Tuesday, October 2, 2012

CSA: If You Don't Know, Now You Know

I've lived in New York for 4 years now and just recently figured out what a CSA is. Shameful, I know....but my gut tells me, I'm not the only one. Are you confused? Do you find yourself wondering 'what the hell is a CSA'?

I'm here today to break it down for you... 'CSA for Dummies' style. CSA stands for 'community-supported garden' or 'community-shared garden'. It's a community organized partnership with a local farm, where members provide the farmer with his production budget for the season in return for a share of the harvest - usually a big share! The season runs for 5-6 months, starting in the summer and lasting through early to mid-fall. Members pay a lump sum to join for that period and are then allowed to pick up their share once a week at specified times. Some CSAs even offer an EOW (every other week) option for pickup, in case you don't see yourself using all the vegetables in a week's time.

Most CSAs require you to give a small percentage of your time to help with the group's operations (this is community-run after all). At the Park Slope CSA near my apartment, you are required to give 5 hours of your time during the season if you choose a full share or 2.5 hours for an every other week share. During your shift, you help unload the delivery trucks, stock and re-stock the produce, check in members and distribute their shares. It's not rocket science and it's not that much time when you consider that you're getting 5-6 months of fresh, local produce in return.

The main staples of the CSA are obviously vegetables and fruit, but you can also opt-in for eggs, meat and even fresh-cut flowers! By joining a CSA, you can feel confident that you are getting produce with a high nutrient content - as it was harvested nearby and delivered to you promptly. In addition, CSA-supported farmers usually uphold organic and sustainable growing practices. The best part though is that your organic produce costs about the same amount as conventionally grown produce! No longer will you pay more for organic! Hip hip hooray!

If you live in New York, check out Just Food to find a local CSA near you, and since a lot of my readers live in the Atlanta area, here's a great site to help you find a convenient CSA to join: Ecovian. If you live nowhere near these two places, just google 'CSA' for your particular city and you're bound to find a few good options!

Last week, I was asked to judge a cooking competition in East Harlem sponsored by Just Food, The Kitchen Table CSA and the Hunter College Nutrition Club. Three teams competed in the Great CSA Smackdown for a chance to represent their neighborhood in the final Smackdown for all of New York City. Contestants used their weekly CSA share to create amazing dishes for myself and the other judges, Melina Shannon-DiPietro (Director of Food & Merchandise at the High Line / Former Co-Founder & Director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project) and Scott Barton (Culinary Consultant, Executive Chef & Ph.D. Candidate in the NY Food Studies Program). I left with a full tummy and a renewed vigor to look into CSA membership. That produce tasted so good - beyond anything I've ever purchased in a grocery store!

If you have a CSA near you, I encourage you to seriously consider joining. It can be a cost-effective decision for your wallet, while also allowing you to put good things into your body AND simultaneously help your local farmer!

The post-judging destruction. Yum.

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