Words by Eric Houppert, photos by Mike Martinez
Whether it’s a favorite coffee shop, bakery, restaurant or brewery — one is hard pressed to miss the growing narrative of local in the food and beverage industry. As more small businesses are moving towards the deindustrialization of food, the importance of origin and practice are becoming legitimate conversations among consumers. This is critical, as consumers have the buying power to help shift industry standards. However, it seems the movement is still getting a bit lost somewhere between the commercial kitchens of our favorite local spots and our homes.
While farmers markets are growing and more CSAs and other subscription-based services are popping up, most of the meat and produce that fills the pantries and refrigerators of the average concerned citizen is being shipped from hundreds - if not thousands - of miles away. As a farmer, I hear the concerns that prospective members have (like convenience and cost), but I am not convinced these are the major hindrances to building the local food movement and changing how we consume.
Concerns like these do exist, and they are valid issues to address; however, I firmly believe the biggest obstacle to obtaining fresh, local, ethically grown food directly to the consumer is an issue of knowledge. So many people I talk with desire to buy the best food they can - food that is priced fairly and sourced locally - they just don’t know where to start.
That’s why we’re here.
First, let’s take a look at exactly what a CSA is and why it’s so important to consider joining one.
The term CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. CSAs offer a way for consumers to buy produce, meat or eggs directly from the farmers who grow or raise the products. This allows the farmer to sell seasonally and directly to members of their community. The customer then receives the best possible quality products accompanied by the greatest amount of knowledge. A farmer will decide how many “shares” of vegetables, meat or eggs they can produce in a season and then offer those to the public, who prepay at the beginning of the season to secure a membership. Members will typically come weekly or biweekly, for anywhere from eight to 30 weeks, to pick up their share of fresh, local food. Farming styles vary and it is important for any prospective member to look into how their farmer grows his or her food or raises animals - but more often than not, CSA farms focus on ethical animal husbandry and organic growing practices.
5 Reasons to Join a CSA This Year
1. You will gain a deep connection to the food you eat and the land it is grown on
It’s a sad truth that more and more children have no idea where food comes from and what fruits, vegetables and meat even look like before it is processed, packaged and put on the shelf. A CSA reminds us where our food comes from, it encourages us to eat with the seasons, and it matches names and faces to the people who are committed to caring for the land so that we have food to eat in the future.
2. A CSA promotes a varied diet that is typically healthier and more interesting
The first time you pick up your share and see a giant Kohlrabi, a Japanese eggplant or a pound of Tatsoi, you might not have any idea what to do with them. But after recipe exchange with your farmer or another member, you will inevitably have a new favorite vegetable, an increase in the diversity of nutrient dense food you consume and the inspiration you needed to start making more meals at home (and using all of those long-forgotten kitchen tools).
3. It is perhaps the most direct way to invest in your local economy
By paying up front for the season, members provide farmers with a stable income at the beginning of the year, when they need it most. Each year, members are literally jump starting their local food economy. their return on investment is the steady distribution of local, delicious food that would have not been possible otherwise. This builds a symbiotic relationship between the member and farmer that mutually shares in the risk of each season and the rewards of bounty.
4. A CSA benefits the environment locally and globally
In addition to investing directly into the local economy, small scale, sustainable farming promotes the protection and nurturing of a region’s ecosystem - including the soil, air, water, plants and animal life. Shipping food around the globe carries an almost immeasurable fossil fuel burden. The reduction of that footprint via locally sourced food cannot be overstated.
5. You’ll find a sense of place and community
Of all of the great reasons to join a CSA (and there are so many unmentioned), none seems to bring as much deep and immediate joy as the sense of community that is built around people coming together over food. Whether it’s potlucks at the farm, quick hellos in line for shares, or long conversations on volunteer days, members truly become friends and family. A CSA provides the context for people to come together on common ground, with vested interest, and connect on two truths that apply to every human — the need to eat and the desire to enjoy it.