How Joining a CSA Can Change the Way You Eat (For the Better)

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Joining a CSA can be a great way to incorporate a wider variety of healthy and fresh foods into your diet – but there are other benefits as well…

There are many benefits to joining a CSA, not the least of which is that it can help you eat healthier, and enjoy a wider variety of fresh, locally grown foods. You will also gain insight into how your food is grown, get to know your local farmers and build a sense of community with those growing your food, and get to try new and interesting recipes!

When you participate in a CSA (community supported agriculture program), you will receive a “share” of a local farm’s seasonal produce. CSAs vary widely in their structure, pricing, and content, so be sure to review the details carefully before you sign up for one to make sure it suits your budget, schedule, and dietary needs. The pickup arrangements can also vary, with some CSAs offering local delivery either to your home or to a centralized location where you can pick up your share. Others may be picked up only at the farm or farm stand at a farmer’s market.

The most common CSA programs provide fresh, locally grown vegetables and/or fruits throughout the summer growing season on either a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Some CSAs may contain only vegetables or only fruits, while some offer a combination or add-on choices for an additional cost. Meat and eggs CSAs are also fairly common and may run either year-round or seasonally, often with biweekly or monthly deliveries.

There are also CSAs for more specialized forms of local produce, such as herbs, mushrooms, honey, bread, cheese, or even flowers!  You can find a good CSA directory here, or Google “CSA” and your location or zip code and you’re very likely to find one nearby.

Many CSAs offer organically or sustainably grown foods at a lower cost than you could find them at the grocery store, so depending on your location and your eating habits, you may save money by joining a CSA as well.

Personally, I have been a member of one CSA or another for nearly 10 years, and once I joined, I never looked back!  You can read more about my CSA journey here, and for another perspective, check out this woman’s experience on eating healthier by joining a CSA – as well as some tips for using up unfamiliar produce, courtesy of MindBodyGreen.com:

Ironically, the thing that kept me from joining a CSA for so long is actually my favorite part. I, like many people, tend to get into food ruts, where I reach for the same ingredients and end up making derivative versions of the same meal over and over again. Even when I went to the farmers market, I’d gravitate toward some form of greens, some fruit to snack on, and maybe asparagus, broccolini, or tomatoes, based on what was in season.

In my CSA, though, I’ve been given radishes, ramps, bok choy, and, yes, the dreaded kohlrabi, and I’ve had to come up with ways to use all of them. Rather than it being a dreaded chore, though, it’s become a Tuesday-night ritual—my husband and I dump our haul on the kitchen table, then brainstorm ways to use the produce for dinner. Last week, we pan-fried the ramps till they were crispy and used them with lemon as a side dish; before that, we thin-sliced the radishes, tossed them with baharat, and air-fried them. We roasted the kohlrabi and shaved it into salads, and through it all, I’ve referenced the strange internet sites and cookbooks from the back of my shelves more than ever before. I’ve become a better cook, and a healthier one, as the diversity in my diet has expanded exponentially.

But more so, I’ve become more connected to my partner. Instead of slapping together a quesadilla or stir-fry (our go-to’s), we’re problem-solving in the kitchen together, laughing and tasting our weekly creations.

Yes, there are health benefits too—produce that’s grown locally is far richer in nutrients than most of what you find at a grocery store, which has often traveled thousands of miles and sat on the shelf for weeks, losing precious vitamin content all the while. Yes, the diversity also adds benefits, as I’m exposing myself to far wider varieties of nutrients than in my typical diet of five or six rotating members of the produce family. But in an age when the epidemic of loneliness reigns supreme and we often find ourselves doing so many things, dinner-prep included, mindlessly, the biggest gift of my CSA is that moment of connection—to my partner, to my food, to my food’s origins, to the community I’m part of that the C part of the CSA literally stands for. Food is never just about what we eat. Food is a reflection of our values, our choices, and what we want our present and future to reflect. With my CSA, I’m casting my vote in a direction I believe in.

As for the other problems I envisioned before I joined? They had easy enough solutions. I’ve developed a few go-tos that easily use up leftover, strange produce—almost anything can be turned into pan-fried rice with the addition of an onion, tamari, and toasted sesame oil, and a frittata or quiche is another perfect use for leftover veggies. I’ve also taken to prepping any vegetables that are near the end of their lives into a state as close to how I’ll be consuming it as possible—kohlrabi gets peeled, steamed, and cubed; greens are washed removed from their woodiest stems—and freezing them. Now, on my laziest or most time-deficient nights, I have farm-fresh produce, pre-prepped and ready to go into a quesadilla, taco, or even a dinner smoothie.

 

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