April 22, 2011

Eating Organic by Buying into a CSA

There is something entirely satisfying about picking up a box filled with sustainably, locally grown produce direct from the farmer. Last year, The Frowzies were members of the Yellow Wood Farms CSA and every week we picked up a box of varied fruits and veggies that looked like this. Yummy, right?


One of the things we liked so much about Community Supported Agriculture is the relationship you develop with the farmers.  We would walk into our pickup point and the kids and I would talk with Scott about how things were going. We both have sons named Oliver and their antics were frequent topics of discussion. Tricia was a great source for recipes and ideas about how to cook seasonally. We paid a fee upfront that helped to fund the farming season. In exchange, we received a big box filled with fresh, delicious food.

There was a downside, of course. I think if one.more.eggplant. had come into our house there could have been mayhem. Lord, did the eggplants prosper last year! and the okra! We learned to cook squash in a hundred different ways. We became less selfish in our attitude toward food and that we are not the only organisms on this planet that live off the crops. We learned of things such as corn worms and we would pluck them off the ears first thing when we got them home. We learned to share part of our tomato harvest with the deer that came through the fields. We learned to accept blemishes as part of the fruit. We learned how weather changes would effect the contents of our box. We learned that just as I got addicted to the fresh greens, the weather got too hot to grow them. We didn't always want to learn these lessons. But, they were important. They taught us what we, as an immediate gratification culture, have forgotten

What I find so valuable about programs like CSAs is that the relationship between the two parties sustains sustainable agriculture. It moves us away from the agribusiness giants and back to family farms where we know and care about the growers.  And the work that the small family farms are doing is very important, as well. They are growing crops free from pesticides and in ways that don't strip the earth of its nutrients.

Earthdance Farms

Farms such as Earthdance, smack dab in the middle of a challenging urban neighborhood, are non-profits that also pass on the information and practices to new farmers through apprenticeships.  Earthdance is such a great resource for local agriculture. They're mission states:

We envision productive local farms where creative endeavors can bloom alongside flourishing produce. We envision former strangers cultivating the land together and growing relationships in addition to sugar snap peas. We envision an Artist-in-Residence and a Musician-in-Residence living on EarthDance farms to gain inspiration from its beauty and to share their talents with farm-workers and farm-goers. We envision individuals from all walks of life coming to EarthDance Farm to learn skills in organic farming and gardening, to taste a fresh-picked blackberry, and to see where their food comes from. We are dedicated to seeing this vision through to reality.

And to help fund this, they are offering CSA shares this year. (As of today they still have 10 shares left with the season starting May 18th! So, if you're in the St. Louis area, check them out!)

Earthdance Farms

Neither Earthdance nor Yellow Wood Farms are certified organic. They both use what is called "Sustainable growing methods." This is quite common among small farms. For one thing, the process of getting certified organic by the USDA is arduous and costly. Many times it's just too much for a small farmer to deal with.  But also, the term "sustainable" incorporates so much more.

Diane Hatz at Take Part does a great job of telling the differences between the two. But, I like the way she defines "sustainable."

...sustainable farming is more of a concept or a philosophy than a literal definition. With sustainable farming, food is raised that’s healthy for consumers, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities. At Sustainable Table, we also believe that sustainable food should be grown as close to home as possible.

Organic certification doesn't ensure all of that. It doesn't ensure animal welfare. It doesn't ensure a fair wage. It can come from a large factory farm. Because there is no certification for "sustainable" there does have to be a level of trust. But, usually as a CSA member you are welcomed to the farm for visits, and sometimes work! At Earthdance, you pick up your share at the farm, because they think it's important for their members to understand the growing process.

I recommend every family try a CSA at least once. The lessons that are learned are lifelong. And the future of our food supply is dependent on these types of ventures. To find a CSA in your area, you can do a search on Local Harvest.