Recently I attended a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) event at Left Hand Brewing Co. here in Longmont, CO. (Yes, at a brewery, more on that later.)
Participating in a CSA program is the best way to get the freshest seasonal food. The local farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. In exchange, their customers get a box or bag of produce each week during the growing season. It’s a wonderful relationship with numerous benefits to the member as well as the farmer.
Nutrient Dense and Often Organic
As soon as produce is picked, its nutritional value starts to decline. A bunch of spinach, for instance, retains just over half of its folate after 8 refrigerated days. Assuming the produce you buy at the grocery store is harvested at its peak ripeness (not often,) it is usually trucked long distances in unrefrigerated trailers. By the time you put that organic red bell pepper in your basket, it may have lost much of its vitamin value.
Most small farms don’t have the luxury of large refrigerated containers, so the produce you get on your CSA pick up day is most often fresh from the field, picked early that morning.
The farmer may also be using better than average farming methods. At least two of the local farms at the event I attended, Ollin Farms and Aspen Moon Farm, practice the biodynamic farming method. A lot of time and attention is put into cultivating nutrient rich soil to ensure that the plants they are growing are the healthiest plants possible.
The result is nutrient dense produce – far better than conventionally grown – and better than much of the “organic” labeled produce at the grocery store.
Broadens Your Appreciation for Vegetables
Tired of eating the same vegetables over and over again? Joining a CSA will definitely broaden your palate. Ollin Farms, for instance, will be growing 200 varieties of 40 different vegetables this year. This is far more variety than is found in the typical supermarket.
You may also find that your children are more interested in eating vegetables when you join a CSA. Many of the farms offer market style CSA pickups, where you get to “shop” from available choices and fill your bag or box with colorful and infinitely more interesting varieties. Taking your child to the farm to pick out their food is fun and exciting.
Although produce is usually the focus of any CSA program, many farms offer “add-on” shares of eggs from happy, pastured chickens. (Sign up early, egg shares go fast!)
You’ll also find add-on fruit shares. Usually this is a result of a partnership with a farm farther away. Ollin Farms partners with Ela Farms, an organic fruit grower on the Western Slope, to provide peaches, pears, and apples to their members.
Organic, pastured meat, including pork and poultry, is available through many of these farms. Plowshares Community Farm, just down the road from me, raises Berkshire pigs. Their pigs “live outside with access to warm, straw filled shelters. They eat organic grains and can root, wallow, and run around like pigs should.” Their pork products include everything from bacon to bratwurst, and prices are not much higher than the meat from pigs kept in confined animal feeding operations sold at the grocery store.
Supports the Local Farmers
Farming is hard, 17-hour-a-day work with seasonal income. The CSA membership fees, paid early in the season, help farmers generate some much appreciated income before the growing season gets into full gear.
Joining their programs also helps them keep their farm thriving and growing delicious, nutrient dense food. Yes, you can buy organic produce at the grocery store, but the farmer that sells to the supermarket only gets paid a fraction of the sellable price of the food. I’d rather my hard earned dollars go directly to a local family in my community, and you may feel the same.
After visiting the farmers’ booths at the CSA event, my mom and I wrapped up our outing by sharing a flight of four refreshing beers at a table in the yard off the tasting room. It’s a family-style affair, with kids playing with toys in the gravel, and grown-ups enjoying some relaxing conversation over a cold brew in the early spring evening.
Colorado is home to over 230 breweries, with at least 4 located in tiny Longmont. So it’s not unusual to see a healthy lifestyle combined with a healthy appreciation for hand-crafted food, including beer. It was a great venue for the CSA Event.
Have you joined a CSA? Join the conversation over on Facebook.