Thursday, January 7, 2010

Joining a CSA

I've talked to so many people about the great experience we had with our CSA this past season, and thought it would be worth it to write it all down in a blog post so everyone could learn in detail what we did and how we liked it.

As some background, we've been using Door-to-Door Organics for a little over 18 months. I heard about them through word-of-mouth, and they deliver various size boxes of produce (fruit, veggies, or a mix) to your doorstep once a week. It has been really a fun experience, and made having fresh produce even easier than going to the grocery store (especially because we don't really have specialty organic store around here, soon though!).

In April of 2009, I started to hear the "buzz" about joining a CSA. A CSA stands for "Community Supported Agriculture". It is a way to support a local farm and enjoy fresh, local and often organic produce for the season that the farm is producing. You buy a "share" of produce (all CSA's are different in what they offer), and in return you get a variety of the current bounty from the farm on a (usually) weekly basis.

We got a booklet in the mail, I honestly can't remember who wrote it, but it had a HUGE list of CSA's, farmer's markets, local meat producers, everything agricultural in Colorado. I poured over that booklet for weeks, researching on the internet, talking to friends, talking with my husband, just seeing what would be a good fit for us. My sister had mentioned joining a CSA also, so I looked further into it, knowing that we'd likely be able to split a "share".

After lots of research, I decided to buy a share at Grant Family Farms in Wellington, CO. Okay, so Wellington is pretty far north of us, but it is still local, and a LOT more local than buying produce from out of the USA or even from California. If you buy at Whole Foods, you may even have bought Grant Family Farms produce, as they sell to many of the Whole Foods in the state, and even to a lot of the local restaurants (they have a restaurant list on their site).

We purchased a "Family Share" for the entire 26 week season. This share is the largest they offer, and includes only vegetables. The variety of veggies would vary depending on what was ripe when they packed your boxes each week. We also added a "Single Fruit Share" which was 22 weeks of local fruit. Some of the fruit comes from Grant Farms, but most is obtained from other small, local farms around the state (like Ela Family Farms...we used to buy their applesauce at Whole Foods!). I called when buying the share and was able to split the payment of the shares into three payments over the course of the season. They're really nice about helping you out. All of their fruit and vegetables are certified organic.

There are many other share sizes, from small to single shares, even working shares, where you can work on the farm as a way to pay for part of your share. They very clearly detail the options on their website.

There are dozens of "pick-up" locations, so we were able to choose one that is only about 5 minutes from our house (just a few blocks past the local grocery store!). We were able to pick up our veggies and fruit each Wednesday from 3-6pm. (Other locations had different pick-up days, but all the times would work for those who work full-time!).

Each Monday afternoon, I'd receive a wonderful email in my inbox. There was a great note about what was going on at the farm that week, and a description of what to expect in the boxes that week (of course, it could vary depending on what was ready to be harvested). The boxes are picked the day before you pick them up, so really you can't get any fresher. Also in the email would be facts about maybe some strange veggie that we'd be receiving that week (kohlrabi anyone?), and recipes. Often there would be two recipes that utilized the veggies we were expecting. And they'd even include interesting articles that related to earth-minded people.

I printed out each email and kept it in a binder so by the end of the 26-week season I had almost a cookbook full of recipes along with descriptions of veggies, how to ripen various fruits, and how best to store all of my produce.

Every Wednesday, around 5 pm, I'd drive over to my pick-up location. I'd bring four or so reusable bags with me. The family share bin was HUGE. I'd sign the check-in binder, and open my bin of produce. We had so many different kinds of veggies, I don't know if I could list them all. A month after we started the veggie share, we started getting fruit, so I'd pick up our single fruit share during this time too. I'd put everything into my reusable bags and leave the bin there, to come back to a full one next week.

One of the early pick-ups in mid-June. (See the strawberries? They were the best I'd ever eaten)

Sometimes, the amount of veggies, the amount of green stuff, the amount of apples was unbelievably overwhelming. But my husband said it perfectly when I told him I had 56 apples to do something with, and he said, "I welcome the challenge". It was a challenge. I spent more time in the kitchen than I could remember spending in recent years (and I cook dinner 5 nights a week).

When I was cooking a meal, I'd have to add on usually an extra 40-60 minutes for prepping veggies, something I wasn't used to, but became much easier with practice. I experimented with vegetables I'd never eaten or even heard of in my life. We made kale chips, brownies with beets (they were good), mashed kohlrabi, and more. Thankfully, my children are adventurous eaters, so they would always try what we had planned.

The HUGE summer squash that was larger than my first born son at birth.

