A fter eating a winter CSA (community supported agriculture) salad, which took all of 15 minutes to prepare, I feel sharper and lighter. And it’s not just my imagination. The ingredients—lettuce, kale, carrots, radishes, sweet peppers, scallions and broccoli—are all part of my bimonthly share of winter CSA.
Each vegetable, buzzing with color, was planted and fussed over by godly folk. And they were harvested less than 50 miles away, not yet 24 hours beforehand. There is no way that I can overstate the means by which a CSA adds value to life. In my experience, it is the Holy Grail—the thing by which I muster special powers. Wash, chop, stir and invigorate.
I have been eating year-round this way for more than 10 years. To quantify this experiment, I can only say that this search for real food brings unending good fortune: a valuable weight without counting calories; a natural affinity for sources leading to ethereal meals; energy for the daily race; enlightenment to rhythms of the seasons; a serious notion of the Garden of Eden; and dear farmer friends.
By definition, CSA is a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, in a sense, that community’s farm. CSA is not about cheap food. The focus is on maintaining healthy soil, which makes the discussion of herbicides, pesticides and artificial fertilizers moot.
As one who opts to sign up for a season of produce, your payments provide working capital to uphold the cost of the farm’s operation including equipment, labor, seeds and fuel. A CSA subscription is a working intention that the kosher farming life will continue.
Middle Tennessee is a rich place to investigate life with a CSA. Farm choice is plentiful and CSA farmers tend to be flexible, academic, shepherding types: experts in their field, humbled by mother nature and generous in their maternal interaction, lending tips by way of emails, newsletters or just plain chewing the fat.
My last CSA box provided a note on storage: “…almost everything does best stored in a ziplock-type bag with a little moisture. The lettuce will last beautifully if you cut the bottom off and soak in cold water, spin it and store. Same with scallions. The cooking greens will also stay fresher if you store them in an airtight container. If you have any question don’t hesitate to call or text me. Have a blessed week.”
Before setting up house with your personal cultivator, it is advisable to understand that CSAs bring a new form of cooperation, economy and sometimes property ownership to the table.
There are four types:
- Farmer Managed: The farmer sets up and maintains a CSA, recruits subscribers and manages the CSA.
- Shareholder/Subscriber Managed: Locals set up a CSA and hire a farmer to grow crops and shareholders/subscribers manage it.
- Farmer Cooperative: A group of farmers establishes a CSA program.
- Farmer/Shareholder Cooperative: A farmer and local residents set up and cooperatively manage a CSA.
A majority of CSAs in Tennessee are farmer-managed or farmer cooperative—all the better for you to act as grateful recipient when it’s time to collect your basket of goodies. Locations for pick-up include the farm, the local farmers’ market or a designated spot in town. My husband and I share pick-up duties, always enjoying a recipe exchange with other subscribers or a growing season update with our farmer.
Paramount is an understanding that as subscriber you share the bounty and the risk of the agricultural enterprise (and even the occasional party favor of food’s genesis…dirt). In most cases the farmers are paid in advance for shares of the harvest. By direct sale like CSA, farmers receive better prices for their crops and are relieved of marketing duties. Each CSA is structured differently with multiple levels of financial commitment and payment plans.
One of the grandest closing prayers of a CSA is that the methodology encourages sound farming practices such as organic and/or biodynamic growing methods. Though standards vary across the planet, organic farming incorporates cultural, biological and mechanical practices that champion cycling of resources and ecological balance. Organic labeling is a term that indicates that the food has been produced to USDA standards.
Biodynamic farming is a method of organic farming developed by Rudolf Steiner that uses a holistic understanding of the agricultural process. It treats fertility, plant growth and livestock care as interrelated tasks and focuses on the use of astrological sowing and planting. Emphasis includes use of manure and composts, local production and distribution and mineral and herbal additives.
And by producing just what is needed, subscribers’ waste is brought to a minimum. The urban/rural interaction brings a cooperative dance that fosters economic harmony. A side perk is the de-cluttering of the brain that can occur during a volunteer day at your farm, or even a farm internship as sabbatical or school component. Communing with your ancestors is a by-product in both cases.
Maybe you are reading this over a plate of food so dead that health benefits are as distant as the moon. Another choice awaits. Consider, you could contact a CSA close to home or work. Local Table Magazine and the Nashville Farmers’ Market hosts a CSA Fair at the market in late winter where you can meet many of our local CSA farmers and get more details regarding individual farm programs. Also, check out the CSA guide here at Local Table.
Roben Mounger writes in celebration of food and people on her blog, Ms. Cook's Table