The New York Times is going local again. An article from nytimes.com described how a San Francisco man started a business where he comes to your house and creates an organic vegetable garden for you, right in your backyard. He also weeds, harvests the produce, and then leaves the vegetables for you on your back porch. Wow. I have to give the guy props for a brilliant business idea. I imagine that he can charge a pretty penny for his gardening services, and he gets to do something he loves (hopefully) without having to own any farm land himself. In addition, he avoids having to market and sell his produce during the tiny window between ripeness and rot. Bravo!
However, it did strike me as odd that people would actually pay someone to do this. If your motivation is fresh, local produce, why not just go to the farmer’s market or join a CSA? And if you really are passionate about seeing your vegetables grow from seedlings, it seems to me that you would also want to have a hand in growing them. That’s part of the fun! What this indicates to me is that there’s another motivating factor at play here- trendiness. Apparently, local food is becoming trendy, like pomegranates or flax seeds, and frankly I’m a bit conflicted about it. On the one hand, I am glad because it means that more people will be buying local food, which means more money will go to the farmers. But on the other hand, I’m afraid that “trendiness” will become “elitist” and that mainstream Americans will come to believe that local produce is somehow unattainable. This would definitely be a step in the wrong direction. Delicious, healthy, seasonal food as a trend is almost comical. There seems to be some sort of role reversal here. Fresh tomatoes in December. Now that’s elitist. I hope the trend stops before it’s too late for local food to become the norm.
This morning my dad sent me an email with a link to a New York Times article about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). It was well-written, and a good introduction to the concept of CSAs. The idea behind a CSA is that customers pay up front (either for the season or the year), for a share of a local farm’s harvest. The specifics of different CSAs vary, but in general, customers choose how much produce they think their family will eat each week, and sign up for a share corresponding to their needs. The customer pays in advance, based on the amount of produce they chose to receive. The CSA will then package everyone’s share based on the produce they have available that week, and either deliver it to the customers, or have the customers pick up their produce at the farm, or some other designated location.
Our CSA is called Eating with the Seasons. The produce comes from several local farms and once the produce is all divvied up there are pick-up locations all over the Bay Area. We pick-up our share only 2 miles away from our house, making it very convenient. One unique thing about Eating with the Seasons is that they email you a list of available produce each week, and you get to choose which items you would like that week. This means that if one week I’m planning on making a spinach quiche, I can order spinach. Or, if I still have produce left over from the previous week that I need to use up, I can order more fruit and root vegetables. I love this flexibility.
Another particularly cool thing about our CSA is that you can order local, grass-fed beef, lamb (seasonally), and chicken (seasonally) in addition to the produce. They also have other local or fair trade products, such as jam, granola, coffee, olive oil, and eggs. Everything is organic and fresh. Not only is this a great deal for me, but it’s a great deal for the farmers, and allows for smaller farmers to stay in business without having to worry about dealing with large grocery store chains that generally don’t like to do business with small farms. If a large grocery store DOES tell a farmer early on in the season that they would be interested in buying their produce that season, the grocery store is not bound to the farm when the time comes to buy. This means that a whole season of work can end up going to waste if the farm is not able to line up a buyer when their produce is fresh. CSAs allow farmers to get paid in advance, assuring them that the work they’re putting into that season will not go to waste.
To find a CSA in your area, check out Local Harvest. The website will allow you to search for CSAs or farmers markets anywhere in the US. Good luck!