"So what have you concocted today, Mrs. Liang?" one of my coworkers asks me as I settle into a long cafeteria table with a group of my students. School policy is that staff eats with their students every day. The kids bustle around me, pulling out peanut butter sandwiches and baggies of potato chips. My coworkers know that I cook and I'm happy to talk about my food (Obviously).
I take the lid off my piping-hot-from-the-microwave bowl of soup and say "Gumbo. I have more okra than I know what to do with in my CSA box this week, so gumbo." I help someone open a difficult container and remind one of the girls that we don't run laps around the tables, even if you're really, really good at it.
"Oh you have a CSA? I want to know more about that."Another teacher says just before biting into her salad.
What's a CSA? It stands for "Community Supported Agriculture". Basically, you pay a farmer upfront for his or her harvest that season. Then, once a week, you o to the farm and pick up your "share" of the harvest. The farmer gets reliable income and you get delicious, farm fresh veggies. Win!
We subscribe to Moss Hill Farm in Milton, Georgia, which is owned and managed by Floyd Keisler. We first met Floyd when he sold us heirloom tomatoes at the Riverside Farmers Market. Floyd is a really warm and friendly guy, so we always enjoyed stopping by his booth to pick out Cherokee Purples. But after a few seasons, Floyd's CSA business took off and he quit coming. At first we were sad. But then we realized that we could just subscribe to Floyd and still chat with him and get some of the best veggies we ever ate.
We tend to subscribe in the fall and winter when the Farmers Markets aren't in session. Why? Because we like to pick our own food and just buy what we feel like eating. You can't do that with a CSA. You bought all of it, whether or not you like it. One winter, we ended up with something like five heads of bok choi every week. It was overwhelming and my husband still looks askance at it when it shows up in our box. So that's a downside.
Another downside is that a CSA requires effort. It's not just going to the farm to pick up the vegetables. Plants grow in dirt, right? And that dirt needs to be washed off. You can also expect the occasional critter to come home, hidden in your bundle of kale and for your veggies to be less than perfect looking sometimes. If you're only used to pre-washed and bagged greens and shiny, perfectly tasteless tomatoes, this can freak you out a little bit. Just hum Elton John's "Circle of Life" to yourself and relax. But we're still doing a "half share" right now, with pick up every two weeks, just so I can have a break from washing and chopping.
I find that having a CSA makes me more creative in the kitchen and willing to try new recipes. I had bok choi tonight and I had tofu. I could have just stir fried them together like I normally would, but my wok needs re seasoning. So instead I made tofu and greens soup. Without those limitations, I would have had a boring dinner. Instead, I tried a new recipe. It's like when we started buying at Farmers Markets. We used to just eat frozen peas and canned corn for dinner every night. Now I'm eating a wider variety of food and experimenting. This week's basket included kale, tomatoes, onions, okra, cucumbers, two varieties of lettuce, bok choi and japanese eggplant.
We did a cost breakdown when we first subscribed and while it's steep upfront, the weekly price for veggies is quite reasonable and comparable to buying everything every week at a market or grocery store.
I've sort of dwelled on the downsides here, but overall, I enjoy the experience of having a CSA. I like the variety and the creativity that goes with it. I like having a relationship with the people who feed me. There's also a definite "cool" factor to it. I highly recommend looking into a CSA. Many are listed on LocalHarvest.org, but sometimes those listings haven't been updated in awhile. So you can always try my route and develop a relationship with a vendor you like at a Farmers Market. If committing to six to eight weeks sounds a little much, Moore's Farm & Friends lets you order week by week, but they are more of a collective than a true CSA.
Anyways, there's the breakdown of CSAs and my experience with them. I hope you find this useful!
Like my poorly lit iPhone pictures? I'm on Flickr now! And you can like me on Facebook! Here's my Moss Hill Farms pictures!