Thursday, July 12, 2012

CSA: Is it Right for You?

I have been posting weekly updates of our CSA adventure this year, and some of you may be wondering if it's something you'd like to try. We're part of the Colvin Family Farm CSA; if you don't know what a CSA is, I'll refer you to their excellent FAQ site for general CSA info. I'm by no means an expert (this is only our second year), but here's what I think you should consider:

Organic: Most CSA's these days are organic or, at the very least, locally grown. If you're committed to this for your family, you might consider supporting a local farmer and/or receiving a share of organic produce each week.

Price:  A CSA can be more than your usual produce allotment if you don't normally buy organic, but it will likely be less if you already buy organic produce. It is also probably less than the same veggies bought piecemeal at the local farmer's market.

Time: I'll not lie to you: our CSA adventure definitely takes more time. We pick the veggies up (an extra stop from the regular grocery run), have to clean and prep the veggies, and then we have to cook them. Bags of pre-washed, ready-to-go produce would definitely be faster. If both spouses work in your home and/or you're going to be out of town a lot, taking on some significant home improvement tasks, or having a new baby, you might want to factor in the extra time a CSA would entail for you/your family.

Time, part 2: We don't have time to garden this year, but we love home grown veggies and trying new things. So for us, a CSA actually saves us time (we don't have to do the gardening part ourselves!).

Relationships: We've enjoyed "getting to know" those who grow a portion of our food (and reading about the adventures of fellow shareholders on the family farm forum).

Context and Stewardship: Knowing who grows our food and getting an allotment every week has helped us be better stewards. I find I'm more likely to use all of the produce and ensure none goes bad because I know how hard the Colvins have worked! Our kids love going to get our "surprise box" of veggies each week. I should be this conscientious with storebought produce, but I'll be honest... I'm often wasteful.

Health: If you're looking to get more veggies in your diet and/or learn to eat healthier, a CSA can be a great way to force the issue. You get these veggies every week, whether or not you've ever cooked chard, turnips, or squash before, and now you must learn to like them!

The Unknown: If your family is very picky and/or you don't like to experiment with new vegetables, then you might think twice before joining a CSA. On the other hand, it can be a great way to learn to like new things! We've discovered lots of new favorites--or, at least, new tolerances--through eating such a wide variety of vegetables.

How to Choose: Some farms are still selling shares, so it's not too late to join one! Summer can be a great time to do so because the veggies in season are likely to be more familiar to you and are often enjoyed raw which means less prep time (cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, summer squash, etc.). Check and look for the map in the right hand margin (there's a space to fill in your zip code). Check out what local farms are offering, take a stroll through your city's farmer's markets (some farms can sign you up on the spot!), and see if any friends would like to split a share with you. We really like the philosophy behind the Colvins' farming, their outspoken testimony for the Lord, and the way they're raising their kids; it wasn't hard to make the leap to supporting their work through buying a CSA share.

It's Not For Me: If you think no way, no how, then let me encourage you to shop at your local farmer's market once or twice. This can be a good way to "get your feet wet" if you're mildly interested and want to see what cooking seasonally is like.

No Pressure: We're glad we've done the CSA experiment for sure, but if my summer schedule was like my typical school year schedule, it would be mighty hard to keep it up. You can replicate some of the same effects by choosing places that carry great tasting produce, bringing home a new vegetable every now and then to try, and simply cooking a bit more with fresh produce in general. Ethnic grocery stores, particularly Asian ones, often carry a very interesting mix of very fresh (and often cheap) vegetables. All diets recommend more veggies, so I'd encourage you to try to eat more veggies, no matter how you acquire them!

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