April 9, 2013

11 Reasons to Join a CSA

It's been about two years since my neighbor and I started subscribing to a CSA box (if you're not familiar with CSAs, it stands for Community Supported Agriculture, where a farm offers weekly shares of vegetables - you get very fresh and local produce and they get a steady income to support their farm).

Over the last couple of years, I've gotten a lot better about using it. Now there are few things that show up that strike fear into my heart (I even managed to use the very bizarre-looking kohlrabi last night in a Thai stir-fry dish).

The first week that we got it, Bart was not very impressed. I think he had visions of a boxful of the kinds of things his grandmother grew in her (extremely large) garden - berries, grapes, apples, and the occasional carrot.

Our CSA is not like that (and I kind of suspect most of them are not). It's heavy-duty vegetables. There aren't a lot of things to eat in there straight out of the box - most of it needs some prep.

So it was definitely a bit of a learning curve; we had to learn what some of these unidentifiable vegetables were, how to prepare them in ways we liked, and how to eat more vegetables than we ever had before.

But now, we're big fans. If you're wondering about taking the leap, let me try to convince you a little:

11 Reasons to Join a CSA

  1. It forces you to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. I know - you think you could just use your money and buy vegetables at the grocery store instead. But, I'm pretty sure most of us get distracted by the Triscuits and Cheerios, when we mean to be buying more organic bok choy. But when your fridge is suddenly full of vegetables, you're much much more likely to actually eat them.
  2. Your food has a much smaller carbon footprint. Even if you did buy the same amount of vegetables at the grocery store, most of those vegetable will have made a long trek across the country, using up loads of fuel to both keep it fresh and to actually transport it. (This is one of the issues I have with Bountiful Baskets - nearly all of the produce is still coming from either California or Central and South America).
  3. It is significantly fresher. Instead of your produce being picked before it's ready so that it won't be bad by the time it shows up on your grocery store shelf two weeks later, your food is picked the day, sometimes only an hour or two before, you get it. 
  4. There is less food waste involved. I read the very excellent American Wasteland earlier this year, about the tremendous amount of food that's wasted in the US, and LOADS of that comes at the farm level, where food doesn't look picture perfect or ripened too fast to withstand a multi-week trek to your grocery bag. With a CSA, they're willing to give you tomatoes that are a little bit misshapen or peppers that are a multi-colored. In a commercial farm, they'd probably just be thrown away or left to rot in the field. Of course, once you get the vegetables, it's up to you to make sure it doesn't rot in your refrigerator instead.
  5. It introduces you to new produce. I had never eaten chard before. I'd never cooked with bok choy. I had no idea what kale or arugula tasted like. I love that not only am I so familiar with many new kinds of vegetables and how to use them, but that Ella casually asks as I unload the box, "What we doing wif that parsnip?" (Answer: sticking it in Shepherd's Pie). 
  6. You eat seasonally without even having to think about it. I don't have to wonder if tomatoes are in season or if I shouldn't be eating arugula at this time of year. I love the seasonal rotation of vegetables and that, just when I think I can't eat another sweet potato, they're gone for the season and something new takes its place.
  7. You are introduced to (and eat) a wider variety of produce. I find it very easy to buy the same handful of vegetables over at the grocery store (tomatoes, avocados, onions) and nothing more. With the CSA, we eat dozens of different varieties of produce and I don't have to think about it too much. 
  8. It's a fun challenge to use up your vegetables. Every week, I check what will be coming in the box and then I find recipes to use it up. When I'm browsing recipes on Pinterest or blogs, it's easy for me to say, "Oh, kale! I'm going to need three months of ways to use that up this summer!" and then have plenty of new recipes ready when it starts showing up every week. When there are vegetables we don't really like (such as arugula), its intensely satisfying to figure out how to make them part of our diet without making us all miserable (Bart told me early on that we could do the CSA as long as we still ate delicious dinners. I'm ridiculously proud whenever he comments on how many good things we eat that incorporate our CSA produce).
  9. It's almost always a less expensive way to eat more organic food. I've been amazed at the good value I feel like I get from my CSA. Buying the same amount of organic produce at the grocery store would not be as inexpensive.
  10. If you're looking to reduce how much meat you eat, a CSA is a great way to do so. When I make a dish that does have meat, I can get away with using half a chicken breast or a quarter pound of ground beef, because I have so many vegetables to bulk up our dishes with. On Sunday night, when I made Shepherd's Pie, it fed four adults, with leftovers, and I only used about 1/3 of a pound of ground beef.
  11. Your food dollars are going to your community rather than a national or international chain. I love that I know that a good portion of my grocery bill is going directly to people in my community. It's money I feel really happy about spending because my family gets the health benefits and Johnson's Backyard Garden gets the financial benefit.
Next week, I'll share some of recipes I like for using up our CSA vegetables (like chard, bok choy, cabbage, arugula, and turnips) and blogs that are the most helpful in providing recipes. If you have questions about CSAs, I'd love to try and answer them (although I am far from a pro).

