Sunday, August 8, 2010

Community Supported Agriculture

Some time back, I made it a point to start eating healthier and more responsibly. Mostly this took the form of cutting out anything with high fructose corn syrup; focusing on buying fresh foods, rather than anything from a box or a can (when a fresh option was available); and eating store-bought organic produce and meat (or at least, in the case of the latter, meat that may not have been certified organic, but was from a source that used responsible growing methods). But it wasn't until I read The Omnivore's Dilemma that I realized that there was much more that could be done to improve my carbon footprint. True, buying organic reduces oil consumption to some degree (in that both fertilizers and insecticides tend to be petroleum-based in non-organic farming), but that food still needs to be transported to where I live. (In the case of a significant amount of organic produce in the United States, that means across country, from California to New York.)

The solution seemed fairly obvious: join my local CSA. I had already been made aware of the Community-supported agriculture movement by a friend, who had been a member of her local CSA for a few years, and while it always sounded interesting, I had never felt the urge to join. However, it seemed the perfect way to act upon my values, so I decided to give it a try. CSAs vary, but usually, when one joins a CSA, a share is purchased before the growing season. Then, each week throughout the growing season, the CSA's farm provides each member with a box of fresh vegetables and/or fruit. (In my case, I pick up my share from a local community center.) There are many benefits to joining a CSA. While there are some downsides, I think they are far outweighed by the advantages.

The positive aspects of joining a CSA:
  • Since the source is local, produce is guaranteed to be fresh, picked just a day or two before you receive it
  • Overall cost tends to be much cheaper than buying equivalent organic produce in a supermarket
  • In my experience, the quality of the food tends to be better than even the organic produce that I've purchased in stores
  • You're helping to support your local economy
The downsides of joining a CSA:
  • Depending on the CSA, there may not be any choice on what one receives each week. However, if one is open to experimenting with new foods, this can be a positive aspect. I've discovered a few foods that I like, but never bothered to purchase from the store before, as I didn't know what to do with it. Being handed such a food encourages one to experiment with new recipes. Still, if there is something that I already know that I don't like in my week's share, my CSA orders a few additional shares that are used as swap boxes, for those that would prefer to trade away an unwanted item.
  • Just as one benefits from the abundance of a farm, one also shares in the risk. If the growing season is affected negatively by bad weather or other situations, it may lighten what one receives
Finding one's CSA is fairly easy in the U.S. Local Harvest will help to narrow down one's choices to what's convenient in your area. There are plenty of other sites that focus on CSA options in more specific areas.

Eventually I intend to break down what the contents of my weekly produce share would cost at local organic supermarkets or produce stands. For now, I will share what's in my weekly box. Info on the first few weeks coming soon…