Today is the last of our 20 week CSA boxes filled with delicious local, organic, and (cheap!) healthy food. This has been one of the most fulfilling "experiements" the Mast family did this year. You can read our other posts about CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) here and here. I'd like to share a bit of my thoughts and reflections of what Community CROPS CSA did for our family, how it helps the environment, and how you can sign up for next year.
Community Supported Agriculture is a food movement to get people involved in what they eat. To eat more locally to reduce travelling distance, to eat more healthful foods (more produce, less processed foods), and to get involved in your community's economy by supporting farmers that live in your area are all components in the slow food movement.
I first wanted to join a CSA about three years ago, when I first heard about it and was getting our family's diet a bit 're-organized' so to speak. Less processed, boxed foods, refined foods and bad oils; more produce, specifically vegetables, more grain variety, and a year and a half ago, no meat. I loved the idea of a CSA but Stefan was not wanting to invest in it until 2 years later. Although every farm is different, Community CROPS specializes in produce. I know there are honey CSAs, Meat + Egg CSAs, and even yarn CSA (be still my heart)! However, for practicality and what I was trying to do with our diet, the produce one was what we were looking for.
The main thing that turns people off from plunging in from the investment of a CSA box is the cost. You have to pay up front, or in two installments, the amount for the entire year. However, Community CROPS have a 'buy a share' program and will not turn away low-income families. Some people even pay double, and are giving a family a free share that needs it. Such a great idea! I'd love to do that in the future.
There are two sizes of boxes, a small and a large (Veggie Lovers). Our family chose to split our produce 50% with my mom, so that each family paid 50% of the bill, and got 50% of the produce, but the same variety of the box. By doing this, my mother and my own family was able to receive between 15-20 different items each week in our box for $290 for the entire 20 weeks! People...that is a STEAL for local, organic, unique produce. Much cheaper than buying regular produce shipped thousands of miles and sprayed to contain freshness + color. For my family of 4, the 50% of the Veggie Box was the perfect amount of vegetables per week. The only things I usually had to buy extra were onions, but we eat a large package of onions per week! This totals out to $14.50 per week for organic, local produce, where if you were to compare the amount + variety of to a co-op like Open Harvest or even the "organic" section of Super Target, you'd be paying double if not triple for the amount!
Through this opportunity I learned how to cook many vegetables I hadn't even tasted before, because I was "forced" to learn because I had them on hand...another one of my goals. I learned that there is never a better carrot than a sweet organic carrot, and oh my are they much smaller than the juiced-up ones from the store, but packed with 3x more flavor! We were even given farm-fresh eggs in our boxes the last 3 weeks of the year! My children were around a lot more vegetables than they were normally used to seeing, and they learned the names of many leafy greens, squash, and even purple tomatoes! It was like an exciting present each week and encouraged new and healthy meals. A few of the items we received in our box were (and I know I'll forget some):
*tomatoes (many varieties)
*squash (all different varieties)
*chard (many varieties)
*leafy greens (usually mixture of salad greens)
*peppers (many varieties)
*brocolli (head + rabe)
*beans (many varieties)
........and I can't remember any more!..........Amazing right?!
Throughout 20 weeks, there are probably 3 "off" weeks, where you don't receive a box (this does not count in the 20 though!) as the next group of produce is still needing a bit more growing time, and the old produce has been cleared out. Usually one of them is Labor Day, giving the farm workers the holiday off, too, and I believe the other one was in June, and one in mid August. This is simply a way to ensure fresh and mature produce in your box every week, and that the farm is getting properly 'cleaned up' throughout the year.
If you're interested in signing up for one of these next year, I encourage you to go to the site LocalHarvest to find a CSA near you. A whole-foods diet rich in produce is such a good prevention for healthcare, and although it may take some time to get into the kitchen, is a rewarding experience. I highly encourage the investment of a CSA box, and especially the 'splitting' method for more variety for less cost. Sign ups usually occur in February or March, and don't be late...the spots go fast!