Monday, June 10, 2013

CSA: An Introduction

I love vegetables.

I said it. Deal with it. Hate me for it. Loathe my predilection to be healthy (don't worry my love of all things cheesy and carb-loaded counteracts my healthy vegetable gains). Be puzzled on the "How?" Or maybe some of you are there with me? Or trying to be?

Maybe it was because my parents always had a vegetable garden when I was growing up. Kids love to get muddy and messy and move dirt from one spot to another (intentionally or otherwise) so gardening with children seems almost more natural than with adults. As a kid, there may have also been that additional simplistic wonderment of I-can-play-around-in-the-muck-and-make-things-grow-that-are-okay-to-put-in-my-mouth. I also really love food (this will become very apparent), have worked in restaurants, and find cooking to be an enjoyable creative outlet so vegetable adoration may come along with that. Whatever the reason, I love everything from my grains, to my fruits, to my vegetables, to my greasy fats, to my proteins, to my dairy (very much so), and everything in between. Once I did not like meat, cared very much about the treatment of animals in the meat industry, and thus lived the vegetarian life for a long time. Then I randomly started having meat cravings and broke down during a trip to New Orleans. A story for another day.

Not to say I am one of those "woman laughing alone with salad" people though. Stock photos...sigh. Image source

I look at it like this. Visual artists, or at least any I know (and I include myself loosely and casually in that) need supplies such as brushes, clay, paints, etc. given whatever their chosen medium is. They may oogle over a richly pigmented oil paint or gasp at the responsiveness of a brush. That is me but with my own chosen medium of food. A fresh spear of asparagus or a rich brie are my enviable supplies.

Enough with the food blathering. I'm in my twenties and am not dripping with cash so I try to keep my grocery bill reasonable. At the same time, I don't want my organs to turn into a blocks of fat from living off fast food. This means going for certain nutritionally dense but cheap foods and keeping the "artisan" things to a rare treat. Lots a frozen veggies, baby carrots, etc. I try to be an educated consumer and person in general, so I am aware of some of the horrors of the food industry. Whether it be for greater nutritional content, avoiding toxins, supporting the local economy, or sticking it to the man; local, organic, and natural foods are grand. It is more difficult on a fixed budget, however, there are ways around this, but I will get to that another day. I do like to go to farmers markets when I can, and in my area, they range from affordable to bougie pricey.

In general, however, I took the approach of trying to eat healthy(ish) as my first goal, and then buying the socially/environmentally/economically sustainable products as a "when I am making more money" goal. I.e. my purchases have probably pumped me with a good deal of antibiotics and chemical residues, put small farmers on the chopping block, and lined the pockets of megacorporations. Sigh. I don't know if I should be ashamed, or if maybe I can just displace the blame back to the megacorps that are making it possible for me to eat a greater quantity and variety of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins for my buck than I could if I were purchasing free range chicken and happy organic apples. You all probably have your own opinions anyways so I am not going into that more.

Now that I have you good and depressed/bored/angry/alienated, let's get back to vegetable excitement and perhaps some hope for salvation. Enter Greensgrow Farms. I have lived in Philadelphia for the past five or so years but just a little over a year ago moved into the area of the city I presently call home. In my explorations, I discovered Greensgrow. They are just one of those places that make you happy, feel hopeful for the world, and get you excited about the future of your area. They are a garden center, run a CSA (community-supported agriculture), grow some of their own products, and host local vendors at a weekly to biweekly farmstand. Plus all sorts of other stuff--check them out (and they have a beautifully designed website). Also, maybe most impressively, this is all done from the middle of the city, in an urban plot of land, not much bigger than some people's suburban lawns.

They have cool t-shirts too. Image source

As my income would allow, I would stop by to buy plants for my little container garden, some fresh produce and local cheese, or just to look at their adorable pig Milkshake. Following them on Facebook, I would see all the pictures of the weekly shares of their CSA. For those unfamiliar with the concept, basically and briefly, a CSA involves putting your money where your mouth (and values) are. You put your pay upfront towards a farm or network of growers, securing their economic support for the season, and in return, you get regular shares of the crop. My previous experience with CSAs was back in high school, when my parents joined one. It was an interesting experience, and the people involved were very dedicated and wonderful. However, it was their first time doing one, northwestern Pennsylvania weather can be fickle, and as such, I could not exactly call it a robust success. It may have given some satisfaction about supporting local agriculture, but in practice, it was a lot of money for a lot of summer squash but meager portions of the exciting things like tomatoes, peas, and berries.

I digress. Greensgrow is great (as is alliteration...sometimes). After the clear and proven success of them in general, as well as their CSA, this season I decided to just take the leap. These were several things that convinced me:

  • The picturesI knew what was in store for me--great variety--fruits, vegetables, herbs, dairy, and proteins (plus sometimes beer I am told!)--in very substantial quantities.
  • Paying up front: This way I could budget ahead of time and essentially, had a big chunk of my grocery bill taken care of for the rest of the season.
  • Installment plan: They have the great option of paying in three, much more manageable payments.
  • Half shares: Opting for the half share was great for me, as it was more affordable and gave me a more surmountable amount of produce. Half shares for the Greensgrow CSA pick up a full share but every other week. This is great because a) I have two weeks to work through everything (if I haven't eaten everything before that), b) it is still a full share so I don't have a sad little amount of that things can't really be made into a full meal, and c) life can be busy so two pickups a month is ideal.
  • Eating healthy: Well, duh, I guess. This way I was essentially locked into eating sizable quantities of nutritious food, on a regular basis. Wasting food makes me sad, so I knew if I had it, I would find a way to make sure it got ate.
  • Local: The food comes from Greensgrow and area farms and suppliers. Each week, there is a newsletter that describes the week's bounty and sources. The trend seems to be farms that have been in the family for several generations, are dedicated to quality, and really enrich the local economy. Some are "natural," many even certified organic.
  • Cheese: Nuff said.
Those are the major things at least. Needless to say (if you read the beginning of this post), I was very much excited for things to kick off. I was like Bunnicula, and the CSA was like Christmas.
For those of you that weren't an elementary teacher, parent, or child in the last decade or two of the twentieth century, Bunnicula was a vampire rabbit. But for vegetables. Because he was, you know, a bunny. Image source
A week before the first pickup, Greensgrow hosted a launch party. We got to wander around the farm, squeal over Milkshake (seriously, he's adorable--he even has his own t-shirt), eat (grilled asparagus, strawberries and whipped cream, bread, so much cheese, biscotti, and that's just what I shoved into my face...), drink (shout out to my local brewery Philadelphia Brewing Company), and orient for the newbies like me. Lovely evening--check out more here.

Thanks for holding out through that whole post. I wanted to get that all established to make way for what's coming next--the shares! The recipes! And all captured in steamy food porn glory. Stay tuned.

Note: I am not sponsored or in any way compensated by any of the businesses mentioned in this post. I just really admire them and believe they deserve some recognition.

1 comment:

  1. I remember a certain three year old who would squeal with delight at the sight of fresh cauliflower in the grocery store. The other parents looked on with envy.