Unloved Veggie: The CSA
As the resident vegetarian my goal is to introduce the concept of veggies to the normally meat-centric food writing you see here at Rogue Estate. This series of posts will be intended to introduce or explore some of the underused or misunderstood vegetables seen at the supermarkets or farmer's markets. This post is to introduce people to the concept of the CSA or community sustained agriculture. The CSA is a pretty basic concept of basically purchasing a share of a farmer or collective of farmers output. The CSA service has a few different options and concepts behind them. Most CSA's operate by having individuals purchasing a "share" of the farm's output before the season starts. This allows the farmers to fund the farm during slower months and gives them capital to use for seasonal start costs such as seeds and supplies. Some CSA farms have work options that give reduced cost to the customer in exchange for a work share that the customer provides by working a day or even a few hours at the farm. Sometimes this work share is once a month or more depending on the farms needs or harvest schedule. The schedule varies by farm and region but most will run from May through September sometimes later. The great advantage is that you get seasonal fresh produce and a relationship with the people who grew it. The CSA is a great way for people to get involved with their food and their community as these CSA's are generally localized. The CSA will either drop off the share at a central location or farmer's market or will require the customer to pick up their share from the farm directly. Some CSA's allow their customers to specify what their likes and dislikes are and in some cases allow the customer to choose their exact product. My own experience with CSA's was cultivated over two years with a share of the Wild Way Out CSA based out of Coldwater. The owner, Kate Weilnau, is a small-scale sustainable organic farmer who had a pick-up point nearby and had the interesting concept of a "wild" option that included wild and foraged goods. The CSA introduced me to many unfamiliar vegetables and Kate had options and suggestions as to how to prepare them. The "wild" option introduced me to many interesting things I had never had before including stinging nettles, burdock leaf and root, cattail pods and shoots, amaranth, purslane, wild grapes (which turned into a fantastic grape jelly), chestnuts and my absolute favourite rattail radishes. Megan and I decided not to renew our share this year because we've now discovered enough vegetables that we like and we know where to find them, plus we put in a bunch of vegetables in our garden based on what we learned from Kate's offerings. The CSA is a great way for people to get to know where there food comes from and helps to support small-scale local farmers by giving them an outlet for their efforts. It also gives the unadventurous or the overwhelmed a good starting point for culinary creativity. You'll have a bag or box of fresh vegetables in front of you and you'll need to discover or learn how to prepare it. Most CSA's are vegetable based but there are an increasing number of farms that offer meat shares and dairy shares (in fact it is almost impossible to buy raw milk unless you "own" a share of a cow). The best starting points are Local Harvest at www.localharvest.com and also at your local farmer's market. Many farm market vendors also offer CSA's with pick-ups available at your local market or it gives the farmer the idea that there may be people interested in a farm share CSA option.