The visibility of locally-grown food received a significant boost in recent years with the growth in popularity of what has become known as the “farm-to-table” movement. Restaurants – especially trendy ones – began embracing locally-grown foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, and poultry as a way to create uniqueness and be more environmentally aware and responsible. Ingredients and dishes were proudly labeled with the local grower’s name and other information about the food we were eating, so we would know exactly what we were putting in our mouths – hence the term, “farm-to-table.”
While it’s always healthy to be suspicious of any trend, this one is actually healthy in its own right. Conventionally-grown produce from industrial farms is often pesticide-laden, genetically modified to enhance stability and longevity, and picked before maturity to travel long distances to market. The result is produce that is dull, often flavorless, and of little nutritional value. So what’s the alternative? What’s a better solution?
Grow your own, or support someone else who is.
While that might be the tagline for a popular restaurant chain, it’s actually better suited for a truly healthy solution: locally-grown food. While growing your own produce is ideal, it’s also impossible for most of us to grow everything we need, so it’s helpful to identify local sources you can trust to supply you with the raw ingredients you need to put healthy food on the table. Hello, community supported agriculture!
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a shared community resource concept that is rapidly growing in popularity across the country. Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.
The CSA seed was first sown by Booker T. Whatley, a black horticulturist and agriculture professor at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Whatley was an advocate for regenerative farming in the 1960s and ’70s who was deeply engaged in the civil rights movement and support for black farmers. As part of this support, Whatley came up with the idea of a “Clientele Membership Club” that would support farms through a promise of purchase with an upfront payment and even active participation in crop picking and pick-up. The CSA concept has been growing ever since.
The sad truth is that our current agricultural system is flawed in many ways. Large-scale, industrial agricultural practices hurt the environment, diminish plant diversity, and produce inexpensive, heavily processed, nutritionally-bankrupt products. These goods are then marketed mostly to lower-income, disenfranchised segments of our population that have few resources and limited access to healthy, nutritional foods. The very act of supplying “food” to them is compromising their health.
While it would be nice to think that working with a CSA (which has evolved from a business model concept to an entity) is the perfect solution, there are also some important realities that we need to address to improve this growing movement. The CSA Innovation Network is dedicated to a vision of food sovereignty which includes improved access to healthy food to a more diverse and multifaceted community while also ensuring that the farmers who produce it also represent the cultural, ethnic, and economic diversity represented in the United States.
Growing produce and raising livestock and poultry is a precarious business. Environmental conditions, disease, financial markets, consumer preferences and a host of other factors all affect what’s available to who and when.
In many cases, the money you invest in a CSA can get you some terrific produce, you just can’t always be quite sure what it is and in what amounts. Every farmer strives to do their very best to produce the highest quality food products, but sometimes the results don’t match the goals and expectations. Sometimes you get a little, other times you can get a LOT. Sometimes it’s good, other times it’s OUTSTANDING.
But first, you have to find a CSA that works for you. That means one that is close enough to make it easy to get what you’re signed up for when it’s ready. You also need to be able to pony up the cash in advance to support the CSA’s efforts and that can be challenging for some individuals and families, especially during a pandemic. Still, if you’re able to find the right CSA, the results and benefits you reap from your investment can make it more than worthwhile.
Communities are stronger, relationships more meaningful, and life a little bit better when we all work together and support each other. That means frequenting local establishments, investing your money back into your community, and providing a little cash to your neighbors and fellow area residents at local craft fairs and farmer’s markets in return for some high-quality, locally-produced products.
No matter who the farmers are, where they came from, or what they grow, farm work is hard and unpredictable. Farmers need all the support they can get – not just to provide for their families and meet expenses, but to grow their businesses, profit, and be an asset to the greater community. This is what it means to support each other.
If you’ve never been to a farm or farmer’s market here in greater central Massachusetts, now’s the time to go. If you’ve already been to one or more, now it’s time to try another. This local farm list is a great place to start.
If a CSA isn’t in the cards for you, local farms with retail operations or a community farmer’s market (many towns have them) are the next best thing. There’s no upfront cost, the food’s fresh and local, it’s convenient, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the variety of high-quality products out there. I’m living proof: I recently visited my local farmer’s market and walked away with fresh-caught swordfish, grass-fed beef, a half dozen ears of young corn, local honey, and a bottle of local Pinot Noir. It does not get any better than that.
Remember, if you can grow a little at home, and support those who grow, raise, and process beautiful, local food and drink, you will not only be contributing to the positive shift in your local economy, you will also be amplifying the nutritional value of your meals at home. The late summer and early fall are BOUNTIFUL times of harvest, so now is the time to start visiting the farmer’s markets and researching your local CSA!
If you are interested in regenerative gardening, please download our eBook about it called How Regenerative Gardening will help Fight Climate Change.
If you are in our service area around Medfield, MA, consider scheduling a Landscape Discovery Session to talk about your landscape needs.