My CSA Experience

Ever since I started running my mouth about how we had signed up for a CSA this year (translation = Community Supported Agriculture) people have been begging for details at my earliest convenience. Well folks – you asked for it, you got it!

First off, what is a CSA? Local Harvest (which I mention below in this blog post) defines a CSA like so: “A farmer offers a certain number of ‘shares’ to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a ‘membership’ or a ‘subscription’) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.”

Are you with me so far? Good. We’ll continue! 

A little background on how my interest in CSAs came to be: When we were still living in Wyoming, I went into the local bookstore one day and the clerk made a recommendation for The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball

photo cred: Amazon

Here’s the write-up from Publisher’s Weekly…

Kimball chucked life as a Manhattan journalist to start a cooperative farm in upstate New York with a self-taught New Paltz farmer she had interviewed for a story and later married. The Harvard-educated author, in her 30s, and Mark, also college educated and resolved to “live outside of the river of consumption,” eventually found an arable 500-acre farm on Lake Champlain, first to lease then to buy. In this poignant, candid chronicle by season, Kimball writes how she and Mark infused new life into Essex Farm, and lost their hearts to it. By dint of hard work and smart planning–using draft horses rather than tractors to plow the five acres of vegetables, and raising dairy cows, and cattle, pigs, and hens for slaughter–they eventually produced a cooperative on the CSA model, in which members were able to buy a fully rounded diet. To create a self-sustaining farm was enormously ambitious, and neighbors, while well-meaning, expected them to fail. However, the couple, relying on Mark’s belief in a “magic circle” of good luck, exhausted their savings and set to work. Once June hit, there was the 100-day growing season and an overabundance of vegetables to eat, and no end to the dirty, hard, fiercely satisfying tasks, winningly depicted by Kimball. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Needless to say, the second I finished this book, I marched right over to Stephen and told him that I wanted to buy a farm and start a CSA. Keep in mind that we had already quit our jobs and moved across the country with no plans, so I’m fairly certain that I must have still been punch-drunk on adventure at this point. I’m sure you can imagine his reaction. (And if you can’t, let’s just say I didn’t get a farm… but I almost have him on board for goats!)

The farmer’s market in Wyo served my needs for fresh veggies, usually coming over from Idaho. It was a short bike ride away from our small apartment, and I would load my canvas bag up with whatever it could fit. I loved coming home with fresh cherry tomatoes in shades of green, red, orange and yellow, or bringing home fresh bags of spring mix lettuce and making a giant salad. While it wasn’t a CSA, it still served my need for fresh, organic produce – which could be a difficult thing to find in Wyoming, especially in the winter months! 

Now that we’re back East, I decided that this would be the year to find a CSA. This can be a project – I wasn’t totally sure what to look for or where to start, but luckily, while listening to The Jillian Michaels Show Podcast (which I listen to regularly, thank you very much) she mentioned that browsing www.localharvest.com is a great place to start. (Talk about the Universe lining things up for me!)

Local Harvest was a great resource to get me started. I was able to search my location and read reviews on CSAs in the area. I had once been told that most CSAs near us require you to dedicate hours to helping out on the farm. While this is something I would love to do, there unfortunately just isn’t enough time right now, and my main focus is on preparing healthy, veggie- and love-filled meals. Luckily I found one literally around the corner from our apartment that has the pick-up only option. Boom! This was the one! 

Stephen and I discussed the pros and cons of committing to a CSA. Some of our obvious pros were that we would be getting farm-fresh, locally grown produce and that we would be supporting our local farmers. Easy enough! Stephen and I can be wildly optimistic, so we tried to be very diplomatic about the cons. Unfortunately, I have heard horror stories of people getting bad produce and things that clearly weren’t locally grown. Since our CSA is extremely reputable, my only “con” was this: “What if it’s the height of summer and we get twenty ears of corn and that’s it for the week?!” to which I almost immediately answered my own question: “Then I’ll make corn salsa, and can with it, and we’ll have a party and make corn on the cob on the grill.” So there. Crisis averted.

In the end, we committed to a half-share – or what our CSA denotes as 5-6 units (which can be multiples, so 1 unit may be 2 heads of lettuce one week) – for our first season. Each season runs until the fall, so anywhere from late October to early November, with last Tuesday being the first pick-up of the season. Stephen couldn’t go because he had to work late, and I was actually kind of excited about this solo-adventure. I drove to the farm, parked my car, and was greeted by a giant chalkboard letting me know of what items I could take for the week. The staff was also extremely helpful and walked me through the process. Last week (since it was the first week of the season, I assume) was only 4 units, and I had about 10 to choose from. I chose arugula, a head of the prettiest lettuce ever, broccoli rabe, and tatsoi (an Asian green often found in mixed green lettuces – somewhere along the lines of spinach or mustard greens). I also received a bunch of scallions (not just any scallions, either – these are the Godzilla of scallions) and had the opportunity to pick my own pint of strawberries and fresh herbs. Please note that it was pouring rain. So did I go and pick my own berries and herbs? You betcha I did! 

bag from Oh Little Rabbit
www.etsy.com/shop/ohlittlerabbit

There was something so rewarding about walking through the strawberry fields and picking them. Even though it was pouring rain, I was smiling the whole time! On the walk back to my car, I had finally had enough of strolling through the mud in my sandals and just took them off. Nothing makes you feel more like a little kid than walking barefoot through the mud (with a skirt on, no less) eating strawberries that you just picked from the farm. 

 
 
Here’s a picture of my giant scallions and some of the herbs that I grabbed. Now that I know that the herbs are available, I will definitely be bringing some garden scissors next time so that I can get a better cut. I ended up taking some thyme, sage, and mint. Oh, and because I can’t stop talking about these scallions, I want to mention their proximity to the iced tea pitcher they are sitting in and the cookbook to the left. These things are huge! 
 
 
All in all, it was a great first-CSA pick up experience. I’m looking forward to seeing what they have in store for this week, and all of the fun recipes that I can whip up, which I will definitely be posting here!
 
Do any of you participate in CSAs? What are your thoughts and feedback?
 
 
until next time, 
-S

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