Last spring, my husband and I decided to join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. We had talked about it for a few years and finally decided to take the plunge. Last year was different for us, because we were feeding a hungry toddler and suddenly our food choices were affecting another person, too.
The concept behind a CSA is simple: consumers join the farm in the spring, paying for their entire season’s produce in advance, often at a modest discount. Then every week they receive a basket of delicious, local, seasonal food. Some farms even partner with local workplaces, so that members get their produce delivered to their desks each week –a great option for busy families!
We selected Sunrise Farm in nearby White River Junction so that our daughter could see where her food is grown and so I could get to know our farmers and fellow CSA members at the on-farm pickups.
We easily convinced another family on our street in West Lebanon to split a share with us so that we wouldn’t have more than we needed and to keep our costs low for our growing family. I had always thought of a CSA share as a luxury but quickly realized just how easily it fit into our budget. We soon discovered that a half-share was plenty for our needs and only cost around $12 per week. I was already spending more than that on produce at the grocery store! Each week we wound up with more than enough fresh veggies to enjoy with all our meals and even put some in the freezer for the winter months.
From our very first visit to the farm, I knew we had made the right choice. We were invited to wander, explore, and ask questions. My daughter loved visiting the baby chicks in the barn where we picked up our veggies, swinging in the hammock on the porch, and admiring the flower garden. Throughout the summer we picked our own raspberries, blueberries, green beans, herbs, and peas. We often made an outing of picking up our produce; we went together with our neighbors, visited the livestock, and enjoyed long walks in the summer sunshine. On beautiful warm days, visits to the farm became a weekly reminder of why we decided to raise kids in the Upper Valley.
One of the things that surprised me the most was how quickly we adapted our cooking and eating habits to include the vegetables that were available from the farm. We got an email each week telling us about the harvest and often recommending recipes. If I felt stuck, I could turn to the internet to help me find a tasty way to serve veggies I had never encountered before. My husband and I both learned to be more creative and more flexible with our cooking. We learned to make parsnip fries, kale chips, and garlicky rainbow chard, among many others. We may never have tried new or unusual veggies from the grocery store or the farmers markets, but through our CSA share we discovered some delicious new family favorites.
My toddler surprised all of us by trying lots of new foods, too. Since she loved going to the farm, she soon discovered that she loved eating from the farm. We all ate more vegetables than we would have without our CSA share – a habit that I hope lasts a lifetime.
We’re looking forward to continuing this new family tradition and spending another summer wandering the farm, enjoying our favorite fresh produce, and testing out some new recipes. Even though it feels early to be thinking about summer vegetables, now is the time to check out what the local farms are offering and sign up for your share! I’m putting my check in the mail and counting the days until we’re back in the warm sunshine on the farm.
Lauren Whittlesey is the Valley Quest and Volunteer Manager at Vital Communities, an Upper Valley nonprofit that brings people together to make positive change on issues that matter in the region. Visit VitalCommunities.org to learn more about Vital Communities’ work focused on agriculture, energy, transportation, economy, community engagement, and sense of place.