Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Community Shared Agriculture - Keeping me out of the Food Emporium

I have a love hate relationship with Food Emporium. If you're an upper east sider you probably understand. One the one hand, it's right down the block, open at all hours and so convenient. On the other hand, everything costs a fortune and the produce starts going bad the minute they put it in your bag. The guilt is unimaginable. You go in to buy an avocado and stand there in a trance with your hand reaching, but unwilling to commit, to the act of grabbing the ripply brown fruit. The sign reads "2 for 4$" and you can't help but think that you could buy an avocado for fifty cents in brooklyn.  You either fight desire and leave feeling hungry but vindicated or stash the fruit in your bag, use it surreptitiously and feel regret the minute you swipe your card. It's become a filthy habit of mine. Sneaking into the food emporium and hoping no one notices the outrageous price I am paying.

People go to extreme lengths to avoid food emporium, gristedes, or whatever their neighborhood grocery store is. I know one girl who bikes to Wholefoods and carries her groceries home on her back every week. Some apartments get together to share a cab to Trader Joes. I have several of my own methods but the one I'd like to talk about today is my local CSA.

CSA, otherwise known as Community Shared Agriculture, has gained strength recently as an emerging national trend. This is mostly because people have an increasing interest in organic, naturally grown foods as well as a desire to gain a connection to their food, the farmers and the land that produces it. Now that's all very nice, but it's not enough to break the stronghold grocery chains seem to have over me. What does it for me is that my CSA provides fresh produce at prices significantly cheaper than the  prices you'll find at any grocery store.

How does it work? Most CSA's are run very similarly. You pay up front in the beginning of the year for a share of the farms produce. Then during harvest time (June through November for NYers) a shipment of produce is sent weekly to a pickup site where you go and get your share. This means you are eating whatever grows on the farm at the time. Some CSA's also require some volunteer time from members, others do not. My particular CSA is the Yorkville CSA supplied by stoneledge farm. And ever since delivery season started I have reduced my food emporium trips to one in every couple of weeks. Plus my cooking as gotten a lot healthier. In this weeks share I got summer squash, green leaf lettuce, oregano, sugar snap peas, garlic scapes and swiss chard. Most CSA's also have optional buy-ins for fruit, flowers, honey, maple syrup and other products.

The downside: 1)You need to use this stuff quickly as you get a new shipment every week. You are also "eating with the seasons" if you will. This means you have to be a bit creative. In some cases you receive a vegetable you never even heard of before. It's actually not such a downside as it introduces variety into your menus. My CSA even gave me a free cookbook Recipes from America's Small Farms. 2)You cannot request specific items on specific weeks. You get what is produced. So if you are craving avocado and you don't get one in this weeks share, you may have to resort to food emporium. 3)CSA's tend to be run by sustainable, organic agriculture methods. This means you MUST CHECK FOR BUGS. Wash you produce thoroughly just before use (this extends it's life as washing in advance promotes rotting). You may want to consider a salad spinner for quick drying of lettuce.

All in all, you save money, eat healthier and feel pretty good about yourself. Plus your supporting local farmers and the environment. It's a pretty win-win situation. To find a CSA near you try this website.

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