Or what I learned from getting my produce in a box every week
At the beginning of this year, I joined a CSA (community-supported agriculture) for the first time and it completely changed the way I cook and eat. Instead of relying on the grocery store to supply my produce, I now pick it up every week from a local cooperative that helps bring small farm produce to consumers. I always wanted to live a more sustainable, regenerative lifestyle but assumed it would happen one day when I had land to farm or money to shop at Whole Foods. As it turns out, I didn’t need to wait for either of those things because joining a CSA is the perfect solution to my problem of wanting fresh local produce but not having the resources to grow it myself. But what are the benefits of joining a CSA? There are many, so let’s get into what makes this kind of community farming so special.
A CSA is a kind of community to farm cooperative where members pledge to support a farm operation so that the farm (or farms) become the community’s farm. This means that both the growers and consumers mutually support and share responsibility for the risks and rewards of growing food. CSAs are a way to ensure small local farms have guaranteed buyers for their produce and communities have consistent access to locally farmed foods. As you can imagine, both the growers and consumers benefit greatly from this arrangement. There are many different kinds of CSA models, but this is the basic principle.
What are the benefits of joining a CSA?
Better for the environment
CSAs are Local
Eating local produce is better for the environment because it doesn’t have to travel as far to reach consumers. As a result, local produce is fresher and uses less fuel to arrive in the kitchens of consumers. I realized that one of the most convenient benefits of joining a CSA is that I no longer have to read labels at the grocery store and wonder where something is grown because everything in my box is local.
CSAs are Seasonal
Seasonal produce is much better for the environment because when we eat what is in season we can buy locally. If I were to eat watermelon in the winter, for example, it would probably travel from another (tropical) country to arrive in my grocery store. This results in produce that is less fresh and requires far more carbon emissions to ship nationally or internationally. If you want to learn more about local seasonal eating, I wrote an entire blog about it here.
Supports local farmers
I used to think I was doing farmers a favor when I would buy local produce, I had pity on the small family farmers trying to make it in the industrialized global food system and wanted to help them in some way. I have since realized that buying locally is about supporting my own health, regenerative agriculture, the environment, my local food system, *and* local farmers. Supporting local growers helps us in so many ways but more importantly, if we don’t invest in our local food system then all that will remain is a massive, industrialized, global system that does not care about us or our health. I have found that small local farms care about the food they grow and want to produce the best possible products for their customers. How do I know this? Because it’s hard to get rich owning a small farm, those who choose such a life are passionate about providing quality products to their customers!
Less susceptible to shortages because CSAs are not part of the global supply chain
This has become a concern for many buyers in the past few years. I know how stressful it can feel looking at empty grocery shelves wondering how long shortages will last and if grocery prices will continue to go up. When you buy your produce from a CSA, you are no longer participating in the global supply chain and therefore will not feel the same impact. As a CSA member, you are essentially buying a share in a local farm (or farms) which means that you are an investor who receives the first fruits of the harvest. Small farmers are loyal to their customers and forming a relationship with these growers ensures that as long as they are growing, you will receive regular produce.
From my experience, produce from my CSA box tastes so much better than that from my local grocery store. For me, the lettuce mix from my box is leaps and bounds better than anything from a plastic bag. We also love getting the most delicious mushrooms which are much more delicious than store-bought. Additionally, I have noticed that my CSA produce lasts much longer than grocery store produce because it is freshly picked the day before I receive it.
Embracing a traditional & ancestral way of eating
It’s time to get back to your roots! For all of human existence, we have eaten food that is local and seasonal. It is only in the past 100 years that humans have diverged from that model. The result is a bloated, industrial agriculture system that strips the soil of its nutrients is susceptible to supply chain shortages, pollutes the environment, keeps consumers in the dark about its practices, and ultimately destroys our health. Many people don’t like to correlate our current health, environmental, and supply chain crises with the rise in the industrial food system, but this is the reality of our time. Once I discovered the truth about our food system, I decided to remove myself as much as I can from it by buying locally and seasonally and participating in my local CSA. I would encourage anyone who is ready to break out of the big Ag system to do the same.
Forces you to get creative in the kitchen
Buying produce from my CSA has really challenged me in the kitchen because now I no longer buy whatever I am in the mood for but create my meals based on what seasonal produce comes in my box. Learning to cook with new ingredients has been one of the most surprising benefits of joining a CSA. Now I have no choice but to try out vegetables I wouldn’t typically cook with and experiment with new recipes and cuisines. My favorite example of this happened when I made a beautiful french galette with all the excess mushrooms in my produce box. Without all those mushrooms I would not have tried out such a recipe and proved that necessity really is the mother of invention.
So CSAs are Great, now what?
Now you need to find one local to you! Check out this awesome directory and map to locate a CSA near you and learn more.