A Manifesto on the CSA

Written by Sarah on June 25th, 2013 Posted in CSA, food, summer

It’s summer so it’s more than officially CSA season, guys! I’m obsessed with my CSA and I love hearing about new people joining up with ones in their neighborhoods so I just want to preach about it today. I like to relate everything back to knitting but I think that people who make things care about where things come from and in this case, we’re talking about food. Everybody cares about where food comes from. Otherwise there wouldn’t be a Food Network.

CSA means community supported agriculture. It’s a form of a food co-op (that’s how I present it to people without getting into the long explanation) but it’s not like a grocery store. Members of the CSA buy a share in a local farm before the season, an investment that allows the farmer to have some capital before there is produce to sell. Once the food is harvested it’s divided amongst the members evenly (or however the division is agreed upon) and you get a great return on your investment. There are CSAs for everything you might want to eat: vegetables, fruits, meat, milk, eggs, yogurt, maple syrup, honey. (There’s even a yarn CSA!)

csa strawberries

Long story short, it’s a great and impressively cheap way to get huge amounts local, fresh, organic produce to your home. I’ll be completely transparent: Jon and I pay about $40/week from May to Thanksgiving for pick ups every two weeks of veggies, fruit, and a whole chicken. And it’s a LOT of food. (Imagine spending $40/week in a New York City Whole Foods. You’d starve.)

I’m always bragging about my membership to anyone that will listen. Eating local and organic are trendy and I think a lot of people think I’m snobby or elitist or whatever (I live in Brooklyn so, surprise! those stereotypes are true and I’m ok with it) because I want to put things into my body that aren’t poison. I hate thinking of it in terms of what’s en vogue and what’s not. We should all want those things and we should all want them for as little money as possible. Foodies come in all shapes and sizes, you’d be surprised!

It’s important to me that I’m doing something good for my body and the environment and my community (my required volunteer work is baking a dessert from leftover fruits for a soup kitchen). I love the trust that I have in a farmer that is willing to put food directly into my hands instead of putting a big corporate label on it. I love that I can have fresh produce although I live in a huge city. I also love that I don’t have to make trips to the farmers’ market (we pick up all of the goods at a bar two blocks from our apartment) and that I am saving money because there is no middle man. Why should I not want to brag about that? And how could I stop myself from recruiting friends?

While I happen to think that it’s all too good to be true, lots of people I talk to have hang ups about joining CSAs. (Being honest again: I took a year off after the first season I did. My lifestyle wasn’t ready yet. I had roommates and a kitchen I didn’t like spending time in.) You get a lot of food so you either have to do a lot of cooking and canning or split your share with someone (this year we’re doing a half share, hence our every-other-week pick ups and it’s taken a lot of the burden off). It’s intimidating, yes. The first CSA we participated in left us drowning in plums and kale. The refrigerator we shared with a roommate was packed to the gils with leafy greens and purple beans. But I’ve learned that sometimes you have to pick around the moldy cherries and keep the good ones. Don’t worry, Mom, I’m not saying that I’m a freegan eating out of dented cans (sorry, freegans! I know that’s a harsh stereotype that isn’t true at all). I just know how to produce less garbage.

Some people don’t like that you  have to take home beets and radishes even if you don’t eat beets and radishes. But I’ve learned to eat weird vegetables that I’ve never heard of before. That’s valuable, too! I pride myself in the variety of foods that I now crave when I grew up eating hot dogs, peanut butter sandwiches, and Twizzlers. And, when all else fails, I’m more than happy to share with my family and friends. Besides, it gets them talking about the whole thing!

