Thursday, April 17, 2008

farm fresh

morning water
Originally uploaded by stg_gr1
So last weekend, I picked up my first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box. A CSA is basically the community purchasing/investing directly from/in the farms that produce their food, rather than involving a middle man like a distributor and grocery store chain.

I found a great farm that does a drop-off near me. My best calculation is that between the trip from the farm to the drop-off and the drop-off to me is about 150 miles. Not super local, but a whole lot better (90% better) than the average 1500 miles a meal travels in this country.

But why does it matter where the food comes from? The main thing is that driving a truck, or a train, or a plane to transport our food takes fuel. Fuel pollutes. The less transporting happens, the less pollution that’s created.

Of secondary concern, but still very worthy of consideration, is the freshness of the food we receive. Much of what we eat, regardless of where it is grown, is shipped to distribution centers somewhere in the middle of the country, only to be shipped back to the same state or region where it was originally grown, making what should have been a journey of a few hundred miles one of over a thousand.

Because of the lag time involved with transporting food long distances, it is often picked before it is ripe, then artificially ripened a rapid pace using ethylene gas. Setting aside for a moment what this could potentially do as far as the nutrients of the food are concerned, the production of ethylene itself is “energy intensive”.

Last but not least, I like the fact that I can go visit the farm where my veggies are grown. It’s cool that I’m supporting local people and families who work really hard to keep their small business profitable and responsible. It’s really neat that I can call them up to say, “hey, I’ll be out of town next week, don’t bother packing up my veggies and transporting them.” Finally, I love that the produce they don’t use is donated to a local clinic for low-income women fighting cancer. (The grocery store buys the same amount whether I’m there to shop or not. If they buy too much, it’s trash, or, at best, animal food). For a more complete discussion of why local food is considered a better option from an environmental, societal, and health perspective, see here.

So I’m convinced I’m doing a good thing buying locally, how about my wallet? I’m pretty positive I’m saving money by purchasing a CSA box each week. The produce box costs $17 per week. Last week my box contained a large bag of spinach, two heads of lettuce, cilantro, radishes, carrots, broccoli rabe, green garlic, and asparagus. Considering these items are all organic, I am sure that I would have spent more than $17 if I had purchased all these items at my local market.

Living where I do, I’m lucky that we have some fresh produce available almost year round (the farm takes a break for only three weeks, from mid-December to early January). Not everybody will have this luxury. Pretty much everywhere in the continental US, however, will have some portion of the year where fresh fruits and veggies are available.

Best of all in this whole experience, is that the vegetables actually tasted like…well, vegetables. They are really, really good. I’ve had some each day since I brought them home. And it’s been fun trying new things. I’d never tried green garlic or broccoli rabe before. I can’t wait to see what’s in the box this week!

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