|Photo from plan b organic farms - a CSA in Flamborough, ON.|
There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. It's cold, my skin is terrible, the carpet makes my hair crackly with static, and there is nary a piece of homegrown produce to be found. If 'eating local' is of interest to you, the snow-covered months can certainly be a challenge... the garden is frozen, the farmer's markets are closed, the roadside stands are barren and icy, and the supermarket is chalk-full of tasteless orbs flown from Peru, Spain and Ecuador. What's a locavore to do?
Enter your friendly neighbourhood CSA farmer! What is a CSA? Good question! CSA stands for 'Community Supported Agriculture' and it's getting more popular every season. While each CSA program can differ, the basic premise is generally the same and is pretty simple - members of the community buy shares of the farmers' crop in advance of the season. This gives the grower some funds to use to start the crop, as well as a bit of assurance that the foods that are grown will be sold. When the harvest starts rolling in, shareholders start to reap the benefits! Weekly (or bi-weekly) baskets of farm-fresh produce are delivered to drop-off points and are collected by shareholders. It's truly win-win.
So why go to the trouble of paying for your groceries in advance? For me, it's first and foremost about supporting local farmers and knowing where, when and how my food was produced. If I can't grow it myself, I'd certainly prefer to be able to shake the hand of the person who did. If this isn't a major priority for you, a CSA still offers major benefits. Farm-fresh produce is more nutritious and fresh than anything you'll find in a grocery store, guaranteed. It also tastes better! Further, getting a mixed basket of seasonal fruits and vegetables is a great way to introduce your family to new varieties and to truly embed in your children the link between farm and table. Many CSA farms also operate farm stands, so in the season, you can choose to hop in the car and head out to the farm... talk about a kick-ass day trip for the kiddies!
While the winter pickings are a little slimmer, many CSA farms also offer winter season shares. Some provide eggs and preserves in their shares as well as stored root crops and fresh greens, and a few even offer meat. Others subsidize their own home-produced items with carefully selected imports from producers who embody similar growing philosophies. Whether 100% local or partially imported, investing in shares helps to support the important work that our local farmers do all year round. Despite what the food marketers would have you think, local growers don't disappear when the snow flies!
Building connections with eachother and with our food is something our society is seriously lacking, and we have the opportunity as a new generation of parents to change that. The options are there - we just have to use them!
To find out more about Ontario CSAs and to find a farm in your area, you can click here.