Thursday, June 30, 2011

Community Supported Agriculture

For the last of couple years, my parents have subscribed to a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which means they pay a one-time fee each year and, every week from June through November, my mom drives to a house in a neighboring town and picks up a box of vegetables delivered fresh that morning, from a farm just a few miles away from their home on Long Island. What kind of produce and how much is in each share varies from week to week throughout the season, but all of it is organically grown right on the farm. We could go see them growing it if we wanted to. If you stop to think about it, how rare is that nowadays, to look at your veggies, the dirt still clinging to them, and know exactly where they came from, when they were harvested, and how they got from the soil to you? That’s how everybody ate a couple hundred years ago, before the advance of agribusiness, mega-supermarkets, and year-round demand that leads growers to sacrifice taste and environmentally sound practices in favor of perfect colors and long shelf life.

We can do better than that.

The Golden Earthworm farm is a small, certified-organic farm located on the East End of Long Island, begun in 1996. They supply hundreds of families with fresh organic produce through their CSA program as well as farmers markets in the area. Besides the basic vegetable share, you can also sign up to receive a fruit share from the nearby Briermere Farms (not organic, because of the difficulty of growing fruit in Long Island’s humid climate, but still locally and sustainably grown, impeccably fresh and delicious produce. Also, really really good pies. Trust me.).

I have personally been witness to the rampant over-development occurring on Long Island (which has been slowed, but by no means stopped, by the recession), which puts small farms in danger of being bought out and plowed over to make room for soul-less gated communities. It’s happening everywhere, because it is much harder for small farmers to compete with the giant agribusinesses in this country, especially if, like Golden Earthworm, they are committed to growing organically. CSA’s, whether organic or not, are a great way to support these farmers and to bring locally grown produce into your home (and, unlike a farmer’s market where it might be a bit too easy to slip your mind and forget to go, you are unlikely to forget to pick up your CSA box because it’s already paid for!). I mean, think about the vegetables you often see, especially in the dead of winter, lined up on supermarket shelves, and then take a look at these, picked up just yesterday:

While supermarket produce may be shinier and offer more variety year-round, you can’t beat grabbing a head of lettuce and feeling the dirt on your fingers from the soil it was pulled from just hours before. And seriously, when was the last time you saw onions with their tops still attached? While we do supplement our meals with store-bought vegetables in our home, the CSA ensures a good portion of the produce we eat is seasonal and hasn’t had to travel far to reach us, which is better for the environment and just tastes so damn much better.

It also forces us to get creative and experiment in the kitchen when we receive things we may not be familiar with – those white bulbs up there, the ones that are smaller and more dirt-stained than the onions, are salad turnips, which I have never seen before. Through the CSA I’ve also been introduced to kohlrabi and garlic scapes, things I never would have thought to buy (and possibly not even been able to find) at the supermarket (the Golden Earthworm website and newsletter offers a list every week of what’s in the box, along with recipes and suggestions to go with that week’s produce). Plus, since my mom is usually only cooking for two now that my sister and I have flown the nest, she has learned all about how to freeze and preserve vegetables so that they don’t go to waste and so that, during the winter, she and my dad can enjoy farm-fresh produce rather than buying wan, pathetic excuses for out-of-season hothouse vegetables at the store.

There are thousands of CSA programs throughout the country that vary widely in price, types of produce on offer (some have not only fruit and vegetables, but free-range eggs, grass-fed meat, and locally made products like honey and jam as well), etc. Check out the LocalHarvest website to get more information about Community Supported Agriculture in general and to search for options near you.

It’s worth it. Trust me.

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