It’s no stretch to say that working for Söntés changed my life. Getting to know Tessa and her crew exposed me to a whole new way of looking at food. The idea of eating intentionally—considering the worth of each ingredient, its origin, the craft that went into growing and harvesting it, and the artistry that turned it into the dish on my plate—was completely new to me. Now, it’s one of the standards that I live by.
I love food, I love cooking, I love eating well. I love the connections it brings to the land, to the community around me, and to cultural traditions. Looking back, I can’t believe it’s only been five years since that turning point! Since then, one of my favorite ways to support good food has become the purchase of a yearly CSA subscription. In fact, the first time my family got a CSA subscription, we were so excited that we made a cheesy little video about the contents of the box. See?
“CSA,” or “Community Supported Agriculture,” is a pretty common term nowadays, but if you haven’t heard of it, no worries! Here’s an introduction for you, and the reasons why you should get one of your own.
1. Get Fruits & Veggies Weekly
Let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard to get a balanced amount of fruits and vegetables from the store—particularly tasty ones that haven’t been in cold storage for days while they were shipped from California or even Mexico. (I don’t know about you, but I can always taste that, and when I was a kid, I could rarely be persuaded to eat fruit and vegetables from the store. If they were from our garden, on the other hand, I was all for it!) By subscribing to a CSA, you ensure that your household gets a steady stream of fresh, hearty fruits and vegetables each week.
One of the big motivations for getting our own CSA box in my household is to make sure we eat enough fruits and vegetables. If they’re just sitting there, staring me in the face, I’m much more likely to stick one in my bag to take to work as a snack or lunch supplement. And, with a plethora of produce in the fridge, dinner suddenly becomes much more interesting and appetizing.
(By the way, if you’re not a big veggie and fruit fan, you can look into meat CSAs. Same principle, just with chicken, beef, pork, lamb, or goat!)
2. Challenge Yourself to Cook Seasonally
Getting a CSA box is a great way to expand your cooking repertoire. Have no idea what to do with beets? Well, it’s beet season, and now you’ve got a bundle—better figure out how to cook them! Never heard of ramps? There’s a bunch of them sitting in your delivery box, and now you know what they are! Don’t worry, many farms with CSA programs will give you a small flier with info on the current batch of produce, often including suggested recipes. Otherwise, the Internet is your friend! I’ve become a big fan of sites like Foodily, which allows you to search for recipes by ingredient. Sit down at your computer with a list of what you have on hand, and you can easily find out what to do with it all.
One of the best things that we implemented upon getting a CSA was weekly dinner parties with our circle of friends. There was even a time when we split the cost of the CSA with another household, which meant that we got together each week to chat and divvy up the produce. It was a great way to not only afford a beautiful home-cooked dish, but connect with our friends over a shared meal.
Whether we’re concocting dinner for a group, or just for ourselves, the steadily shifting contents of our basket causes us to keep our diet in line with the season. Sure, there have been those wistful times when I realize that strawberry season is over (already??), but then I get to dive into to the next berry, or stone fruit, or squash. When winter comes around, and the CSA ceases for the year, all that really means is that I get to look forward to spring again while I tuck into the potatoes, squashes, onions, and other veggies that store well over the cold season.
(We’ve also learned a lot about preserving food for the winter—but that’s another story!)
3. Keep Your Local Small Farms Afloat
When you’re considering the purchase of a CSA, try looking into it in the late fall or early winter. Many farms begin selling CSA shares well before the growing season begins so that they can plan what they’ll plant for the year ahead. CSA subscriptions provide not only a stable source of income, but a base on which the farmers can build future crops.
You’ll usually get the best price by ordering early, too—which is good, because many farms are not set up to take payment plans, so you pay for the CSA in entirety up front. It can be spendy, but if you break it down by the number of weeks you receive a produce basket, and the amount of produce in that basket, you’ll find that it’s a very budget-conscious decision for your household.
So, not only do you get great food out of a CSA subscription, but you also support the farming community around you. Those small family farms can grow and thrive by selling their products through CSA subscriptions and farmers markets. If you love seeing those farms while driving from city to town in Southeastern Minnesota or Wisconsin, then support them by buying their wares. If a CSA subscription isn’t your cup of tea, then hit up the closest Farmers Market and stock up on your locally grown produce, foraged ingredients, herbs, eggs, music, and more. It’s truly a community event!
A number of Söntés’ vendors—like Fairview Farm and Earthen Path Organic Farm—offer CSA subscriptions, but there are many more available in the area. You can find information on local farms, farmers, and CSA subscriptions at sites like Local Harvest or the Land Stewardship Project. If you have a favorite CSA subscription, please leave a comment and let others know who you would recommend.