About this Blog

As I go into my second year blogging about cooking and eating locally, I am thinking more and more about my own heritage. Why is cooking and eating locally sourced food important to me? What values am I honoring by doing this and how were these values instilled in me.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Buying food through a CSA is better than shopping at a supermarket

If you’re a mom like me, then you know that cooking two to three meals a day for a family can quickly enter the realm of the mundane. So, anything that keeps me interested and inspired draws me into the kitchen. Belonging to a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) through a local farm has made shopping and cooking for my family more interesting, tapped into my creativity and provided us with a greater variety of better quality food that is as convenient as shopping at my local supermarket.

Convenience versus Connection

I don’t look forward to my trips to the supermarket; however, they are a necessary part of the routine of family life. For me, pacing up and down the same generic aisles each week can be a soul deadening activity, so making the weekly chore more interesting and engaging makes the task something to look forward to doing rather than something to avoid.

While shopping at my local supermarket is convenient, it is an anonymous activity far removed from the original source of the food we eat. When I go and pick up my CSA share, the crate has my name on it. I can chat with other like-minded CSA members just steps from the fields where our food is grown while chickens forage at our feet. I have gotten to know the farming family who grew and harvested my food, am able to ask questions about growing practices and have the opportunity to directly express my gratitude.  When I enter my local supermarket, no one knows my name, I don’t engage in conversations of more substance than to ask for a pound of ground beef or to remind the cashier that I have a reusable bag.

For me, shopping at my local supermarket versus getting food through a CSA is akin to the difference between thirty minutes on my treadmill and a thirty minute walk in the woods with my dog -- one gets the job done and the other feeds my soul.

Demands Creativity

For better or for worse, modern life rarely leaves us with many interesting problems to solve. I think the reason we seek out so much reality TV, overeat and feel generally dissatisfied is that while daily living has become much more fast-paced and complex; the tasks required of daily living have become too simple and mechanical. Our minds need creative problems to solve and solving these problems provides a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Before I started my journey sourcing and cooking locally grown foods, the way I planned our weekly meals was pretty routine. On Saturday morning, I’d sit down with a stack of cooking magazines and recipe books, develop a menu, write out a shopping list and then head to the supermarket to purchase the ingredients. For ease and convenience, many magazines, like Everyday Food, will develop the recipes, menus and shopping lists for you. Some supermarkets will even deliver the groceries right to your door.

Now my Saturday morning begins with a I drive to my CSA farm, which is about the same distance from my house as the closest Whole Foods Market. When I get there, I am greeted by one of the members of the family farm who gives me a crate of fresh, locally grown food. I don’t need Sudoku because each week, after I pick up my CSA share, I am engaged in creative problem-solving in order to develop interesting and tasty ways to use the foods I find in my crate.

This week, for example, we received the following items: two dozen eggs, two small butternut squash, a one pound package of lamb sausage, a lamb shank, hot house tomatoes, a bag of hot house baby spinach, russet potatoes, parsnips and a container of fromage blanc artisan cheese.

Using some items that I keep stocked my pantry, dried ingredients from the summer harvest and homemade turkey stock from the freezer, I developed a barley risotto with lamb sausage, butternut squash, baby spinach, dried chili peppers, garlic and onions. The lamb shank, potatoes and parsnips could become part of a stew, or the shank could be the base for a stock. I can bake, roast or fry the potatoes as a side dish or bake and stuff them as a main meal. Tomatoes and baby spinach can become a salad or combined with the eggs to make a frittata. I could have used the lamb sausage for this purpose as well. The fromage blanc still has me puzzling.

Better Quality More Variety

Purchasing vegetables, fruits and eggs from a local farm means that your food is going to be far fresher than anything you will find in your local supermarket – even if, like Whole Foods Markets, they make a point to obtain stock from local farmers. Fresher food means two things to me:   1) it won't go bad within days of purchase saving me money; and 2) it will have far more nutrients than something that has been sitting on a truck or in a grocery store bin for days after harvest.  This summer, we were eating lettuces that had just been harvested the morning I picked up our share. Short of growing your own vegetables, you can’t get fresher food.
Our farm raises grass-fed beef, pork, lamb and poultry. These animals get plenty of sunshine, are provided with plenty of room to graze and forage, are well cared for and are humanely slaughtered. These facts honor the part of me that is committed to ecology and cruelty-free animal-husbandry, they also mean that our meats and eggs are tastier and are less likely to be exposed to contaminants, shot full of hormones and antibiotics and in general come from healthier animals.

Finally, we are provided with a variety of foods. A simple example of this variety, are the eggs that I find when I open the carton. They are not simply brown or white or even all the same size. Some are white, some brown, some speckled and some are even a light green! Occasionally, I’ve even found something in the crate that I have never seen before. This past season it was garlic scapes, kohlrabi and cranberry beans.

I admit that as a result of changing my shopping habits, I have less time to do other things like watch television.  Preparing fresh, whole foods takes time and commitment. I couldn’t tell you tonight’s TV line-up and I missed the Oscars the other night; however, I look forward to cooking my family’s meals each day and we are healthier for it.

If you're interested in finding a CSA or other farm fresh food options in your area, check out the Local Harvest Web site: http://www.localharvest.org/.


  1. After spending time with you over the past summer and tasting your wonderful cooking with the fresh foods I could not agree more. I did check the website out as you suggested to see if there was a local farm around here and sure enough there was. However I found it to be expensive at least for me. Yet I find myself wondering if in the long run I spend just as much for produce for the season and just do not realize it. My other worry or thought is that would we use all the items in the share that is given to us. It seems like when I buy produce at the store, I find myself not using all that up. (however my goal is not to throw anything more out). I would love to be able to get "new" items and try them. The plus part to this is that my family is always eager to try new things.
    I also agree in supporting small businesses in my area and this is another reason that this peaks my interest. So I will have to put some thought into this.

  2. Sue,

    You are asking great questions. I should write a blog post about how I decided to join our current CSA. If the farm you found has a farm stand, try visiting during this year's growing season to see what types of vegetables they grow and whether you like the types and variety. You could also contact the farm and ask them what types of items you might find in your weekly share.

    One criteria I had for our CSA was that they offer eggs and fruit. Our farm collaborates with another farm for the fruit.

    Don't be afraid to ask questions. Great comment and questions, Sue!