When Whole Foods is Not Enough: Tips on Joining a CSA
By Nicole Bode
DNAinfo Senior Editor
When it comes to meals, I'm basically a creature of habit.
I seem to end up eating the same handful of foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day — basically rotating the same dozen menus around over and over each night, regardless of the season.
Right about now, I feel about as connected to the source of the food that I buy at the grocery store as I do with whatever sweatshop I worry churned out my clothes or shoes. Which is why my husband and I jumped at the chance this year to join a CSA, or community supported agriculture program, in which consumers are paired up directly with local farmers.
Call me a sucker, but I like the idea of doing my part to support foods that are locally grown, sustainable, organic, and any number of other buzzwords from the locavore, real-food wave supported by books like Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dillemma" and films like "Super Size Me" and "Food, Inc."
Plus, I figure the food will taste fantastic.
"You just realize how much better these products are. Once you start eating them, you can't go back," said Jocelyn Ban, 28, who helps run the Fulton Market CSA downtown. "So now I get all my fruits and veggies from the CSA."
Ban said that even though she joined for the food, she stayed for the friendships.
"In NYC, you have everything at your fingertips and it can be easy to become detached from your food…You're one of eight million people, it can also be very easy to detach from your community. CSAs can help with that, you find yourself becoming part of the community," she explained.
The Fulton Market CSA, which serves people who live and work in Battery Park City and the South Street Seaport area, offers everything from fresh produce, meat, cheese and eggs to granola and herbs from upstate farmers.
The group attracted 70 members last year, and is looking to expand their size this year before the Mar. 15 sign-up deadline, Ban said.
According to the local food organization JustFood.org, which helps start up CSAs all over the city, there are approximately 41 community supported agriculture clubs serving locals in neighborhoods from Inwood to the Financial District, with 100 CSAs citywide. The group is hosting a CSA conference Saturday at the Food and Finance High School in Midtown West.
The way CSAs work is that members sign up and pay for a minimum of one season's worth of weekly vegetables, pay for them ahead of time, and the money goes to local farmers who use the cash to buy seeds, soil and supplies to produce the crops. Members can also choose to opt in to buy shares — or "half shares," for those who need less food — of fruit, meat, eggs, milk and, in some cases, wheat from local farmers.
When growing season comes, the farmers deliver crops to the neighborhood on a weekly or bimonthly basis.
Members say the advantage of buying food directly from the farm is better than any trip to "green" grocers like Whole Foods.
"It's the element of surprise and it's knowing my farmer," said Lexi Van de Walle, a nutrition counselor and writer from the Upper West Side who belongs to the Chubby Bunny CSA.
"We plan trips up to the farm and I get little e-mails from the farmer with some of the challenges, 'it's raining raining raining, so the farm is mushy, or it's sunny, sunny sunny, so here's a bunch of corn.' You get pictures of the cows."
Van de Walle, who shares her musings on being a locavore on her blog and on the New York Times local blog, said the experience of buying straight from the farm has helped teach her kids, now in their teens, about distinguishing "real" food from "industrial" food.
"They're at the point now, and I give the farm a lot of credit for this…they'll have nothing to do with non-farm food, I should say industrial food. They've lost interest in McDonalds," she said.
"They know the difference between a farm carrot and baby carrots that have been cut into little pieces and put into a bag. The difference in taste is so extraordinary that my kids are like, 'we want farm carrots'," Van de Walle said.