Joining a CSA Can Be Good for the Body, Mind, and Family

My husband and I first joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program about 14 years ago. We shared a membership with friends and split the box of vegetables each week. It was the early days of CSAs in the Twin Cities, and the variety in the box was, well, not very various -- a three week stretch of nothing but bok choy pretty much ended our interest. But then, four years ago, circumstances conspired to bring us back into the CSA fold. Just when my husband and I were ready to reconsider, we visited some relatives in Madison and happened to be there when they received their CSA share from Harmony Valley Farm, located in Viroqua, WI.

Seeing the amazing array of vegetables (and even fruits) our relatives unpacked was tempting. Then, they sent us home with CSA literature and a giant head of cabbage -- not something we would have bought for ourselves. We felt obliged to eat the cabbage, seeing as it was a gift (if you’ve read my previous posts here at SGT, you will not be surprised to hear I made a curry). It was fantastic. When Seward Co-op had its CSA Fair the next spring, I was ready to go CSA shopping.

I collected a lot of literature and researched many web sites. I looked at price, frequency of delivery, past variety of crops (most CSAs archive their newsletters online and you can browse back through to see what you might expect in June or October), and other options available. Some CSAs give you the opportunity to get an occasional share of meat, eggs, or flowers too -- friends in Portland even belong to a mushroom CSA! Ultimately, my husband and I chose Harmony Valley. We had our relatives’ testimonial (they’ve been members for several years) and the experience of having seen their box. Plus, Harmony Valley offered a flexible plan that was a good fit for our summer schedule, and the option of a coffee share, fruit share, and/or cheese share. The first year we did a trial period cheese share in addition to the vegetable share. The next year we added the coffee share (and confronted the startling amount of coffee we drink). If we still lived in the delivery area, we would have added a fruit share this year.

One reason I joined the CSA was to bring vegetables we didn’t usually eat or had never tried to our table. If you are a parent, or if you know a parent, you know that getting kids to try new foods can require intense negotiation skills. We wanted to show our daughter that we were also willing to try new foods, that a new vegetable is an adventure, not a horror movie. The appearance of hon tsai tai, red amaranth leaves, kohlrabi, and garlic scapes in our CSA box accomplished this. Often, Cora and I would go together to pick up our box of vegetables (when was the last time you stepped into someone’s garage and exclaimed over how great it smelled? I did it every CSA week), and she would help me unpack the box into our canvas bags. I noticed that while Cora might not eat a stir-fry of mixed greens, she would eagerly taste the greens as they came out of the box, along with the carrots, radishes, cabbages, and basil.

While we might have passed hon tsai tai by while grocery shopping, thinking that we didn’t really need more greens, having a double-fistful in the fridge forced us to try it. Trying it, we discovered that a bowlful of brown rice and ginger-garlic stir-fried greens -- especially eaten on the patio on a cool spring evening -- is a recipe for happiness. (Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone was a big help too -- there are lots of recipes in there for new-to-us vegetables.)

Here in Grand Forks, there are fewer CSA options. In fact, I have heard there are two, but have only been able to find information on one. We’ve joined that CSA, Red Goose Gardens, because we want a local connection to at least some of our food, because I like introducing an element of chance into the menu planning, and because I want Cora to understand how foods and seasons relate to each other.

We are now renters again, and I know in the spring I will miss our planting beds. I‘m drawing plans for a narrow, tall table that can hold a windowsill garden, and thinking about the possibility of growing a small crop of radishes in a pot. I’m #5 on the waiting list for a community garden plot. In the meantime, we will have our CSA share.

I am proud to watch my daughter skip through the produce bins at Amazing Grains Co-op here in Grand Forks shouting, “I love turnips and rutabagas!” I love to hear her shrieking with delight, “They have Brussels sprouts! Can we get some? Please? Please?” Never mind that when it came down to it she only ate one sprout. The fact that she recognizes them and is excited about them is a good start. Our CSA share is part of the master plan, and it seems to be working.

 Merie Kirby grew up in California, moved to Minneapolis for grad school, and after getting her MFA stayed for fifteen more years. She now lives in Grand Forks, ND with her husband and daughter. Merie writes poetry and essays, as well as texts in collaboration with composers. She also writes about cooking, reading, parenting, and creating on her own blog, All Cheese Dinner. Her most recurrent dream is of making cookies with her mother. This is an excellent dream. Merie's last piece for Simple, Good, and Tasty was Commit to Home Cooking -- and Try These Wontons!