For those not yet familiar, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is similar to a co-op. You sign up with a local farm for a share of produce, meat, dairy, or some combination thereof. Some may include honey, cheese, flowers, eggs - really, anything a farm can produce. You then receive a box of goods directly from the farm weekly or bi-weekly. CSA share seasons generally run with the growing season. The most common is a summer share, usually available from May/June through October/November. Some farms also offer spring shares, with early spring produce like lettuce and asparagus, and winter storage type shares, for cold storage items like winter squash, onions, potatoes, and carrots.
CSAs benefit all involved: The farmers have a dedicated consumer base, and selling directly to these consumers mean the farmers receive all profits from the sales. Supporting local businesses is critical to a strong local economy. You as a member benefit by receiving farm fresh goods at a great cost. And I feel that developing these types of relationships strengthen the food community. The closer people are to their food sources, the more people know about where their food comes from, the more they will care. To me, this is a critical piece of food production, personal health, and environmental impact.
We have belonged to a CSA for a few years. We joined one while living in Atlanta. While it was rather unorganized, we enjoyed the concept. After getting settled in here in Milwaukee, we knew it was something we wanted to do. Luckily for us, Wisconsin is an agricultural state, and the local food movement is thriving. Around the time we began our search, the Urban Ecology Center held a CSA open house. The Center hosts a wide variety of farms from around the state. After talking to a number of farms and discussing our options, we decided on JenEhr Family Farm. They are an organic farm, the pick-up location was close to our house, they offered an optional chicken share, and we just had a really good feeling after talking with Kay, one of the farmers. I don't think we could have picked a better farm. Not only are we thrilled with our share, but Kay and her family have become a family to us. But that is, perhaps, another story.
We are rather adventurous eaters, but one thing many are unprepared for is the unknown variety of goods you receive each week. Rather different than menu planning and shopping, with a CSA you get a "mystery box" and have to be quick on your feet to plan with what you get. I very often get asked questions about how to deal with this. The first piece of advice I can give is to not be afraid. Try everything you get, even if it's new and seems scary. Chances are you can find a recipe you'll like. The second thing I tell people is to put it in a salad. Most vegetables can be eaten raw, and a salad full of raw veggies is not only delicious, it's extremely healthy. The addition of vegetables of course adds nutrients, and raw vegetables are insanely nutritious. There's more to be had in a salad than tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots - try raw beets, radishes, kohlrabi, turnips, summer squashes, herbs. Sliced, diced, or grated, whatever works for you. JenEhr also provides a weekly newsletter and updates their website with what will be coming in that week's box. So we have a little head's up to help with our menu planning.
It may take an adjustment, but once you get into the swing of things, it's not only fairly easy, it's lots of fun.
That brings me to the real point of this post. As I said, I get asked questions about our CSA, and how do deal with certain fruits and vegetables. I wanted to post information on what we get in each share, and then provide subsequent posts to show what we've done over the week with what we've gotten in that share. It's also a good excuse to post some gratuitous food pictures.
This week's share included a bounty of August produce:
Nothing too unknown, right? This week, we have:
tomatoes (can't have too many of those in August!)
white onions (somehow the dirt makes them even more appealing to me)
The broccoli barely made it through the photo shoot. My assistant, Oliver, loves broccoli, and nibbled a good bit of it!
Stay tuned for more good things.
Find your own CSA. Some things to consider while choosing your CSA:
- What products are included?
- What is the length of the season?
- Is organic/sustainable important to you?
- Pick-up location (Are they close enough to my home/work?)
- Cost / Payment options (some farms will offer payment installments, work shares, and other ways to help defer costs)