 different types of crops and hundreds of varieties. (Yes, you can try heirlooms!)
·         In a typical year, more than 10,000 new food items are introduced in a grocery store—mostly highly processed convenience foods.  CSAs introduce you you lesser-known crops such as sunchokes, on the cob popcorn, fennel, and celeriac as well as unique varieties (purple potatoes, yellow watermelon, beauty heart radishes, etc.).
·         CSAs can change the way people spend money on food—

·         Top 10 items purchased at grocery stores: Marlboro cigarettes, Coca-cola classic, Pepsi-cola, Kraft processed cheese, Diet coke, Campbell’s soup, Budweiser Beer, Tide detergent, Folger’s coffee, Winston cigarettes

·         Top 10 items delivered by a typical CSA farm: tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, beans, potatoes, peppers, squash, onions, peas and broccoli

Disclaimer: This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.

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