from Go Green: How to Build an Earth-Friendly Community
Chapter 6, Local, Organic, Sustainable Food
Starting a CSA:
The community supported agriculture movement is growing by leaps and bounds. In 1990 in the U.S. there were 50 CSAs while by 2005 there were at least 1,500. The setup of a CSA can vary from community to community and with each region of the country, but basically an individual, restaurant or family buys a "share" of the farm. Ideally, the share would be bought in the fall or winter, which gives the farmer capital to finance and plan for the next summer's crop. Tractors can be upgraded, seeds bought, greenhouses built over the winter, all with the shareholders money. Then from spring to fall boxes of food will be delivered weekly or shares can be picked up at distribution points or from the farm directly.
The idea of the community supporting farmers originated in Japan in the 1960s when a group of women became concerned about the volume of food imports to their community and the demise of small farmers. They started what was called a "Teikei," which means "putting the farmer's face on food". This was so successful that it was replicated in Europe and later replicated in the United States.
I joined my first CSA in 1988 after moving to Northern California. The farm was far from my house, in fact I never went there, but the deliveries were left on my front porch once a week. It was the high point of the week for my daughters and I to open the box and discover what was inside. A basket of raspberries would not last five minutes as we sat down on the floor and ate them all before unpacking the rest of the box. We learned about strange greens we had never seen before, like kohlrabi and bok choi. Each week, the farm would include a folksy newsletter that included recipes. The farm would tell us what to anticipate for the following week, so we were really looking forward to our first, farm tomatoes. The next week's box arrived with no tomatoes and the newsletter's apology saying that a black bear had wandered into the tomato patch and had quite a picnic! The vines were trampled, the fruit squashed and eaten, and the harvest ruined.
I had been under the impression that black bears were essentially extinct from California except in Yosemite, and also had no idea they ate tomatoes.
In addition to providing our family with healthy produce, my kids learned how to shuck corn, deal with corn weevils - Yukky Mom! How to make zucchini bread from giant zucchini, and how to integrate strange new veggies into their spaghetti. Even though we never visited the farm, we felt a sense of connection to the farmer who was raising our food, and a sense of sadness upon having to return to the supermarket for the winter months.
- Start small, raising a few successful plants at home. Herbs, a few lettuces and radishes are foolproof!
- Think about where your food comes from. Are your apples from New Zealand, from Chile or Oregon? Do you buy strawberries all winter long?
- Take your own bag to the market, neither paper nor plastic are good options for bringing our food home. Your own canvas bag will save trees and help stop the plastic proliferation we see hanging from our trees and plastered against fences.
- Find a neighbor to share trips to the store, put a basket or rack on your bike or take the bus. Plan ahead so you don't have to make several trips to the store.
- Start a food co-op to order foods in bulk and share them with your community.
- Start a Farmers Market; it can be small and fun, and supports local food.
- Start a CSA, support a local farmer and keep the food dollars in your community.
- Pay attention to your fast food diet. How do you feel when you rush by the takeout window and eat in your car? See the film 'Fast Food Nation'.
- Talk to your kids about their diet, where foods come from, how they nourish the body. Get exercise and fresh air, you will want to eat better food after that.
- Don't get discouraged. Changing our eating habits takes time. Start slowly and add what you can afford over the period of a year or two. Once you switch to healthy food, you will notice the difference and not want to turn back!