West Michigan has a reputation for conservatism, but West Michigan natives have actually seen a lot of change. One of the more interesting changes has been Grand Rapids's food transformation. From organic produce shops to coffee shops to breweries, the food scene has diversified and intensified. And at the farm level more options have also emerged. One of these is Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA).
For those unfamiliar with the CSA concept, localharvest.org defines it as:
Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.If you've ever had fresh, hyper local produce, you know it's a very different eating experience than grazing the salad bar at Big Boy's or even getting organic at the supermarket. The sooner vegetables (or fruits) are eaten after harvesting, the more nutritious and flavorful it is. Farmers can grow their product for taste instead of presentation or shelf life, which means you get to taste food as it should taste.
This arrangement creates several rewards for both the farmer and the consumer. In brief...
Advantages for farmers:
- Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin
- Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm's cash flow
Advantages for consumers:
- Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow
- Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
- Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
- Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season
- Find that kids typically favor food from "their" farm – even veggies they've never been known to eat
- Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown
With a CSA share you also get exposure to vegetables you may never have tried, expanding your food horizons and opening your life up to new culinary experiences. It's true that it can be a challenge to cook unfamiliar foods, but with a little time and a Google search, you could have a gourmet meal at your own home in no time. Many families really like being forced out of their food ruts in this way.
If this sounds interesting to you, please search localharvest.org for their CSA listings. Some CSAs still have room for more foodies this season. My family has had great experiences with both Trillium Haven Farm and Eden Farm. My son loves to see where his food is grown and do some U-pick harvesting, and my husband loves the variety of eating the CSA experience encourages. Check out the links and make an investment in healthier living today.