Locavore Lore: Behold the bountiful basket
CSAs offer a weekly surprise and strengthen the local grower-buyer bond
Whether you chalk it up to locavore livin’ or religious devotion to the outdoors, for some reason I never get sick. I mean, nary a cold; my sinuses don’t understand allergy. The last flu I had was probably in second grade.
However, I do always come down with a wicked case of spring fever. For the past three weeks, I’ve felt it radiating out from the very core of my being, and it’s leaving me lusting for the spring bounty of local produce. Sprouts are indeed heavenly, but they’ve got nothing on that first bite of tender Siberian kale. Ahh …
As we anticipate the appearance of baby onions and green goodness at the market, we can remedy this spring fever by giving farmers the support needed now to produce an abundant harvest in the coming year. How can you support local growers before the season even begins? Become a member of a community-supported agriculture (CSA) group.
This is where community becomes even more integral to the sustainability movement — joining a CSA both strengthens relationships between farmers and the people they feed, and provides growers with the capital to actually produce the food. So what exactly is a CSA? It’s like a produce subscription, where buyers pay at the beginning of the season (now) and receive a weekly box of produce, flowers, eggs, milk, cheese, herbs, meat or any other farm products. Most subscriptions begin in April or May and last until November, so members receive about 25 weeks of produce, which they either pick up at a drop-off point or receive at their homes. Some farms offer the option of coming out to the farm for pick-up, providing an opportunity for even greater connection between growers and buyers, not to mention learning more about how the food is actually grown.
Making this type of economic commitment to a farm allows growers a bit more security than simply showing up at markets every week and hoping patrons arrive. In this regard, it can assist in expanding the potential of local farms and creating a more stable local food economy. Many CSA farmers like members to pay for the season up front, but some growers accept weekly or monthly payments, and several also provide a work-trade option in which buyers work regularly on the farm to earn their subscription.
A big box of freshly harvested produce, herbs, flowers and more, picked just for you, every week? As with all things locavore, it just gets better. Not only do you have a guaranteed supply of healthy, local food, you’re given a wonderful opportunity to expand your culinary horizons. Rather than simply going to the market and only purchasing what you’ve already tasted and think you like, CSA contents are usually a surprise. Although many farms send weekly updates on what to expect in the shares, along with helpful recipe ideas, the box often contains delicious edibles to which your palate might never have been introduced. My first CSA share inspired an ever-deepening adoration of fennel, which I had never appreciated until it arrived in my box and I was forced to use it. I wouldn’t have purchased it at the market, as I was still living under the misguided assumption that I didn’t like it, but once it finagled its way into my kitchen, I was awakened to its anise-scented wonder and now savor it in abundance. We all know it’s important to eat a varied diet, but it’s easy to get stuck in ruts (even vegetable-based ones like only eating Cherokee Purple tomatoes in July, which I’ve been known to do), and increasing the flow of nourishment through a wider variety of local, seasonal produce is a step toward the healthiest type of diet variation.
In addition to diversifying your diet in the best ways possible, this introduction to new foods also provides a wonderful way to strengthen community. Some of my favorite culinary conversations have been with CSA members, discussing how to prepare a vegetable they’d never heard of before, only to have them arrive for pick-up the following week joyous about their newly found love for that particular item and wanting more to share with others. Members get into lively exchanges over how to best enjoy lesser-known vegetables, and friendships are often forged over a mutual awakening to the wonders of watermelon radishes or sweet jelly melons.
So from the perspective of the buyer, a CSA does so much more than provide a steady supply of vegetables throughout the season — it creates windows of opportunity for improved health and increased education. It also connects consumers with farmers while developing a strong local food economy and encouraging land stewardship.
From the perspective of the farmer, a CSA is a relationship of mutual commitment between the community and the farm, as members help to cover a farm’s yearly operating budget by making the decision to support the farm throughout the season, assuming both the risks and rewards of growing food alongside the grower. It helps create a stable farm operation in which members receive the highest quality produce, and farmers are guaranteed a reliable market for their crops. Instead of worrying about finding buyers for their produce, it allows farmers to put more time toward growing the best food possible.
There couldn’t be a more perfect time to join a CSA: Signing up for a share will save the buyer both time and money while strengthening the local economy. If receiving an entire box of vegetables each week seems overwhelming, try splitting it with a friend; many CSAs even offer to pair individuals with others who only want half a share, so inquire about options.
How can you sign up? There are so many wonderful CSAs available around the region that it’s hard to choose just one — check out the possibilities on localharvest.org. The following is a partial listing of some of the different offerings in the area:
• BARR Farms offers a vegetable CSA but has also just introduced a meat CSA, which is a new concept where community members receive a share of the meat harvested on the farm. The CSA structure means community members invest in the farm to allow it to raise healthy animals on a sustainable scale, and they currently offer 100-percent grass-fed and finished beef and grass-fed chicken containing no antibiotics, steroids or hormones. The meat CSA runs in three-month increments, with monthly delivery and members paying for the full three-month session prior to the first delivery.
• Finger Pickin’ Farms offers a full vegetable CSA devoted to organic methods in the Louisville area and is expanding to offer one in Southern Indiana.
• Foxhollow Farm offers a full vegetable, fruit, flower and herb CSA dedicated not only to organic growing practices but also to biodynamic methods of agriculture.
• Facing West Farm offers a full vegetable, fruit and flower CSA dedicated to sustainable growing practices.
• The Grasshoppers CSA, another innovative way of expanding connections between farmers and the community, markets and distributes local food products in CSA-style from a variety of local farms across the region, rather than from a single farm.
• Argyle Acres offers a full vegetable CSA and is a diversified farm focusing on sustainable practices.
• Field 51 Produce offers vegetables, cut flowers, eggs and lamb, and focuses on heritage breeds, heirloom vegetables and native plants.
For more details on each of these farms and to learn about the other options for joining a CSA, check out localharvest.org. Clicking on the information page for each listing will give you a full description of the variety of produce offered throughout the growing season.
Read past Locavore Lore columns at leoweekly.com/dining