The next time you get a hankering for a veggie-filled salad, don't run out to the nearest chain grocery store. Join a community of conscious consumers and have fresh produce on hand all the time through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). And while you're at it, you'll fight global warming, eat quality, typically organic food and support sustainable, local businesses.
How it works: CSAs cut out the middleman and bring consumers in direct contact with small farmers. After joining a CSA, you send money to a local farm, and in return, the farm regularly (weekly or biweekly) delivers the week's best crops of fruits and veggies. Some CSAs offer meat and dairy products, too.
How it benefits the planet: Since farmers receive financial support from the community, they can devote more time to caring for the land and often practice organic farming methods, rather than having to focus solely on turning profit. Getting crops from nearby farms also greatly reduces transportation and labor costs: Imagine how much energy it takes to import conventional peppers from South America versus ones from downstate Illinois?
How it benefits you: Those South American peppers get picked early and shipped to another continent. With a shorter travel time, produce can fully ripen and develop a deeper flavor. That means you get to enjoy better tasting produce that came directly from the farm to your door (or pick up location, depending on what type of CSA youíre involved in). Many natural foodists and dieticians promote staying healthy by eating what the earth produces seasonally, and with a CSA, you'll be getting in-season produce onlyódonít expect berries in January or carrots in May. And if Mother Nature wreaks havoc on a harvest, anticipate a less-bountiful delivery that week. Thatís the beauty of a CSA: Youíre not only a farmer's customer, you're his business partner, which means you stand by him during the ups and the downs.
To find a CSA that delivers to your neighborhood, check out Sustain's 2007 Chicago CSA Map at Sustain's CSA Map
You may also locate and sign up for a CSA in the Chicago area, by going online to www.localharvest.org or www.familyfarmed.org.