There was a day and age when we lived off the land. Our ancestors were much more tied to the season and the foods that grew around them then we are today. Instead of going to the supermarket, there was a daily harvest of produce, and if you didnít have your own growing space, your neighbor farmer down the road did.
Those days are of course long gone. Even most of our grandparents grew up in a time where they could buy their vegetables instead of grow them themselves, and while this has left us time to do other things Ė farming is, after all, time consuming and intensive work Ė simply driving to the grocery store has disrupted our natural connection to the way things grow. Food doesnít come from the earth, it comes from a Styrofoam tray, wrapped in plastic.
To remedy that, many people belong to a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture is exactly what it sounds like, a community ensuring that a farm has a place to sell its goods, and in turn, the community benefits.
I live in France, so my CSA is a little different Ė itís called AMAP and I get les carottes instead of carrots Ė but itís the same idea. Once a week I get a selection of locally and organically grown produce and I never know what itís going to be. Thatís not entirely true; the season gives me clues. Throughout the winter there were always carrots and potatoes. These became the winter dinner staples. Now the spring foods are creeping in. Leeks, the perfect transitional vegetable, and arugula have been recent favorites. Our farmer is named Manu and every once in awhile we try to go out and volunteer on his farm. A humbling reminder that farm work is some of the hardest work, and it deserves all of our respect.
The obvious benefit of a CSA type program is that you get to eat locally grown produce and support local business. But the secondary benefit is that it gets you to simply become a better eater overall. Your meals are packed with vegetables, youíre more creative in your cooking, and you eat seasonally without even thinking about it. A CSA box is not only nutritional, it’s educational. It sways you into the swing of the seasons.
To be perfectly honest, I used to be pretty bad about thinking about where my food came from. Sure, I abstained from New Zealand apples, but beyond that I usually just bought whatever my mood dictated. The beauty of a CSA box is that you never know what youíre going to get. Itís not like going to the store and picking out a few apples and a head of lettuce. Here you get an assortment of produce and youíre stuck with them. If you have a bunch of turnips and you donít know what to do with them, then you better figure it out.
When it comes to eating and cooking, it’s easy to get into a rut. A CSA box, on the other hand, inspires creativity. Trust me, my carrot making skills have exponentially improved this past winter. If you have five pounds of potatoes, you have to figure out what to do with them.
A CSA box restricts your food choice in a way that’s good for you. The over abundance of choice that we have at a grocery store isn’t normal. We should think it’s odd to be able to buy strawberries in winter. But when we’re overloaded with choice, sometimes it’s hard to restrain ourselves. We buy the thing that’s out of season and from far away because we crave it. As an occasional treat, there’s nothing wrong with this, but as an everyday shopping habit, it’s a routine that feeds into a food system that’s out of touch with seasons and geographic regions.
Your CSA lets you dodge all of this. What comes in your CSA box is what you have to work with. Sure, you’ll need to buy some additional grains and proteins to compliment, but usually a CSA box can provide for the base of all of your meals. You’re not tempted to buy anything else because that bundle of carrots is guilt tripping you from afar. Why buy more food when you already have a stash at home?
I find myself going to the store for bulk items like nuts and grains, and the weekly Saturday market for eggs thanks to a delightful egg lady. But by and large, I rarely buy vegetables anymore. And I know what’s in season without having to Google anything. Simply because I can look at what vegetables came in that day.
Sure, it’s boring sometimes. Root vegetable season drags on until you wonder if you can ever eat another potato. But you experiment. You roast them. You make a casserole. You grate them and turn them into pancakes. You wonder if maybe you should try to pickle them. And then spring rolls around, and one week you end up with arugula, and it’s the happiest day of your life.
You discover new things. What does one do with romanesco?
And then you’re forced to use those vegetables you probably never would have picked up at the grocery store. Turnips make for an excellent quiche for the record.
I’m not a farmer, but I’d like to think that getting closer to this seasonal rhythm connects me to the land and brings me closer to the food that I eat. It certainly makes me eat better.
Photo Credit: Lindsay Eyink