Spring is here, at last, and that means that farmers all over Long Island will soon be harvesting crops that will find their way to many of our kitchens.
Other than growing your own vegetables, purchasing a membership in a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA) is the best way to invest in your health, and at the same time support Long Island's farmers, economy and environment.
Making choices that have a positive effect on our health and environment is critical. We must connect the dots between the food we eat, how it is grown, our health, the people we support, the greenhouse gases that our food system emits, our local economy and climate change. Forging a relationship with a nearby farm is a meaningful way to do that.
CSA members reap the weekly harvest of vegetables while also assuming some of the risk that comes with farming, such as big storms or blights that might affect a harvest. Here’s how it works: You pay in advance at the beginning of the season to buy a "share" in a particular farm. In return, you pick up a box each week with freshly harvested tomatoes, zucchini, corn, greens or whatever the farm has just reaped. Some CSAs also offer add-on options of bread, flowers, cheese, eggs, grass-fed meat, dairy or even seafood.
But the benefits go way beyond the weekly box of vegetables. Membership buys you into a community of folks with similar values, people who care about the environment and care about the foods they eat. Many CSAs offer the opportunity to connect with the farm by volunteering to plant or harvest, and most host events or potlucks throughout the season. Children benefit from seeing how their food is grown, and are more willing to taste a new vegetable if it came from "their" farm.
The popularity of these partnerships is growing. "Tens of thousands of families have joined CSAs, and in some areas of the country there is more demand than there are CSA farms to fill it," according to LocalHarvest, an organization supporting the local food movement.
On Long Island, we have more than 25 CSAs, part of the 4,000 that LocalHarvest lists in its database. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent data show that in 2015, 7,398 farms in the U.S. followed the CSA model.
CSAs have been growing tremendously over the past few years, and in 2020, with the pandemic raging and many more people cooking at home, many memberships sold out before the season even began.
Most CSA farms are organic or biodynamic, or at least follow the principles of sustainable agriculture, which means they use ecologically conscious methods such as crop rotation and avoid pesticides, herbicides and non-GMO seeds. This model also allows farmers to grow just the quantity of vegetables they need, which minimizes food waste and creates fewer carbon emissions because there is no transportation or refrigeration involved in trucking the produce from a distance.
Here on Long Island, this type of farming is especially necessary, because it minimizes groundwater pollution, which contaminates our aquifers and our drinking water.
Climate change is here. We all can make a difference — if we vote with our forks!
Bhavani Jaroff of Old Westbury is a natural foods chef and owner of iEat Green, where she teaches healthy cooking and sustainable living.