My daughter supports it in Idaho. My brother-in-law supports it near Denver. My friend supports it here in Colorado Springs—maybe it’s time I join the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement too.
Let’s say you’re eager to enjoy locally grown, organic produce but you don’t have the time or room for a garden (or you just hate yard work). Your first inclination is to head for the neighborhood farmer’s market. But there’s another option. You can buy a share in a farm.
This is how CSA works: one or more small, family farms grow a variety of produce. How much variety depends largely where they are and what will grow there. The growers estimate how much they’ll harvest over the season, and divide the yield into family-sized portions.
Then, at the beginning of the growing season, you sign up for as many shares as you need to feed your household. By paying up front, you provide the money the farm needs to grow the crops (although many farms now offer payment plans). Plus, your cash stays in the local economy, rather than ending up in the pockets of a multinational corporation.
In return, every week or two you receive a bag or box loaded with everything from asparagus to zucchini (lots of zucchini). You’re likely to find herbs, and even bouquets of cut flowers, included with your produce. It’s all fresh, it’s all local, and it’s all from someone with whom you now have a personal relationship.
Part of the fun comes from never knowing for sure what will be in your box. My daughter called me a few weeks ago wanting to know what to do with fennel. That’s not something most people buy regularly, but it grows in Idaho, and she had a pile to use up. Some online recipe hunting, coupled with advice from a few friends, and she discovered that she and her husband love fennel. Who would have known?
The growers don’t leave you totally in the dark, especially with unusual veggies. There is newsletter tucked into the box with suggested recipes. It also advises you what may expect the following week—although nothing is certain in farming, they have a pretty good idea of what’s almost ripe and ready to harvest.
There are as many variations on the CSA theme as there are participating farms. My friend here in town decided that she travels too much to sign up for regular delivery. Instead, she joined a program where you can just buy one box at a time with no weekly or bi-weekly commitment. And rather than buying produce, my brother-in-law bought a share in a cow! He wanted milk that was unpasteurized and un-homogenized, and this was the simplest and safest way to get it.
Most plans require you to pick up your box at a designated delivery point in town. Some farms allow you to harvest your own produce (usually fruit), saving money and having fun in the process. In fact, many farms sponsor harvest parties, where you can enjoy a home-grown meal right where it was grown.
I was skeptical that Colorado had much to offer in the way of CSA opportunities. After all, this isn’t exactly an agricultural area, with our extreme weather, lack of water, poor soils, and short growing season. A quick Google search, however, turned up dozens of options all over the state.
CSA’s aren’t for everyone. For one, you have to like vegetables. Actually, it helps if you love vegetables. Since you’re likely to get things you’ve never had before, you must be willing to try new foods. And then you have to be willing to cook on a regular basis; fresh produce doesn’t keep forever.
I love to garden, and will probably grow my own veggies for the foreseeable future. But if life happens, and a summer comes when I can’t grow my own, it’s nice to know there’s an alternative way to get fresh, local produce, even here in Colorado.