We’ve just wrapped up our first season as participants in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program for produce.
Why we did it: We signed on at a local farm for a “share” of locally grown food to support local farmers, ease our impact on the environment (think less cost and pollution from transportation getting your food from another state or country) and so that we could know where our food was coming from. We wanted our kids to see the food go from field to table by having the chance to pick some of our own fruits and vegetables.
What we got was so much more. Here’s what we learned.
- How to eat more seasonally. At first I was disappointed not to have fresh corn and tomatoes for five months straight, like I would if I went to the grocery store or even that massive “farm market” out on Route 15 that carries bananas and coconuts (Where do they get that stuff?) But then I smacked my hand on my forehead and said, “This is how people have eaten from the beginning of time!” My own mother grew up eating this way because my grandparents largely cooked and ate whatever was ready to be picked in their massive garden. My grandmother canned whatever she had in excess. She often got other produce picked seasonally from local growers. So, this is what we did this summer. We ate what was in the CSA share, picked whatever they were harvesting and if we couldn’t finish it that week it either went into the freezer (massive amounts of green beans) or got made into stuff: apples into applesauce, concord grapes into juice, peaches into cobbler. Corn was cooked and stripped off the cob and went into the freezer, too. All of this was super easy, too. I swear.
- Hey look, kids, our food comes from the dirt, not the produce section of the grocery store! One of my main reasons for wanting to participate in the CSA was so that my kids could actually see where their food came from. Each time we visited the farm, we rode on the wagon pulled by a tractor, out to the fields and picked cherries, peaches, tomatoes, many kinds of berries, green beans, soy beans, pumpkins, squash and more. The kids knew who the main farmer was and greeted her by name. They watched as farm workers planted and harvested. They wondered about needed rain. They helped cook the food when we brought it home. They tried new foods they’d never tried before because they picked it themselves.
- Buying our produce this way did not cost us any more money! I did the math. We took turns making the 30 mile trek out to the farm with a friend, which saved on gas. We provided our own containers instead of the ones the farm provided, which saved us some money. We opted for picking up our produce rather than delivery to our door. And we stopped buying stuff at the grocery store and farm stand and simply used what was provided for us by the farm, which sometimes meant altering our meal plans. I more frequently made dishes that could be altered. My coconut milk and curry stir fry can accommodate any kind of vegetables so I chopped up and threw in whatever I had on hand from the farm, rather than buying exactly what my original recipe calls for. Likewise a couple of my favorite crock pot meals.
- It inspired us to explore other CSA and local food options . We discovered several other local farms. Once you get out of the suburbs and drive around in the country, you notice things. Like a farm that specializes in free-range chickens, pigs, turkeys, cows and goats. They offer everything from meat to eggs to goat’s milk. Their hot sausage is quite yummy in The Husband’s red sauce. And feeding meat to our kids that is not treated with antibiotics and hormones, is fed organically, is more nutrient dense due to a grass-fed diet and is treated humanely appeals to us. We now have a freezer stocked with these meats. We also found a farm where not only can we get fresh eggs but the kids can collect them themselves. They think this is fun. And the eggs are good. No worries about salmonella outbreaks here. We eat eggs with carefree abandon. Now while the produce share didn’t cost us any more money, the farm-purchased meat does, but we’ve cut back in a couple of other budgeting areas because we feel the health benefits to our family make it well worth it.
5. We’re eating healthier. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I used to think it wasn’t so bad that my kids ate at McDonald’s once or twice a week. After all, I was ordering them the sliced apples instead of the fries and milk instead of the soda that came with my childhood happy meals. How did I not think about the pressed, deep-fried chicken parts of undetermined origin? I don’t know. I guess I figured it was mostly healthy and it was quick and easy and I didn’t have to unload everyone out of the car in order to feed them while on the go. The rest of the time we were eating fairly healthy. But you start eating fresh veggies, meat and eggs from the farm and it makes you think. We are in the process of making some healthier eating changes for the entire family.
6. Family bonding. What could be cuter than your kids eating a fresh peach they just picked from a tree, juice running down their chins, while jostling up and down on the wagon-pulled tractor through the orchard? Or running down a country road to the berry patch, so excited to fill their buckets while stuffing themselves with fresh raspberries? They could eat as much as they wanted of whatever we got from the farm without Mom saying, “No, that’s enough.” They never, ever complained about going out to the farm. They never wanted to leave once we got there. This particular farm had a lot of things for them to do, animals to see and touch, shady areas for Mom to sit and relax while the kids played. And at the end of each visit, I loaded three tired, often sweaty and happily dirty, kids into the car and they slept or rested on the way home.
The season is coming to a close now. The last of the pumpkins and squash have been harvested. Frost settles onto the fields at night. And I have three kids with their noggins full of wonderful memories of summer and fall days spent roaming open spaces, eating yummy and fresh foods and counting chickens.
The farms: Our produce share was from Great Country Farm in Bluemont, VA. The cows and chicken photos were taken where we purchased beef, pork, turkey and eggs at Chicama Run in Purcellville, VA. Collecting our own eggs (not pictured) and purchasing chicken took place at Fields of Athenry Farm, Purcellville, VA.