Poking at his dinner, my son eats around his vegetables, going straight for the tortellini. Examining the colorful array on my plate, I ask my husband, “Is everything here from the garden or farm box?”
“Yeah, except for the sun-dried tomatoes,” he responds.
Pointing out the vegetables to my son with my fork, I say, “It’s zucchini from our garden and mushrooms and peppers from the farm box.”
He hestitates, then stabs a mushroom and puts it in his mouth. “It’s good,” he says with a full mouth.
“Isn’t it?” I say and smile.
The “farm box” is the weekly delivery we get from our community supported agriculture (otherwise known as CSA) program. For those not familiar with it, a CSA involves pre-paying at the beginning of a season for produce and sometimes other farm goods, like meat and eggs. Throughout the season, you pick up a box of food each week that the farm delivers to a specific location. LocalHarvest has a list of CSAs around the country.
While I love local food, I had stayed away from CSAs for years. The last time we subscribed to one, I was in graduate school ten years ago. Because we lived in England, it was full of root vegetables that we had no idea what to do with. Sometimes that was great. I did learn to love parsnips and still use them. Other times it was disastrous. When I tried to use up the beets, I ended up burning a borscht soup that was already pretty bad. Despite pretending “it wasn’t that bad,” it was one of the worst things I have ever eaten in my life.
This year, we thought it might be time to try a CSA again. While we love how locally-grown is fresher and connects you to the farmers, we were finding it harder and harder to get to the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings. Here’s why I’m glad that we subscribed to Bending Bridge Farm’s community supported agriculture program:
1. You can now customize your CSA box.
One of the biggest annoyances of community supported agriculture previously was the lack of choice. You got whichever vegetables the farmer wanted to give you. Often, these were the vegetables that were easy to grow, but not very popular. Although it could be fun figuring out what to do with the vegetables, we don’t have the time to mess around cooking anymore. Chris often has 45 minutes or less to make dinner, not enough time to experiment. Plus, we mainly want to buy vegetables our kids will eat. They’re pretty adventurous, but even they have limits.
Thankfully, our current farm allows us to customize our choices! Through online ordering, I think this is becoming more and more common. Because our kids eat fruit like it’s going out of style, we can order extra pears and pass on the kale that would just sit unused in our fridge. If you choose not to customize your box, they throw in an extra item, which is nice too.
2. It forces us to eat our veggies.
We’re super lucky to have three different farmers ‘markets convenient to us. Despite that, we sometimes still don’t get to them. By getting the farm box each week, we’re guaranteed to get veggies because we already paid for them. So far, we’ve only thrown out a couple of things like a giant half-head cabbage after we made coleslaw and the beets we got the week we forgot to customize our box.
3. It’s convenient.
Going to the farmers market is a leisurely affair that involves wandering from stall to stall. That’s great on some Saturdays, but other days you just want to grab your stuff and go. Our CSA allows us to place our order on the website any time from Friday afternoon to Monday afternoon. We often involve Sprout in picking out what we order, giving him a say in what he eats within some well-defined boundaries. A few days after we place the order, the pick-up process takes 5 minutes. While there is a set, specific pick-up time, we’ve managed to incorporate it into our schedule.
4. It’s cheaper.
Because we’re buying for the whole season, we’re paying a lot less than we would at the farmer’s market, especially for the organic stuff. I suspect it may even be cheaper than buying organic produce at the grocery store. Because you’re buying right from the farmer and they don’t have to pay for space or someone to staff the farmers’ market table all day, they pass some savings on to you.
5. It supports our local economy and farmers.
Farmers’ markets support local farmers, but CSAs bring them an extra level of consistency. A lot of people are like us – some weeks they get to the farmers’ market and other weeks they don’t. In addition, no one wants to go to the farmers’ market when it’s cold or pouring out. By getting a chunk of money from the CSA at the beginning of the year, when farmers need to invest it most, it gives them reliable income throughout the season.
Our CSA “farm box” has become as much part of our thinking about food as our garden and much more consistent. I love that Sprout is getting a close connection with both our food and as we say during grace each night, “the hands that have made it.”
Eating locally is tastier and brings you closer to your food source. If you like eating local, you can also visit a farmers’ market or visit a local farm. For more adventures in green living, check out our Facebook group on Green and Sustainable Parenting!