What Is a CSA? Why Choose a CSA?

For a few years now, I’ve been fascinated by the CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) concept. The basic premise is that people in a community contribute money (and sometimes labor) to a local farm in exchange for a portion of the harvest. If you want to get businessy, you’re essentially buying a share of the farm’s yield, which typically comes in a weekly box/bag of produce (and sometimes dairy or meat). The whole concept just had a deep, earthy appeal to me. Not to get to weird on you, but it’s like I was hungering (ha!) for more of a connection to what I ate and its origins.

Once we had undergone our northwestward migration and started settling in to the culture here, I grew even more interested in CSAs. I liked the idea of supporting local business, getting food that was amazingly fresh (as in picked within a few hours of being on our table), connecting more with our community (this idea goes deeper, but I’ll save that for another post), encouraging the idea of food production devoid of harmful pesticides and herbicides, and at least diminishing the fossil-fuel usage entailed in cross-continent/cross-ocean shipping of food. I also wanted us to up our veggie intake. We’re pretty careful and intentional about what we eat, but veggies aren’t our forte. They just seem to get lost in the shuffle a lot of the time.

Despite my growing interest in CSAs, for a long time I was unwilling to give up the control I had when picking out the specific veggies and fruit I wanted at the Co-op, where the produce was largely local anyway. I am the primary cook in our household right now, and I’m a meal-planner. If I let someone else decide for us what produce we’d have each week, how would we know what we’d be eating on a given day? But gradually my discomfort with this idea turned to intrigue, and from there to excitement at the mystery of it all. And I was also increasingly enthusiastic about the idea of eating produce that was in season and very locally grown, rather than flown in from the Southern Hemisphere because, irksome as it may be, pears just aren’t in season in the spring. This isn’t to say that we’re ready to give up our off-season Argentinian pears, but we’re moving in the right direction.

Hmmmm. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to give up those pears.

Once we’d decided to participate in a CSA, I started asking friends about our options. We are so fortunate to live in an area where there are many amazing local organic farms with CSAs. We got glowing recommendations for several different farms. But we finally decided on Pigman’s Organic Produce Patch, a tiny (6-acre) local farm. Like many of the farms we were considering, Pigman’s adds beneficial microbes and trace minerals to the soil to increase its health and consequently to increase the nutritional value and taste of the food it produces. Pigman’s is the most local option we have, and that means less fuel usage when we drive to the farm to pick up our weekly share. It also means being more deeply rooted (!) in our community (there’s that idea again). It doesn’t hurt that we have already grown fond of Jan and Dean Pigman, that we’re free to walk around the farm when we visit, that they have chickens who are providing us with multicolored eggs each week, and that we’re encouraged to bring scraps of bread so Liam and Annika can feed the chickens, lambs, and maybe the rather frightening resident goose. The Pigmans also have cows and cats that like to jump in your car (the cats, not the cows). I’d add a link to the Pigman’s website here, but there isn’t one. As they put it, “We are not E-mail people,” so a website is pretty much out of the question, at least for now.

I’ve set out a couple rules for us as we start on this CSA adventure:

1. Make use of as much as possible. I don’t want us to let our produce go bad before we can use it, and I don’t want to compost parts of the plants that we could be eating instead. This means a bit of research to find out what is edible (did you know you can eat beet greens?).

2. Stick to preparation methods that use staple ingredients. We aren’t a family that keeps a lot of food on hand; aside from standard pantry items, we basically have in our house the food we’ll eat for that week. We pick up our CSA share every Friday. I’m the primary grocery shopper in our household at this point, and I don’t do a grocery run until Tuesday. So if we chose recipes that called for items we didn’t have on hand, we’d have to wait four days before we could start eating our veggies. Meanwhile, their nutrient content would be diminishing. I’m sure sometimes I’ll just incorporate what we get into a recipe I already have planned. And maybe—just maybe—once in a while I’ll come across an unusual recipe that sounds too good to pass up, and I’ll make a special grocery run.

As I was talking with my mom about how we’ve embarked on this new journey, she suggested that I blog about it. Good idea, Mom! At the very least, blogging about this will get me writing on a more regular basis again, and it’ll give me a place to record recipes in case any of them prove repeatable. And who knows? Maybe the posts will be helpful to some of you, and maybe you’ll be kind enough to suggest other ways we can enjoy the bounty Pigman’s will provide these next months.

Every week, I’ll post a list of the items we received in our CSA bag that week. And then as we eat each item, I’ll add an entry detailing how we prepared it and how it tasted. I may even post photos if I think of it.

I’ve been researching how to store all these veggies, so I’m including a page that has an alphabetical list of veggies and how they should be stored (look up at the tabs, below WendyKate). I’ll add to it as the weeks go by.

We also plan to buy a share of a cow this year, but I’ll say more about that in another post, once we’ve actually put our money where our mouth is. :)