Friday, January 8, 2010

What You Get from a CSA that You Can't Get in the Supermarket

This year my family purchased a Fall Keeper CSA share from Abbondanza Farms for the second time. The Keeper share is a little different from the more popular summer CSA share. You only get five drops, at a pretty high cost per drop, but each drop is a big box of storable fall vegetables. The idea is that by over-purchasing from the late fall harvest, you'll be able to continue eating local produce through most of the winter. See my previous posts on CSAs and the Fall Keeper Share to learn more.

As the summer produce dwindled, I started planning (and craving) what I would cook with the first pick-up. I remembered the quality of last year's beets, winter squash, fingerling potatoes, and I couldn't wait. The summer CSA (from the same farm) had ended two weeks earlier, so my cupboards were pretty bare. I hadn't bought anything at the supermarket because I knew I had a bountiful box of food coming.

As I eagerly drove up on Thursday, the usual pickup day, I was perplexed to find the parking lot empty. I slowly realized that I'd gotten confused. Thursday had been the pickup day all summer, but I'd received an email earlier in the week notifying me that the pickup day for the fall share was Wednesday. Ohhh noooo….

I was so disappointed. How could I have spaced this out? How was I going to get my veggies? What was I going to cook for dinner that night?

So I called the farm, explained my situation, groveled, begged, and sure enough… no problem, I could come get the share at the farm that weekend. Great! When I arrived, they didn't seem bothered at all. In fact, it appeared from the stack of boxes set aside that I may not have been the only person to have gotten confused.

I definitely wasn't going to forget again. Especially since the next share was a double pick-up of veggies right before Thanksgiving. How exciting!

Two weeks pass by. Every day I remind myself… don't forget the veggies on Wednesday.

The day arrived, and what a crazy day it was. That morning, my son got sick, so I stayed home from work to snuggle with him. I also received a call from a family member asking if I could help take an elderly relative to the hospital the next day. And, I was busy thinking about a business trip I had to make to India in a few weeks. To say I was a little frazzled was an understatement. At eight PM that night, it suddenly dawned on me that it was THE pickup day, the one I wasn't going to forget, and it was one hour after they closed. ARRRGGGGHHHH!

I was so upset. How could I have done this again? After a few minutes I came to my senses. I have too much going on. Yes, it's a lot of money that I spent and am going to have to spend to buy the food I didn't get, but I've got too much to worry about. Besides, while they were very nice last time, I just couldn't stomach the thought of admitting again that I was so disorganized. I decided to forget it.

A few days later, I received a phone call from the woman that runs the program. She had noticed from the checklists that I hadn't shown up for either of the first two pick-ups and was concerned that they hadn't properly communicated the schedule and location to me. I was so surprised and moved that someone would go to this trouble; everything came rushing out. My voice starting choking up as I told her about the troubles of my week and that I had just been too embarrassed to call again. Finally, I sighed, "I know this is silly, that it's just food, but I was so looking forward to those veggies." She cut in, "It's not just food. It's important. I'm so sorry to hear about all of this. We'll absolutely get you your share if we have to drop it on your doorstep." We talked about 20 minutes more. She shared a little with me about her family. She asked more about mine. And we talked about the farm and the food that really did mean a lot more to me than I was willing to admit.

So that day I got my veggies and a very welcome personal connection.

There are many well-advertised benefits of joining a CSA: fresh, varied, high quality produce, eating organically, supporting a local business, lower carbon footprint from eating locally grown food.

Here's one more...

The community supported part of the term Community Supported Agriculture means that you're not just supporting a community farm, they're supporting you. I'm pretty sure I've never seen that on sale for $.99/lb at Sunflower Farmer's Market.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Why do we eat what we eat?

As I've become more committed to purchasing and consuming local, organic food, I've found myself wondering what is the "right" food system - one that is environmentally sustainable and provides everyone with affordable access to nutritious food. In the search for easy answers, it is easy to assume that the food industry and the politics it influences are the villains in our current system because they control our choices to the extent that making healthy, responsible choices is unrealistic. This is the view hypothesized by Raj Patel in Stuffed and Starved. He presents the global food system as one in which consumers have very little choice and in which they would certainly make healthier and more responsible choices given the opportunity.

I really want to believe this last part, but I do sometimes have doubts…

One reason, and the theme of this post, is that I frequently find my food choices to be very different than those of people around me, despite the fact that we have access to the same food and the same information. I would really like to know why. For instance, why does anybody ever drink soda, when it is so obviously bad for you?

In an attempt to understand, and be more open minded about, the causes of these differences, I started thinking about what might be the factors that influence someone making food choices:

  • Taste pleasure derived from a particular food
  • Familiarity
  • Cooking skills
  • Time
  • Income
  • Food cost
  • Food nutritional value
  • Understanding of nutritional information
  • Available selection
  • Growing source and method
  • Understanding of environmental impact of the growing source and method
  • Subconscious influences, such as marketing
  • Personal politics
Over which of these factors does the individual have control? Are the factors over which we don't have control so overpowering that it is naive to think that people really have choices?

For instance, if heavy marketing of soda makes it seem familiar, this probably increases the likelihood a person will purchase it, despite the fact that he or she had no control over being exposed to that marketing.

Perhaps an effective way to design a better food system would be to identify the factors over which an individual does not have control and work to give the individual more choice in these factors. One example would be to assume that the choice of whether or not to purchase local food is dominated by it's affordability, which is out of an individual's control, so to work with local governments to make policy changes that make local food more affordable.

Postscript -
Sorry that post ended rather abruptly because I sort of forgot my original point. Was it this? ... I usually attribute people's food choices to personal taste, cost, convenience and vastly differing levels of concern about the environment and nutrition, but am I overlooking other differences, ones out of our control, that exist even for people living in the same town?

What did I conclude? Nothing, except that in keeping with my usual habits, I've made a list of topics to investigate.

Happy New Year!

'Tis the season for resolutions and new beginnings, so you'll be seeing more of Boulder Home Cook!