Why We Love Community-Supported Agriculture
June 9, 2010 46 Comments
UPDATE: It’s 2015, and we’re beginning our fifteenth summer with the Kretschmann Farm! We got a crate full of spinach, three kinds of lettuce, radishes, rhubarb, parsley, and multi-grain bread on Wednesday, and we’re bringing a big salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing to a cookout tonight! I cleaned up and updated this post for Real Food Friday. It looks as though the farm may be still accepting new subscribers at this point in the season….
Last summer, our next-door neighbors Abby & Franklin, also Kretschmann Farm subscribers, offered to pick up our crate when they get theirs. This was immensely helpful, as we had a newborn baby at the time and could barely remember which day was Wednesday! They’re doing it again this year–thanks, neighbors!!
Last summer also was the first time we didn’t split our share with another household. Our son Nicholas has gotten big enough to eat an adult-sized amount of vegetables, and we’ve gotten better at using and/or freezing things before they go bad. Still, there are some vegetables we just don’t like or don’t digest well–so we gave or traded them to Abby & Franklin, other neighbors, co-workers, or church friends. It worked out well.
Last week, my family began our tenth summer receiving a share in the Kretschmann Farm, an organic family farm just northeast of Pittsburgh that practices community-supported agriculture. It’s kind of like subscribing to a magazine, except that what we receive each week is a crate full of food. There are several CSA farms in the Pittsburgh metro area, but we chose Kretschmann because they deliver right to our neighborhood–we don’t have to drive anywhere on a hectic weeknight! Every Wednesday evening, we stop by another subscriber’s garage five blocks from our house. They leave the person-door unlocked so that we can step into the garage, pick up the wooden crate with our name on it, and drop off last week’s empty crate. (The host family gets a discount on their share.) We have the “standard” share, so our crate is a half-bushel, about the size of a milk crate, and most weeks it is packed full of fresh vegetably goodness! I’ve never weighed the food, but I estimate that we get 10-20 pounds each week, and it costs $21/week, so that works out to about $1.50/pound, which is much better than supermarket prices for organic produce. [UPDATE: $24/week in 2015.]
My family is only two adults and one small child, and we have busy lives in which we can’t do a whole lot of cooking, so we’ve always split our share with at least one other person. Not only does this avoid wasting of food that went bad before it could be eaten, but it lets us get rid of the things we don’t like! This year, we are splitting with a couple and a single person we know from church. I call them when I get home with the veggies, and they come over to divide them.
We get mostly vegetables but also apples, melons, and rhubarb. Once in a while, when the Kretschmanns’ crops are light, they’ll throw in something they bought from another nearby farm, such as strawberries, blueberries, or a loaf of bread. (These are not always certified organic, but they’re very conscientious about telling us that.)
We get a variety of whatever is in season. The summer always begins with lots of salad greens, fresh herbs, and green onions. The variety slowly increases as the summer peaks, then dwindles again. In the autumn we get lots of apples, potatoes, turnips, and winter squash. Each year is unique. Some years we’ve had so many tomatoes that I (a tomato fanatic) eat them until the inside of my mouth starts to peel. Last year, when Late Blight plagued the tomato crop, we got only a few dozen and had to eat them quickly before they mushified.
All the veggies are fresh and delicious and have that wonderful home-grown look and feel. There are more different varieties of each vegetable than most supermarkets offer, and there’s more variation in size and shape. Yeah, sometimes there’s a brown spot, a stalk of clover mixed in with the basil, or an ant in the lettuce, but that’s nature; this is real food! I bet that even if we ate the brown spots, weeds, and critters, they’d be healthier for us than pesticides.
Our farm share forces fresh produce into our lives every week, making us work veggies into our meals even when we feel lazy. This effect was especially noticeable in 2002, when Daniel and I spent July and August fixing up our new house and moving into it. We had moved within the neighborhood two years earlier and spent more than a week eating every meal in restaurants because our kitchen wasn’t set up yet–but with veggies pouring in, we couldn’t let that happen! We packed up our old kitchen and set up our new kitchen all in one day and made time to prepare meals at home so that we could use our farm share, and we saved a lot of money that way.
We’ve also learned that we like some vegetables we thought we didn’t like, most notably kale and spinach, and we’ve learned new ways to prepare the veggies that are most plentiful. The farm includes recipes in its wonderful newsletter. (You can read several years of old newsletters on their site.)
We maintain an EAT IT! list on the refrigerator door to remind us of what fresh produce we have, and we use it to plan meals that use those ingredients. Anything we won’t use that week, we try to chop, bag, and freeze as soon as possible. Between frozen produce and long-lasting root vegetables, we eat from our farm share almost all year long. Every year, we attend a convention where we meet up with a bunch of our friends to help sell cool games. To reduce expenses, we volunteers have an area where we can store food to share. My family leaves for the convention on Thursday morning (except for last year…) so that we can pick up our farm share on Wednesday and convert it into individual salads in plastic boxes. Then we bring those in a cooler with a bottle of salad dressing. It’s great to be able to eat an organic salad with a wide variety of vegetables (not just iceberg lettuce!) in between convention-center-food-court meals!
Buying a farm share works for me!