Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an economic system in which community members pledge their support to a local farm and share the risks and benefits of food production with the growers. Becoming a member of a CSA secures you a share of the farm’s harvest each week throughout the season and connects you to to the real value and cost of producing food--to the people who grow it and to the land on which it is grown.
Like any good thing, there’s a learning curve and some minor (agri)culture shock, which may send you googling for recipes and making more refrigerator space. At the end of the season, however, the commitment to eating from your own seasonal landscape will change you, in a number of ways:
1. You will learn the names of your farmers. This is the first step to forging a beneficial relationship with your local, food economy. Fifty-six years old on average, farmers today are rare creatures and a dying breed, comprising only 1.6% of the US population. Buying a can of organic soup or apples from the health food store will not teach you this, but a weekly convergence at a farm full of farmers, will.
2. Be struck with a renewed wonder for the earth. At some point or another, seeds, fruits, leaves, and roots, might inspire you. Grocery-store produce, shrink-wrapped in plastic, will pale in comparison to a freshly picked head of broccoli in the hands of its growers, speckled with dew.
3. Choose to eat in. This concept is backwards from our on-the-go lives and convenience-seeking habits. The deal is this: in order for your CSA to work for you, you'll have to cook it, and then you’ll have to sit around a table (or picnic blanket) and eat it. Meeting your vegetables in this way will inevitably slow you down, improve your health, and save you money.
4. Become a better cook. With a weekly influx of new ingredients or new combinations of old ingredients, you’ll find ways to be creative and reduce your reliance on recipes. You will learn to cook simply (in garlic and a bit of butter), letting your ingredients shine.
5. Improve your health. In the dinner theatre of life, vegetables will take center stage, naturally resulting in a diet lower in calories and richer in nutrients. The colorful allure of your heirloom tomatoes will keep you accountable to your kitchen and away from processed and prepared foods (vegetables expire sooner than say, cheese puffs).
6. Eat the seasons. You'll know when things are in season... because you'll be eating them. None of this fogginess and delusion around what’s local and what's good when: you can breathe easy and eat the cucumber, knowing it’s harvested at peak freshness—not weeks before.
7. Experience new vegetables. Graduating your first season with an incidental degree in botany, you’ll learn that sweet potatoes are not actually potatoes, but more closely related to the morning-glory… that broccoli is on its way to becoming a flower, and that Brussel's sprouts are actually tiny cabbages growing on stalks. You might just meet a new favorite vegetable, find a way to prepare an old favorite, or become smitten with a vegetable you once detested, becoming a kinder, more inclusive, and less fearful eater.
8. Learn to can. Some of the old-timey preservation skills will soon became relevant to you. Too many tomatoes? Behind on your cabbage? Get out your grandmother’s ball jars. With a bit of dill and a dash of vinegar (or a couple of freezer bags), anyone can preserve the season’s bounty.
9. Learn to compost. Encountering the full-circle of your diet is part of the mindfulness that a CSA could instill in you, if you let it. Your farmers will happily welcome back food scraps, and you will begin to think in terms of fertility, rather than filth.
10. Experience a renewed sense of place. One by one, your atoms will be replenished with ones from your own region. You'll be more part of your home than ever before, more integral to your local economy, and more rooted. You’ll think about food in an entirely new way, reordering your life to be less about pleasing your fickle tastes, and more about nourishing your body while building the soil and sustaining farmland.
Learn more about joining a CSA near you, making friends with farmers, and becoming a positive and productive eater in your food-community, here.
Leah Sienkowski's first farming season was as an apprentice on a vegetable farm in southwest Michigan, and she's been working in small-scale agriculture ever since. Enamored by the soil and the dreams of her fellow farmhands, her work aims to elevate physical labor and market artisan foods, communicating the true costs and values of production with hopes of bolstering the economic viability of small-scale agriculture.