April 3, 2012

FOOD & AG: Do you know where your veggies come from?

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Ours is a world where the average American is content to think no further about the origins of their food than the supermarket aisle. Ours is a world where the average American is content to think no further about the origins of their food than the supermarket aisle. But for those of us who crave the true taste of a tomato, and who care about the social and ecological costs of the food industry, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs may be part of our solution.

CSA is a system in which a farm and a number of local families share both the risks and benefits of food production. The customer pays the grower a predetermined amount, either before the season or in installments, and in return receives a weekly share of seasonally ripe vegetables. The shareholder chooses to either pick up the vegetables from the farm or have them delivered.

Most CSAs also offer “U-pick” vegetables, meaning that in addition to acquiring a pre-packed box, individuals can head out into the fields themselves to pick their own extra goodies, whether that includes strawberries, hot peppers or basil.

It is a theoretical win-win-win scenario for the farmer, the buyer and the environment. The farm can operate because of the support of the community. In return, the shareholder receives fresh, local, and often organic produce grown with quality in mind. Meanwhile, the environment benefits from sustainable farming practices and avoiding the greenhouse gas emissions inherent in transportation and processing.

Finally, as the consumer develops a relationship with the farmer, community connections build. The downside? The consumer has little choice in what he or she eats. It depends on what is seasonal, what is ripe, what the grower chooses to plant, and what survives. If the farm suffers from drought, delicate crops may not make it and the customer will have to go without. So when choosing a CSA, it is best to pick one that is both well established and well reviewed by the community to minimize risk.

While processed foods may reign in the supermarket, fresh quality produce drives the CSA. For those hunting for green beans that snap and for tomatoes that truly taste like tomatoes, check out Ithaca’s bounty of CSA programs. While most are the traditional vegetable CSAs, there are now fruit, bread, and meat CSAs as well.

Elizabeth Leuin is a student in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at erl45@cornell.edu. The Missing Link: Food & Ag appears on Wednesdays.

Original Author: Elizabeth Leuin