It’s been about a month since I collected my final 2010 CSA share from Growing Things Farm at their stall at the Ballard Farmers Market. I wanted to use this final post to talk about the pros and cons of participating in a CSA from my perspective. I also wanted to provide a final list of all the produce we received in exchange for that upfront investment of $710 (paid to Growing Things Farm in March 2010).
On October 24, 2010 (Week 20), the final CSA share included:
- 1 lb fresh cranberry beans
- 11 apples (2 varieties -the yellow one for frying)
- 1 bunch orange carrots
- 1 crown romanesco cauliflower
- 2 bulbs fennel with fronds
- half dozen eggs
- 1 bunch grapes
- 3 lbs. red and purple potatoes
There are two of us in our household and I do a fair amount of scratch cooking. As the primary cook, my main interest in joining a CSA is that I wanted to incorporate more local, seasonal produce in our diet over the summer. We were once vegetarians, so it was only a matter of bringing them into the house and preparing them to eat better. Over twenty weeks, I wasted very few items. Only one share (Box 17) was given away to a coworker because we were traveling that week and it would have gone to waste. Almost all of the produce we consumed fresh, or else I saved by canning and freezing.
I have mixed feelings about collecting my weekly share at the farmers market. Both year-round markets near me (within 3 miles each way) are traffic/parking nightmares and very crowded with people, strollers, etc. I saved time not fuel and drove my car instead of taking the bus or riding my bike. Walking with a bulky box of produce through festive crowds was often irritating. I learned to carry a large canvas bag, transferred the boxed contents into it, then I slung it over my shoulder and walked back to the car often parked blocks away.
Since I was already at the market every Sunday, I would also grab other items I wanted or needed while I was there, like meats and cheeses, or fruit or vegetables to compliment what I already had. Personally, I think more farmers markets should allow CSA farms to use markets as CSA pick- up sites. It could drive more sales for other vendors. I admit that I probably wouldn’t have gone to the farmers market every Sunday had I not been motivated by the CSA share waiting for me.
If you like vegetables and fruit and know how to prepare them (or aren’t afraid of following a recipe), I highly recommend joining a CSA. I believe in voting with my fork and it turned out to be an excellent way to practice what I preach. If you don’t like vegetables, then I assume you’ve never eaten locally sourced produce picked at the height of season. If I’m right, I think you should give vegetables another try. Go out of your way to buy what produce you can locally. Even some food banks and shelters have relationships with local farms, and in King County, markets also take EBT cards (AKA food stamps). You’ll notice the carrots are sweeter, broccoli doesn’t need salt, and the tomatoes! There’s simply no comparison unless you grow them yourself (let’s face it, everyone should grow tomatoes).
Belonging to a CSA gave me a sense of security. Over a year ago, we were on a pretty strict budget because of temporary unemployment. My food artisan tastes took a backseat to thrifty rationing. We got through the uncertain time by using up and eating what we had in the pantry, and cooking from scratch instead of eating what we “felt like” eating. It wasn’t horrible because we still ate well and it kept me from being wasteful. However, having that new weekly share made cooking and eating much more pleasurable and exciting. It was like opening up a birthday gift every Sunday. In terms of my money being invested in Growing Things Farm, I’m still glad for the opportunity to pay it forward for her to grow my food in a responsible manner, respectful to the land and animals that provides for us. My food comes from a person and a place that I know and trust. And my weekly egg share was as good as gold during the last mass scale egg recall.
Regarding taste and freshness, it’s hard to compare the produce I received in my CSA with produce I might find in any ordinary grocery store. Most produce sections stock only standard varieties of produce. When is the last time you saw fresh cranberry beans, purple broccoli, or baby leeks at your grocery store? I admit that I don’t shop at a regular grocery store. I do my regular grocery shopping at a nearby Whole Foods Market where I can find a wide variety of really excellent organic produce from all over the world. Still even their selections cannot compete with the numerous varieties of produce found at the local farmers market or in my CSA share. Whole Foods Market offers local, organic kale in season (but out of season it’s from California) for $.69 cents per pound (about $2.49 a bunch). For lettuce, it’s around $1.99 per pound. Now that my CSA share is over, I’m as likely to buy local from Whole Foods Market as I am to go to a busy farmers market on Saturday or Sunday.
Although it felt strange to write a fat check in March for mystery organic produce and eggs. It turned out to be a great value. It cost $35.50 per week for more than enough local, organic fruits, vegetables and eggs for the two of us to enjoy. Divide that by two and it cost $17.75 per week per person. Here’s the grand total of organic produce I got for it:
- 126 large eggs
- 9 bunches rainbow chard
- 15 lbs potatoes (purple, yellow, red varieties)
- 6 crowns broccoli (green and purple varieties)
- 5 crowns cauliflower (green, white and romanesco varieties)
- 7 lbs fresh cranberry beans
- 7 heads cabbage (green and purple varieties)
- 30 cucumbers (slicing, pickling and lemon varieties)
- 6 lbs tomatillos
- 6 bunches carrots (purple, red, yellow and orange varieties)
- 6 bunches radish (white, Easter egg and red varieties)
- 9 lbs summer squash (pattypan, crookneck and zucchini)
- 7 lbs lettuce (mixed lettuces heads and bags)
- 4 bunches kale (dinosaur & green and Russian varieties)
- 4 lbs green and wax beans
- 5 bunches beets (cylindrical, red and chiogga varieties)
- 3 eggplant (Asian and white varieties)
- 8 peppers (Anaheim chile, Hungarian wax, purple and green bell)
- 4 yellow onions
- 2 pints cherry tomatoes
- 9 large slicing tomatoes (including heirloom varieties)
- 2 bunches scallions
- 1 lb squash blossoms (at my request)
- 2 bunches baby leeks
- 5 fennel bulbs with fronds
- 2 bunches collard greens
- 2 lb sugar snap peas
- 2 bunches parsley
- 1 kohlrabi
- 1 bunch white turnips
- 1 bunch garlic scapes
- 1 bunch beet greens
- 34 red pears
- 7 Asian pears
- 2 lb Bing cherries
- 30 apples (uncommon reds and yellows you won’t find at the store)
- 5 lb nectarines
- 10 lb peaches
- 2 pints blueberries
- 10 pints strawberries
- 2 lb yellow plums
- 2 pints raspberries
- 4 lbs apricots
- 1 bunch grapes
From my perspective, there are more pros than cons to joining a CSA. There are many types of CSA operations in Northwest Washington and across the country. A compliment to farmers markets and grocery stores, CSAs are responding to a growing desire for food that is local, organic, delicious, fair, and clean to eat. It also helps establish a rapport between producer and consumer— building community through food. From CSA farms to local produce box delivery services, you should keep in mind that each producer is unique in terms of certification, geography, delivery options, products offered, cost and seasonal share availability.