You’ve probably heard that increasing your vegetable consumption is good for your health. You may also know that buying organic, in-season produce from your local farmers helps the environment by reducing the energy used in food transportation. Doing so also keeps your dollars in your community rather than in the hands of corporate agribusiness. If you’re looking for a simple way to benefit your health, your community, and the Earth, consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
What is CSA
Here’s how CSAs work: Small farms sell shares to local area residents, who are then guaranteed a portion of the farm’s output for one season, which usually lasts from late spring until early fall. Farmers harvest ripe produce from their fields and distribute it to shareholders on a regular basis; most CSAs have weekly pickups in central locations. Shares generally include several types of vegetables, and some CSAs also offer fruits and wildflowers.
Benefits of Joining a CSA
Here are some of the reasons why joining a CSA is a green step you’ll enjoy:
Support sustainable farming
When you minimize the distance that food has to travel between the fields and your table, you save energy and reduce the pollution caused by food transport. Many CSAs are organic, and even those that aren’t tend to use fewer pesticides and chemical fertilizers than conventional farms. By pre-paying for a season’s worth of produce, shareholders help their local farms cover planting and harvesting expenses—and survive to compete with larger, corporate-run enterprises.
Learn About Our Food: Get closer to your food and the people who grow it.
“Joining a CSA taught me some things I didn’t know, particularly about the relationship between plants and the weather,” says Co-op America member Richard Gatjens, a Bronx resident who joined the Hawthorne Valley Farm CSA last year.
For instance, Gatjens discovered that during a few rainy weeks of the summer, he was getting a lot of greens—such as collards, lettuce, and swiss chard—because greens thrive in wet conditions that are less ideal for other vegetables.
Gatjens learned such details from the CSA staff, who contributed columns to a weekly newsletter and distributed vegetables at pickup locations. Many CSAs also offer shareholders the opportunity to visit the farms and harvest vegetables. If you’ve never seen broccoli growing, this may be your chance to learn more about the origins of the plants on your plate.
Expand your kitchen repertoire
If your vegetable purchases tend to center on standards like carrots and potatoes, belonging to a CSA can introduce you to new and unusual favorites. Many CSAs publish newsletters that contain recipes for the week’s vegetables, or you can consult cookbooks for ideas. For instance, Gatjens hadn’t given much thought to turnips until his CSA began distributing a wealth of them; then, he discovered that they were delicious when sliced and sautéed with onions. Since vegetables fresh from the fields are full of flavor, they don’t require lots of seasonings to be delicious.
Improve your health
Eating a variety of vegetables will give you a greater range of vitamins and nutrients, and eating more vegetables is beneficial for your overall health. If you’re trying to improve your eating habits, a weekly supply of fresh vegetables may be just the inspiration you need to start preparing healthier dishes. “Belonging to a CSA helped me stick to the diet I was on,” relates Gatjens. “I lost a lot of weight over the season.”
CSAs generally sell shares in the spring, so now’s the time to get involved. Signing up now will help ensure that you’ll be able to join the CSA of your choice, and early share purchases allow farmers to avoid borrowing money for supplies. To find a CSA in your area, consult the Robyn Van En Center for CSA Resources (www.csacenter.org, 717/264-4141) or LocalHarvest (www.localharvest.org). According to the Robyn Van En Center, a share usually supplies enough vegetables for a family of four and may cost $300 to $600. (The figure may sound high, but a season’s worth of organic vegetables for four could easily cost more.) If you’re concerned about the cost or your ability to consume that much produce, consider splitting a share with a friend or neighbor.
This article is reprinted with permission from Co-op America’s “Real Money” newsletter, March/April 2004. Co-op America is a national membership nonprofit dedicated to providing resources to socially and environmentally conscious consumers.