The Freshest Produce: Community-Supported Agriculture
I first got introduced to the concept of community-supported agriculture (CSA) back when I lived in the Bay Area, where being part of a CSA was so common it was almost taboo to abstain from the practice. Still, I didn't join one because the availability of fresh, delicious produce was insane. You could get it anywhere, so I just couldn't justify the commitment. But once I moved to Southern California and was bummed about the paucity of unique grocery chains offering solid and affordable produce, I looked into joining a CSA. I have been part of the Be Wise Ranch CSA for nearly seven years now, and it's one of the best lifestyle choices I ever made.
How does a CSA work?
You pay a (usually weekly or bi-weekly) fee to purchase shares of the farm, and in exchange you get a box of fresh produce each week (or every-other-week, however your plan is set up). Typically, boxes are picked up from the homes of other CSA members, with pick-up spots distributed around a fairly vast area. Those members that offer their home as a pick-up spot often get their fee waived (so yea, free food).
I love my CSA so much that I highly recommend trying one out. Still, I recognize that it is rather a lifestyle commitment - and as such, it's not for everyone. Here is an overview of some of the pros and cons of joining a CSA.
- You know exactly where your food came from.
- You are supporting local agriculture (which can be organic or conventional, depending on your farm).
- It is generally much cheaper than a comparable load from the farmer's market.
- Your produce is absolutely the freshest stuff available.
- Food-ruts are avoided as you are kind of forced to integrate a variety of good healthy food into your diet.
- You will necessarily become a more creative cook (I would otherwise have no clue what to do with, for example, dandelion greens...nor would I care).
- You do not get to pick what you get each week.
- You may end up with a surplus of certain foods at certain times of year (hello, summertime beets).
- Pick-up locations and times may or may not be the most convenient.
- As you will necessarily become a more creative cook, this is going to require some time/effort/planning.
Because my CSA is a something I love being part of, I'll be posting some "solutions" to these CSA downsides in subsequent posts, so stay tuned.
If I already convinced you to try a CSA, check out these resources to locate a farm near you.
Top photo: the Be Wise Ranch box from July 22, 2016, including (clockwise-ish from top left) heirloom tomatoes, kale, slicer tomatoes, butternut squash, mixed greens, nectarines, oranges, arugula, peaches, chard, lemon cucumbers, spaghetti squash, carrots.
Photos by Lauren Shipp