Slow food. Local eating. Organic vegetables. These are all great ideas. Many of us would like to fit more of them into our lives. After all, the fresher the food, the better it tastes. If you know precisely where it comes from, you know whether or not pesticides, hormones, or chemicals you prefer not to ingest have been used. You know whether or not the hens that layed those eggs are treated ethically.
Unfortunately, between questions of time, money, and availability, many of us don’t get to choose to eat in the way we would prefer. We rely on grocery stores where foods are pre-packaged for our convenience and modified within an inch of their lives before they get shipped across the country or across the world to our tables. We grow up believing that tomatoes have virtually no flavor of their own, that if we want our corn in kernals rather than ears we have to get it frozen, and that it makes little if any difference whether food is cooked instantly in a microwave or slowly in an oven. Sure, we’d like to eat better, but all too often, we don’t know how.
I can’t relax your busy schedule or give you more money. One thing I can do, though, is pass along some information that may help if your problem is one of simply not knowing where to look.
If you go to this website and type in your zip code, you can find lists of farmer’s markets, CSAs, farms, co-ops, etc. where you can get whatever sort of farm-fresh food your heart desires. You can find out precisely where to go to pick your own cherries or when to head downtown in search of fresh carrots and flowers.
Or you can look into a CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. What it boils down to is that these are small to medium-sized farms that sell shares in their crops to subscribers. Depending on how the CSA is set up, shareholders may be required to do some work for the CSA or may get a discount on shares for working. Others don’t offer that option. Some leave the produce at pick up points, while others will deliver to your doorstep. Some offer a smaller or half share at a discount for those who need less than the farm usually gives. Some demand that you sign on for the entire growing season, while others prefer to handle things on a monthly – or even in rare instances weekly – basis. Depending on the area and the preferences of the farmers involved, you may find that someone in your area offers eggs, dairy products, bread, nuts, or even meat…but most stick mainly to fruits and vegetables.
Before you decide on a CSA, though, there are a few things you should probably consider.
Time: Does the CSA expect you to work for your veggies? Can you fit that comfortably into your schedule? If the shares are left at a central location, will you be able to guarantee that you can pick it up in a timely manner? How far is that central location from where you live or work?
Money: There are CSAs that ask you to pay up front for weekly deliveries for an entire growing season. Will you be able to come up with the cash when its needed? Can you get a price break if you agree to smaller shares or less frequent deliveries? Is there another farm that provides many of the same types of produce for a little money up front? What forms of payment do they accept?
Flexibility: Do you get any control over what comes in that box? Or will you find yourself trying desperately to figure out what to do with a metric ton of something you hate or are allergic to? When others checked the ‘no eggplant’ box on the form, did they still find themselves needing recipes for moussaka? If you’re going on vacation and need to skip a delivery or two, will they let you do that? If you can’t be home when they deliver, will they agree to bring your share to your office? Be sure to make arrangements with your office first!
Appetite: Are the shares large enough to feed your family comfortably? Are they too big for your needs? If there’s too much, will you have time and energy to do a lot of canning and pickling? If there’s not enough, how will you supplement for the shortfall?
Variety: Does the CSA provide enough different things to keep you happy? Does it give you one or two things you love and a dozen you loathe? If you’re going to reject more foods than you accept, or if you’re going to be figuring out what to do with five or six pounds a week of the same vegetable for half the year, you probably want to keep looking.
Joining a CSA can give you access to a variety of incredibly fresh, delicious foods. Just make certain you’re joining one that truly meets your needs.
In the meantime, it might not be a bad idea to take a stroll around your local farmers’ market…now that you know how to find it.