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CSA's Magnificent Menus

Author: the Inkslinger

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.


Emil24 picture
This is my 3rd summer participating in a CSA and I recommend it to all my friends and the customers at the farmer's market. When the farm where I participate began the program in 2009, I was unemployed. Since I've known the family for 20+ years, I was offered the opportunity to work for my share by working at the farmer's market on Saturday mornings. The farmer LOVED telling people that I literally worked for food, and I've enjoyed the great fresh food. It has also exposed me to the challenge of using foods that I would not have chosen, but have learned to use and enjoy; i.e. eggplant, bok choy, kohlrabi and one summer, an abundance of cabbage.
organiccents picture
We couldn't find a CSA close to us so we joined a local co-op. They have organic produce brought in every other week and members pre-order what they want. They selection is much larger and less expensive than the grocery store - and the produce comes from much closer farms. It is another option!
aualum1984 picture
We joined Signal Mountain Farm CSA this year and it has made us more aware of the variety of vegetables available in our area and caused us to try new vegetables that I otherwise would not have purchased at the grocery store. It is an adventure each week and we split a share with another family so we are all trying new recipes and encouraging one another to eat fresh, healthy, organic, locally grown food. I also like supporting a young farming family who is making a living practicing sustainable agriculture.
LolitaMurrah picture
We've been with our meat CSA, Jolie vue Farm, for almost a year now, and love the fresh grass fed beef, pork, and chicken we get monthly. Learning to prepare new cuts of meat has been a treat.
darinandkate picture
This is our 3rd week and I love our CSA at Friends Farm in central PA. Mostly organic with some nice extras thrown in: eggs, herbs, small plants for our own garden. Every week we look forward to going and the kids love to go to the farm to see the chickens, goats, pigs, cows, horse, dogs.... Run by a wonderful couple and worth every penny!!
jjerribug picture
we are only a few weeks into our first CSA experience, but has been great. here is a blog post about all the fresh goodies we got and how we have been using them - http://www.cooking4carnivores.com/2011/05/you-joined-csa-so-now-what.html