The Thing About CSAs
That weekly produce box is awesome…until it's not.
I joined my first community-supported agriculture (CSA) program about a decade ago, not long after my husband, David, and I bought our first home in Woodland, California. The allure of financially supporting a small farm and getting a weekly box of freshly harvested goodies in return was too exciting to resist.
The CSA concept appeals to me on many levels. My inner fruit-tree-hugging hippie loves that many CSA farms use organic growing practices. As a vegetarian, I welcome the abundance of fresh produce, and my frugal side appreciates that CSA boxes usually give you a pretty good bang for your buck. By patronizing a small farm, I’m also eating seasonally. And as a card-carrying environmentalist, I love being able to call myself a locavore.
My husband is in the military, so we’ve moved a few times. I’ve been a member of more than half a dozen CSAs in multiple states—from southern California, where pretty much all CSAs operate year-round due to temperate growing conditions, to Illinois, where Midwestern snow and springtime rain meant that I was lucky to find a farm that had an autumn harvest.
Now that we’re in Virginia, CSA membership has yielded another unanticipated benefit: relief from cabin fever. Our second baby was born in April 2017, and that first summer as a mom of two was crazy. Going to church and then stopping by our CSA farm—Potomac Vegetable Farms in Vienna—for our weekly pickup became a Sunday ritual. It was one of the few things that got me out of the house regularly.
Overall, I’ve had pretty good experiences with CSA co-ops. They have introduced me to fruits and vegetables I might never have tried: fennel, kohlrabi, passion fruit, sunchokes, jujubes (a variety of date from Asia, not the candy!) and yacon tubers, a crunchy root vegetable originating from South America.
CSAs brought bok choy to my kitchen, taught me that eggplant is delicious and helped me cultivate a love of kale. One delivery prompted me to learn how to efficiently cut and eat a pomegranate. I can now recognize mulberries at the farmers market, having received them in one of my boxes.
I still remember the first time I ever set foot on a working farm. Years ago, before we had kids of our own, David and I took our nieces to tour our CSA farm in central California. I’ll never forget the look of wonder on the girls’ faces when they encountered the resident turkeys, chickens and peacocks up close.That was probably my first taste of figs fresh from the tree.