Thursday, March 10, 2011

Celebrating CSA

I've really enjoyed having Food Rules and In Defense of Food as the focus of the On Our Minds reading program this year. I'm generally preoccupied with food anyway, so to work on library events about food, and blog about food - especially healthful, organic, sustainably grown food - is pretty sweet.
Rule number 22 of Michael Pollan's book Food Rules is: "Eat mostly plants, especially leaves."
Rule number 15 states: "Get out of the supermarket whenever you can."
One way to get out of the supermarket is to shop at Farmer's Markets. (Here's a directory if you live in Maine.) Many Farmer's Markets operate year round. (Maine Winter Market list here.)
Another option: Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA.
What is CSA? It is a consumer/farmer partnership based on a simple idea: that a community will support a farm, and the farm, in turn, will help nourish the community. Early in the season (right about now, in fact) farmers participating in CSA begin selling "shares" or "subscriptions". Buying a share generally provides a member with a weekly supply of freshly harvested produce, often valued at more than the purchase price of the share. All CSA farms operate slightly differently, and offer different products - some offer produce only, while some may offer eggs, meat, milk, or even cut flowers as part of a share. Some are completely organic, and some are not. As with anything else, it's important to shop around and find the CSA that best fits your needs.
What are the benefits of CSA?
  • Shares bought in advance of the growing season help farmers cover seed and production costs.
  • Food dollars are kept in the community, helping the local economy and contributing to the development of regional food systems.
  • Ultra-fresh, seasonal, and often organically grown food straight from the farm, reducing dependency on petroleum and pesticides, and reducing costly transportation practices that now exist to bring produce to market.
  • CSA puts "the farmer's face on food" and increases understanding of how, where, and by whom our food is grown.
  • Offers families a chance to visit a working farm.
  • Exposure to new types and varieties of vegetables - such as interesting heirloom varieties no longer offered in supermarkets - that you might not ordinarily try. (On the other hand, if you aren't exactly an adventurous eater, you may consider that more of a minus than a plus.)
Before buying a CSA share, it's important to know that it does come with some small shared risk. After all, throughout the growing season there are elements beyond a farmer's control - pests, weather, etc. - that could affect the amount or type of produce you receive in your share. Happily, most CSA farms are diversified, so if one vegetable is adversely affected, there are plenty of others to substitute.
Want more information? Here are some resources to help you find a CSA farm that's right for you:

Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener Association CSA Directory

Mabel's Book (Western Maine's Guide to Farms & Farm Markets)

Local Harvest

But before you go, enjoy this short clip about CSA in action:

(box of vegetables image from

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