If you spent any time in 2011 worrying about your food supply, then I encourage you to make 2012 your Year of the CSA. Now is the time to sign up.
You’ve probably heard of CSAs. The acronym for “community supported agriculture” has become a shorthand term for local food subscription programs, in which one commits to pay a farm (or farms) for a share of the harvest. The arrangement provides the farm with seed money—literally—and takes some of the financial risk off the farmer’s shoulders.
I know you have doubts. You worry that a weekly supply of locally grown food may be too big of a commitment. You might get inundated with vegetables you hate … or just inundated with vegetables in general. And you’re not sure your schedule can hold one more errand a week. But I assure you that even if you try a CSA for only one season, you’ll find the experience rewarding.
Mike Lorey did. Before he joined a CSA four years ago, he was a bona fide vegetable skeptic. Now, he eats actual salads.
“I wouldn’t even touch the stuff,” he admits. “I kind of started by pouring on the dressing. I’m in the process of adding less and less dressing and more vegetables. And now I actually crave a salad every now and then.”
Lorey, a local food enthusiast and co-founder of Crop Mob Georgia, likes the discipline that a CSA imposes. If he were to only buy his produce at farmers markets, he says, he’d probably turn to the same tried-and-true veggies week after week. But with his CSA, “there’s this big box of vegetables, and you either have to eat it or compost it.” With some help from the Internet, he and his wife have learned new ways to cook okra, eggplant, even kohlrabi.
Lorey is such a convert that for the past two years he’s donated his web-design skills to develop an interactive CSA map of metro Atlanta. Georgia Organics gathers the data from area farmers, and Lorey turns that information into a searchable map. Want to find a CSA drop-off point near your house or office? Just plug in your address or ZIP code.
CSAs are a great way to get your family to eat more veggies, but they’re a lot more than that, too. Even more than shopping at a farmers market, committing to a CSA puts you in direct touch with your food supply. Chances are, you’ll pick up your weekly food share from the farmer who grew it—sometimes at the farm itself. You’ll get a true sense of when foods come into season and how long those seasons last. If the farm has a bumper tomato or strawberry crop, you’ll share in that success. If the farm loses all its lettuce to a deer party, you’ll share in that, too. Like the Loreys, you’re likely to try something you’ve never eaten before. And almost certainly—out of sheer desperation—you’ll discover a new way of preparing something that you only had one recipe for before.
Best of all, you’ll feel more connected to your little corner of the earth, to the seasonal tilt of our planet, and to the small agricultural business that you’re supporting. CSAs are where ecology and the economy meet.