The Organic Adventurer

by ANNA RABHAN
Since joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) recently, the Organic Adventurer has been asked a lot of questions about the experience. We hope this regular column will give our readers the opportunity to come along on her adventures (and misadventures). Weigh in, ask questions, or just sit back and be glad she’s making a mess in her own kitchen and not yours!
I’ve been writing a lot in the past year about different ways to find and buy organic, local, sustainably produced foods (Organic Shopping in Jacksonville- EU, July 2010). I did so partly to satisfy my own curiosity (and that of friends and acquaintances) and partly as research into something I wanted to do more of.
After comparing options and looking into specific producers, I finally chose a single-farm CSA. A lot went into the decision. My husband and I have always been in favor of supporting local businesses, so buying locally was something that I wanted to do as much as possible (The 100-Mile Diet- EU, September 2009). We also wanted to support agriculture that minimizes its negative impact on the planet as well as on the consumer’s health. Sustainable management and the rejection of chemical fertilizers and pesticides were, therefore, musts. We finally decided that we would buy products from various local farms through their email newsletter ordering process or directly from them at a local farmers market, but that the majority of our produce this winter would come from KYV Farms CSA (www.kyvfarm.com).
A CSA is generally an arrangement where the consumers (the “community”) provide upfront support to the farmer in the form of a season subscription and, in return, get a portion (a “share”) of the harvest. The two most common versions are the single-farm, pickup version and the multi-farm, drop-off version. KYV operates as the former. This means that the produce all comes from them. The other version of CSA is more like a co-op, wherein the items you receive may come from several different farms or producers. Some of the pros and cons of each model are discussed in the organic shopping article above, if you’d like to read more about it.
We chose a single-farm CSA because we like knowing exactly where the food we eat comes from and how it’s produced. We also like the idea of forming a relationship with the farmer who produces what we eat. One thing that people tend to like about the other CSA model is that there may be products other than produce, such as bread, honey or soap, in your box weekly. In other words, it’s like going to the farmers market without actually having to take the time to go- perfect for a lot of busy families. I really enjoy making time to go to the farmers market though, and there are plenty of other easily accessible local farms that produce the other products (such as meat or nuts) that we might want to buy.
We signed up by filling out the membership request form online. There are options for a full share and a half share. We chose the half share because it’s our first time doing a CSA, and we wanted to try it out without making the full financial commitment. We also weren’t sure that we would need the amount of food in a full share. After making payment arrangements with them, KYV sent a product list, which is just a general guideline for what they might grow, and a pickup schedule. One nice thing about being a member of a small CSA is their flexibility. I noticed that one of the pickup days falls on a day when we won’t be available, so I emailed them about it with a request to pick up the week before or the week after. They responded right away- another nice thing about a CSA- and were very accommodating.
The first question people ask me when they find out I’ve joined a CSA (Well, the one after, “What is that, some kind of cult?”) is, “How much does it cost?” A full share at KYV costs $700 for approximately 24 weeks of produce. That’s about $29 per week. I took a list of my recent farmers market purchases to Publix. (As of the writing of this article, we haven’t yet had the first CSA pick up.) I found the cheapest, conventionally grown equivalent to the organic products I’d bought- eggs, tangerines, cucumbers, and more. I did, however, use the price of a premium, organic honey I found on their shelves. I spent $20 at the farmers market. The same conventional products at Publix would have cost me $22. That was for about five days worth of veggies. The pictures of KYV shares that I’ve seen are easily ten day’s worth, if not more- and that’s if you eat a LOT of veggies. After that experiment, I feel pretty confident that I’d spend much more than $29 a week on the same organic products at a grocery store. But any conscious consumer also has to consider the environmental price tag of that produce. A lot of the organic fruits and veggies at the grocery store come from California, Mexico, or even farther away and cost a pretty penny in fossil fuel. What I’ll be getting from KYV is grown and harvested about 21 miles from my house. I’m a lot more comfortable with that.
Another question I’ve heard is whether or not I like the CSA. I am so excited about getting to know “my” farmer and his family, trying new foods and learning what to do with it all, but becoming part of a farm community is an adventure my family is just beginning. I plan to share this adventure with you, and I hope you’ll keep the questions and comments coming.

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