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The Less Obvious Implications of Joining a CSA

I joined my first CSA this year. The bountiful weekly shares have provided me with more fresh, organic, locally-grown fruit and vegetables than I could possibly eat—which has been wonderful. But there were a surprising number of benefits that I did not anticipate when I joined that I now find to be more important to me than the actual food. Chief among these unexpected benefits was the community of folks I met every time I arrived for pickup. We talk, laugh, and share our passions for living manageable, local lives. I learned about other local food and product initiatives in the area and found out I had more options for local living than I had imagined previously.

In Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture, by Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En, “Kristen the Cook” from Angelic Organic Farm in Caledonia, Illinois has a great sidebar that sums up the additional benefits to joining a Community Supported Agriculture farm. This is reprinted with permission from Angelic Organic’s newsletter.

Some of you, perhaps, did not fully grasp what you were getting into when you signed up to receive a box of vegetables each week for twenty weeks. You did not realize that you were signing on to have your week’s meal plan monopolized by fresh vegetables demanding to be cooked and eaten before they pass their prime. That you wouldn’t have as much room for dessert after a big dish of Pasta Primavera made with your abundance of fresh organic veggies. That a grocery store tomato would never satisfy you once you had tasted our farm-grown, freshly picked, vine-ripened gems.

But did you stop to think about the further implications of belonging to a CSA? In supporting Angelic Organics, you are not just buying a commodity. You are supporting a dwindling way of life, the education of future farmers who learn here, a sense, even, of mission—which regards farmland as worth something more than its real estate value.

Sure, the money you pay goes towards the production costs of organic vegetable raising. Fuel, labor, seed, soil amendments, and plant protections such as row covers are provided for by your checks. But your money also enables relationships. It backs Farmer John’s relationship with this, the land he grew up on. It allows him to continue labor negotiations with his machinery, coaxing it to help him out for one more year. It enables his relationships with those who work for him and those who buy from him.

You might come out of this year with new favorites, and familiarity with obscure vegetables with which you can impress your friends. (“Yes, the Rutabaga Bisque I made last week was absolutely delightful, darling.”) You may have much stronger opinions about what constitutes “yucky” and “yummy” in the vegetable kingdom. You may pick up a few new recipes, or make up some of your own. But you can take your membership further than that if you wish.

Community is a word with potential. Community can simply mean the people who live in a selected geographical area. But it can also mean those with whom one has a more meaningful relationship than simple geographical proximity. You may find yourself swapping recipes with other shareholders when you pick up your box. You might wish to come out and volunteer for a day or more on the farm; get a taste of country/break from the big city. You might wish to join our new Core Group, which was founded this year to take over the farm’s non-production tasks such as marketing, special events, and surplus vegetable distribution to the needy. Engaging yourself in one of these ventures, you are at risk of discovering within your heart the feeling of community.

Community in this sense is not a commodity that is purchased; it is built through actions. We at Angelic Organics propose to bring fresh healthy produce into your life. Nothing to sneeze at in and of itself. We also give you the option of taking your membership further; to make your involvement with Angelic Organics encompass not only what you pull out of your vegetable box, but what you put into your CSA.

—Kristen the Cook, Angelic Organics Farm News, Caledonia, Illinois, July 1997. Used by permission.

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