It is almost my favorite time of year–CSA season! To celebrate, in this post, I’m talking about how we buy most of our food directly from the farm. I’ve already shared our experience with buying meat this way. Our connection to local farmers actually started years before we bought bulk pork.
I grew up in a rural environment, on a small hobby farm. My grandfather is a farmer–well into his 80s he still tends a herd of sheep and puts up hay each year. He lives on the same farm his father owned. Although my grandfather sells some lambs at market annually, we never ate the animals my family raised. My dad’s hobby farm didn’t include any meat animals. We had horses and a flock of laying hens (along with a resident dog and barn cats). We always kept a large vegetable garden. Mr. Vine grew up in a more suburban area, but his family likewise kept a garden.
Our Midwestern state is well known for its agriculture. Between our upbringing on garden fresh veggies and an abundance of farmers’ markets, we understood how much better food tastes when we are closer to it. Through our college years and move to the city, we lost some of that connection. While in grad school, I learned about community shared agriculture (CSA). Farmers sell a share of their yield during the off season. The buyer has pre-purchased a season’s worth of produce. The benefit to the farmer is an influx of funds when they most need it to buy seed and supplies for planting time. The buyer gets straight from the farm produce, probably at a lower price than the individual value of all the items. We first joined a CSA in the summer of 2014 and this year will be our fourth year participating.
We don’t have the time or space to grow our own summer produce. (Although we have grown a few cherry tomatoes and pepper plants on our patio!). CSA allows us to eat less processed, fresher food that doesn’t travel far to reach us. It tastes better. There are reasons to feel better about it, too. We are supporting a local couple’s small business. It’s such a joy to get to know our farmers–to connect with them and tell them how much we appreciate the fruits of their labor. We pay the farmer directly and know that our dollars aren’t going to a CEO’s inflated salary, expensive marketing, wasteful packaging, or shipping. Between the packaging and shipping especially, we are reducing our carbon footprint.
It is important to us to reduce our impact on the environment whenever we can. Modern humans aren’t always gentle on the earth. We want to do better. It was this desire to both get closer to our food, consume food that undergoes less processing, and reduce our environmental impact that led us to CSA.
All of those aspects combined with more tangible benefits, like easy budgeting and convenience, motivate us to keep buying a CSA share every winter. During the growing season, we don’t need to buy any produce from the grocery store. Now that we have pork in the freezer, I’m curious to see how often we’ll need to visit. Although we make an increasing amount of items like bread, butter, and ice cream from scratch at home, we still need some pantry staples.
Staying out of the grocery store keeps our food costs predictable. Mr. Vine is our main grocery shopper and while he’s fantastic at sticking to a list, I’m not awesome at making sure the list is in budget. We also save gas and time. Our CSA pickup is consolidated with our weekly raw milk pickup (yes, we drink unpasteurized milk).
CSA also saves time in less obvious ways. I never have to meal plan during the growing season. When we pick up our share, I plan around what we get. For me, it lends a spontaneity to dinners. I’m grinning remembering how fun it was to figure out what to do with all that zucchini and how delicious that giant caprese salad was at the height of tomato season. During the winter, I find myself eating more frozen vegetables because nothing compares to in-season, farm fresh produce. There’s something special about adjusting my diet to what’s fresh right now. The beginning of summer is that much more fun when it means I’m getting some fresh bok choy to add to a stiry fry. Tomatoes come with the long, leisurely dog days of summer and evenings spent lingering on the patio. In October, I’m all about gratitude while savoring those last squashes and onions.
We also strive to enjoy the moment and buying our food straight from the farm helps us do that.
Have you ever tried a CSA? Why or why not? If you haven’t tried it, tell me about it.