Today is the first day of my 22-week summer vegetable share from my local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and I've been waiting excitably for this day.
|Tomatoes from last year's CSA share|
Community Supported Agriculture is a sustainable way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farm.
Unlike a farmers market where you purchase what you want, you don't get a choice with a CSA, you receive what the farm selects from their crops each week. They are then boxed up and delivered to your distribution center so that members can pick them up and go home and enjoy fresh, seasonal vegetables and depending on the breadth of offerings, sometimes other products as well such as fruit, dairy, eggs, coffee, meat, etc. CSAs are usually volunteer operated and require that members volunteer a certain number of hours to help the season run smoothly.
The benefits of this arrangement are great, but below are a few key points.
For the farmer:
-Cash flow for the farmer
-Relationship development with consumers
-A chance to build their consumer base before the long hours in the field begin
For the consumers:
-Ultra-fresh food with flavor and vitamin benefits
-Exposure to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
-Learning about your food sources and even getting to visit the farm
-Relationship development with the farm and your neighborhood
In addition to knowing where your food comes from and having a relationship not just with the farmer, but the your neighborhood community, one of the most important concepts to the CSA is the idea of shared risk. Purchasing a share means that you are aware that some seasons may not be the best. The farm is at the mercy of nature and that means that flooding, drought, or any other natural event that occurs can damage crops and result in little or no produce. The consumers connection to the farm is greater - it means we're in this together.
I joined my CSA at a moment where I was interested in local and seasonal food. I still am. As I became more involved, I realized that I didn't know where my food came from. I had no clue what it meant to work on a farm or be connected to nature as intimately as a farmer.
To be honest, when I joined, I was at the very early stages of my environmentalism. While I have always been a bit of a tree hugger, I was working for a corporation in a department that focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the more I learned, the more I wanted to find the natural world not just for myself, but for everyone. Joining a CSA seemed like the right entrance point.
When I started, I was concerned with price. It is a sizable amount asked upfront (each CSA charges differently), but as the weeks continue and the food comes in and you see the sizes and breakdown the weekly amount, you realize you're spending less than you would at the grocery store for the same things (in my case $13/week).
Furthermore, my CSA, as with many in NYC, accept food stamps as a form of payment so that lower income families can also have access to fresh, healthy food and be part of this food movement. As a matter of fact we work with an organization, The New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH), who is committed to getting healthy food into the hands of those that need it the most.
Joining a CSA is not an show of elitism, it is a statement of wanting good, quality food. It is no different from handmade crafters, like you and I, wanting to make good, quality and sustainable products and have them accessible. A farmer is no different from the stationer writing this post!
This is my third season and my volunteer role is the communications coordinator. What that really means is that I'm responsible for the weekly newsletter, blog updates and social media channels during the full season and the off season. It's a lot of work during the season (22 weeks usually), but helping others find joy in good, healthy food means a lot to me.
So how can you get involved?
I'm glad you asked! CSAs are in abundance around the country. They've been growing steadily over the last 20 years. If you live in NYC and are looking for a CSA, or just want more information, I suggest you contact Just Food. They are an amazing organization that helped my CSA get off the ground and are truly committed to getting fresh local food in the hands of everyone.
If you are a reader outside of NY and are looking for more information, I suggest you contact Local Harvest. They are where I first went when I started looking for a CSA and they have more information on the local food movement in general, including information on finding farmers markets.
In my last post, I listed ways in which you as a business owner can give back without spending too much money, I consider this one. By joining a CSA, you are telling the current food system that you don't agree with their methods or practices. You're telling your community that you care and you're promoting a healthier lifestyle for yourself and loved ones. This totally counts!
If you are a member of a CSA and want to share your experience, please do so in the comments. I love hearing food stories, especially from artists. Maybe you have a recipe you want to share? Do it! Food is usually another creative outlet for us after all!