Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Green Kitchen: The Cheap Healthy Good Guide to CSAs

Green Kitchen is a bi-weekly column about nutritious, inexpensive, and ethical food and cooking. It's penned by the lovely Jaime Green.

One of my favorite things about shopping at a farmers market – if talking about this with snow in the forecast and sprouting onions lingering in the greenmarket bins – is the adventure of it. Yes, I sound bananas, but hear me out. I don't shop at the farmers market with an unlimited budget. So every week – in season, I mean, and can it please hurry up in coming – I buy what's cheap. That's often not one of the three vegetables I learned to cook growing up. So I buy things and learn how to cook them. And there are some crazy things at the farmers market. (Love you, three-foot-long green beans!)

From Erin.kkr
So I guess it makes sense that the main appeal of a CSA to me is the challenge. A box of mystery vegetables every week? Bring it on!

But there are plenty of other reasons to take your relationship with local vegetables to the next level, and maybe some reasons not to. But before we get to that...

What Is a CSA?

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you join a CSA, you purchase a “share” of a farm's output. You pay up front for the season, usually June to October or so, and then every week of the season you pick up a boxful of vegetables. Whatever's fresh and bountiful that week? That's what you take home.

CSAs are generally just vegetables, but some include fruit. Others allow you to add on a fruit, dairy, egg, or even honey share.

Why Join a CSA?

Lots of reasons!

Oh, you want to know what they are? I'll throw it over to Just Food, an awesome NYC organization that works to connect city residents to local farms.
Buy Local
Your support helps small local farms stay afloat.
Connect with the food you eat by meeting your farmers and exploring the farms.

Eat Well
Buy the freshest food for your family.
Explore new foods and learn to cook with them.
Find out that beet greens aren’t just good for you, they’re tasty too!

Be Healthy
Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit.
Share healthy eating habits with your kids. Expose them early to a variety of regional produce.

Protect the Environment
Support farmers who take care of their land by growing food in ways that take care of the soil.
Cut down on the number of miles your food travels from the farm to your plate.
Thanks, Just Food! But then, on the other hand...

Why Might a CSA Not Be Your Best Choice?

CSAs aren't for everyone. First of all, they include some financial risk. You don't pay per pound of produce, but rather invest in the farm at the beginning of the season. If the farm has an awesome summer, you get an overflowing crisper drawer. But if weather doesn't go right, or pests are a problem, you share the burden of the farm's meager year.

From Bill.Roehl
What if, one week, you come home with a CSA box with four bunches of kale and an onion. Can you work with that? CSAs are awesome for adventurous cooks. Maybe not so much for families with picky eaters? Spring brings piles and piles of lettuce; a week in fall may yield nothing but potatoes. You can supplement your haul with greenmarket (or supermarket) buys, but that can get pricey. If trying out new (or strange) vegetables won't be fun, or at least pleasant, you might want to stick to keeping your own shopping list.

Do you have friends or neighbors who might be willing to take excess veggies off your hands? Cause you might end up with a lot of kale.

How to Find a CSA

Okay, you've weighed the pros and cons, and you're up for a summer adventure. You want to get to know your farmer. You're ready to take on a small share of his or her financial risk. Now what?

Head over to Local Harvest and do a search by zip code or state. Read about the options in your area. Compare prices, pick-up times, requirements for helping at distribution or (and I will be jealous) on the farm. Some CSAs will even tell you what was in last year's shares. Past performance is no guarantee of future etc etc, but here's 2010 for my nearby Inwood CSA. (Blast them and their Thursday afternoon distribution!)

Readers, are any of you CSA members? Do you love teaming up with a farmer, or do you get overwhelmed with corn (or lack thereof)?

(If anyone joins a CSA this summer, just let me know if you have more kale than you can use.)


If you liked this article, you'll really dig:

Design by Free Wordpress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Templates