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Bringing Home the Veggies

You’re all ready to buy local and eat local, but where to start. Have you ever considered a CSA?

It might sound like a new financial or insurance product, but rest assured, this acronym is all about fresh food grown or raised right near your neighborhood.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and takes the form of food shares from farms in your area who agree to sell a portion of their seasonal crops directly to you for a set cost over a period of time (usually 2-4 months).

These boxes or shares of the farm’s produce or meat are often delivered weekly to your doorstep or to your local farmers’ market for you to pick up and enjoy.

The Benefits of the Three “Es”

By participating in a CSA, you get a chance to eat fresh produce (often picked that week) and support a local business.

“You will be surprised to find that you’ll enjoy foods from your local farm that you might not necessarily have tried or enjoyed before,” says Charlotte Clark, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Sustainability at the Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University.

Her new favorites from her local CSA now include turnips, okra, and ramps. “It all tastes different when it’s fresh.”

Beyond the benefits of better tasting food, says Clark, you support sustainability efforts in your community across three components, often called the three “Es:” environment, economy, and equity.

1. Environment: often the farmers who participate in CSA use completely organic farming practices, like Herbie Cottle, owner of Cottle Organics in Rose Hill, North Carolina. Cottle has been providing a CSA for the last five years in partnership with a friend who runs an organic gardening store. The retail location serves as the pick-up spot for the food shares.

By not using man-made, inorganic fertilizer, farms like Cottle’s help fight the production of excess greenhouse gases, a leading cause of climate change issues. And it helps preserve soil and water quality. So you can feel good know that the carrot you’re enjoying is as healthy for you as is it for the planet.

2. Economy: CSAs put money right back into your community when you invest in local businesses.

For the farm, there’s a tangible benefit as well. “It allows us to diversify our customer base,” says Cottle, who also partners with restaurants in the Wilmington area and a few different grocery stores.

Farms like Cottle’s are in jeopardy for a number of reasons beyond the fickle whims of Mother Nature. The average age of farmers continues to rise—it’s currently 57, according to Start2Farm, a website and resource from the USDA.

In fact, most farms have to rely on off-farm income to survive regardless of how well their crops come in. Just 17% of beginning farms (10 years old or less) earned more than $25,000 in a year, according to Start2Farm, compared to 34% of established farms.

Since farms like Cottles are the source of some of the best food available, it pays in more ways than one to go local.

3. Equity: many CSA businesses are as concerned about the people who work on the farm as they are about the crops grown or animals raised. Fair labor practices mean better pay, living conditions, and other resources for the laborers who are bringing the food to your table.

Let’s Dig In

“Many of us don’t know where our food comes from, or how difficult it is to get it to us,” says Clark. “But buying from a CSA shows a natural appreciation for all the work our local farmers do to get us our food.”

Choosing produce grown in your county or area is one that you have complete control over multiple times a day, a nice change of pace compared to other often chaotic aspects of our lives.  “There’s a connection to what people do in your world to bring you this essential thing that you do every day, which is to eat,” explains Clark.

Great Web Resources

Ready to find nearby farms? These handy sites will get you started.

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