Every week during the summer we get a box packed with the freshest, most delicious produce you can imagine. It's grown by some farmers we know - they grow a variety of fruits and vegetables on their farm for us and for the other customers who subscribe to their CSA.
Community supported agriculture is a great idea. Born in California nearly 30 years ago, the concept is fairly new to our area.
CSAs take many forms. The one we subscribe to pairs the farmer directly with the consumer - the subscriber pays in advance for a weekly share of the harvest, giving the farmer literal "seed money." In return, the farmer supplies the family with a box of produce containing six to eight different items each week for about 20 weeks. Knowing in advance that his crop is already sold allows the farmer to focus on farming rather than marketing.
We've belonged to a CSA for several years. While it's true that early in the growing season the harvest can be light, our farmers have worked to educate themselves about what varieties to plant and ways they can extend the harvest season.
Early in the spring we get beautiful greens, radishes and onions and our family favorite, rhubarb. If the harvest is small due to colder weather, our farmers have included fresh eggs, maple syrup or homemade products. We even got some plants to include in our own gardens!
As the days grow longer and the soil becomes warmer, our boxes get fuller. Now come the beans, eggplant and tomatoes we all look forward to as the growing season progresses. Sweet corn and melons, eggplant and, of course, zucchini all make their appearance depending on the weather and whims of Mother Nature.
As the harvest season winds down, we stock up on those crops that will keep the longest: winter squash, potatoes, cabbages and cauliflower. The greens that thrive in cooler temperatures also make a brief re-appearance and we may see Swiss chard, kale and some lettuces again.
It's true that there are sometimes items included in our weekly delivery that we're unfamiliar with, but it expands my horizons to look for recipes and ways to serve different vegetables. Additionally, it's good for my family to try new foods and new ways of preparing foods we've generally not had an abundance of - in fact, there are other ways to eat eggplant besides eggplant parmesan, and last year's wealth of that vegetable gave me lots of practice!
Certainly that's something to consider if you're thinking of joining a CSA this season. Another consideration is whether you are prepared to cook. Most of the bounty you receive in your subscription will require cooking, and if you are accustomed to eating out a lot or just making a salad or steaming some vegetables, you may be disillusioned with the amount of work it takes to use up your share each week.
But the opportunity to really know the person who grows what you eat and the care and effort that farmer puts in to providing your family with a healthy, safe, sustainably grown product has value far beyond the cost of your subscription.
Building a relationship with the farm family that grows our food is the highlight of the experience for us. Getting homemade bread, butter and jam from our farmer's wife or some herbs bundled with a recipe card written by hand gives us a glimpse of the our farmer's lifestyle and makes us pause to be grateful for the way our families have had the chance to come together.
The sense of community we shared at a potluck dinner we hosted last summer as part of the CSA membership spoke volumes about what we all gained. Our farm families traveled to Kinsman with their casseroles and desserts and our CSA boxes. The subscribers came with their bags to take their bounty home and arrived after work carrying dishes they had made using seasonal produce. They exclaimed over the treasures they found in their boxes that week and the farmers got to bask in their praise.
Food with a face. That's what local food and CSA memberships are really about. We look forward to the upcoming season and eagerly wait for the first box with all its fresh and healthy bounty.