In the first half of the season, it was a LOT of greens. Large bunches of romaine and red leaf lettuce every week, plus kale and chard. In the middle of the season, we were overwhelmed with corn. Thankfully we like corn, but we were getting about a dozen ears a week (and organic corn can have worms, which scared the bejezus out of me the first time!). It was good, just a LOT. Sometimes (I hate to say it, but it's true), we didn't eat everything. Even splitting it with my sister for the first half of the season, it was a lot. But it was always wonderful, and if there was something we really didn't care for (like cilantro), we knew others who would use it and we were happy to share the bounty.

One thing to note that this was a very bountiful year for Grant Farms. They told us that not all years are as plentiful as this, and some CSA's were hit by horrible hail and had to suspend delivery for a time because they didn't have enough to fill boxes. This is the risk with a CSA. If nature doesn't cooperate, you may see a slim picking of produce.

I think the only problem we had the whole season was with the tomatoes. If I recall correctly, they picked them too ripe and they didn't do well while waiting to be packed. They were all very mushy and no longer good when we got them. But that was only one week.

The fruit. OH MY GOODNESS the fruit. Unfortunately, apricots and nectarines didn't make it to the share this year due to an early freeze (the risk of joining a CSA), but we ate the most unbelievably delicious cherries, peaches, pears, plums, apples, melons, watermelons and more. I baked a lot of it, but often we'd eat it all up before I had a chance to bake anything.

A pick-up from late September.

Even as the snow came in, we still had delicious produce to pick up. Our pantry was bare, no processed foods came into our house all season. Instead we bought local meat (sorry, we love beef), and made dinner every night with our CSA bounty. It was healthy, tasty, organic and a culinary challenge. Some things didn't always turn out for the best, but 99% of the time, we had a fantastic meal, with rave reviews from all family members.

We also got many "perks" throughout the season. We would get a half-dozen eggs to try their wonderful egg share (they were SO good), or a small pint of raspberries or strawberries tucked in the box. A HUGE summer squash (along with a good recipe for using it). When they were promoting their fall festival, we received a bottle of local beer, along with free-tickets to the festival. During the fall, we got pie pumpkins, many decorative gourds, and a taste of the most wonderful bread they'll be offering as a share next season. As winter approached, we received a bottle of wine and a beautiful hand-tied pine bough wreath, made with pine boughs from the farm. (Oh, and I even got a credit for referring someone to the CSA!)

One of the last pick-ups in late November - still a HUGE bounty!

I visited the grocery store maybe once a month (if that - I started to notice because I never earned enough to get my $0.10 discount on gas, haha!). I'd get some pasta or meat, and maybe a few grains. But I was so inspired by the need to put more prep time into the meal, that I started baking our own bread too. We get our milk delivered, so I didn't need to rush to the grocery for that.

Sadly, the season turned cold, and the crops were done. Grant Farms does offer a monthly, winter share, but we chose to forgo the winter crops and wait until the summer. We miss it dearly though. They were right when they said we'd have "culture shock" having to shop in a supermarket produce section again. I missed just knowing that I was eating local, organic, fresh produce, instead of having to pour over labels and find out what I was eating, where it was from, and has it been sprayed or treated with something? It was really hard for both my husband and I to buy produce at a supermarket again.

We can not wait until the season starts again in June 2010. In addition to veggies and fruit, Grant Farms offers SO many other options. They have an egg share, which we are definitely going to purchase next year. In addition, they are now offering, bread, baguette and pastry shares. All are made with local, organic ingredients (even local wheat from Grant Farms) and baked the morning the share is delivered to the pick-up location.

They also have meat: duck, chicken, turkeys, lamb and goat all available for purchase. All are raised right on the farm without antibiotics. (Not all is certified organic yet, but they give details about that on their site). You can even get your Thanksgiving turkey from them!

So that's it. We're beyond pleased with the amount and quality of produce we received as well as the amazing communication from the farm. I felt such a part of an important local business, and am so happy with everything it did to raise my ecological awareness. We're counting the days until the share starts up again, and wondering exactly which bread and pastry shares we're going to get this year!


Chayla said...

Laura, thank you for posting this!! I have been so torn about joining a CSA. Your produce looks so yummy!!!

Shana said...

thanks for this. We are so excited to be a part of this this year. I'm glad to hear they can split it up in payments! I'm going to call them soon. I am taking canning classes with a friend and we will be splitting a fruit share to can. Let me know if you want to take the class with us. :)

Erika said...

Wow, Laura, that sounds amazing!! I'm definitely going to look into it as I really prefer local and organic. I did the Farmer's Markets over the summer, but the choices seemed limited as there seemed to be more people trying to see Tupperware than produce!!

Anonymous said...

Guess What!?!? Temple Sinai is now participating in the Grant Farms CSA!! I'm SO excited!!