20 comments:

  1. CSAs here are incredibly expensive. When I crunched the numbers, it was cheaper to buy some things at the grocery store and others at a farm stand when I visit my mom. And of course we have the arabbers here in Baltimore, but their presence is spotty.

    A friend did give me her csa share when she went on vacation one year. Squash, squash and more squash, plus maybe three ears of corn. My son will eat three ears by himself and I detest squash. Always have, always will. So that was pretty much a bust for us.

    There are a ton of food co ops around here, which are great options for people who have the time to put into one. And there is a store that lets you buy a "basket." Your membership gets you so many items a week, depending on your level, but you get to choose from what's available, including things like fresh eggs, local honey, etc.

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  2. Thanks, Janssen! I just posted about the same topic (http://theusfiles.blogspot.com/2013/03/csa-debate.html).

    In the end, we bought a Groupon for a local CSA box to try and it arrives Thursday. From that, we'll decide if it is worth the investment this summer. I want it to work, but we'll see. We're also both training for a marathon this summer, so I'm curious to see how that changes our eating habits too.

    But good to know it has worked for another young family -- gives me hope that it will work for us!!

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  3. I would join a CSA JUST to hear this, "What we doing wif that parsnip?"

    That brought me so much delight this morning. :)

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  4. I am SO with you on this. I wish our CSA were year-round, but we'll take the 6 months we get. :) Our farm is literally a mile down the road, and now our farmer knows us by name. It is very awesome. Can't wait until it kicks off in a few weeks!

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  5. This is very timely, as I am currently investigating joining a CSA and trying to convince my hestitant husband that it will be worth it. I have two main concerns. Number one is that I work full time and I'm a little worried that won't give me the time I need to prepare the type of meals that can incorporate so many fresh vegetables. Also, the expense is all up-front costs in one payment for the whole summer, rather than if I just bought my produce weekly at the grocery store like I always have. It's really difficult to be able to hand over one lump sum especially when our budget is already as tight as it is. I understand why it is this way so the farms have the income they need to go on, but we might not be able to do it this year because of that.

    But I also realize the health benefits and I know we would eat SO MANY more fruits and vegetables if we joined. I just worry about not having time to cook it all, and it all going to waste when we could barely afford it in the first place. I don't expect you to have answers to these concerns, but it was nice to have somewhere to voice my thoughts on this as I try to make a decision! Thanks! I love reading your blog by the way!

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  6. "Join a CSA" has been on my goal list for awhile now, and this post has convinced me that I just need to go ahead and do it. I researched Johnson's Backyard Garden at the beginning of the year when they had a Groupon. I even went and talked to the guys about it at their farmers market pickup spot, and then I didn't join... I'm kicking myself now.

