"I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world." -Richard Dawkins

Monday, May 16, 2011

Learning to Love the CSA Box

In nature, there are careful balances struck everywhere you look. Between worker bees and their queen, between insects and the rain forest, between trees and the oxygen we breathe. More likely to observe the balance between our schedules and smart phones are we, that it’s easy to forget that we are not apart from that nature, we are a part of it. As we dash into the big-box grocery store we forget that we are the variable that keeps the small farmer producing their precious loads of goods, so fleeting between the first harvest of early spring peas and asparagus, and the late season apples and squashes.

This delicate balance is taking place all around us. Our community farmers are relying on co-ops, farmer’s markets, and their own farm stands to sell their goods. But there is another way they’re branching out. It’s called Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s the most interesting and creative way to give even those in the depths of the concrete jungle a taste of the local countryside.

Started in the 1960’s in Europe and Asia, CSA groups were formed to assuage concerns about food safety and agricultural land management. Since then they have taken off worldwide, offering vegetable boxes, dairy selections, cuts of meat, fresh flowers and more from local producers, available either for pick-up, or home delivery, depending on the farm in question.

Half of the fun of CSA boxes is that they’re a bit of a gamble. You pay the annual dues to the farm, and they supply you with whatever is ripe and in season, once a week. It’s something of a veggie roulette. If there are tomatoes ripe this week, you get tomatoes. If late blight takes out the entire tomato crop, you get no tomatoes this year at all. Nothing can possibly be set in stone, everything is subject to the influence of nature’s mercurial ways.

Committing to a CSA is no small project. You must be willing to remain on your toes, since you never know what you’re going to have on your hands. A friend of mine last year spent the better part of a week churning out huge batches of delicious red sauce because her CSA box was overflowing with juicy tomatoes that she simply couldn’t keep up with. Her freezer was full, and I bet she’s still working her way through it all! CSA cooking requires dedication to grocery runs, a stocked pantry, and a high degree of creativity, above all.

If you’re up to the challenge of on-your-feet cooking, the Christmas-like excitement of finding out what’s in the box, and the warm fuzzies you get from knowing you’re helping sustain your community growers and feed your family the very best, most fresh, and most local the area has to offer, then buying into a CSA is for you. And this summer when you’re at the grocery store? Skip the produce isle. It doesn’t have anything you need, anyway.

Visit LocalHarvest.Org to find out where your local CSA opportunities are, and join the movement.

Originally written for Kids Fun Plaza magazine on 3/2011. Yes, I own my content.

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