My new life as a CSA agent

"The impersonal hand of government can never replace the helping hand of a neighbor" ~Hubert H. Humphrey

When I moved to eastern NC I was excited to find out that our small town had a weekly farmer’s market.  Armed with a reusable tote and ready for a plethora of fresh produce, DH and I walked downtown to see what our quaint new town had to offer.  As we approached the market we saw a small collection of 4 stands, and looked around to see if we were missing something, both equally perplexed.  We thought to ourselves, “Is this it? No…there has to be more.”  But that was it…welcome to rural NC.  Despite its meager appearance, we were able to find just what we needed, a few ears of sweet corn, red potatoes, and green beans.  We visited the farmer’s market a few times through the Summer and into Fall as our schedule permitted, and each time left with some type of delicious local produce.  Walking to the farmers market and purchasing local goods made me feel more connected to my new community, and I liked being able to make a contribution, albeit small, to our neighboring NC farmers.

Fast forward 6 months, and I was eagerly awaiting the return of our little farmer’s market, which took a hiatus during the Winter.   There is something so satisfying about supporting local farmers that makes the food taste even sweeter, and I was getting hungry to feel that again.  Just when I thought I would have to wait ’til well into Spring, a friend told me about our local CSA.  I had no idea what a CSA was, but learned quickly that it stood for Community Supported Agriculture.  I immediately loved the idea and wanted to learn more.

Apparently CSA programs were the brain child of some German, Swiss and Japanese (perhaps…there are conflicting reports of origins in Japan) progressive-hippies in the 1960’s, who fashioned their program after the economic ideas of Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner.  In the mid-80’s, CSA programs sprouted up in the US at two small New England farms (Indian Line Farm in Massachusetts and the Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire).  Over the past 30 years, CSA programs have increased in size and number and established themselves as integral parts of communities across America.

The basic design of a CSA seems fairly straight forward.  In general terms, the farmers, organizers and consumers agree on a seasonal budget/payment plan, and as the seasons progress they all share in the “risk and reward” of whatever is produced.  In theory, and often times in reality, this design minimizes costs, time, and labor, and maximizes the farmer’s ability to focus on and improve the quality of his/her product.  Many programs offer a variety of distribution options, ranging from pick-up to home delivery on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.  Consumers may also order predetermined weekly boxes of produce if they choose not to purchase the seasonal package.  While this fundamental design is in place to guide the organization of these programs, CSA programs also have the freedom and flexibility to evolve into something that fits a specific community while still achieving a common goal.

So, after collecting minimal but very convincing data, I am now a self-proclaimed CSA “agent” in my community.  I have completed my first assignment by joining the eastern NC CSA, Locavore Market.  For ~$20 per delivery, I will receive local NC produce, meats, dairy, nuts, etc. from late March through early June…delivered to my doorstep!  How awesome is that?!  I have already tested the waters by purchasing a weekly box of local produce, which included baby bok choy, collards, sweet potatoes, cabbage, and baby tatsoi.  I have to say that the purchasing and pick-up processes were seamless and the produce I received was of high quality!  I am thrilled at the thought that I will not only be forced to experiment with and try new and very fresh foods, but that I will also be making a positive contribution to my local farming community.  Sounds like a no-brainer to me!  While I am still pretty “green” in my experience with CSA programs, I feel confident predicting that the rewards will by far outweigh the risks, particularly when I think about the positive ripple effect that this type of program can have on surrounding communities.

To find out more about CSA programs in your area and get involved, please visit Local Harvest.  Also, stay tuned for additional CSA blogs, which will be sure to chronicle the many successes and defeats I will experience in my kitchen with these new and healthy  ingredients!

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February 28, 2011. Tags: , , , , . Food.

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