Spring is finally hopefully almost here. As we dust off the layers of ice and snow that have plagued most of the country this winter, our farmers are working the fields and anticipating a fruitful growing season. Soon, we will be feasting on juicy tomatoes, ripe watermelons, and sweet cantaloupes.
As an alternative to the weekly farmers market grind, consider signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. With a CSA, local farmers, on their own or through a co-op, chose the freshest and best produce for the week and pack their pickings into boxes for share members. Those boxes are then transported to a drop-off location most likely someplace right in your own neighborhood.
The Gourmand household purchased a CSA share last year and loved it. Below are 6 great reasons why you, too, should sign-up for a CSA.
- Nothing tastes better than farm fresh produce. Have you ever eaten a locally grown mushroom? Like pulled out of the dirt and manure yesterday locally grown mushroom? If not, you need to. It’s life-altering. The most delicious and nutritious way to eat produce is ripe off the vine. As produce ages, it loses not only flavor, but also precious vitamins and nutrients. The produce in a CSA box is coming directly from a local farm, often picked the day before. It’s not shipped to your “local” grocery store from across the country or globe.
- CSA boxes aren’t just for hippy-vegetarians. Often CSA shares allows you to add local beef, chicken, milk, or egg products. I’ll warn you, the cost for locally raised is often higher than the same product shipped into your “local” grocery store from a mega farm across the country. But take one bite, and you will see the product is worth the price. Chicken actually tastes like chicken! Most Americans don’t know what real, natural chicken tastes like because our only reference is the hormone and chemical infused bombs we eat that grow to full adulthood in 7 weeks. That’s not natural, and it doesn’t taste right.
- A CSA box is more convenient than visiting the Farmers Market. I love visiting my local farmers market. It’s a leisurely Saturday morning for me. I wake up a little later than normal, linger over my coffee and a magazine, shower, and then head to the Charlotte Farmers Market. I enjoy strolling the aisles and stalls, checking out the varieties of fresh produce and homemade wares, and chatting with the farmers. Unfortunately, the people of Charlotte have ruined my Saturday morning routine at the Farmers Market much like they ruin everything else good in town (reserving seats at Pops in the Park at 6am for a 6pm show). Cars are lined up at the Farmers Market before the farmers even arrive! The aisles are packed elbow to elbow with patrons running to grab that last ripe tomato. With my CSA box, I simply pick it up at my neighborhood drop-off location eliminating the new found stresses of the farmers market and giving back hours of my weekend.
- The randomness of a CSA box challenges your culinary ability. What the #*%& is kohlrabi? We didn’t know, but it was in our CSA box one week. Turns out kohlrabi is in the brassica family – the same family as kale, cabbage, and brussel sprouts. Both its root and greens can be used. We roasted the root as a substitute for potatoes and used the greens in a breakfast egg casserole. Unfortunately, that was our only kohlrabi, but we were treated to other vegetables that we never cooked with before like celery root, turnips twelve different ways, red cabbage, beets, and seasonal squashes. Each week we researched recipes to incorporate these new ingredients. Some recipes were new to us like turnip and celery root puree, and others were well loved dishes never prepared in our kitchen before like authentic German red cabbage (added bonus, i also learned to cook wiener schnitzel).
- Learn how to eat seasonal. Let me dispel a myth. Tomatoes don’t grown in your state in the middle of winter. The retailers at our “local” grocery store have taught us that we can have any fruit or vegetable we want anytime of the year. Thus, we end up with pink tomatoes in the middle of January not even thinking about where they came from (across the globe). The texture may be off and the flavor is muted, but that’s okay! We have tomatoes for our salad, right? Wrong. Eating fresh and local from a CSA teaches what is available from area farms throughout the year.
- A CSA share is more sustainable than your “local” grocery store’s produce department. Those tomatoes shipped in from Chile come with a huge carbon footprint as they plane, train, and automobile it to your “local” grocery store. The produce from a CSA box is simply trucked across town. Besides the carbon emission, harmful chemicals are needed to preserve the produce as it makes the journey around the world. Those chemicals are poisoning our land and our bodies. Plus, there’s no processing to make the fruit in a CSA box look more appealing like there is by the retailers that run grocery stores. The skin on the orange isn’t dyed an unnatural bright color to catch your attention.
Convinced? Local Harvest is a great resource for finding a CSA near you. What other reasons can you add to signing up for a CSA?