Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture

I used to dread grocery shopping. Even at midnight on a Thursday, Wal-Mart, which was often my only choice in the small towns I lived in, was unpleasant. The aisles were narrow, the carts large, and the people pushy. Children screamed and wallowed in the floor, begging for some toy they didn't need. The vegetables were rotten by the time I brought them home, and the chicken I marinated and pounded was still sinewy by the time it reached the dinner table. But I now know grocery shopping doesn't have to be this way.

Because of the growing interest in organically grown foods, Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is getting more and more notoriety, even though it's certainly nothing new. CSA programs allow people to buy a share of their local farmers' crops, and in return, they can pick up (or have delivered) fresh, organically-grown produce at 1/2 the cost of what they'd pay for the same products in their local Whole Foods store.

CSAs work something like this: you pay a fee (in my area, half-memberships are $400 and full are $725) that provides you with about 4 bags of fresh food -- this includes veggies, fruit, and herbs, and occasionally chicken, eggs, flowers, and cheese -- either every other month (for a half membership) or every month (for a full) during the growing season. In Florida, that can be year round, or, typically, November through May.

The benefits are endless. Not only do these programs make buying fresh, healthy food affordable but they also mean you're sure to buy in season. This means your lettuce will always taste like lettuce, rather than styrofoam, because you won't be trying to eat some chemically altered lettuce-like product shipped in from Chile in the middle of January. It means you'll be doing something for the environment without even trying; by not paying someone for the gasoline and manpower to ship lettuce in January from Chile to your grocery store, you've helped, in a small but significant way, minimize your carbon footprint.

But most important of all, you get to know exactly where your food comes from because you buy it directly from the farmer. The added bonus, in my opinion, is that many CSAs require you put in 4 volunteer hours (over the course of the year) in order to join the program. That means you pull weeds, dig in the dirt, harvest the crops -- you get to have a hand in growing what you eat, all the while getting to know the people responsible for growing the food that sustains you and your family.

And beyond all of those liberal, granola-crunching reasons, it's pleasant to get your groceries this way. The farmers/merchants are happy to be handing over their hard work to people who appreciate it, and as a result, they're usually happy to see you (as opposed to the stockguy at Wal-Mart, who just wants his next break). Many CSAs also run farmer's markets, and so when you pick up your groceries (if you don't have them delivered -- how awesome!), you might find music or artists, which you can enjoy while sampling goods like freshly-baked focaccia or organic herbed cheeses.

Sound appealing? Go to www.localharvest.org to find a CSA or farmer's market in your area.

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