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Thursday, April 19, 2012

What's So Great About CSAs and Farmers' Markets?

Some of my fellow ROCmommas refer to me as a tree-hugging hippie because I'm a vegetarian, but I don't agree. Yes, I bring my own reusable bags when I shop, even to the mall. Yes, I buy produce marked "Locally Grown" and/or "Organic" at Wegmans. Yes, I have packed empty water bottles in my suitcase because my hotel didn't offer recycling bins. But every time I think I'm doing my share, reducing my carbon footprint, and making eco-conscious decisions, I meet someone else who is doing more. Then my competitive nature kicks in and I want to out-green that person. Or just make faces at Her Royal Greenness behind her back.

Right now I have two Earth Day 2012 Resolutions:

  1. Join a CSA
  2. Start composting
I'm not ready to deal with worms just yet so I'm focusing on resolution number one. I just found out about CSAs a few years ago; before that I would have thought it was a new crime drama on Thursday nights. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) allows consumers to buy a share of a farm's harvest, and allows farmers some much-needed income at the beginning of the harvest season - when they need it most. There is some risk involved: a bad growing season (too much rain, not enough rain, a plague of locusts) means fewer veggies in a share. But a strong growing season means you'll have enough produce to freeze, can, host a party, and put lunch and dinner on the table for a few months.

Here's how it works:
  • Find a CSA in your area; Rochesterians can look here for options
  • Sign up; the farm I chose has an online registration form that was easy to complete, and I am going to be sending in my deposit check tomorrow
  • During the harvest season (usually June through September), you'll pick up your share at the farm or designated location at a specific time and day of the week
Half-shares are an option at many farms. This usually appeals to smaller families, or to those who are a bit skeptical about adding kohlrabi and celeriac to their diet. A half-share means pick up is either every other week, or just fewer veggies each week. 

Some farms offer additional perks to their members, such as flowers or herbs. If you're an omnivore, some even offer organic meats. The farm we chose offers unlimited access to their flowers, herbs, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, green beans, and edible flowers. Plus we get to visit as often as we'd like. My two boys are going to love visiting the farm, watching the tractors, and picking some cherry tomatoes.

Most of the farms I've researched also offer cooking and storing tips as well as recipes for each item they grow. So if you're not familiar with garlic scapes, you can look on the farm's site to find recipes for making soup, stew, sauce, or a stir fry with these flavorful stalks. 

If you don't want to commit to a CSA, consider buying local at a farmers' market near you. When you buy locally, you definitely add gold stars to your green card. Well, not that green card - - your eco-savvy green card. Buying local supports the local economy. It means fresher food on your table with more nutrients, since the produce has been off the vine for a shorter amount of time than the supermarket options. Plus, local foods require fewer wasted resources - less packaging and less fuel to transport the produce. So, get thee to a farmers' market! Check out this list of Farmers' Markets in the Rochester area to plan a fruit & veggie adventure with your kids. Of course, most people in the Rochester area are familiar with the Public Market, but there are dozens of others. If you're not a ROCmomma or a ROCpoppa, try Googling "CSA" plus your town or city (example: "CSA Saratoga Springs NY").

I'm looking forward to trying out some new foods this summer and fall. Who knows? Maybe we'll find a new favorite! I'm also looking forward to the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from supporting a local farm. And of course the added bonus of out-greening other moms at preschool. Just kidding.

If you like fruits and veggies, I hope you'll try out a farmers' market or CSA this season. If you already shop at a farmers' market and you already belong to a CSA, then you get many, many kudos, and I hope you'll share your tips or experience with others in the Comments section. As always, thanks for reading!



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