I recently took part in a market research discussion group looking into the eating habits of CSA members. It was eye opening: when asked why we choose to purchase local and seasonal, the usual answers came up. It's the environmentally responsible choice; it's to help local farmers and producers; it builds community... As the discussion moved along, what became even more obvious was the fact that most CSA members were not gung-ho eco-warriors, but regular folks, with busy lives, children, money problems and what-not. But everyone was sold on the idea, and would love nothing more than to spread the gospel.
So here I go! It's open-season for signing-up, most farms are still accepting new members. I've compiled a little lists of a few good reasons for joining in.
It's ECO-logical (hah! Silly pun, I know, I couldn't help it!)
Buying locally produced foods cuts down on your carbon footprint: CSA farms usually deliver within a 160km/ 100 mile radius; farmers who sell at market also try to limit their travels. Most farms participating in the CSA scheme are also certified organic, on the way to being certified, or organic with no intention of ever certifying (because it costs a pretty penny), so the produce you eat will have no pesticide residue and will have been produced in a manner that respects the environment and the surrounding wildlife.
If you need convincing that fruits and vegetables can be literal time bombs, just look at the list of the dirty dozen.
Because your food has travelled less, it often arrives in a better state. (Okay, I admit it, there is the occasional bug, and it can be a shock. But think about it: if the bug isn't dead, it means the food won't kill you.) But even more impressive is the fact that the produce is usually picked within hours of being delivered, so, not only does it look and taste fresh, it is better for you (picked fruits and vegetables start to lose their nutrients as soon as they are picked), and it will keep much longer than most store-bought produce.
Each farm has their own way of working the CSA scheme, but in most cases, members are asked to pay upfront for the season's crop. At first, it will feel like you are parting with a big wad of cash, but once you factor in the number of weekly deliveries (anywhere from 20 to 52 a year), and the actual size of the baskets, you will realize that you are getting more than your fair share. In most cases, baskets contain a generous diversity of produce for under 10$ per person, per week. Also, the produce is so fresh, it sometimes keeps for weeks longer than the stuff from the grocery store: better keeping qualities means you waste less food (and money).
It builds community
By financially supporting a small, local farm, you are ensuring that a family remains in a rural community, which in turn prevents towns and villages from dying out. When a rural community thrives, it means that fertile lands will not get turned into condominiums, strip malls, and other suburban nightmares.
And you get to put a face on the food you eat: you will no longer be satisfied with anonymous food. Also, many farms prefer to have community drop-off points (as opposed to door-to-door delivery), which also builds up your community: it's like having a weekly block party! In this day and age, when most of us are so 'busy' that we no longer know who our neighbours are, CSA drop-off points are sometimes the only way we can meet the people who live within meters of us.
It's part of a global movement
Someone once asked me if buying local wasn't actually akin to protectionism, to which I say balderdash! (Actually, I was thinking something much worse...) By buying local (and trying to eat seasonal whenever possible), you are actually helping the global community.
It is complete hogwash to think that the agro-industry helps small farmers in developing countries: farmhands on industrial farmlands work under often harsh conditions; earn a pittance; have no health insurance (or any other kind of insurance for that matter); rarely have the means to feed their own families or to send their children to school. The Price of Sugar is a documentary on sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic, but could easily have been about any industrial plantation owned by big money in a developing country.
By supporting a local producer, you are indirectly supporting organisations such as La Via Campesina, and Navdanya International working to restitute land rights to the peasants who actually live and work on the land. The Slow Food movement sees buying local as a big stop sign for the land grab currently happening in poorer countries.
As consumers, we have the power to be heard: buying local is one small way to make a big difference.
I have previously compiled a CSA listing, but here it is again, in its (almost) complete form.
Équiterre: Quebecers are lucky to have the people at Équiterre to compile the directory of CSA farms in the province, but there are other options for Montrealers who don't want to commit to one farm
Le Frigo-Vert, Concordia's food co-op
Fait Ici, a loco-centric old school general store
Co-op La Maison Verte is a health food co-op serving as a drop-off point for three farms in NDG.
Amarosia in Shediac, N.B.
ACORN (Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network) list organic farms in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick
The Canadian Prairies
Eagle Creek Farms near Calgary and Red Deer, AB
Other CSA farms in Alberta
City farm boy
UBC (yes! UBC as in the university!)
Urban GrainsFarm Folk City Folk
In the US
Star Hollow Farm in Washington, D.C.
Urban Farm Online
In the UK
Sign up, and bon app'!