Community Supported Agriculture

Reading Leda Meredith‘s The Locavore’s Handbook populates my mind with new thoughts.  Issues of environmental consciousness, global and personal health, big ag, nutrition, community connectedness and seasonal eating are brought to the forefront, and many of Meredith’s points support the discourse of In Defense of Food author, Michael Pollan.  Pollan’s mantra,

“Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.”

is a commonsense approach to eating that has reshaped the way many foodies think.  It seems so obvious, as do many of his “Food Rules,” but the way American society eats due to politics, advertising, and large scale food processors has altered our perception of ‘normal.’

As much as they might for anyone else, news articles that tout the health benefits of a food one day and bash it the next, conflicting recommendations by authorities, and questionable benefits proclaimed by food labels eventually caused me to throw my arms up in frustration and say “to hell with it all!”  For a while, I just ate what I liked and didn’t care about the effects of any of it.  Slurpees, chinese takeout, restaurant chains and fast food happy meals were the mainstay of my teenage and early 20s diet.  As someone who safely fell into the “normal” BMI range, annual checkups never alerted me to any major conseqeuence of my eating, other than knowing this wasn’t really the “best” way to eat.  Short-lived periodic attempts to clean up my habits were always sabotaged by one day off track which would ultimately lead me back to my attitude of apathy.  What exactly constituted “better habits” also changed frequently — less fat? less sugar? more vitamins? “lite” versions of food products? — This certainly didn’t help much with my confusion.

Pollan’s book is what ulitmately lit up the lightbulb over my head and sparked my deeper interest in the story of food.  I could go on for a while about some of his finer points, including what got us to the point of what is considered the typical American diet- and maybe I will in another post.   I need to gather up all of my notes first.  But today I wanted to share a new staple in my life, at least for the next 23 weeks: a CSA share.

Meredith’s Locavore Handbook explains in depth how a person can eat more locally, leading to a healthier and more environmentally-friendly lifestyle.  Her self-imposed challenge to eat nothing outside a 250 mile radius of her Brooklyn home had a number of difficulties.  Cost and convenience can be compromised without proper planning.  Living in New York certainly has its benefits, as we’re fortunate enough to have year-round greenmarkets and thousands of shops right outside our doors.  One thing I did not know about was the CSA.  Community supported agriculture shares are a way that people can support local farmers by fronting a certain amount of money, and the farmers duly distribute a portion of their bounty to the shareholders.  What you get is unknown, as are the quantities due to farming conditions and mother nature.  I was so excited by this idea that I immediately researched what is available in my area, and discovered there are five CSAs within a 12 block radius.  Looking into them further, I found that the closest one even offers a winter share.  Just four blocks from my apartment, I could pick up a weekly bounty of locally grown produce and enjoy a monthly added bonus of produce from the Hudson Valley frozen at their summertime peak.

So I joined.  I’m a bit puzzled by my first and second pickups, as there are a number of items that simply can’t be locally grown.

Pickup #1

I thought I’d be getting squash, potatoes, apples, items from the Brassica genus (cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage) and maybe some spinach.  I was definitely surprised by the persimmon, which is in fact in season but something I’d never seen before.  Tomatoes and lettuce?

Not sure where they came from.  And tangerines?  I don’t think they’re grown anywhere around here…

Pickup #2

Now we add basil,  oranges, lemon to the mix… something is awry here.  Pomegranate is in season and quite fun… but the citrus can’t be local.  Basil and tomatoes from a greenhouse perhaps?  I was in too much of a rush the past two weeks to inquire, but I’ll certainly do my homework tonight.

This volume of produce shared by two people is still a lot to be consumed within a week’s time.  I unfortunately do not have lunch served to me at work, so unlike my share-partner I need to get 10-14 meals per week instead of 5-7.  With this abundance supplemented by grains, dairy and legumes, it’s really quite enough.  We’ve made at least thirteen dishes using the above ingredients, often with enough for 3-4 servings… if you do the math, we’re doing quite well.  Sometimes it feels like a Top Chef or Iron Chef task to figure out how to use up what we’ve been given, but for the most part the internet has proven incredibly useful and the hunt for the perfect dish is plain fun.  Using my favorite recipe sites, I can pop in a fruit or veggie and find a wide array of possibilities, and many times find others from my haul in the ingredient list.

If Santa brings me the cookbook I asked for, I’ll dogear some recipes and those will be my go-to when I have proper items in stock.  Until then, I’ll hone my research and keep experimenting with my own creations.

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