2013-03-04

About CSA

Let me start with a platitude.

You are what you eat.

Alright. Now that I got that out of my system, let me talk about what I eat.
I love to eat good food. The real deal, not out of a package. Over the years I have developed into something of a foodie, even. Not really a snob, but I know my endives from escargot.
More recently, I have developed into a decent cook, and being part of a CSA has been an important driving force in that growth.

Local veggies are yummy

See, CSA stands for "community-supported agriculture" which in turn stands for people living in a certain area (community) buying a share of a local farm's crops and thusly supporting the farm. Fruit and vegetables from the farm are normally delivered to a volunteer's house in boxes, and you go and pick up your share every week.
There are many benefits to that model. Most important to me is that the produce is normally picked on the same day or the day before, arriving on my table fresh, and flavourful, and also quite ripe. Much riper than you can get at a supermarket, no matter how expensive and "organic" it is. I also like to imagine that growing produce during its particular season allows it to be more nutritious as opposed to stuff grown in hothouses and with hydroponics year round.

There is also something I don't really consider a benefit to myself, but it certainly doesn't harm to support small local businesses. Often CSA farms are on the small side and practice more sustainable agriculture, rotating crops, and growing a multitude of them over the year instead of focusing on mass-producing one or two.

I personally don't care much about "organic" produce, since the way the certification system is implemented only means that farmers are limited to using some chemicals and not others, instead of the bucolic back-to-nature nonsense that urban hippies like to believe. Don't be too quick to put me in the "pave the whale" camp though just because I don't buy my lentils in bulk. I believe that eating local produce results in lower emissions than moving, storing, and selling the crops grown on industrial scale. That can't be bad.

So I have signed us up for the Live Earth Farm CSA about six months ago, and it's really been great. I rarely go to the supermarket anymore, as the share we get usually lasts us until the next delivery. Every week, there is a different assortment of fruit and veggies in the box, presenting me with a challenge to learn how to cook things I never worked with before. An interesting side effect has been that both J and I have discovered new yummy foods we either never ate or never liked before. Like kale.
And chard.

I mean, seriously. Chard.

Local animals are also yummy

Our success with the produce CSA has been quite impressive, and so when I read that cattle farmers feed their cows candy I was mentally ready for the next step: signing up for a meat CSA.
As a dedicated carnivore, and a follower of a primal diet, I consider meat the most important part of every meal.

If it's not meat, it's not a meal.

--Gnolls.org

As stated right at the start of this post, I also believe that you are what you eat, and that if candy and starch make humans diabetic, they can't be terribly good for the cows. Research confirms that grass-fed pastured animals' meat features a healthier balance of fatty acids for humans to base their nutrition on. And so, once a month, we now get a box (or two, or three) of happy meat and poultry from Marin Sun Farms.I honestly did not expect to taste the difference. Sure, the meat would be "better" for me, but it would probably taste the same, or be dryer and tougher. Right?

Wrong.

The meat has blown me away. Even J who usually prefers leaner cuts, has discovered that he does not mind the occasional strip of fat on his steak as he used to.

Also, I get access to a more diverse selection of cuts of meat as well as different species. Oxtail, or organ meat, or goat. Even simple lamb is hard to get at a regular supermarket.

Show me the money!

Money-wise, I think our CSA spend is a wash with the supermarket food.

The produce CSA is slightly cheaper than regular produce, averaging $23 for a box that lasts us seven days' worth of meals. It is dramatically cheaper than what Whole Foods would want you to pay, while it's actually local and tastes better.

Eggs are a killer at six bucks a dozen, but we don't eat many, so that's not a big deal. We only get them every other week.

Meat is definitely more expensive than your regular supermarket fare. It is probably cheaper than grassfed meat at a supermarket, and definitely fresher, both due to the distribution model.

I think if you don't eat a whole lot of meat, or just want to dip your toes into the whole CSA business, try a produce CSA first. It definitely saves shopping time and money, since all you have to do is grab a box full of goodness on the way home.

Are you already a member of a CSA? Share your thoughts in comments.