By Catherine Moran
The summer of 2012 marks the start of something new for me: participation in a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. I’m currently a member of the Astoria CSA in Queens, and I’m loving the experience.
I had never been conscious of CSAs until I moved to NYC, and even then, it was only a peripheral consciousness. I’m sure I had heard the term, but it went in one ear and out the other. My first experience with one was when two friends who had a share at a CSA in Harlem needed me to pick up their veggies that week. Since I didn’t understand how a CSA worked, I ended up taking home two shares, instead of one. I will never get over the guilt, but confessing here has made me feel a bit better.
So, how does a CSA work? It starts with the CSA members paying a fee at the beginning of the season. This creates a sense of solidarity with both the farm that is supplying the food, as well as a sense of solidarity with the Earth (bear with me, here). I, as the person paying for a share, want Earth to do what it does best, and nurture the as-yet-to-be-grown food that I will be consuming for 5-6 months. So, for me, the heat waves this summer don’t just mean unbearable waits for the subway and tears of joy for every minute in front of my air conditioner; heat waves mean droughts, which is bad for foods that grow in the soil. It’s a bit of a gamble: I am paying for food that is not necessarily guaranteed. And there are no refunds. Even more of a reason for me to adapt more green habits: be good to the Earth, and it will give you a bounty!
I also feel a sense of solidarity with the farmers, who are responsible for growing my food. I can communicate directly with the people who provide my meals, answering questions or assuaging concerns, which is a service that my chain grocery store cannot provide. I am more aware of where my food is coming from, and more connected to my community, both in consuming food from a local source and in interacting with the other members.
CSA members get their food from a designated pickup location in their area once a week, when a delivery has been made from the supplying farm(s). Members have to bring their own bags for the food — unsurprisingly, this means reusable bags instead of plastic ones.
I like to think of the CSA as a farmers market for lazy people, in a way. Much of what I get in a weekly share can be found in my local market — a fact that excites me to no end. So many vegetables and fruits that were once mysteries have now become a staple of my weekly menu. For example, last week there were gooseberries in my share, and I’d never eaten or seen a gooseberry before. I was reminded of the scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: “Snozberries! Whoever heard of a snozberry?” CSAs are pretty awesome in that way: rather than picking a recipe and going out to get the ingredients, you work in reverse. You start with the ingredients, and you build a recipe around them; often, you have to work with new foods, which can sometimes be a challenge. I’m no great chef, but in the past month I have cooked with more new and intriguing foods than ever before, and I think I’m getting rather good at it.
CSAs have registration in the early spring, so if you’re thinking about joining one, you have more than enough time to do some research about CSAs in your neighborhood. CSAs primarily produce vegetables, but many have add-ons. I, for one, am addicted to my coffee and fruit shares. Perhaps next year I will try out an herb or fresh egg share. It might behoove you to take a gander at what you see at your local farmers market right now, because that will give you an indication of what foods to expect to find in a CSA share. To find a CSA in your area, check out Local Harvest.
A month in, I can say with confidence that my favorite new food is the garlic scape, and my least favorite new food is the beet. What is your favorite summer fruit or vegetable?
Adventures in Greening is a column running on Kate-book.com every other Monday at noon. It is written by the very eco-conscious Catherine Moran. Follow Catherine on Twitter here, or check out her excellent book blog.