Last May I blogged about one of our latest family adventures in food: signing up for a CSA share of organic produce, meat, and eggs from a local farm here in Virginia. (CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.) Tuesday is our produce delivery day, so as I opened our box of goodies this morning I remembered I’d promised my readers an update on what our family thought about the CSA concept so far.
In a nutshell, the CSA has been a positive, educational, delicious adventure for us. We have learned so much about food in just these few short months. Here are some of the pros, and cons, we feel we’ve learned about so far…
– Pros –
When we purchased our share of the CSA, our main motivation was the fact it’s an affordable way to feed our family the freshest organic food possible. The fact our CSA had the very highest seals of organic food you can attain in the U.S.A. made us confident we wouldn’t be consuming pesticide junk along with our veggies.
What surprised the Hubs and I the most about the CSA was that the “organic” aspect of our farm-fresh food ended up not being the most important component to us: it was the fact it was farm-fresh that knocked our socks off. Our fruits and veggies are picked no more than 24-48 hours before our box arrives. Literally, it goes from the ground to the farmer’s hand to our produce box in about a day.
The difference in taste in our fruits and veggies has been utterly phenomenal. A radish or a beet or a bunch of kale from the farm tastes like an entirely different veggie from the organic ones by the same name I used to buy from the produce section of our grocery store. It’s been a pleasant shock to discover how much flavor that time, freezers and fridges seep out of even the best food.
Another positive outcome of the CSA has been an increased adventurous spirit to try new and foreign food entities. Before we had a farm share, my husband was convinced he disliked eggplant in all forms. I had never cooked with Chinese cabbage and didn’t really know what to do with it. I thought okra was just the main ingredient for gumbo, and the only thing I knew to do with jalapeno was make guac and salsa. I had never laid eyes on a patty pan squash before, and was almost tempted to just use it for a Fall decoration instead of cook it – it looked too complicated. And I didn’t know basil came in a purple variety. Now our family knows what it takes like in purple pesto!
We’ve also had an increased awareness and discipline in eating what is fresh and harvesting right now. Eating seasonally is a key element to affording organic food on a small budget, or providing it for a large family. Eating the produce that is at your local farmer’s market this week is what’s fresh and affordable. If the produce you’re looking for is not at the farm stand, it’s probably being shipped to your grocery store in a container pod on a freighter ship from Canada or Mexico or South America.
– Cons –
There have been some downsides to the CSA as well. For one, I am sometimes a “cook on a whim” type of person. I like to look through a food magazine or a cookbook, see something that looks good, and make it for dinner that night. On the flip side, sometimes I like to plan our my family’s menu way in advance. Especially before a big shopping trip, I like being able to map out the entire week and know in my head what I’m going to make. With the CSA, I haven’t been able to do either. I’m stuck with whatever fruits and veggies the farmer harvested that week, and if he didn’t bring kale and I really wanted sautéed kale with our Sunday steaks, well it’s just too bad. And if my 2-year-old wants peas for dinner but the farmer gave us a big bag of green beans, then sorry Toddler Bear, but no peas for you this week. I’m able to do some menu planning in advance, but not until Tuesday afternoons after the farm box arrives.
We also sometimes get sick of eating a particular veggie that is in the peak of its harvest season. There was a time this summer when I thought if they sent me another huge cabbage in my box I was going to lose it. And then there was the summer peppers harvest that had me scrambling for creative ways to eat different peppers all week long. For what seemed like too many weeks. There are definitely some advantages to stopping by your local farmer’s market and choosing your own veggies vs. having the farm choose them for you. I imagine this is a pricier way of buying fresh veggies, but for some cooks I can see how it would be worth it to get the variety that’s craved.
Another “minor” annoyance but one that affects me because I’m a squeamish girl: the farm produce comes unwashed and right from the ground. That means my broccoli has a ton of dirt to get off before I can roast it. My leafy greens can come literally teeming with varmints. One day I was de-stemming collard greens when a large fuzzy white caterpillar started crawling up my arm. My toddler almost died laughing at the scene I made jumping across the kitchen and yelling at the darn little thing. But ugh – I certainly don’t mind my produce varmint-free.
In spite of my food-planning handicaps and fear of caterpillars and worms, however, we’re really happy with our farm boxes, and grateful for the fact we have access to such healthy, wholesome, fresh food.
Related post: We Bought a Farm (Not Really But Sort Of)