Eat Fresh with Community Supported Agriculture

Bryan RAugust 16th, 2007
By: Bryan R

Between co-ops, natural markets, farmers markets, organics and fair-trade, there is yet another food related industry that is gaining popularity and momentum. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs are a unique and innovative system that help residents connect to and support local farmers.

At its most basic level, joining a CSA program allows members to invest in a farm for one season. In return, they provide members with a regular portion of fruits, vegetables, and sometimes flowers, eggs, herbs and/or meat produced on their farm. Some CSA programs have you pick up the goods while many are willing to deliver to your door or a neighborhood drop off point in order to make the exchange more convenient for consumers. And as the number of CSAs continue grow, there is a good chance you already are or soon will be within range of several CSA programs.

Purchasing produce through a CSA program is loaded with many possible advantages. First, if you believe in supporting local agriculture, than a CSA membership is one of the easiest ways to get involved. Farms supporting the Seattle metropolitan area can be found in many nearby cities ranging from Olympia to Bellingham. In addition, the majority of these farms use organic/natural practices when growing their produce, flowers, herbs, etc. And like farmers at a farmers market, the participating farms enjoy the personal relationships they forge with their customers. In particular, they find the ongoing dialogue regarding their produce invaluable and, in turn, it helps them to better understand their particular clienteles’ wants and needs (such as particular vegetable types or breeds).

For instance, many farms with CSA programs grow several varieties of heirloom vegetables and fruits that are not economically viable to produce at large volumes at industrial farm-sites due to difficulties in shipping. A common example is that of the beefsteak tomato which can grow to over one pound. These tomatoes, known for their intense flavor and sweetness, are physically unattractive (by conventional tomato standards) and are not suitable for commercial processing due to their size and inconsistent growth patterns. As a result, it is incredibly difficult to find this heirloom tomato at a typical grocery store.

However, most CSA programs focus on vegetable quality and variety and so finding these more rare and unique produce gems (such as a beefsteak tomato) becomes commonplace each time the vegetable delivery arrives. Lastly, because their delivery distances are comparatively small and short, the produce can be picked at its optimal ripeness, which greatly contrasts to most big box grocery outlets.

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Farm fresh vegetables

In addition to matters of taste, there is a growing connection to climate change and inefficient oil consumption when considering the current industrial agriculture system that feeds most Americans [1]. Opting to use a CSA or visiting a farmers market is a great way to help potentially reduce your carbon footprint, as it reduces the total distance required to transport goods and it might minimize the use of chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides originating from the petrol-chemical industry. Additionally, farms with CSA programs are usually relatively small and discourage the dominating trend of monocropping. As a result, they tend to be one of the last bastions of bio-diversity for edible produce.

The best way to get involved with a CSA is to see if any of your friends are participating. If so, sometimes you can purchase a ‘family’ sized delivery and split the shipments. This way, you can see if the CSA style of purchasing produce is for you. If you don’t know anyone else involved in a CSA, there are several handy websites that provide a list of local CSAs (see below for a short list of sites).

Many of the farms have websites so you can cruise them and look for details such as pricing options, delivery range/style, a sample of a typical weekly delivery, organic growing practices, veggie storage tips and more. And if you are particularly curious, most of the local farms offer tours that demonstrate their farming practices and showcase the beauty of traditional, small scaled, highly diversified farms.

Of course, one of the most important factors to consumers is how much it will cost to join a CSA. A typical CSA seasonal membership will cost anywhere between $20 to $25 per week (~$500 per season) depending on options such as eggs, meat, flowers, etc. Many farms also offer smaller delivery sizes or allow you to purchase produce on alternating weeks at reduced rates. While these prices may seem above average compared to what you would pay in a grocery store, the produce quality and variety is typically better than what is found at the larger grocers.

Last but not least, participating in a CSA program is rewarding in its own right. Apart from the higher quality of food you are receiving, you are also helping support local farmers, the local economy and getting closer to your source of food.

Websites:

King County Metro List for 2006 http://www.pugetsoundfresh.org/pdf/2006CSABroch.pdf

Produce from a local farm.
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