Oh the joys of a CSA farm box. Back when we lived in San Francisco, I read Dayna Macy’s book, Ravenous, and it left an indelible mark on my food brain. While Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food was a rude awakening to the harmful health effects of processed foods, and informed me how a combination of misinformation from government, the need to feed an exploding population and the desire to make farming profitable, got our food system into the mess it’s in today, Macy actually helped me figure out what to do about it on a family level.
Spurred into action after finishing the chapter in which Macy visits Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley in northern California – propped up in bed one Sunday morning, laptop on my knees – I googled Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) in the Bay Area. To you and me, CSA is a cheap and convenient way to get a weekly box chock full of just-picked pesticide-free, non-GMO vegetables and sometimes fruit, pastured meat, eggs and even cheese.
According to my trusty Wikipedia, Community-supported agriculture began in the early 1960s in Germany, Switzerland and Japan, as a response to concerns about food safety and the urbanization of agricultural land. I quote: “Groups of consumers and farmers in Europe formed cooperative partnerships to fund farming and pay the full costs of ecologically sound and socially equitable agriculture.” That sounds like a lot of work and a big commitment, so I’m grateful that today all it takes to support these farms is an Internet connection, a credit card and the willingness to cook using raw ingredients.
It’s the CSA model that has allowed the proliferation of smaller pesticide-free farmsteads throughout the U.S. – sometimes run by ex-city slickers who have traded in their executive paychecks for overalls and rain boots. As a consumer, and someone who fervently believes that the health of my family depends on eating seasonal local produce fresh from the farm, I am grateful to these farmers who brave all weathers and worry incessantly about their crops and livestock to ensure the best quality possible. If you’d like to see firsthand where and how your food is grown, many of them offer tours. Check out my resources page for more information on local farms within striking distance of San Francisco.
When we got our first box, it was from the wonderful Terra Firma Farm. We’d collect our box of goodies from a house two blocks away every Thursday afternoon. The giddy excitement both Monkey and I felt on opening the box, was akin to children unwrapping gifts at Christmas, but we got to experience it every Thursday! A medium box of fruit and veg cost $24 a week. Yes, a measly TWENTY FOUR DOLLARS for masses of amazing produce that would easily last us the week. I am certain that the same amount of food from a grocery store would cost at least 25% more.
When I bore my friends by extolling the virtues of a farm box I hear three common responses. Many say they could never finish the box’s contents, to which I say: “Give it away to a neighbor, freeze it, pickle it, or in the very worse case, throw it away. You are still doing a good deed in supporting CSA and in all likelihood, saving money.”
Others say they don’t want to deal with picking the box up from a doorstep a few blocks away. To that I say: “It’s most likely closer than going to the grocery store and you get to know more people in your local hood. Besides, many farms now deliver straight to your doorstep.” Anyone remember WebVan? Like most great start-ups they were way ahead of their time.
The final, and perhaps most common objection, is not knowing what to do with the contents of the box. It turns out that many of us have lost the art and the heart to cook at home. To this I say, what? What is there to say when someone says they don’t like cooking or perhaps they don’t know how? It’s not something I can relate to on a personal level. Cooking makes me feel alive. It makes me feel like I’m taking care of the people I provide a meal for. It makes me feel creative and whole and at ease. It’s a way for me to express myself without having to use words. So to those people, I think all I can say is: “Come cook and eat with me, and we shall have fun. Oh, and get a farm box.”