Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why CSA? How You can Help Make the World Better, One Bag of Produce at a Time

Farm Update

Fred seeding onions in the greenhouse
on Thursday.
It seems that spring is coming!  This weekend has been gorgeous, so naturally, we’ve hit the ground running on farm tasks for the upcoming season.  We finished pruning the blueberries last week, which was a huge job!  This week we seeded onions, shallots, and leeks in the greenhouse.  Fred is also currently bringing the metal framing from the new coldframes over to the farm so we can start setting them up.  He also picked up the piping for our new irrigation system yesterday.  Our overwintered spinach is growing pretty quickly because of the warmth and sunlight we’ve had, and our recently seeded microgreens are also coming up quickly!  We might even be able to offer some to some of our restaurant partners next week.  Another big thing we’re doing this time of year is spreading the word about the CSA!  We’re planting enough to support 300 half shares, so if you know of anyone who might be interested in joining, we would so appreciate it if you could let them know about us!  Now that the weather is starting to turn, we are really fired up to get back outside and start a new season!  

Truth be told, after the rough season last year, I was a little weary of farming.  It lingered in the back of my mind (and sometimes the front) that surely there was something else we could be doing that would simultaneously be a lot easier and a lot more lucrative.  But after thinking back to why we started the farm in the first place (and after a little rest from the rigors of the season), I realized how proud I am to be doing this.  When I stop to think about it, I realized how valuable what we are doing is to our family, our community, and the environment.  So now I can’t wait to get out there and do it again for another year!  And thank so much to all of you for supporting us in our endeavors!

Why CSA?  
How You can Help Make the World Better, One Bag of Produce at a Time

Here's an old throwback!  This is a
picture of Fred in the field during
our first farm season.
Six years ago when we started the farm, Community Supported Agriculture was still a relatively new concept here in mid-Michigan.  Although it had been prevalent on both coasts for a few decades and was making its way slowly into the interior of the country, the term “CSA” wasn’t in the average person’s lexicon like it is now.  These days, a magazine can note that a particular recipe is a great way to use the produce in a reader’s CSA basket, and expect that most readers will know what they’re talking about.  And when I mention that I am a CSA farmer, most people know what that means, or at least think they do, or have at least heard the phrase.   Six years ago though, that wasn’t the case.  When we moved back to Fred’s hometown of Alma to start our farm, it was a pretty new concept to virtually everyone we knew, and I just ran on the assumption that people I talked to had no prior knowledge of the CSA concept.  Around that time, I created a flyer to place in local businesses, co-ops, coffee shops, and pretty much anywhere where they would let me hang stuff on their bulletin boards.  The flyer explained how our program worked, as well as how CSA contributes to the sustainability of our health, our environment, and our local communities.  It’s been a while since I’ve been really intentional about helping educate people about the benefits of CSA programs, but this type of education is just as relevant as it was a few years ago, maybe even more so as people’s options for organic produce have increased.  So here’s my original list of the virtues of CSA, and some thoughts on why they are each so important!

Knowing the people who grow your food:  In decades past, it was just assumed that you would walk into the grocery store and put food in your cart without ever thinking about where it came from.  If you did stop to think about it, you probably figured that things of a produce nature were probably from California.  But being able to actually talk to the people who grew your food, learn about their growing methods, and find out how and when it was harvested, allows you to be really assured that you are supporting the practices that are important to you.  You just can’t get that at a big grocery store, even if you are buying organic.

Supporting the local community:  How cool is it that you can use your food dollars to help someone in your own community?  When you get food at the grocery store, that money goes to some headquarters somewhere far away.  But when you spend your food dollars in a CSA or farmer’s market, your money is going to a farm family, so it’s more likely to continue circulating around the local community.  It might make its way to the piano teacher, the hardware store, and the corner bakery.  So by getting your food locally, you are helping keep your local economy strong.

Getting vegetables at their freshest:  The average distance food travels from where it is produced to where you purchase it is 1500 miles.  That means that from the time it was harvested, taken from the farm to the distribution center, and spent a few days in transit across the country, it’s often a week old by the time you buy it in the store.  It’s no wonder it starts going bad in your fridge after a few days!  But when you get your produce through a local CSA or farmer’s market, it’s usually been harvested earlier that same day, or maybe the day before.  So it will stay a lot nicer a lot longer in your fridge, which means you have less waste.

