Saturday, August 22, 2009

CSA - Cook Something Awesome

I don't know about you, but it has become tiresome for me to have to fear the food that I bring home from the grocery store. Does this spinach have cow poo on it? If I eat this peanut, will I survive to consume anything else? I shouldn't have to worry when I hear about someone on the other side of the United States getting salmonella sickness from a melon (Really? A melon?), but that is the reality of a food system which produces on a gargantuan scale. Contaminated foods from one field on one farm can affect the health of people in areas thousands of miles away. Not only that, but the sick then do not have the opportunity to look these faceless farmers in the eye and ask them why, exactly, they thought they might get away with shoddy practices that put their customers at risk.

These issues, amongst others, make it obvious that food production needs to be more localized in order to step up the bar on food safety. You'll most likely hear me mention farmer's markets just about every time I can sneak a word in edgewise. In my mind there is little that can top the gloriousness of a Saturday morning amongst the hustle and bustle of the shoppers, vendors and oh-my-gosh-wow! foods for sale. The rising popularity of these fresh produce meccas are an indication that consumers want to eat quality food grown by people that they can hold personally accountable for their families' safety.

My local market has given me a new understanding and appreciation for the superiority of seasonally fresh produce. Early in the spring, a few of the farmers began to advertise for their CSA programs. For those of you unfamiliar with the acronym, the letters stand for Community Supported Agriculture (Cook Something Awesome is my alternate suggestion). I was aware of the programs and how they work, but until I signed the dotted line and became a member of one, I had no idea how incredibly fantastic they actually are.

So the idea is this. You, the consumer, purchase a "share" of the farmer's harvest up front. This gives the grower much needed capital at the beginning of the growing season. Then - this is the good part - you get a bag or box of produce every week for the duration of the growing season, and you receive the satisfaction of knowing exactly who to point a finger at in the event of an E.Coli outbreak. Now, every farmer is different in what they offer. We went through Stoney Plains Organics this year, who offer either a "full share", which is enough produce to feed four people each week or a "half share" which feeds two (perfect for our small household). Pickup locations for Stoney Plains include several markets in Seattle or the farm itself. The duration of the season through our chosen farmers is either twenty or twenty-five weeks (you choose, but the latter costs more). They also offer the option to receive organic eggs from the farm's little cluckers for an extra fee. We chose to get a dozen every other week.

The first weekend in June, our trip to the market was loaded with extra excitement at the prospect of our first share. We were not disappointed. Our bag was loaded to overflowing with fruit and veggie freshness, and our faces hurt from smiling over our loot. We unpacked the bag right then and there to ooh and ahh over the bounty. That first week we inventoried the following: 1 pint of strawberries, 1 bag of baby spinach, 1 bundle of garlic whips, 3 rhubarb stalks, 1 large bunch of green kale, 1 bunch of bok choy, a bundle of sweet onions with tops, and 1 dozen large eggs. After walking around the market for awhile, we realized that we had pretty much all of the veggies we needed for the week's meals (and a slammin strawberry rhubarb cobbler for dessert!).

Later on, out of curiosity, I calculated how much each weekly bag costs us. For a whopping $15 (roughly a 30% reduction), the two of us are cramming more greens into our gullets than ever before. Sometimes we can hardly eat everything in seven days' time. Each Saturday is a surprise as the season progresses and the crops come and go. We receive a newsletter with our shares, courtesy of the farm, that lists the items in our bag along with tips and recipes for preparation of the current selection.

As organic, local agriculture movement continues to gain momentum, the opportunities for CSA programs will rise right along side it. There are already many programs available all over the U.S. If you reside in the Puget Sound region, check out the annual CSA directory provided by Puget Sound Fresh. For those living in other areas of the country, visit the website of Local Harvest to find a CSA near you. The offerings may vary widely between programs, with some less traditional items such as honey, flowers, meats, mushrooms and wool as options through a few select farms. Now is the time. Eat local!

Check out this very important article in Time Magazine outlining the dangers of America's agricultural system. Finally, the mass media is picking up on the food crisis and the necessity for change.

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