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Friday, May 31, 2013

Why I Chose Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) - Part 1: Personal Reasons

This week I picked up my first bag of vegetables, the first return on my investment in a local farm and my CSA. It is a gorgeous bag of seasonal greens, broccoli, and radishes; I feel like Peter Rabbit making off with the garden.

Community Supported Agriculture is a system for consumers to buy produce directly from a local farmer. The consumer “invests” in the farm before the season begins, giving farmers means to afford seeds, materials, and labor. In return, the consumer receives a “share” of the harvest, which often means that they will receive a box of vegetables once a week.

I hope to also share weekly pictures of the vegetable bounty on this blog. I planned to start with a little note about why I think that CSAs and local foods are a great choice. However, as I started to write, my little note became a highly referenced BIG essay. So I decided to split up the posts.

This week, I will be sharing all the personal reasons why I chose to invest in a CSA. These are all the things that add value to my life. Next week, I will talk about all my political motivations for investing in small farms and organic foods. This is where I will throw out words like “Monsanto” and “GMOs,” so if that seems potentially offensive to you, feel free to skip it. There will still be plenty of pretty pictures of ripe produce to come!

Without further introduction, here are the [personal] reasons why I decided to sign up for a CSA:

To get fresh, local produce

When I pick up produce from my CSA, I can be certain that my veggies have been picked that week, and were fully-grown and ripe when they were harvested. Not only does this make the produce taste better, but it packs a more potent nutritional punch than most grocery store produce. In fact, according to a study by the Institute of Food Research, grocery store fruits and vegetables can lose up to 45% of nutrients from the time they are harvested to the time they reach your kitchen counter.

Environmentally speaking, buying local means that my food was not shipped thousands of miles, using hundreds of gallons of fossil fuels to get to me. And, while I have no problem with farmers in Chile, I like spending my money locally and supporting people in my community. The farm that I have my CSA with now is partially owned by a friend of my sister, whose daughters met in dance class. Combining food and community is a lost tradition that I would like to include in my life.

To access affordable organics

My weekly share of produce from the CSA will cost me $400 dollars total (I am actually signed up for a less-expensive half share that will generally feed 1-2 people). This entitles me to about 20 weeks of produce. That works out to about $20 for a big bag of vegetables. To get a bag of veggies of similar quality (at Whole Foods or an equivalent), I would likely pay $40 or more.

I am thankful that this price point works for our budget, because buying organic is important to me. In my experience, small scale organic produce is much more flavorful and vibrant than conventionally grown fruits and veggies (try comparing a conventional strawberry to an organic garden strawberry if you want to test this yourself. Or try a grocery store hothouse tomato next to an heirloom variety at a farmers market. There’s no comparison).

I also prefer to avoid the pesticides and herbicides that are used in conventional crop production. I choose to limit my exposure to pesticides in the food I eat. Pesticides have been linked to type 2 diabetes, food allergies, ADHD, and cancer.

Avoiding conventionally grown products also means that I can avoid supporting companies and practices I disagree with.  For example, by choosing organics, I am not supporting Monsanto, a company that produces things like the herbicide, Round Up (more on this next week). Herbicides not only reach your body by consuming the crops, but there is a high potential for the toxins to reach a local water supply, including drinking water. Long-term exposure to Round Up may lead to kidney and reproductive problems.

Choosing organic, to me, means choosing to eat good, nutrient-rich produce, avoiding pesticides, keeping our water sources clean, as well as reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, and maintaining healthy soil.

To stay in tune with the seasons

Yes, there are many people who believe that eating seasonally is best for your health because your body has different needs during different seasons, and the right seasonal food will provide for those needs. If that sounds a bit too crunchy for you, I totally understand. (Me? I’m somewhat inclined to believe it. I certainly avoid cold salads and watermelon in the middle of winter.)

Even without the health claims, I am excited to ground my diet in the seasons this year. The fleeting nature of each crop will help me fully appreciate a dish that won’t be available a month from now. I look forward to watch my spring radishes give way to summer ripe tomatoes, to eventually terminate with hearty autumn squash. After all, won’t eating the seasons be the best way to become one with them?

Check in next week for Part 2: Political Reasons why I chose a CSA. It will be filled with ranty goodness and abundant soap boxery! Oh, and pictures of lovely veggies.

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