If you love food (and who doesn't?), this is the time of year you start dreaming of the sweet crunch of dew-kissed greens and warm tomatoes that taste of sun and rain, of jeweled peas tumbling from perfect pods and carrots that dazzle senses you didn't even know you had. These are the gifts of summer, and you can experience all these possibilities through a farmers' market, your own backyard garden, or a large garden whose bounty you share with others.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) lets you enjoy the best parts of sustainably grown fruits and vegetables without the responsibility for the weeding and the watering. As food-based propositions go, it's about as simple as it gets: Find a local CSA farm, buy yourself a subscription or a share to fit your family, and every week during the growing season pick-up a box or bag or basket of whatever goodies are being pulled from the field right now. No fuss. No muss. Just a bounty of fresh-picked edibles it couldn't get any easier to enjoy.
While most CSAs are vegetable-focused, there are endless variations on the theme. Some let you pick the produce you want. Others offer cut flowers and fresh breads, too. You might find one that includes chickens or eggs or fruit. You could get an occasional pie or jar of jam. Maybe some fresh herbs or milk.
Whatever it is will feed you well. When your food comes straight from the farm, it's as fresh as it gets and at its healthiest, too. There are no nutrient-sapping food miles between you and dinner. No aging on store shelves or wilting under store lights. That means whole health at every meal, not to mention more flavor and more pleasure in every bite.
But CSAs don't just give us great groceries. With a CSA subscription, food becomes the adventure it should be. You never know what you'll get in a given week. And CSA farmers often grow rare varieties and unusual crops that expose us to new tastes and new cooking methods. (CSAs usually provide preparation instructions and recipes.) Even the kids are excited to see what comes and, in my experience, more likely to eat their vegetables as a result.
Away from the table, CSAs keep nearby farms alive and help build a locavore economy whose dollars and food security stay close to home. The relationship you'll develop with your CSA farmer will strengthen your community and even bring you closer to the Earth -- instead of anonymously buying your sources of sustenance, you'll know where your food comes from, how it is produced, and how it gets to your plate. When these things happen, food becomes about feeding our souls and our world as well.
All of which makes CSAs a wonderful eating option for more than just space-challenged urbanites and time-pressed families. With rewards that extend beyond our own kitchens, they're an alternative even home gardeners should consider. (After all, can you really have too many fresh tomatoes?) Spring is the time to buy in. You can check local bulletin boards or visit LocalHarvest and use their CSA search engine to find one near you. Sign up, eat up, and spend the summer season growing something more than just your supper.