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CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) 101

June 26, 2013 12:05:00 PM PDT

I am absolutely ecstatic to share this guest blog post from one of my superstar interns, Rachele Pojednic! A Doctoral Candidate at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Rachele also holds a Masters Degree in Biochemical and Molecular Nutrition, and a Bachelors degree in Exercise Physiology from Northeastern University. In this post, Rachele teaches us what a CSA is, how to get one, and why they're so great.

Rachele and I at the American Heart Association Luncheon
CSA 101

Growing up, I lived in a meat and potatoes kind of house. For dinner, there was a protein (steak), starch (potato), and vegetable (frozen corn heated in the microwave). Sometimes there was steamed broccoli (which I hated and would drop on the floor for the cat to eat). As an inevitable consequence, I grew up thinking vegetables were gross (I still think steamed vegetables are gross...could be residual traumatic stress). When I left home, the majority of my college years were spent eating some version of “carbs n’ cheese” for dinner, hardly ever a vegetable in sight.

I knew that I should eat more fruit and veggies, but finding and affording fresh produce (especially organic) was a huge hassle and I didn’t really know how to cook anything tasty that was veggie based. To top it all off, I was confined to a first-job-out-of-college-budget, and was afraid to waste my money and end up with a pile of green slop on my dinner plate.

Then, my younger hippie sister came to visit from college in Vermont and announced she was now a strict vegetarian. As long as she was in my apartment, there was to be no meat present. She was my sister, so I begrudgingly indulged her meat-free existence and tepidly waded into the world of vegetarian eating. 

She dragged me to the local farmers market (HayMarket in Boston) and loaded up on all kinds of broccoli (she insisted she knew how to cook it), beets (does anyone really know how to cook a beet?), swiss chard (not a cheese), sweet potatoes (sort of close to a russet?) and spinach (which, according to my sister, we would be eating raw, bleh).  With her ingredients she concocted a gorgeous spinach, basil and strawberry salad alongside what she called a mixing bowl of veggies. The bowl turned out to be a beautiful layering of roasted sweet potatoes and beets covered with sauteed chard and garlic, topped with slivered almonds and a sauce of garlic, fresh ginger, dijon mustard, and soy sauce. And all of a sudden, this veggie-hater was a convert. Everything was so delicious! I was completely shocked. 

When my sister left a week later, we had eaten completely vegetarian for every meal and snack. It turns out vegetables are delicious if you don’t boil them into oblivion! But I was still nervous about buying a ton of produce that I didn’t really know what to do with. In order to encourage my veggie eating habits, my sister suggested buying into a CSA, which I had never heard of. She explained that CSA stood for “Community Supported Agriculture.” Basically, you send money (i.e. “purchase a share”) to a local farm or group of farms and they reserve a weekly box of veggies and fruit for you, typically whatever is growing in their fields, and often organic. It’s a total surprise as to what’s inside, and when you unveil your mystery crops for the week, you plan your meals from there (this is where food blogs and online recipe builders come in super handy). It’s a huge win for small local farmers, because they have a positive cash flow for the start of the growing season and also for the veggie-confused-consumer because it takes the aforementioned hassle and monotony out of the produce section of the supermarket.

After doing my homework, I bought into a group called Boston Organics (a conglomerate of local farms), which is a double bonus because they drop the box off at my door (take that lo mein delivery)! I literally put my empty box out on Friday morning and when I get home from work, it’s filled to the brim with fresh fruits and veggies! My delivery costs $24 per week, with the option for every other week if that price is too steep. I can even add on local eggs, coffee, and bread! Tack on some staples and seasonings from the grocery store, and I am literally all set for the entire week.

Because CSA’s are run locally, you need to find one that’s close to you. They can be searched by zip code or state at: http://www.localharvest.org/csa/.  Sometimes you can even find one with local meat and fish add-ons, and there are often options for you to help out on the farm for a reduced rate.

The best part of my CSA has been that, for the past 10 years, I have been eating a predominantly vegetarian diet because there is SO MUCH produce in the box. And, even though it’s relatively inexpensive ($12/week if you do every other), I feel serious guilt if I let any of it rot in the fridge (I mean, some local farmer picked those carrots especially for me!). So, even when there is some crazy veggie that crashes the party (I’m looking at you, kohlrabi) I’m forced to figure out what to do with it so that it doesn’t go to waste. It’s completely changed my eating habits -- from shopping to snacking to cooking. And while I still enjoy me a good “carbs n’ cheese” casserole here and there, now the cheese sauce is prepared with blended butternut squash and the pasta is tossed with fresh asparagus, shelled peas and (sauteed) broccoli. Overall, one of the easiest and most impactful health decisions I’ve ever made!