Community-supported agriculture (in Canada Community Shared Agriculture) (CSA) is a socio-economic model of agriculture and food distribution. A CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farming operation where the growers and consumers share the risks and benefits of food production. CSAs usually consist of a system of weekly delivery or pick-up of vegetables and fruit, in a vegetable box scheme, and sometimes includes dairy products and meat. My love of the CSA began five years ago when we moved to BC. We had just returned from Haiti where the only vegetables we had were potatoes and carrots. I was craving vegetables, beautiful vegetables. It was to late to begin a garden and I was just beginning to understand the importance of local organic produce so when a family friend told me that she was doing veggie box deliveries, I was thrilled. We loved it! Each week she would drop off a box filled with whatever she had picked from the garden that week. Beets, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, lettuce and so much more. As I got more into gardening, I began having her drop off less each year as we enjoyed the fruits of our own garden.
This year, because we moved later in the spring, my garden is behind and admittedly a little neglected. But, there is one CSA farm and so that is where most of our produce is coming from for the next three months. Again we are really enjoying it and I thought I would share why I think it is a great idea.
Aneliese has been getting us to read a book about Farmer Grover and how he discovers that he should be a farmer. That is great for him, but we aren't all made to be farmers. Nor do I think that is always healthy for us to go to the store to pick up our fruit and vegetables with little thought of the process that brought them there. In BC, we had our box delivered but with our CSA now, we actually pick them. This allows us to see how they are being grown. For me, I like to know what sprays and fertilizers (or the lack of as ours is uncertified organic) are being used and I think that we would all approach our food a bit differently if we could see and smell what sometimes being used on the food. I love taking my girls so that they can see that carrots don't originate in a plastic bag with the tops removed and so that they can observe the work that is done to provide their meals. Aneliese and I even get down and pull a few weeds, further enhancing the idea that we are part of the process. Our particular farm also has lots of animals so Aneliese got to see chicks, lambs and puppies. Even a duck sitting on eggs. We read about these things in books but for her to see it and make the connections is truly amazing even if the farmer wondered why she was muttering rhymes to herself as we walked around.
I also like that we are eating in season and locally, what is growing right here and right now. It gives me a connection to my forebears as I prepare food for my family when I realize that they didn't just drop in at the supermarket to pick up some mangoes and bananas in the dead of winter (though truthfully, I often do enjoy that luxury). Oddly, it also lends itself to trying new things in my cooking. What on EARTH am I going to do with turnip greens and Chinese cabbage?? I like the challenge of using whatever comes each week rather than buying only what I want.
For me it also strengthens my sense of community. For example rather than enjoying the weather for what it gives me, I find that I care more about how it affects others. Not that this will change the weather patterns but I will take anything that encourages me to look outward.
I know, I know, all of these thoughts over some simple vegetables but truly it has been so good for me. It's not perfect by any means. There will be dirt still clinging to the roots and you might find an ant tucked inside the lettuce. I will admit to finding a worm in one of my turnips. One family can only eat so much salad from the abundance of lettuce that comes each week until they are forced to do crazy things like add it to smoothies. You can't choose what goes in your box which means you are going to cultivate some new tastes. I don't really like Chinese cabbage all that much. You either need to eat everything up in a week or freeze it for later because it won't keep for weeks. And lettuce is only freezable in a smoothie so we haven't figured out how not to waste the lettuce and other greens that we can't get through. Even with what could be seen as cons (most of them aren't really to me), I still suggest that a CSA is a great alternative.