It’s summer time and that means a lot of awesome things. No school, swimming holes, vacations, hangin’ with pals, the list goes on. This year is my first summer in New Paltz not living on a couch, so I’m already off to a great start, but there are a few things that I’m really really excited about, and my CSA is one of them.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, in short, every growing season (around here it’s roughly June-November, 20/21 weeks) farms provide “shares” of vegetables, fruits, breads, meats, or whatever they grow/raise/make to people for a bulk chunk of change, and then you pick up your food at designated times, usually it’s weekly. Most farms even cater to smaller groups or single people and provide half shares, or even “big” shares! All farms are different, but they have one thing in common: THEY’RE RAD.
So, I’m a member of Huguenot Street Farm CSA in New Paltz. Luckily the Hudson Valley is more than abundant with farms and whatnot, so there are lots of places to choose from. I chose Huguenot Street because of its proximity to my house, the fact that I could go with friends who are diehard fans of this particular farm, and the U-Pick and fruit share options they provided.
To find your local CSA, click here!
Here’s why having a farm share is a great idea for anyone:
Economic Intelligence: Lots of Food for Not Lots of Money
As a poor graduate student I’m always finding ways to save money. Food is probably the most important thing in the world to me, and I like to eat well. This is perhaps the best part of taking part in farm shares: you save a butt-ton of money and get a LOT of food for way less than you should. I split my full fruit share and full vegetable share with two other people and after doing the math, we each pay roughly 11 dollars a week to get a ton of food. How much, may you ask? Here’s my portion of the fruit and veggie shares for this week:
As the season progresses and eventually slows down the amount will probably swell and dwindle, but that amount of food would cost you WAY more than 11 dollars at a grocery store or farmer’s market.
The only drawback is that you do have to pay a large chunk of change up front, a full veggie share is typically anywhere from 400-600 dollars, however, if you’re splitting it with a partner or friends it’s a bit more manageable. For the three of us we each put down 250 and everything was covered, which if you think about it, isn’t so bad considering that I theoretically wouldn’t have to buy groceries until November if I didn’t want to. That’s right, unless there’s some weird apocalyptic event, I’m guaranteed to eat until November! Crazy!
Certain farms may also give you access to their U-pick options, my share gives me unlimited access to herbs, berries, tomatoes, flowers, snap peas, and whatever else comes along throughout the season. Today I picked enough basil (and sage, and oregano, and garlic chives, and parsley…) to make about a cup’s worth of pesto (that’s a lot, in case you aren’t sure), and I got flowers to decorate my apartment with!
And here’s my new shelf thing that I’m really proud of. Irrelevant but I want to show it to the world. Note my duck phone.
So, the only things I really end up getting at farm market I work at or the grocery store are pasta, rice, bread, eggs, and non-domestic fruits like bananas and avocados (I could write a whole different article about the importance of avocados in my life). This averages out to about 4-6 dollars a week, unless I get lucky and find stuff on sale. Isn’t that great?!
Eating In Becomes More Exciting, and Practical
Since you’re given so much food once a week, you almost start to feel guilty not using it. My fridge is booming with food right now and not only does it keep me from actually wanting to go out and eat (unless I’m tempted with sushi..mmm), but I kind of feel like I HAVE to eat the food I’ve got, or else I’m just being wasteful!
It’s also really exciting to start putting all of your new produce away while you think about all the great things you’re going to cook.
Which brings me to our next reason…
Experimentation: What the Hell do I do with this vegetable?
Up until recently I have admittedly been a bit of a n00b when it comes to certain types of food. I’d never eaten a turnip in my life, had sworn off beets for no reason other than that they stain my hands when people buy them at my job, and couldn’t really stomach eating swiss chard.
Being given all of these types of foods that you have no idea what to do with really forces you to a) sit down and think about what you’re cooking and how you’re cooking it, and b) get creative! I never once thought that roasting beets in basil pesto would be as delicious as it is, or that cooking ramen with bak choy and kale could make perhaps the cheapest noodle on the planet feel like a real meal!
Knowing how to cook is really important and really helpful for your wallet and your health!
For Your Health: Throw Some Vitamins My Way
Farm shares dole out fresh vegetables like it’s their job (which it is). You’re basically getting the food directly from the source, which means it’s not being stuffed in a cooler/freezer for two weeks, or traveling in the back of a semi for a day in the sweltering heat. It’s coming to you, from the field. This not only means that it tastes better and is packed with all the natural nutrients, but it also means that it’s going to last longer in your fridge!
Food you buy from the grocery store typically goes bad in about a week depending on the vegetable/fruit, not this stuff. I’ve had some leftover greens and scallions since my first week of the share (first week in June), that is just not finally starting to get a little iffy.
Some farms also grow their food organically (what what Huguenot Street!). So this is where it all comes together, depending on your farm, you’re getting locally grown, organic, fresh food for a hell of a lot cheaper than you would at ANY grocery store. And who doesn’t want to not ingest pesticides! Some farms may not be certified organic because of the cost of obtaining said certification, but they still grow their foods by organic standards, so don’t blow off a particular farm because they’re missing the USDA certification!
Community: Get Out and Meet ‘Em
Going to the farm itself is a really awesome experience. While you may not be touring the entirety of the fields and whatnot, simply going out to a community space and talking to and meeting people is also a really great advantage of partaking in CSA’s. Just today I randomly started talking to a woman while in line stocking up on lettuce, and out of nowhere she told me I could take her two heads of romaine because she had too many of her own in her garden!
First off, it’s rad that we got four heads of lettuce this week, but it also just blew me away that she was willing to just say, “Hey I just met you (and this is crazy, but here’s my number….sorry) and I don’t need this food so you can take my share.” That’s AWESOME. It’s also just really nice to get out and be around people! The U-pick is really great for that too. I had no idea what oregano looked like amongst an entire bed of herbs and weeds, so I simply asked someone next to me and bam! I had a buddy to pick herbs with for the next fifteen minutes! It’s also super fun to go to the farm WITH friends and go picking and whatnot.
Having all this food is also a great because you have can have buddies over for dinner, since you’ve got so much it won’t be a big deal to cook for a few others! Have them bring the things you don’t get through your share, like pasta or meat.
Promoting a sense of community within your community is a really rad concept and people should do it more often, and this is a great way to help.
No Farms, No Food: Support Your Local Farmers!
Supporting your local economy is important whether it’s a clothing boutique, restaurant, or farm. Farms are vital to communities such as the one I live in. In New Paltz for example, the entire fall season is a shit show in this town because of the ridiculous amount of out-of-towners who love to pick apples and pumpkins. Because people come here for those things, they then support other businesses and the whole town thrives.
In short, your local farmers are doing good work and they need your support because giant factory farms and agri-businesses are hurting them more now than ever! The way I look at it is that every dollar you spend, regardless of where, is considered a vote that you’re making, this is true for anything that you’re buying or any place that you’re shopping. Who do you want your dollar, your time, your energy to go to? A giant, perhaps even non-domestic, farm where workers are potentially underpaid and the food is being altered or “enhanced” or god knows what (this is what I would also refer to as “the man”)? Or to a hard-working family or group of people whose entire livelihood is based on the working of their farm, where you know the product is fresh, you know how it’s grown, you can ask questions, and you can form a relationship with your farmer?
I think that goes without question.
So, in short, go invest in a CSA. It’s perhaps one of the best things you can do this time of year!