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If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, you’ve heard me mention CSAs. Maybe that’s made you wonder what exactly CSAs are and why I’m such a big fan of them.
CSA is the acronym for Community Supported Agriculture, which is exactly what it sounds like – an agricultural operation or farm that is supported by members of the local community.
There are lots of different ways that a community can help support local farms. For example, I’m doing so now by spreading the word about CSAs. Earlier in the spring, my local farm was slammed by devastating hail. I joined with scores of others and supported the farm and my local farmer during a workday to repair the damage and salvage the summer harvest.
But the most common way that community members support local agriculture is by purchasing farm shares. Each CSA share entitles the purchaser to receive a portion of whatever crop or product the farmer produces. Farmers offer CSA shares for just about every imaginable type of agricultural product. Vegetables, fruit, meat and poultry, dairy products, grains, and even yarn! (Yes, knitters, you heard me right! There are sheep farmers out there who will sell shares of locally spun and dyed yarn!)
For the last two years, I’ve had a CSA share at Rainshadow Organics, a certified organic, full diet farm that produces vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs, flowers, and grains. As you can see, the “small” summer vegetable and meat share that I picked up this week provides us with plenty of good, healthy food!
Why CSAs are Good for Farmers
Nobody goes into farming because they want to get rich. (Of course, I’m talking about local farmers here, not big corporate agriculture.). Farming is incredibly hard work that is fraught with risk. Every year, farmers roll the dice by investing money and sweat into a crop that could be wiped out by weather, infestation, or other forces beyond their control. Every farmer I’ve ever met does it because they love the work and the lifestyle, but mostly because they believe in their bones that growing food for their local community is a mission that matters.
When people purchase a CSA share, they’re rolling the dice along with that farmer by investing their money in a crop that hasn’t yet been produced. By purchasing shares upfront, CSA members help to provide a stable income to keep the farm going even if the crop were to fail.
CSAs Build Community Accountability
Of course, there’s a risk for the members. If the crops fail then they’ve spent money or products they might never receive. After the spring hail storm, my farmer was apologizing to CSA members. She thought our shares of summer harvest would be meager. However, everyone came together to help save the crops, and, as you can tell from the photo above, we’ve been blessed with delicious abundance. That’s another way that farmers benefit from CSAs. When the community is finally invested in the future of the farm, they also become invested personally.
That’s the community part of Community Supported Agriculture, and that’s good for everybody.
Why CSAs are Good for You
In this time when so many of us feel so disconnected not just from the sources of the food we eat but from each other, the relationships and sense of community created through participating in my CSA really make me feel good. Put simply, taking part in CSA makes me happy!
But participating in a CSA also comes with practical benefits.
When I’m cooking and eating my CSA share, I know where that food comes from and how it was grown. Because my farmer adheres to certified organic practices, I know that when I’m eating her kale, I’m eating kale. Not chemicals or pesticides that could build up in my body to cause heaven knows what kind of harm down the line.
Knowing my farmer personally, I know she engages in farming practices that nurture and enrich the soil, not deplete it. That means the food we’re eating has all minerals that food is supposed to have, minerals that the human body needs. CSAs are good for the environment and for me.
The veggies in my CSA share taste amazing. Why? Because they’re fresh! The lettuces and tomatoes I picked up on Wednesday afternoon were still growing in the field on Tuesday morning. The only way to get fresher food is to grow it yourself. And, as everyone knows, the fresher the vegetable, the better it tastes.
CSA makes me a better and more adventurous cook. My farmer grows all kinds vegetables in varieties I wouldn’t usually find in the supermarket. When I go and pick up my CSA share every week, I don’t know if my share will include the tried and true or the completely new. When it’s the latter, I have a chance to start searching for creative ways to things I don’t often eat, which is fun! Until I join a CSA, I’d never roasted radishes or kohlrabi, and I had no idea that there were so many varieties of basil. Taking part in my CSA has brought so much delicious creativity to my cooking.
The Real Value of having a CSA?
As I said above, when I buy a CSA share, I’m rolling the dice along with my farmer. If the crop fails, I might not get anything for that investment. Thankfully, things work out most of the time. Back in February and March, during the early days of the pandemic, I was SO grateful for my CSA! When the produce section and meat counters at the grocery stores were empty, my farmer kept us supplied with plenty of meat, poultry, and organic root vegetables stored from the summer harvest. CSAs provide a secure source of good, healthy food for me and my family.
The vegetables I buy through my CSA are usually a little more expensive than those I’d buy from the grocery store. But they’re also fresher, tastier, and healthier than anything I could buy at the supermarket. They say you get what you pay for. When it comes to my CSA share, I’ve definitely found that to be true! In fact, I’d go so far as to say that my CSA share is priceless.