This is the first post in what will be a regular feature in Lishy’s Kitchen on adventures in CSA cooking. This first post explains what a CSA is, how they function and what they’re all about.
For the longest time I had no idea what a CSA was…I am not sure what it sounded like to me, but it seemed like some sort of official acronym for a public entity. Community Service Announcement? A local version of a PSA, perhaps? But it isn’t. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. I was first made aware of its existence when I moved to NYC and never had the opportunity to partake until now, living in the Midwest again.
Okay Lishy, we get what the acronym is but what of the meaning? Is it some community garden thing where 20 families all share a plot of land and grow their own veg? No. Let me tell you what it’s all about!
Q: Really, now…what the what is a CSA?!
A: A CSA is a program through which members of the public can buy produce directly from a local farmer. There are different types of CSAs–they can include dairy, eggs, meat products or a combination thereof, but most of them are for your produce goods–fruits, veggies and even flowers!
Q: How does it work?
A: It varies by community, location and farmer, but essentially a farmer will offer a fixed number of “shares” (sort of like a membership) in the off-season when he/she is planning for the coming year. Those who purchase the shares pay a set amount to the farmer up front and then receive a weekly allotment of farm-fresh goodies throughout the growing season.
Q: That sounds like a good deal. Are there any drawbacks?
A: Just like purchasing shares in the stock market, you never quite know what your return will be. The difference with a CSA, however, is that you have some measure of certainty that you will get what you paid for. The only real risk is the unpredictable climate. Mother nature could shorten the growing season or create some unfavorable conditions that might limit the amount of a yield. But, even in the leaner times at the beginning of the season you will probably get something and during the peak of the growing season, you might even get more than you think you can consume! The main critique, and it’s not really a critique in my opinion, is that with a CSA you have little to no control over what you receive from week to week. You might get a sprig of something you’ve never heard of or an abundance of something that you’ve never cooked with.
Q: What are the benefits?
A: The main benefit is that you receive a regular delivery of fresh produce that does not travel very far to get from farm to table. That alone is reason enough to consider participating in one. You know where your food comes from, the process is transparent and it is cheaper in the long run because there is no “middle man.” In that same vein, there is a “feel-good factor” in directly supporting a local farmer. Farming is not an easy trade and there is something fulfilling about the direct transaction involved with a CSA. Because you get whatever is available that week, it helps inspire some creativity and variety in one’s daily cuisine. Ever get in a food funk? I have, but a CSA helps break me of it with new ingredients every week. It has been shown through anecdotal and empirical instances that kids are more inclined to eat fruits and veggies if they have a stake in the process of procuring or creating the food. CSAs will often times allow visits to the farm during the season, which can provide the necessary exposure to kids and inspire them to be a bit more adventurous in their eating as well.
Q: Okay. I’m convinced! Where do I find one in my community?
A: You can ask at your local farmer’s market or food co-op to get more information about local farmers who may offer CSAs, but a great online resource is http://www.localharvest.org. It is probably too late in the season to start, but it might be worth asking your local CSA if any current member needs to give up their share because of relocation or would like to divide their share. Otherwise, November-February is when most CSAs are accepting share requests for the forthcoming year. Check with your local CSA for the necessary details.
On a personal note, one of my co-workers was interested in joining our local CSA here when I told her about it and she has already shared with me her amazement in how open her kids have been to eating things they never have tried before. In these first weeks of our shares, they have eaten radishes for the first time in their young lives and loved them.
In future CSA posts, I will be offering recipes for the goods we receive that week and tips on how to process and preserve the farm-fresh goodies from week-to-week.