Eating food without synthetic chemicals:  By now the detrimental health effects of excessive chemicals in food have been well documented, and most people know that organic is better for them.  By joining a CSA, you are way more likely to get food with fewer chemicals.  Even if your CSA isn’t certified organic (Ours is!  Yay!!!), many CSA farmers still use entirely or mostly organic practices.  So even if you don’t have a certified organic CSA in your area, you’re still probably getting less chemical residue than you would be getting on non-organic veggies from the store.

Here we are at the first Midland
drop-off of 2016, with a spread of
seasonal June produce.
Eating seasonally:  One of my favorite things about being a farmer is eating seasonally.  Eating foods at their peak season from your own region means that they are going to have some of the best flavor and texture you’ll ever experience from that food.  Most of us don’t even realize that the produce we’re eating out of season is inferior because we’ve never eaten a home-grown tomato in August or some perfect June strawberries.  But the amazing quality of fruits and veggies in their own season speaks for itself.  And when you sit down to red beets and butternut squash in October, there’s a kind of sentimental beauty in knowing that that’s exactly what centuries of people before you have done at the same time each year.  At least there is for me.  It’s possible I’m just a nerd.

Recipes and ideas for using your vegetables:  When you get your food directly from the person who grew it, you can pick their brain for recipe ideas!  Aside from being a phenomenal cook, Fred is a treasure trove of great food ideas.  So when you’re wondering, “What can I do with lettuce besides salads?” or “What’s that green thing that looks like it’s from outer space?”, your farmer is going to be an expert. J

Supporting environmentally friendly farming:  Conventional farm production systems often have a significant damaging effect on the soil and waterways in the surrounding area.  Overuse of synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides tends to leach nutrients from the soil and diminish its natural organic matter, which leads to erosion.  It also damages the beneficial insect and microbial life in the soil, leading to an essentially dead soil.  There is also significant damage to local water sources from chemical run-off, which can make the water inhospitable for the fish and other animals that live there, and create out-of-control algae blooms.  When you get your food from a CSA or farmer’s market, you are supporting responsible and sustainable farming practices, which take care of the soil and water in the surrounding environment.

A discount to buying the items separately from a health food store or farmer’s market:  That was the original wording six years ago before the proliferation of organic produce in your average grocery store, but I would definitely add “grocery store” into the group above.  When you take a look at organic produce at Walmart or Meijer, you’ll notice that it costs significantly more than conventional produce.  That’s because it costs a lot more to produce food in a synthetic chemical free, environmentally responsible way.  But when you get your food from a local farmer, you can get a great price for your organic produce.  That’s because while it costs as much for us to produce food organically as it does for the larger growers who sell their products to the grocery store, you’re not paying for the cost of shipping the produce across the country and the markup that the store has to add to make money.  The cost per week for a half share in our CSA is $15, and you get seven or eight different veggies for that price.  That shakes out to $2-ish per item, which is way cheaper than you would see at the grocery store, health food store, or farmer’s market.  The reason we give CSA members such a good price is that we so appreciate you supporting our farm long-term!  You invest in our farm early in the season long before you see the first veggies coming out of the field, which allows us to have the capital we need to fix equipment, buy seed, and make infrastructure improvements for the coming season.  We couldn’t do it without you, and we are so thankful to our CSA members for supporting our farm and the sustainable practices we seek to promote!


Winter Spinach Salad with Apples,
Feta, and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Although there still isn't anything coming out of the fields right now, we are just on the edge of when the overwintered spinach starts showing up in co-ops and farm-to-table restaurants.  And when that happens, you're going to want a good recipe.  So maybe hold this one in your back pocket for a few weeks until you can get your hands on some of that hardy, wrinkly, dark green winter spinach goodness!

Winter Spinach Salad with Apples, Feta, and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette:  The perfect spinach salad for those days when the weather hovers between warm and cold.  Hearty enough for winter, but celebratory of the spring warmth we know is coming!  Also, check out an ode to winter spinach by the recipe's author, Dani Lind, here