How To Score Fresh Food And Support Local Agriculture
In Ecuador, everything grows. There is no winter or fall. There are simply the rainy season and the dry season. And even the dry season is rainy. When I lived in the country for five months during the spring of 2015, I did not go to the grocery store and buy my food for the next two weeks. In fact, I am pretty sure the only reason a grocery store existed was for the gringo retirees from America and the United Kingdom. My host mom would run out the door every morning and buy bread for a few days. I would come home for lunch to freshly made juices: strawberry; blackberry; tomate de arbol – a tree tomato that only grows in the Andean region.
And Saturdays? Those were market days. Anything and everything you needed was there. Wanted a snack? Buy a pound of strawberries from a street vendor for $1. Lunches could be eaten at the market, where the pig was roasted right there for you.
The local food movement just keeps growing.
These days, more and more locally-owned restaurants and eateries brand themselves as “farm-to-table.” They might have menus that rotate with the seasons or use key fresh ingredients in most dishes. The businesses doing this understand that the movement to support local agriculture is only growing. They want to take part in the trend that is slowly transforming our food culture in the United States.
And it shows no signs of stopping.
The Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University’s timeline shows how this movement even started. As fast food chains grew and more health issues developed from people’s poor dietary habits, both the public and private sectors initiated counter measures to improve health outcomes and increase the distribution of healthy, fair and affordable foods.
As food and agriculture corporations gain increasing control over our food system – even rights to genetically modified seeds – and have questionable management and supply chain procurement practices, more people are demanding transparency. They want to be connected to their food in a way that our current food system makes difficult. Pair that with the fact that the average age of a farmer in the United States is 58-years-old.
Thus, the local food movement has transcended its preventative health roots (no pun intended). It’s now about economic development and empowerment –ours– in a system that favors large, corporate farms and not the smaller, local ones. By eating local, we’re putting the power back into our communities, making farming a more lucrative and imaginable career path, and increasing access to healthy and affordable food.
How can you support local agriculture where you live?
You can be a part of this local movement! There are a lot of ways you can do this, but a great one to consider is Community Supported Agriculture. Over the last 25 years, CSA has grown to be a popular way for consumers to buy local produce directly from farmers and receive other cool benefits, such as farm tours, farm-to-table dinners, invitations to special events and more. Buying shares of a farm allows farmers to plan for the season and guarantees them a base income, which is incredibly important when you run an operation as large as a farm.
How does Community Supported Agriculture work?
Consumers purchase a “share” of the farm’s harvest for the season. In exchange, the shareholder receives a box of produce, eggs, cheeses, meat and other items the farm might have on a weekly or biweekly basis. Think of it as a membership. You pay an annual fee and receive all of these goodies in exchange – goodies that are good for everyone. Now, sometimes, if the farmer is having a bad crop, you might not get the best produce or you might get more tomatoes one week, then eggplant or broccoli. You experience the same highs and lows that the farmer does.
What does it include?
Your baskets’ or boxes’ contents will change based on the season, which is great way to double down on the local agriculture movement. Not only are you purchasing directly from a local farmer and giving him or her reliable income, you’re eating in season. During these warm summer months, some of the fresh produce you’re likely to get include:
- Sweet potatoes
Of course, all of this is based on where you live. For instance, down in warmer climates like Texas and Florida, you’ll have some citruses like grapefruit. Winter CSA baskets might include oranges and tangerines, which you definitely won’t find coming off of a farm in, say, Boston or Seattle—even Charlotte.
This seems like it would be expensive. How much does it cost?
Many people assume that local foods are more expensive. In some cases, that is true. CSA seasons last between 20 and 30 weeks and shares cost anywhere from $300 to $800. I know, that’s a large range. But when considering your budget, think about how often you shop for groceries. Even if you bought a large CSA share for $500 for 25 weeks, you’re spending about $20 per week with enough food to feed four people. That’s $100 every month. That’s less than what your bill at Whole Foods will be for one or two people for similar, locally-based products.
Our advice? Split it with a roommate or a group of friends who have similar health priorities to lower the cost.
If a weekly box is too big, then there’s most likely an option to receive one every other week. That way your CSA items last a longer time for a great rate! Some farms will also let you order smaller shares, but it depends on the farm’s capacity to do so. Remember, they do all of the packaging and delivering or setting up of stands for pick up on their own, which contributes to the cost as well.
How do I know if this is something I should do?
CSA boxes are great for people who enjoy exploring their culinary talents and trying new foods. If you work long hours, don’t cook, or have an extremely tight budget, this might not be the right option for you. And that’s okay! We all prioritize differently, and maybe this will be a viable option in the future.
Luckily, there are some farms – and many farmers markets – that will accept EBT cards, formerly known as food stamps. If you’re dedicated to purchasing more of your food locally, then a trip to the farmers market every few weeks could work better for you and your budget. Maybe you find a coffee shop that has its coffee roasted locally. If you are really interested in trying out the basket though, never fear. Some farms will even allow you to split your basket with someone else. You'll have to be careful how you do that, though, since usually it is in the name of one person. You could also find a friend or roommate willing to share it.
If I live in a major city, is this something I can still do?
With more than 4,000 CSA farms across the country, it doesn’t matter where you live. It might be a bit more difficult in larger metropolitan areas such as New York, so to start your search, research what CSA offerings are in your area and which are regarded highest for their quality. Many family-owned farms offering CSA shares might be 50-100 miles from you, but they will have a stand in your city.
Everyone should have access to amazing, fresh food. By participating in the local food movement, even if it’s every so often at a farmers market, you’re changing how we buy and consume our food. In today’s world, while we go on feeling like we don’t have choices, this is one that you can make. It is one that will change the world in the years to come.