Community Supported Agriculture or CSAs have become increasingly common over the last few years. Sign up for our local CSAs is happening now. The idea is that you pay upfront for a weekly share of local, farm-fresh vegetables. But Community Supported Agriculture is more than that. Choosing to participate in one is not just a matter of figuring you’ll pay “this price for these goods.” CSAs support local farmers by helping mitigate the risks they face, and first among those risks is bad weather. Anyone who participated in a CSA last year can tell you that.
Many farmers lost most of their crops last year. Some were put out of business entirely. Deliveries at my CSA ceased early, after a flurry of heartbreaking reports of freak hailstorms and flooding from the farm. It really showed the degree to which small farmers are at the mercy of the elements.
Beyond awareness of the weather, participating in a CSA puts you in touch with the local growing season in a way that’s just not possible shopping in a supermarket. We get so used to seeing the same trucked in vegetables available year round that it’s easy to forget each crop here in the Northeast has its season. And you’ll be eating a lot of whatever is in season until the next crop comes in, then you’ll be eating a lot of that. Which is how everyone used to eat.
First come greens, then radishes. By the time you see tomatoes you’ll have eaten plenty of summer squashes, and you’ll be working hard to come up with new things to do with them. You’ll probably see a mountain of pole beans as well. By the time the winter squashes arrive, there ought to be more greens and radishes. Of course a big advantage of getting such fresh vegetables is that they don’t require elaborate preparation to be tasty. Great ingredients can stand on their own.
Then there’s the sense of community that comes with CSA participation. You get to know some of your neighbors a little better. I found myself trading recipes with people I’d just met. People tend to be very friendly when they’re picking up fresh vegetables; it’s a pleasant experience. And if you’re going to miss a week you can arrange for a friend to pick up your share. Your friend will appreciate it.
There are plenty of reasons to participate in a CSA. It’s lovely to get fresh local vegetables every week. It’s fun to figure out new things to do with some of the more exotic or abundant ones. Eating seasonally is hard to argue with, too. And it feels good to know you’re part of a community supporting a local farmer.
When the weather cooperates it’s also a good deal. But CSAs aren’t meant to be a deal, and some years your biggest reward for participating will be the knowledge that you made a tough year a little bit easier for a local farm. That and some of the freshest veggies around, of course.
JP Bowersock is a professional musician and music producer who has toured the world repeatedly, eating at top restaurants and hole-in-the-wall joints. He is a serious home cook with over two decades’ experience cooking for family, friends and fellow rock and rollers. Mr Bowersock keeps a toe in the wine business as well, consulting for the wine lists of several neighborhood establishments, including Clandestino, 35 Canal St. When not on tour or in the recording studio he’s scouring the neighborhood for frugal food finds.
With Spring fast approaching it’ll soon be asparagus season. Asparagus is considered a tough pairing with wine, but one varietal stands out for pairing well with it: Grüner Veltliner. Whites made from this grape range from crisp citrus to round and floral, from simple daily drinkers to exceptional, fine bottles. Most examples you’re likely to come across will be from Austria, a country turning out many world class wines with names most of us will not recognize. Seward Park Liquors has a few inexpensive Grüner Veltliners that would serve as a nice introduction to these wines, which are also perfect for celebrating the first warm days of the year. Those days are coming soon.