Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs may be a mouthful, but they’re also the best source for making healthy, seasonal meals — and staying on track with your healthy eating goals this spring and summer. Yes, your local farmers could help support a healthier lifestyle.
Here are our top 10 reasons (but, trust us, there are more!) why joining a CSA could be one of your healthiest moves yet:
SEASONAL FOOD IS SENSIBLE FOOD
Our bodies naturally crave different foods at different times of year, and eating seasonal produce (meaning produce growing in your community) means the food is freshest. For instance, potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables are particularly satisfying in the winter when we’re working hard to stay warm. Fresh lettuce and stone fruits are particularly good for cooling off in the summer months. By eating in-season fruits and vegetables, we’re helping our bodies stay in touch with nature — inside and out.
ULTRA-FRESH IS THE ONLY OPTION
When you participate in a CSA or farm share, the produce is just-picked and typically delivered the same day. Fruits and vegetables are the most nutrient dense shortly after harvest as compared to when produce is shipped thousands of miles before arriving at your grocery store and then your table.
FLAVOR, FLAVOR, FLAVOR!
While we’re speaking about how far the food at the store has traveled, it’s worthwhile to add just how much less flavor far-flung foods have. If you’ve ever plucked a carrot from the ground or pulled a tomato from the vine to taste how sweet and distinct they are, you’ll know. Fresh-off-the-farm produce is world’s more flavorful than if it traveled thousands of miles or several weeks from its origin. If you want your tomatoes to taste like tomatoes, get your hands on a CSA-produced local one.
GET TO KNOW YOUR FARMER
Believe it or not, those steaks weren’t born on styrofoam plates, and those carrots and leaves of spinach have dirt on them because they came from the earth. Getting to know your farmer, where they grow your food and how it arrives to you is a deeply satisfying and grounding way to be more invested in the meals you cook and eat.
IMPROVISE WITH NEW INGREDIENTS
Because the farm typically decides what produce you get for the week, you’ll end up with a few ingredients you have less experience with, which means it’s a great opportunity to improvise. So you got a few turnips? Find a recipe they’ll shine in. Lots of tomatoes this week? Make a sauce! So you received a romanesco? What is that? Having a farm share helps you step out of your cooking rut and to improvise with new, exciting ingredients. You might wish you’d known about romanesco sooner!
FARM SHARE FREES YOUR BRAIN
We’re all a little bit more at ease when we have fewer choices. Renowned behavioral economist and Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz, author of “The Paradox of Choice,” and co-author of “Practical Wisdom,” has written and spoken frequently on option-overload in American culture. A CSA is a chance to not think about what’s for dinner. You pick up your bounty and you work backward from there. Which means your brain has time to think about reading a book, planning a date with your spouse, writing a poem or booking your next vacation. Whatever occupies you, having a CSA make decisions on what healthy, nutritious produce you’ll put on your table for the week is one less choice you have to make.
This means not only recognizing that small farm agriculture needs support, but also that eating from the whole farm (meaning everything that a small farm grows) helps keep soil, agriculture and ecosystems in balance. In his recent book, “The Third Plate,” chef and organic-farming advocate Dan Barber outlines the importance of eating everything farmers grow to keep a farm healthy and lively. For example, farmers sow “companion plants” that keep neighboring plants protected from insects and disease and practice crop rotation that allows soil to replenish, thereby yielding nutrient-dense produce. (Read: There’s value in more than just your favorite three veggies!)
Says Barber: “…what we eat is part of an integrated whole, a web of relationships, that cannot be reduced to single ingredients.” So we have to get past wanting nothing but carrots, kale and tomatoes each week and opening up to the rainbow your smart organic farmer provides.
READ MORE > ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO HEALTHY EATING
NO FARM GROWS FOOD IN BOXES
If you’re striving to eat fewer packaged and processed foods, rest assured that your farmer will never ever plop a bag of chips, cookies or microwave burritos in your CSA box. Ever. Yes, joining a CSA may tie up your grocery money, but it also means you’ll be more connected and invested in eating healthfully — and you’ll have to make time to cook. If investing in healthful food and eating habits is an investment in yourself, joining a CSA is that same investment tenfold.
AVOID PRESERVATIVES IN EVERY MEAL
There aren’t any additives, preservatives or ingredients made in a lab in your CSA box, which means your body knows exactly how to turn every one of those beautiful foods into energy and nutrients to power your healthy, active body.
IT’S NOT JUST PRODUCE
Many CSAs aren’t just about fruits and vegetables but also about meat shares, eggs and sometimes even other farm products such as flours, grains, beans, pickles and cheeses. Farm share participants are often the first invited to join farm-to-table dinners or to cut fresh flowers on the farm. Being part or a CSA or small-to-medium farm share is really about so much more than groceries; you’re becoming part of a beautiful community. You’re helping to support small farms so they can grown healthful, vibrant produce to feed your community, then they’re delivering the benefits of your investment back to you. It’s a win-win.