Saturday, July 31, 2010

CSAs: Part of Healthy Diet

What happens when you mix heirloom plants, fertile urban gardens, high heat on sunny days (interspersed with short-lived but heavy rain showers), and lots of hard work from dedicated farmers?

A gorgeous crop of fruit and vegetables grown no farther than a dozen or so km from where I live. All mine!

That's because I bought a share with the Young Urban Farmers (YUF) CSA (community shared agriculture) to be able to enjoy more tasty food than I can consume within a week for the rest of the growing season. Featured in this week's share were, in alphabetical order:
  • a blue jay bell pepper
  • cilantro
  • dill
  • an eggplant
  • flat-leaf parsley
  • ground cherries (in lantern-shaped husks)
  • hot peppers
  • kale
  • mixed salad greens
  • papaya pear squash
  • peas (too shy to pose for the picture)
  • peter pan squash
  • a plum
  • purple kohlrabi
  • radishes
  • swiss chard
  • thai basil
  • zucchini
Can you spot them all?

When I decided to join a CSA this year, I had some difficulty deciding which one to put my money behind. Luckily, I came across YUF and immediately fell in love with them: they grow their produce in city residents' backyards, not a suburban farm! Better yet, due to a lack of storage facilities, the crops are harvested no earlier than the night before I pick them up. And if that still doesn't convince you these folks are great, consider this: they specialize in heirloom and organic varieties that aren't available at the local grocery store or even farmers markets! That's more exclusive than the iPhone 4.

This summer, my weekly local food shares have challenged me to cook and prepare vegetables I previously could not even identify. What I've discovered is that for intimidating vegetables, simple methods work best: cut swiss chard into bite-sized pieces, then wilt in a pan with sautéed garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. I add a spritz of lemon juice when I'm feeling particularly adventurous. It's that easy! No wonder there are so many celebrity chefs on TV...

Community shared agriculture is an excellent idea because it benefits everyone involved: the "customers" receive very fresh, very local, organic food and pay about the same as they would in a grocery store, except they know the "who", "where", and "how" of the life cycle of the produce. Also, shareholders are supporting the local economy, help to maintain land used for agriculture rather than urban sprawl, and get to learn about how food is grown and when it is in season (this is especially vital for children living in the city).

Meanwhile, the farmers gain from this system by making a living without having to share profits with distributors. By receiving in the spring the budget they need to carry them through the whole season, producers can focus on the farm and the quality of the crops they are growing. Furthermore, the direct relationship they have with shareholders fosters a sense of responsibility and pride in their work. Even the land itself benefits! CSAs use sustainable farming practices, and in the case of YUF, areas that were previously unused (resident's grass-covered backyards) are transformed into productive land.

While I look up a recipe to make use of that purple kohlrabi from this week's share, check out the links below that will help you source a CSA in your area and find out more about how you can support ecologically sound and socially equitable agriculture.
Happy eating.

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