Friday, March 18, 2011

The Advantages of a CSA or Co-Op

First of all, I need to apologize. Since baseball season has begun for my boys it's been crazy busy around these parts! I'm so backlogged on my blogging. I have dozens of pictures to go through and notes to finish writing. But, in the meantime I thought I'd do a piece on CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture). I have many friends that ask me what a CSA is, or why I always have photos of my produce, or why I even use a CSA to begin with. So, my plan here is to address all of these concerns and more.

What is a CSA?

First of all I would like to share with you Wikipedia's definition of Community Supported Agriculture:

Community-supported agriculture, a form of an alternative food network, (in Canada Community Shared Agriculture) (CSA) is a socio-economic model of agriculture and food distribution. A CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farming operation where the growers and consumers share the risks and benefits of food production. CSAs usually consist of a system of weekly delivery or pick-up of vegetables and fruit, in a vegetable box scheme, and sometimes includes dairy products and meat.

My particular CSA group is Harvest2U and they provide me with a box of fresh, locally grown, organic produce each Wednesday. Harvest2U seeks out quality produce from reliable local farmers who use organic farming methods. This means that the produce that is delivered to me has not been treated with any chemicals or pesticides.

Benefits of a CSA

There are so many benefits of using a CSA and I will share several of them with you. It's really up to each individual to figure out if it's right for you and your family. 

Organic Produce
To me, this is the most important factor in my choice to use a CSA.  There are so many environmental variables that we have NO control over, things that may harm us and our family. By purchasing and preparing organic foods for your family you can ensure that what is going into your body is not going to have harmful effects on you. No chemicals or pesticides are ever used on these products. 

This word does not do justice to the point I'm trying to make. Do you realize that by using a CSA you are usually getting produce that was picked within the last 24 hour? Harvest2U boxes contain produce that was still in the ground the morning you bring it home. Now really, unless you grow all of this in your own back yard and pick daily only what you are going to consume, it doesn't get much fresher than that. This would be a huge factor for me if I were researching a CSA. Ask your CSA representative when your produce is picked.
Do you understand how long it takes for produce to get from a farm to a grocery store and then on the shelves? Days. The items you are picking up at your local market have been out of the ground for days. If you are choosing something out of season, chances are they are coming from another part of the world and therefore have made a significant journey before they even arrived at the store you're shopping at. Even if you are purchasing organic produce from a health food store it's not as fresh as using a CSA.
Basically freshness leads me to my next benefit....Cost.

I know that this is perhaps the biggest concern for most people when considering a CSA. I have found that using a CSA is no more expensive than purchasing organic produce from a local store. If you purchase solely organic produce your grocery bill will increase, that is just a fact. BUT, if you are using a CSA that picks their produce within a day of that produce arriving at your house you are already ahead of the game. That produce is going to have a longer life in your home just based on the fact that it was picked the same day and hasn't been manhandled by every middle man that it takes to get it from the farm to your shopping cart. Because of this, you will end up with less waste.

Meal Planning
This benefit is two fold. It helps you stay organized which in turn reduces your grocery bill. 

Like I said, I get my CSA box each Wednesday. Usually I get an email from my CSA representative that tells me what my weekly harvest will include. Once I get that list I sit down and plan out my meals for the week. From that menu I make my shopping list for the grocery store. This way I'm not just picking up things because they look good or I think I *might* use them. My menus are balanced, healthy and well planned out. My family and my budget reaps the benefits of a little advanced planning.

Locally Grown
One of my favorite parts of my CSA is knowing that I'm supporting local farmers. My produce wasn't grown in Chile or Mexico or even another part of my state. It was grown right here in my valley by people who care about their farms, their customers and their reputation to grow quality organic produce. 

In Season
By using a CSA you are consuming produce that is in season. What does this mean? It means your produce is at it's best! It also means that it's the most economical time to grow this particular item, which is what helps keep costs down. This also gives you variety as to what you are feeding your family. One of my personal goals has always been to expose my children to a variety of foods. I'm pleased to say that  they have been eating so much healthier since I started using Harvest2U.

To me, this one is really a no brainer. I knew, without a doubt, that using Harvest2U would be the most healthy choice I could make for my family aside from farming my own produce. Since I don't have acres and acres to farm and I have a very brown thumb, farming wasn't an option for me. My original goal was to use at least one item from my Harvest2U shipment every day and then it grew to using as many as I could at once. Now I enjoy challenging myself to create new recipes or make old recipes more healthy.

What has this meant for me and my family? 
Well, since using Harvest2U a few months ago I have committed to serving my family the freshest, healthiest food I could. In this time my husband and I have lost a combined 40 pounds! That can't be bad, right?

So, if you are on the fence about joining a local CSA I encourage you to give it a try. Be prepared to change the way you think about the food that you put in your body!

1 comment:

  1. CSA boxes make lots of sense, I do one in Healdsburg in season.

    great blog Melissa. love to see an email option if know how to add, in addition to RSS.