What Is A CSA?

First of all, what is a CSA? Short for community supported agriculture, a CSA is essentially a farm “subscription.”   Just like receiving a newspaper or magazine every week, when you join a CSA you receive a box of vegetables every week throughout the growing season.

Being part of a CSA allows you to develop an ongoing personal relationship with what you eat, where it comes from, and who grows it.  It allows you to explore the culinary delights of seasonal, local eating.  Best of all, you get to participate in the successes and disappointments of growing food – for example, the despair in finding that harlequin bugs have eaten all of the purple cauliflower, or an extra hot summer providing unexpected armloads of sweet peppers!  Visiting the farm itself, receiving updates on how things are growing, and being face to face with the person who grows what you eat – it’s an exciting and conscious way to put food on the table, the next best thing to being a farmer yourself.

And now, why would someone join a CSA, and this one in particular? I could probably talk for hours about the perils of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, modern soil-destroying industrial agriculture, the petroleum consumption and subsequent nutrient loss involved in shipping food thousands of miles, the extinction of hundreds of thousands of food-crop varieties, and the sad state of the American family farm… but, I’ll save the soapbox and focus on 4 points about the way I grow vegetables and why that is special.

1)      Everything is grown organically.  This food is safe to eat.  That means no pesticides or fertilizers in your body, or anybody’s water supply or soil!  That also means that you might receive a slug or two along with your vegetables, so just remember to wash before you eat.  I rely on soil-building techniques like composting (less stuff going to the landfill), manuring (no more animal waste lagoons), and mulching (that’s lawnmower clippings, fall leaves, and everything else), in order to nourish the vast microscopic populations of bugs, bacteria and fungi that live in the dirt.  It’s a beautiful cycle of interconnectedness – like when I feed garden scraps to the chickens, they “process” it, and it becomes nitrogen rich fertilizer, making more garden scraps.

2)      Local food is better!  Cheap food prices and overflowing supermarket shelves are hiding the true environmental and social costs of modern eating.  Transporting foods across the country or even the globe uses vast amounts of energy, especially petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource.  Vegetables are often picked before they are ripe so that they can withstand the transit time, and then artificially ripened with things like injections of ethylene gas.  Vegetables from half the world away just don’t have the nutrient content that garden fresh ones do.  Not to mention, there are hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables not suited for shipping because of thinness of rind or skin or because they will not keep for weeks in a truck.  These varieties are all but lost – except to those who shop local.  All the food from my garden is picked just hours before you receive it, and you will notice the difference – like the bumper stickers say, thousands of miles fresher.

3)      I only grow heirloom/open-pollinated vegetables.  These are the old varieties developed by centuries of human ingeniousness for flavor, color, disease resistance, climate affiliation, and novelty.  According to the United Nations, 75% of the genetic diversity in agriculture has been lost in the past century.  When the seed stock available in U.S. in 1903 was compared to 1983, it was found that 91% of field corn, 93% of lettuce, 95% of tomato, 96% of sweet corn, and 98% of asparagus varieties, had become extinct.  Just 30 varieties of plants now supply 95% of the calories we consume.  Sure, sometimes I am sucked in by the promises that a new hybrid has to offer – bigger fruits or blooms or whatever, but always I return to the old varieties.  For me, it has a lot to do with each variety’s stories – like the corn a man gave to his “friend” who promised to keep it for personal use only, then turning around and selling it to a seed company for $20,000.  Some of these vegetables have names I could never pronounce and histories more convoluted than soap operas.  But, they passed the test of time for a reason.  Have you ever tasted a white-fleshed watermelon sweeter than sugar with a rind so thin you could eat it too?

4)      Joining this CSA is about community.  I donate excess vegetables to organizations like Manna Food Bank and others that help people in need.  When you get your box of vegetables, you can be certain that you are contributing to a great cause, several of them actually!  Not just a cause, but people too – the Emma Farms community, hungry people in our towns, local business owners, maybe some friends when the season is really busy and we need help… You are helping to create a strong economically viable community to live in, for your friends, neighbors, and children.  You know that your food dollars are going back into creating a sustainable, ecological and preservation-minded haven – that every bite you take is a taking part of something larger than yourself, even larger than these beautiful mountains we live in, and maybe as large as the world itself.

Most of all, what’s unique about this CSA is: the joy factor.  You can be sure that every vegetable you receive from Emma Farms is fertilized with love. That may sound a bit over the top, but for me, every time a seed sprouts I am reminded of the blessing of creation, the pure joy of just being alive.  I love gardening!  And as some of you may have experienced, that passion really makes the veggies twinkle.

Published on February 16, 2010 at 11:39 am  Leave a Comment  

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