It’s funny how our eating patterns tend to change with the seasons isn’t it? In the colder fall and winter months, we tend to gravitate toward rich, hearty comfort foods that seem to warm our souls as well as our bodies. Things like soups, stews, and plump roasts with starchy tubers and root veggies. In the warm spring and summer months our focus tends to be on lighter fare. Meals composed of fresh salads and other veggies served with a sensible portion of protein tend to predominate.
My favorite season in general is fall, but when it comes to food I don’t discriminate. I’m an equal opportunity eater. But one thing I definitely love about the summer eating season is the reemergence of our CSA boxes.
CSA stands for community sponsored/supported agriculture. Here’s how it works in a nutshell: You pay a fee directly to the farm for the entire growing season. In return, the farm divides weekly shares of produce between you and every other member of their CSA program.
Here are 5 of my favorite things about CSAs.
You are supporting your local farmer.
Our food supply is becoming more and more centralized. Large conglomerations are manufacturing food items that make their way across the world just as easily as they do to your kitchen pantry. Not only is the quality of our food plummeting, but mass manufacturing results in enticingly low price points as well. But remember, even if you pay less for junk, it’s still junk.
Remember the days of the corner hardware store? If you needed an odd bolt or unique fastener, your local tool expert was sure to dig it up for you. Now if you can’t find it at Lowe’s or Home Depot where do you go? Many family farms are finding it harder and harder to compete with Big Food. For that reason, CSA programs are a win/win. Your money helps to support the farm’s operations and you get top quality food in return. Which brings me the second reason I love CSAs…
The food is about as fresh as it gets.
Next to walking out into your own yard and picking food fresh from your garden, produce from a CSA is about as freshly harvested as you can get. A weekly email precedes our box and keeps us updated as to what is growing in the fields, what is ready to be picked, and what items to expect in our upcoming box. You know that what you are getting is the epitome of fresh, and everything about it says so – the texture, the smell, the color, the flavor.
That shiny organic produce you buy in the chain stores was most likely shipped across the country, or across several countries, before landing in your cart. Maintaining the highest nutrient content in harvested produce is a race against the clock. The faster you can consume your veggies after picking them, the better. Put locally raised, freshly harvested produce next to the store bought stuff, and there’s no comparison.
You get items you wouldn’t normally think to buy.
We all tend to be creatures of habit. Mealtime is no exception. Most of us tend to stick to a handful of staples when it comes to creating meals. Sure you can prepare broccoli 10 different ways, but in the end it’s still broccoli. So while it might taste slightly different depending on how you make it, the nutrient profile is still the same.
There isn’t a veggie out there that I don’t like, but that doesn’t mean that I always have a wide variety on hand. Sometimes I don’t like the quality of what I find in the store, and sometimes I just don’t think to expand my list. But I’m assured to get a variety of veggies in my CSA box that just don’t seem to find their way into my kitchen otherwise. My first box of this season, for example, had chard and rhubarb in it. I do pick up greens like bok choy, napa cabbage, and Swiss chard. But rhubarb isn’t something I would normally buy. In the coming months we’ll see things like pea shoots, garlic scapes, and squash blossoms. Beets come whole, tops and all. Beet greens have become one of my favorite veggies sauteed with some garlic and oil.
Nutritionists like to tell you to eat the rainbow, meaning that you should incorporate as many different colors of produce into your diet as possible. When you are eating from a CSA box you are almost assured of doing so.
It’s super convenient.
If you have aspirations of sticking with any healthy habit, it has to be simple and convenient. There are a couple things in particular that I find super easy about our CSA.
First, payments are made in installations consisting of an initial downpayment, and then 2 additional payments throughout the growing season. Not only does this eliminate the concern of paying for veggies week after week, but it also saves a ton of time compared to a typical transaction in the store. Just swing by your pick-up site, grab your veggies, and you’re on your way.
Secondly, you can’t store fresh produce like you do protein. It’s easy to stock up the freezer with chicken, beef, or fish. Have you ever tried to freeze a head of lettuce? It’s not pretty. Sure you can buy frozen veggies, but if you want the freshest of the fresh, it has to be grabbed and used up pretty quickly. A CSA is the perfect solution. You could attempt to hit the grocery store that often, but do you know what a crap shoot that is? Sometimes I don’t know if I’m shopping a produce display or a compost pile.
You are eating in season.
Remember when I said earlier that we tend to gravitate toward different foods depending on the season? That’s by design. Not only is in-season food more appealing from a flavor standpoint, but it just so happens to be higher in nutrient content than food eaten out of season. When food is in season in your local area, it’s transport time is significantly reduced, which means less time for degradation of its nutrient profile.
In addition, eating in season helps us get the best balance of macro and micro nutrients for that time of year. Summer fruits and melons are high in essential minerals, antioxidants, and water content, all of which are essential to combat the stresses of warmer weather. Fall brings an abundance of gourds, apples, and tubers. These items were traditionally stored during the cold winter months and their high starch content made a big contribution to winter sustenance. Of course we don’t face the dangers of winter starvation that our ancestors did, but from a nutritional standpoint we can still benefit from their wisdom.
Interested in joining a CSA? You can find more information here, including each farm’s drop site closest to your location.
Be Your Best,