Now that the season is upon us, it is time to think about celebrating the traditions, sharing good times with family and friends, and making new memories. In our pursuit of a greener holiday, there are all sorts of options to have a smaller impact on the environment while still making the holidays special.
Some of us may be choosing a life of reduced consumerism, while others may finally have a little bit of money they’d like to spend on nicer gifts this year. Some of us may merely be on a budget, while others may be wanting to keep their money in the local economy.
Over the next month, I’ll try to give everyone some good ideas that are greener, cleaner, local-er, and still special.
Today’s idea is one that may not be available to everyone, but you never know until you do a little research.
For the foodies in the family, for the localvores, or really anyone who enjoys fresh food, check into your community for farms that participate in a CSA program.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. How it works is usually something like paying for a magazine subscription, except instead of a magazine, you get fresh, usually organic, usually extremely local, freshly picked vegetables and fruits. Many of the farms that offer CSA participation call your investment in their farm a “share.” Most CSAs operate under the concept that you are helping support the farm by paying for the products they produce in advance of the season. With this investment in a share, farms are better able to plan their seasons, crops, deliveries, and profit. Some farms (most of the ones I’ve checked out) even offer eggs, dairy, and meats also raised on the farm or a partner farm for an additional cost. Some CSAs deliver while others have pick-up locations at farmer’s market locations. You can even tell them which vegetables you would rather not get or trade with another shareholder.
You can get weekly or bi-weekly (meaning every other week) “shares” of food that are in season. Of the farms local to me, they indicate that throughout the year there are 60-70 types of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and sometimes flowers you can get as part of your share, and most shares are 6-10 different kinds of produce that come to you in a box or paper grocery bag–sometimes up to two paper bags full. What you get, of course, depends on what is in season.
Additionally, several of the CSAs I have read about have “field” days where you are invited to come help harvest or do other work on the farm, which is optional and completely up to you. Some even offer a “work for your food” kind of plan where you can earn your food through sweat-equity. A couple of CSAs come with newsletters and recipes for cooking ideas. There are even a few that have community meals where members come to the farm once a season and dine with fellow CSA shareholders and the farmers. It sounds like so much fun!
As for payment plans, they seem to be as varied as the vegetables you can get. Some have an annual fee, some break up payments throughout the year, some charge “per box” and some have a system that sounds like a season-specific plan, where you get anywhere from 4 to 8 boxes per season. Right now, many of the local CSAs are offering gift cards or gift plans for as low as $25 for the holidays. Of course, you can gift as much as a whole year’s worth, if you want, and I am sure they extend the gift-card giving to birthdays and other special occasions.
Considering how much produce I buy every week, this sounds like an amazing alternative/supplement to getting grocery-store fruits and vegetables that are sometimes already “over the hill” or weeks away from being ripe. Additionally, you’ll not only get more nutritious food (because it’s so fresh–sometimes picked that day!), but you can also have the peace of mind that organically grown foods are lacking in toxic pesticides and have a lower impact on the environment with less inorganic inputs. Since these foods have been grown so close to home, less energy has been spent on getting the food to you, which reduces air and water pollution. At the same time, you are actively supporting farmers and their families make a more reliable living without having to be so dependent upon bank loans.
It is a really exciting option that I know I am going to look into not only for my own family but probably a few of my friends. I hope you will look into a CSA for the holidays and think about giving this gift of green not only to the people on your shopping list, but to yourself as well!