Wednesday, May 13, 2015

It's Time to Join a CSA!

Seriously, you guys:  Do you have any idea how hard it is to photograph a pound of ground meat and have it look like anything but a crime scene?

Blog illustration woes aside, I want you to think about joining a CSA or two now that summer is here.  If you believe in sustainable living and supporting your local farmers, a CSA is a great way to make your support tangible.

CSA stands for "community supported agriculture." Think of it as Kickstarter for meat and veggies. You purchase a "subscription" for a particular period of time, and once a month (or once a week, maybe), you receive a delivery of farm products that you've specified.

This time of year, many farms are selling subscriptions to vegetable CSAs, which is a great option for those who don't veggie garden for themselves.  You'll pay a certain amount up front, and then once a week or so, you'll go to a pick-up point (maybe at a farmers' market) and get whatever the farmer has harvested in the past couple of days.  If it is a good veggie year, you may get more; if it isn't, you may get less.  And you may get some veggies you don't normally buy, which is fun.

What we belong to, however, is a meat CSA.  I want to talk you through that process as a consumer, because it is a bit different, and I'll admit I felt a little confused at first until I got the hang of it. Now, I wouldn't consider any other way of stocking my freezer!

  1. Twice a year, we are asked for a subscription payment and the "level" of our support.  We pay around $180 for a six month period, during which we receive 5 lbs. of ground beef and pork sausage each month.  That works out to about $6 per pound, which is fantastic for animals raised with a sustainable rotational grazing method on a small farm that uses organic farming methods.  I know that Mr. FC&G and I are minimizing exposure to killers like glyphosate and getting all the healthy goodness of meat from animals raised in pastures rather than on a CFO. And because I've seen the farm with my own eyes and look the farmer in the face at least once a month, I have a level of trust I wouldn't have otherwise.
  2. Each month, our farmer emails us a reminder of our pick-up point.  For us, it's a set time on a certain day in a certain parking lot.  Other customers will pick up at farmers' markets the farmer goes to.  
  3. We also receive a discount on other farm products, and I can tell the farmer by email what I want:  eggs, pork chops, roasts, or the like.  So I know I have a set quantity of the basic meat we need each month, and then I can tailor our other purchases to my budget and our needs. Grilling season means time for some of his yummy pasture-raised pork chops.  I also put in an order for some whole chickens to be harvested later in the summer, so he knows how many animals he needs to raise.
  4. That's the big benefit.  The farmer gets some up-front payment to help him buy and raise expensive animals, and I get a measure of certainty about how much meat I'll have each month and the quality I can expect.  I also know that the meat I'm getting is very fresh, sometimes only days after harvest.

I encourage you to look into the various CSA options available in your area, especially meat CSAs if you are a meat eater.  For two people, that five pounds of meat each month are plenty to feed one meat-eater and one "flexitarian," and we feel good about making sure that we're supporting a family farm that treats its animals and the humans who consume them in the most kind, humane, and healthy way possible.

The Analysis

Fast:  Picking up the delivery takes no more time than running to the store, and the purchase is as easy as writing a check twice a year.  Very efficient.

Cheap:  The prices are very competitive for sustainably-raised meat in this area.

Good:  You can't put a value, however, on the benefit of directly supporting a farmer who is taking pains to provide the kind of product you want to put in your own body.
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