    You mentioned your neighbor at the beginning of the post. Do you split the box with her family? It's just me and my husband and our 1-year-old right now. Would you recommend starting off with a box every two weeks? My biggest fear is it going to waste.

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  7. You just made me google search "CSA, Evanston, IL" :) It does sound like a wonderful idea! We're always trying to incorporate veggies in our diet and I was getting a bit bored of spinach, kale, mushrooms, carrots and onions... Thanks for the recommendation and have a wonderful week!

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  8. You have posted about CSA's before and I was convinced then. Unfortunately my local CSA's have a season (May-October I believe), but we are signed up to start in May. I am super excited. I am also excited to see the recipes you post.

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  9. I'd like to join one, but there's nothing locally I've found for an okay price and since we're moving soon it's not really worth it. But I plan on extensive market shopping in London.

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  10. Oh man, I'll never forget when it took me like a good hour to figure out what was in my box was like ten pounds of baby bok choy. That was an interesting week indeed.

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  11. I LOVED my CSA last year. Ours runs for 20 weeks, starting in June. It's unique because you have your baskets and you go to the farm or farmer's market and you fill up your own basket with whatever you want! The kids loved going and picking out their very own pepper or cucumber or whatever else they could find. (they always pick the weird looking ones!) Once they started harvesting watermelons and pumpkins, we could take one of those in addition to filling out basket. It also included free admission to their fall festival where each guest gets to harvest 5 grocery bags of produce from the fields. It's been 6 months and I'm still regularly using yukon golds and frozen hubbard squash puree!

    Unfortunately, because of hospital bills this spring (thank you VERY much, rsv!!), we couldn't afford to pay for our share this year. And it's killing me!!

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  12. On food waste, my brother is a professor who does research with crops and how to effectively water them. He says that cherry pickers have to be really careful because consumers don't want to buy cherries that are stemless! If they are pulled off without a stem they are tossed!

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  13. We haven't done this (plenty here in Oregon) because we eat out of our own garden for a good chunk of the year, and I can choose what to plant. We go to local farmers' markets for the stuff I want to eat but it takes up too much space to grow. Still, if you don't garden (and in Texas growing food is extremely tricky, lots of pests) then CSA is a wonderful way to go!

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  14. I'm so on bored with doing this, until we can have our own big garden. I know it would take me some time before I would quit being terrified about how to use up all of it and not knowing what exactly is going to show up. But also the idea of not having to decide what to get at the farmers market sounds nice too.

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  15. I need to join a CSA, but for so much of the week it's just me and I'm afraid even a half share would end up wasted/soggy/frozen (which leads me to the next problem of, after 1.5 weeks, my freezer being packed to capacity).

    Sigh. As is I'll most likely just patronize the little farm stand around the corner for my fresh veggie fix.

    xox

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  16. I've been dying to do one of these but I need someone to split it with, and I have yet to find a person who lives close enough/has the money/yadda yadda. Hopefully soon!

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  17. This was extremely helpful. After having this baby and ensuring our finances are still intact, we're going to join a CSA. Keep these coming!

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  18. This was extremely helpful. After having this baby and ensuring our finances are still intact, we're going to join a CSA. Keep these coming!

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  19. I've looked into joining a CSA locally, but I dislike the idea of commitment. I've done a few co-ops where you sign up monthly or weekly. I liked doing those. It takes a lot of work to be sure to get your money's worth, though. And we got a lot of mangoes there for a while. If I could just let Eric eat them then I wouldn't care, but that's not a really good option because I get rashes just from kissing him hours and hours after he's eaten mango. And when he'd go pick up the box he would ask others if they wanted to trade and inevitably he'd bring home lettuce, so we'd have like 4 heads of lettuce to use up. And also I'm allergic to pineapples now.

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  20. I just got my first CSA box today, and I am am so excited. I have been wanting to do a CSA for a long time now, and it finally all came together. Just wanted to share the good news (on the appropriate blog post, at that).

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