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Is a CSA in Our Future?

(post, Jean Henrich)

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I’m feeling it again – the urge to subscribe to a CSA.

I first felt the tug of community supported agriculture two years ago after hearing Michael Pollan speak on an “Omnivore’s Dilemma” tour (isn’t he often the culprit?). But I’m not one to jump into new experiences. I let the idea gather steam all winter by trolling through the Internet, visiting farm sites that offered shares and reading blogs of subscribers. I hit on a CSA that seemed ideal: a cooperative of organic farmers that also supplied many of the best restaurants in town and that offered half shares (one box every other week) and a convenient pick-up point. After a couple months of discussion with my husband, we were ready to make the commitment.

June couldn’t come soon enough. And we were bowled over at the beginning. Oh, the strawberries! Like nothing we’ve ever tasted. An extra allotment for subscribers who came to the farm and picked their own meant we had plenty to share and put away in the freezer. Yes, there were items we were not used to eating, like sprouts and garlic scapes and fresh chives. But we figured out how to incorporate them into our meals. Yes, there were items we completely unfamiliar with, like kohlrabi and Romanesco broccoli. But I enjoyed studying up on what they were and how best to use them.

As the summer wore on, we hit a few snags. A bout of above-average rain resulted in flooding at the farms, and subsequently the quality of the produce took a dive. When tomato season hit, we received only a token amount of this precious item that we so crave all winter. And we started receiving autumn vegetables during the traditional height of summer harvest. Our weekly CSA newsletter didn’t address these issues, so we finally sent an E-mail to the manager. We were given detailed responses that answered our many questions and even offered a refund for the remainder of the season. But we understood at the outset that joining a CSA meant accepting the risks that the farmers face, and wanted to finish out our subscription.

The biggest lesson we learned from our experience: A CSA will not supply all the produce a household needs. Farmer’s market visits are still necessary to supplement those staples or favored items that are missing from our box. The biggest mental hurdle we face to subscribing to a CSA: Making the commitment to be available to pick up our box during the appointed window. The biggest advantage to us of the CSA model: Menu planning that revolves around how to use what’s in our box - negating the eternal “what to eat” dilemma. Plus, we value the other well-known advantages that apply to farmer’s markets as well as CSAs: eating fresh, local, organic, and in season, and supporting our local farmers. But most of all, produce from these sources really does taste better!

Will we give a CSA a try again? As winter fades, the urge is strengthening…