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Should You Join a CSA this Summer?

Should You Join a CSA this Summer?

Oh mercy! Spring is SOO beautiful right now! Makes me want to do the Snoopy dance. It’s not just the weather that brings this elation, it’s the anticipation of fresh, locally grown food, right around the corner. The opening day of the Knoxville Farmer’s Market is Saturday, May 6th. It’s marked on my calendar. I’ll be there with my market basket in hand, filling it with fresh lettuces and herbs - the first produce of the season.

You’ve heard of CSAs, no? 

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. A CSA allows you to have direct access to fresh farm produce. You make an agreement with a farmer: the farmer agrees to supply you with freshly grown produce at intervals (usually two weeks) throughout the summer, and you agree to be there to accept and pay for the produce. This is a win-win for everyone because the farmer is guaranteed a market for their lovely produce, and you are guaranteed a price point that you’ve agreed upon and a box of produce that is freshly picked and sorted. These boxes are well worth the cost. You also get to know and support your local farmer, which is a rare privilege these days with food being shipped in to our grocery stores from the far ends of the earth.

And how do you find a CSA? We have local non-profit organization called Nourish Knoxville who's mission is to connect people with local food. You can go to their website to find the location of farmer’s markets in East Tennessee. Each year in April, they provide a Local Food Guide for CSAs in a 28 county region in East Tennessee. You can see the Local Food Guide on line, and you can find printed copies of it at natural grocery and health stores in the area. Also on line, they provide a downloadable CSA comparison chart for those CSAs that deliver to Knox County.

If you followed me last summer, you’ll know that I was a member of a CSA. I plan to be again this year. My farmers are Darren and Tamara of Right By Nature Farm in New Tazewell, and they deliver to Clinton Physical Therapy Center. Every other week last summer, from June to September, I received a big colorful box of in-season produce. In June we feasted on lettuces, cucumbers, spinach, and other early crops. July brought mid-summer beans, squashes corn and herbs. In August and September we had bell peppers, potatoes, and hearty winter squashes. Many of the varieties were heirloom, so in addition to richer, brighter colors found in organically raised produce, we saw some unusual colors as well. Did you know that bell peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes all have varieties that show up in shades of purple and plum?

“But,” you ask, “is it organic?”

While many of these small farmers raise their crops according to organic farming practices, most are not able to afford the yearly $1400 fee required to certify their produce as “USDA Certified Organic”. But there are steps farmers can follow to earn for their crops the designation “Certified Naturally Grown”. The Certified Naturally Grown website says “CNG farmers don’t use any synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms. CNG livestock are raised mostly on pasture and with space for freedom of movement. Feed must be grown without synthetic inputs or genetically modified seeds.” Not all farmers choose to get the Certified Naturally Grown certification, but many still use organic farming practices. Ask them, and they’ll tell you the truth.

Should you join a CSA?

If you are an avid cook, and are used to working with vegetables, join right in. You’ll be delighted by the variety, freshness, and flavor of the produce, and the very reasonable price. If you are a more tentative cook or your household is small, but you are interested in expanding your veggie repertoire, you might ask to join a CSA for a half-box of produce at a reduced price, or your might share a box with a friend or relative. If you are just dipping your toe into the world of freshly grown produce, you might be better served to make some trips to the Farmer’s Market this summer and get to know your farmers. They love to talk about their passion for farming. Ask them questions about their produce and how to prepare it. You’ll walk away with beautiful produce, tasty recipes and new friendships.

Camille Watson is a health educator, speaker and published author of the book Eight Steps to a Real-Foods Kitchen. Her passion is to give individuals and groups the knowledge and tools they need to take back their health. If you are interested in learning more about achieving health through delicious, whole foods and lifestyle transformations, email camille@camillewatson.com to attend one of her cooking classes or to schedule your free Health Strategy session.

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