I snuck out of the house before anyone was awake, and wheeled my bike silently out of the shed. Going to my first CSA pick-up felt like a little adventure.
Twenty minutes later I arrived at the Main Street School, in Irvington. What does a CSA even look like, I wondered.
Then, behind about two dozen cars I saw a very mini farmer’s market. I told the woman with a clipboard my name, and then followed others, shopping as the signs directed. “One bunch.” “3 fruits.” “2 bags.” I didn't even need to get out my wallet.
CSA stands for community supported agriculture, which means that people prepurchase a portion of a farm’s harvest. Northeast OrganicFarming Organization says CSAs emerged in Japan and Europe in the 1960’s, driven by consumers who wanted quality food and to support sustainable agricultural practices. It arrived in the US in the mid 1980s. Local Harvest estimates that there are now 4000 CSAs in the US.
All of the produce I picked up was grown on Rexcroft Farm, in Greene County, near the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. It was picked within the last few days, and driven by the farm’s owner, Dan King, to two central meeting places, where volunteers distribute it to approximately 200 members from the Rivertowns as well as far away as White Plains and Yonkers.
Later that morning I rolled back onto our patio, lifted the green grocers bag out of my back-of-bike basket, and carried it into the kitchen. My daughters, now awake and sensing breakfast, gathered round. I reached in to display our farm fresh food. But, what was this orange goo on my parslane? I opened the bag and saw small smashed heirloom tomatoes everywhere, like sticky popcorn on the floor of a movie multiplex. The peaches, however, nestled against the red-leaf amaranth, were intact. So were the half-dozen pullet eggs.
My mistake was packing my grocery bag the same way I always did, when it just had to travel from cart to car trunk to kitchen. It had been so fun biking home, bouncing on the Aqueduct’s root bumps past joggers and dog walkers, I didn’t give my cargo a second thought.
There are other differences between a CSA and shopping in a grocery store. Els van den Bosch, who has been a member the Rexcroft Farm CSA since it started, about seven years ago, sums up the biggest complaint. “For many people the drawback is that one can’t chose what one gets.”
She continues, “Most of the time, though, I have enjoyed the challenge. It means that I go on the Internet in search of recipes and I have made dishes I would otherwise never have made. For example, I made my own (raw) sauerkraut, and stuffed poblano peppers are now a favorite snack. My kids have learned to appreciate the wider choice of vegetables, and to be agreeable to eat what is being served even if it is new or not exactly as appetizing as their favorite fare. Do I like everything? No. But I freeze what my family won’t eat and serve it when we have guests who will love the Brussels sprouts.”
“We would not have eaten kale if it hadn’t been for the CSA and when my daughter told us about the kale she bought and cooked in her dorm room I knew that I had given her a valuable example.”
The variety of produce in each CSA share turns out to be a benefit for many. Kathy Dean, who has been aRexcroft Farm CSA member for five years, notes, “Besides having incredibly fresh vegetables, we have learned to love kohlrabi which we had never tried before. Many new recipes have become favorites, Macaroni and Cheese with Spinach, Cabbage and Mushrooms and Cauliflower Kale Pie to name a few."
My family had eased into the CSA with the lowest commitment level, the 15-week half share of vegetables and fruit for $347.50, because I wasn’t sure if it would be a good value. But the fact that the Old Croton Aqueduct connects my home in Dobbs Ferry to the pick up site, at the Main Street School, in Irvington, sealed the deal. Even if I was paying farmers market prices for the produce, I reasoned, I could bike there. I’d get some exercise and good food and add absolutely nothing to my carbon footprint.
|last CSA pick-up of the season|
Now, I’d say it was the best $23.16 I spent each week.
Dale Williams, who, with Betsy Anderson, was the other part of our first-time half-share, lists his top three CSA highlights: the fresh food, the local connection, and the camaraderie at the pickup.
He adds, “I love that mixed in with the lovely local versions of the produce I buy regularly there's often one item that I don't know or wouldn't have thought to purchase. Who knew I'd love red leaf amaranth (and that it's so pretty), red shiso, or lemon cukes? Every week I look forward to finding out what bounty we'll receive.”