Today my neighbor and I picked up the first box of our fourth season of community supported agriculture, also known as CSA or a farmshare.
Because I’ve been participating in a farmshare for so long, I often end up playing CSA ambassador for other folks who are interested in eating more vegetables or supporting local agriculture. Participating in a CSA is probably the most radical food politics choice I make: my early-spring registration helps finance a nearby independent grower (Wimer’s Organics), who is transparent and communicative about his growing methods; the food doesn’t travel far to reach me; most parts of the food are put to use and most parts of the minimal packaging are recycled. Yet my reasons for registering year after year are selfish: for me, it’s more convenient, economical, and delicious than weekly grocery shopping.
At the same time, I can recognize that a farmshare wouldn’t work for everyone. It requires a fair amount of labor on my part–I am a lazy and impatient cook, but what looks like quick-n-dirty for me might be impossible for someone else. It does require a certain amount of planning. I live in Philadelphia, which offers an array of CSA options as well as numerous weekly farmstands and a couple of big markets close to my home, so it’s easy enough for me to augment my weekly share with fresh fruits and staples like rice. It troubles me when well-regarded food writers vaunt the benefits of cooking fresh and local foods without acknowledging the challenges of doing so, and I don’t want to make the same mistake.
All the same, I do think many more people might make an informed decision to participate in CSA if they could see examples of what that’s like and how a busy person like myself can put it to use. So: I’ve decided to post a weekly report on what I received in my CSA and what I cooked with it. I’m not the first to have this idea–Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon Instagrammed her farmshare for several seasons–and I think she successfully showed that seasonal, local foods can offer a diverse and satisfying diet. The blog posts also provided a community for people to share recipes or ideas, and I hope my posts can provide the same: although several years of practice has given me a pretty good repertoire, sometimes I too run out of ideas in the sixth week of receiving many ears of corn.
I’ll include photos and recipes where I can, although please don’t expect this blog to measure up to recipe blog presentation quality! I’m a culture blogger, not a true food writer.
Frequently Asked Questions:
- Do you have trouble using up all the food?
Not really; most weeks I cook two or three large meals that use up lots of vegetables and provide leftovers for work lunches. When I can, I cook socially: with the neighbor I split this share with, or with a romantic partner, or for a party. I also save scraps for making my own vegetable stock, so if I really can’t bring myself to eat the last few leaves of lettuce, into the stock pot they go.
- Is it expensive?
For me, no. Mine breaks down to about $15 a week. When the CSA is not in session, I don’t necessarily spend $15/week on vegetables–but I also eat fewer vegetables in the winter, and supplement out-of-season produce with canned and frozen vegetables.
The amount of vegetables I receive per week would add up to more than $15 if I purchased them independently at a grocery store or farmstand, even when the fruit is in season. (And, unlike super-cheap produce, I know who picked it.)
- Do you choose what goes in the box?
I don’t; our boxes are packed at the farm and dropped off at specific pickup locations in town. Some CSAs allow customers to choose in advance or pack their own boxes, but I actually prefer having the shopping taken out of my hands.
Please feel free to ask additional questions in comments.