I think we can all agree that eating locally sounds ideal, but for many it’s hard to know where to even begin. Not only is it hard to know how to get started, but eating locally consistently can sound very expensive and a bit out of reach. For a while, I thought the only way to eat locally grown food was by going to a super hip restaurant that charged over twenty dollars for some elevated organically-grown vegetables and hummus. While it’s fun to treat yourself to that experience once in a while, it’s simply not sustainable. So, what’s a CSA? How can I eat locally, you may ask? Here’s what you need to know.
Don’t be afraid to start small. If your grocery budget is tight, start with buying carrots or onions that were grown close to home. Certain vegetables tend to be cheap no matter where they are grown and can be a great first step.
Embrace Seasonal Eating
A big part of implementing more locally grown food into your diet is eating seasonally! It’s Spring here in Chicago, so I try to look for vegetables like peas, kale, broccoli, asparagus, and ramps that are grown either in Illinois, or the states that surround me like Wisconsin or Indiana. This way, I know the food I’m buying is fresh and traveling a much shorter distance to get to my table. One big benefit of eating seasonally is that your food waste could go down, because the produce tends to last way longer once it gets to you.
Check out what your local grocer is carrying. If what they are selling is local to you, it’s most likely in season and super fresh. You’re more likely to find local produce at co-ops or health food stores, so research what your area has to offer and check out what local offerings they may carry. This really makes a big difference.
It may seem small and insignificant, but so much of being more conscious of our bodies, community and planet starts small. Every single thing you do counts. I have recently signed up for my first CSA. I can truly tell the difference in quality, freshness and love that goes into growing the produce we get to eat throughout the week and it’s an awesome way to get rooted into your local food system.
What’s a CSA? Here’s What You Need to Know
So, what’s a CSA? CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Let’s talk about how it works. At the beginning of a season, a farm will sell shares to the people in their community who are interested in receiving vegetables, fruit, eggs, etc. throughout the growing season. This usually spans from early spring to mid fall, however some CSA programs are operational throughout most of the year. Once signed up, you will receive or retrieve a box weekly from the farm full of whatever produce is in season.
Breaking Down the Costs
For most CSA subscriptions you have to pay upfront for the whole season to provide security to the farmers. This allows them to have some of the resources needed to have a successful growing year. There are some exceptions however where you can pay weekly or every month. Some of the perks of joining a CSA is you get your produce directly from the farmer, no middle man, and it helps you eat in season, which is better for you, the farmer, and the planet!
Stock Up on Pantry Staples
Don’t forget pantry staples! Keep your eye out for honey from local apiaries or maple syrup from a sugarhouse close by. You can even get milled flour, wheat berries and other grains depending on where you live. For example, here in Illinois we are in close proximity to lakes where wild rice can be harvested by and purchased from tribes like the Anishinaabe Tribe of the White Earth Nation in Minnesota. So, get online and see what type of foods are native to, or are grown in your area. (Learn more about eating seasonally and locally.)