Back in February, in “What’s an Eater to Do?”, I said I would write soon about my experiences as a CSA member (that’s community supported agriculture). But I’ve had this blog on a back burner for the past six months because of some changes in my life.
Opening our CSA box the other day and unpacking the bounty—melon, peaches, pears, figs, eggplant, summer squash, cucumbers, Asian yard-long beans, bell peppers—inspired me not just to get cooking but to get writing. If you like to cook and eat well, and if you care about supporting family-scale sustainable agriculture, in my opinion joining a CSA is one of the most positive steps you can take.
Until recently, Erik and I were members of Eatwell Farm, an organic farm in Dixon, about 60 miles from San Francisco. Each week I’d go to a community center in our San Francisco neighborhood and pick up a box loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables delivered straight from the farm.
But after two years of eating really well thanks to Nigel Walker and his crew at Eatwell, we regretfully cancelled our membership because we’re no longer living full-time in San Francisco. This spring we bought an old house on 20 acres in Arbuckle, 100 miles north of San Francisco in a rural part of the Sacramento Valley. The change was prompted in part by my craving to grow or produce much of the food we eat. We certainly don’t need 20 acres for that, but we found ourselves captivated by the possibilities of this place.
I love eating and cooking and growing food, and for 17 years I’ve been frustrated by the pathetic harvests from my tiny, shady city backyard: zucchini the size of pinkies, deformed apples, figs that never ripen, tomatoes gnawed by rats.
Eggs turned out to be my sole urban agriculture success. Our four chickens got fat and sassy and popped out hundreds of eggs in that cool, shady, sheltered backyard. They also got really loud. I will be forever grateful to our neighbors for putting up with sunrise squawks and post-laying cackles for nearly two years. Thank you Joanne, Carol, Bennie, Jaako, Lauren, Benoit and all our other neighbors within earshot.
Although Erik and I are still often in the city for work, the hens now live in the country full-time, along with three more chicks we got in June. As with the first flock, the new chicks came from www.mypetchicken.com, my favorite place to buy chicks if you only need a few and want to be able to select from a variety of interesting and rare breeds.
We won’t get around to planting a vegetable garden until next year, so earlier this year, as we started shifting our center of gravity from San Francisco to Arbuckle, I got to wondering where we were going to get farm-fresh food. The Arbuckle area is dominated by almond growing, and while I like almonds just fine, man and woman cannot live by nuts alone.
There was no need to worry, it turns out. Shortly after ending our Eatwell subscription, we joined Deborah Raven-Lindley and Ken Lindley’s Nevermore Farm, a CSA farm a quarter of a mile down the road from us. Back when we were getting Eatwell produce delivered from 60 miles away, I patted myself on the back for being on the locavore path. Well, unless you’re growing food yourself, you can’t get anymore locavorous than filling your plate with food grown on a farm you can see from your own house.
It turns out there’s yet another CSA farm within a mile of our place—Mary Fahey’s Wise Acre Farm. Besides running a CSA, Mary also helped start the Arbuckle Farmer’s Market that’s now wrapping up its second summer season. Two women-owned farms practicing small-scale sustainable agriculture in my own neighborhood! What incredible role models as I try to get my own much smaller scale ambitions off the ground.
If you’re still wondering what a CSA is or does, the basic idea is for eaters and farmers to benefit from direct farm-to-table connections. Members pay a subscription fee (it could be monthly, quarterly or seasonally) and in return get a share of the farm’s produce. The farmer gets a fair price and a reasonably stable market.
As Eatwell members, we paid about $25 a week (paid three months in advance) and picked up our box of produce weekly at a nearby community center. As Nevermore members, we pay $17 a week for a similar size box delivered to our kitchen door.
For a long time I resisted joining a CSA even though I talked it up as a great thing for other people to do. I’m something of a control freak in the kitchen (probably in other areas of my life too) and bristled at the idea of someone else dictating what I was going to cook.
But instead of making me feel restricted, it had the opposite effect: it released my creative juices. Rather than thinking about what I wanted to make and then going shopping to buy the ingredients, now my starting place is what’s in front of me—what’s in season now, what’s ripe today, what’s grown in this place. It may sound like a subtle difference but it has profoundly shifted my beliefs about what it means to eat well.
The harvest season is in full swing right now, so if you’ve been thinking about joining a CSA, there’s no better time to sign up. Local Harvest is a great resource for learning more about community-supported agriculture and finding a nearby CSA farm.