The Farm (Shares) Report, 8/24/05

August 25, 2005 psipsina

Sometimes the modern world feels like an exercise in a kind of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t moral compromise.  You invest your money so you can retire without being a burden to society, and you find that your mutual fund invests in companies that exploit workers, spoil the land, the air, and the water, or defraud the public.  You eat fish so you’ll be healthy and be able to take care of your family and avoid overtaxing the health care system, and you find that you are going to die of mercury poisoning.  A massive corporation, under pressure from activists, closes its sweatshops in Central America, and the teenage prostitution rate goes up because, hey, they gotta earn a living somehow.  Cities switch to hydroelectric power because it is non-polluting, and river ecosystems are destroyed.

The world is so complex that no matter what good thing you think you are doing, somewhere, someone suffers for it.  It can be crazy-making.  Sometimes you have to stop thinking about it.

Consumer subscription agriculture (CSA) is an exception, one of those rare things that are just plain good.  This spring the Red-Haired Boy and I joined a CSA (sometimes also called farm shares).

The principle is simple.  Instead of going to the store each week and buying your vegetables, you pay some money, upfront, to a local farmer, and each week throughout the growing season you receive a share of whatever produce the farm grows.  You share the risk with the farmer, as well as the rewards.

I’ve thought about it, and thought about it, and it’s All Good.

  • You support small, local farms and get to know your farmer.  Ours is Steve Parker, and we look forward to seeing him each week. 
  • Your produce travels much shorter distances, thereby staying fresher.  Fresher produce means more nutrients and better health.
  • Many farms with CSA programs are organic, do not grow genetically modified organisms (GMOs), or at least try to limit the number of damaging pesticides and herbicides they use.
  • Because the produce does not have to travel from California to New York or Boston or Ohio, farmers can grow more delicate, more tasty, and more unusual varieties than Big Agribusiness can.  And they can wait to pick their crops until they are truly ripe, which means you never see a styrofoam ball masquerading as a tomato.
  • Shorter distances travelled means less fuel used to transport your produce.  CSAs contribute significantly less to air pollution than supermarket vegetables.
  • You get back into the natural rhythm of the seasons.  It’s hard to remember, when you go to the average supermarket, that lettuce has a season.  We’re all spoiled into thinking we can have anything we want whenever we want it.  Farm shares are humbling; they teach us that we are not all powerful and sometimes we just can’t have it now.
  • It challenges you to eat more vegetables – you simply can’t let that huge pile of beautiful green peppers go to waste.  Don’t we all need to eat more veggies?
  • It is really cheap – see more on that below.

I’ll talk more about each of these in the coming weeks.   This week, I’ll start with cheapness.

We paid about $275 at the beginning of the season for a half share, which we were told would have about 8 items each week.  We were also told that if we were serious vegans, it would be about right, but otherwise it might be too much.  (We haven’t felt that it’s been too much, except for the corn, which does not agree with me.  But it isn’t too hard to give away sweet corn.)

The season varies in length depending on the weather, but based on what the Parkers told us, we figured that our cost worked out to about $12 per week.

The first week, Steve stuffed a two-gallon plastic bag full to overflowing with mixed baby greens.  The bag weighed at least a pound and a half.  This is stuff goes for $8/lb at Whole Foods.  There was our twelve dollars – and we got 7 other vegetables that week.  If I recall correctly, we got radicchio, two kinds of lettuce, sugar snap peas, arugula, mustard greens, and spinach.  (“Sorry it’s so leafy,” said Steve.  “It’s been cool and rainy.  I hope to have solid stuff next week.”)

I felt a little guilty about this – how could the Parkers possibly make a living?  Then I realized – there are no middle men.  No trucking company to pay, no markups from warehouses and distributors and supermarket chains and heaven only knows who else.  We are, in effect, getting our produce wholesale.

Tonight we got arugula, two glossy black eggplants, four or five green bell peppers, three or four yellow squash, a pound and a half of tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, a bunch of lovely beets with greens still intact, six ears of corn, and enough small green Kirby cucumbers to keep us in pickles for a month.  Dinner was a frittata with arugula and bacon, and a salad with more arugula, some green pepper, some cucumber, and the last of the orange cherry tomatoes from last week, topped with a balsamic mustard vinaigrette the Red-Haired Boy tossed together.  Oh, and served separately, so their own glorious goodness would not be muddied, were sliced Tomatoes, naked except for a sprinkle of salt and a grind of pepper.

We feel happy and healthy and full of good things.

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