Don’t you just love the anticipation that goes with any surprise? So this Valentine’s Day, give yourself the joy of a weekly surprise through joining a community supported agriculture (CSA) program.
“Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer,” Twin Persimmons Farm’s website states. “Here are the basics: 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 and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season, providing a win-win for farm and consumer.” A group of friends and I have joined Twin Persimmons’ CSA, but there are CSAs across the United States.
So I’ve asked a few friends about their views as new CSA members. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering a CSA:
- CSAs are worth the investment! Everyone concurred with Tina's view: “It’s completely worth the money, and I don’t even care to do a cost comparison, because comparing mostly non-organic grocery store produce (fresh, canned or frozen) to organic, fresh, locally grown interesting varieties would be like (pun intended) comparing apples and oranges."
- You can share a share! The weekly stash is enough for 4-5 people, so splitting the cost and the veggies makes it easier and affordable for people who are only cooking for 1-2 people or who who have family members who don't like vegetables.
- CSAs help you eat more vegetables! “I would probably never buy this many vegetables on my own,” Kaye said. “In the past, I pretty much stayed with the familiar items like salad mix, green beans, and carrots. Since participating in the CSA, I have increased my veggie intake from an average of about once a week to at least six days a week. That’s a huge difference! I feel like I need to eat them immediately since they are fresh and already in my fridge.” Kara concurred, stating “My family and I—like most Americans—don’t eat nearly as many vegetables as we need to eat. I thought that by having fresh vegetables readily available in my refrigerator, I might actually cook them!”
- You’ll try new vegetables (and ones that you’ve avoided) and discover you like them! “I wanted to integrate more vegetables into my diet but I just didn’t know where to start,” Kaye said. “So I thought that having someone pick out a selection for me each week would force me to become more familiar with a greater variety of produce. That would help me become more comfortable with vegetables in general, and would also make me explore new ways to prepare them.” And the CSA caused Kara to reevaluate vegetables she thought she hated. “I always thought that Brussels sprouts looked disgusting and smelled even worse,” she explained. “But lo and behold, they showed up in my bag of produce. A Brussels-sprouts-loving friend of mine told me how to prepare them (with lots and lots of butter, of course). So I tried it out yesterday. They still smelled horrible, but they tasted amazing! A lot like popcorn. Seriously, I couldn’t stop eating them.”
- CSAs will cause you to hone your cooking skills! “My only gripe about participating in the CSA is that I feel like I’m cooking ALL the time!” Kara said. “I’ve found that the chief motivating factor for changing my eating habits is that I can’t stand to see food spoil. So filling my refrigerator with lots of fresh veggies has actually been a very good thing for me. Yes, I spend lots of hours cooking. But in doing so, I’m learning that there are lots of great recipes out there that make foods that I would normally avoid—like collard greens—taste really, really good. I thought I was a fairly healthy eater before, but by this constant consumption of vegetables, I’ve actually lost a few pounds because I’m too full to eat much else!” Tina agreed, adding “Although I’m a lazy cook, I’m finding most everything can be eaten raw, roasted or baked in the oven or stir-fried – by itself or with other veggies. This definitely works for me. I’m also learning to eat anything that’s a leaf, such as the leaves attached to beets or bok choy. Just throw them in a salad or in a pot to steam and wilt. Add olive oil and/or butter, salt and pepper, and a bit of vinegar or citrus, and it’s guaranteed to be tasty.”
- You’ll grow a relationship with your farmer! “He seems to really care about his produce and takes the time to communicate with his subscribers to share recipes and encourage feedback,” Tina said. Kaye added, “I really appreciate the detailed information we get about each week’s harvest. He sends us photos of the vegetables to help us identify them, and he also sends photos of the harvesting/planting activities. That makes it much easier to view the produce as something that comes from the earth—not just from the grocery store. He also provides sample recipes for people like me who may be clueless as to how to prepare unfamiliar vegetables.”
- You’ll constantly be gobsmacked! “Imagine my surprise cutting into a beet that was pink and white striped, a carrot that was burgundy on the outside and orange on the inside,” Tina said. And yes, she ended up liking them
So consider giving a CSA membership to your Valentine this year. The weekly stash, which could range from cauliflower to mizuna to kale to broccoli) will be one of the most valuable – and definitely more tasty – presents you've ever given!