And, lastly, some people just don’t want to cook. This is something that I care about deeply because just a few years ago the only thing I knew how to cook were Totinos pizza rolls. I ate gummy bears for dinner with cups of coffee made light with artificially flavored creamers (and I didn’t even know how to make coffee until I was 20). I was broke and I was lucky enough to have roommates that knew how to take care of me and gigs that at least provided a disappointing pizza lunch. I hardly slept during college so I was lucky enough to not gain weight but I’m surprised I’m still alive. I wanted to eat food that was good for me but I didn’t know how to make any of it taste good nor did I take the time to do so. Fast forward a few years and I won’t say I’m Julia Child but I know how to put together a meal. I’ve taken a couple of classes to learn very basic things (knife skills, how to butcher a chicken, and how to mix cocktails because that’s important, too) and knowing those things has given me confidence. (It also doesn’t hurt to have a food documentarian boyfriend who is obsessed with molecular gastronomy but I think that I have more staple dinner recipes than he does.) That’s something that delights me. Just like making a sweater, I can make something that is good to eat.

And I feel about cooking much the way that I do about knitting: it can secretly be super simple. You don’t have to know cables or colorwork to put together a sweater that is warm and fashionable. People are still impressed that you made something that is, at it’s heart, just knit and purl stitches. It’s the same with cooking. It might look impressive because it’s wrapped in a parchment bag or roasted with herbs but the simplest techniques make delicious meals. I don’t need a fancy Michelin-starred plate. It isn’t always beautiful or complex (any vegetable roasted with olive oil is so delicious it feels like cheating) but it’s a home cooked meal.

So I say more of us should give this a try. It takes some getting used to but the amount of awesome you’ll feel when you’re sitting down to a meal you made yourself with produce that’s sustainable and organic, that didn’t break the bank, will make the craziness of offloading three pounds of peaches into a pie totally worth it.

To find a CSA near you, check out Just Food!

Have you participated in a CSA? Did you love it?

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Comments (8)

  • June 25, 2013 at 10:25 am |

    As you know, I love love love our CSA, although I’m jealous of all the strawberries you got!
    As a side note, where did you take classes? I have a friend who might be interested in something like that.
    Oh, and don’t forget to share recipes! (especially with some of the unusual veggies)

    • June 25, 2013 at 10:30 am |

      Yes! I took classes at Brooklyn Kitchen. It’s a great venue for learning and they have lots of cool stuff. I’m very interested in doing more learning there. There are also some classes like canning at 3rd Ward that I’ve been looking into but I’ve never taken those myself!

  • June 25, 2013 at 11:23 am |

    I live in Brooklyn myself and have been searching for a great CSA…which have great reps?

    Also, the yarn CSA…I am SO IN

    • June 25, 2013 at 12:38 pm |

      I’ve always looked for one closet to where I live since it’s tough to haul the stuff all over. But you can probably go to a pick up and see what it’s all about, talk to the organizers. I belong to the Southside CSA in Williamsburg and I can vouch for it being great.

  • June 25, 2013 at 12:08 pm |

    Girl, I feel the exact same way! Joining a CSA in Chicago totally changed my life, and taught me how to cook. Chris and I had an AMAZING CSA in Chicago (there’s even a documentary about its founder, “Farmer John,”) and they were so helpful and inclusive. I just haven’t seen anything like it in California since we moved, and I’m sad about it! I should probably just sign up for one and try it out for a few weeks, but I’m nervous! I have set the bar high!

    • June 25, 2013 at 12:36 pm |

      Oh I would LOVE to join a CSA in California. I was actually just talking about this. I can only imagine the delicious avocados and oranges that you’d get that you can’t get in colder climates! Definitely go for it!

      I’m going to look for that documentary! Thanks for recommending it!

  • June 26, 2013 at 3:03 pm |

    I love the idea of a CSA! It seems my garden, given the amount of attention I’m able to pay it, will only grow a few things with certainty. I’d join a CSAreally want to join a co-op for organic grass fed meat, but I’d need a second freezer.
    I’ve been cooking since I had my first child (18 yrs. ago) and I have yet to butcher a …anything. But I did learn to cook whole foods and am trying to vary our diets with seasonal foods. I’ve been trying to add more foods we’re unaccustomed to to round out our diet, lately.

  • June 29, 2013 at 1:31 pm |

    I LOVE our CSA! And my favorite foods are the simple ones. I’ve spent hours and every pan in my kitchen on a dish that would have been just as good (if not better) if I’d just left the dang veggie alone to roast a little.

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