For many reasons, there is a lot of attention on “buying locally”. Just a few of the reasons include: enhancing local economies, procuring higher quality produce and proteins, and putting sustainable principles in action, e.g. lowering the carbon footprint of food transportation requirements. Many consumers make it a point to buy locally grown produce at our conventional and natural grocery stores; we frequent the farmers markets to find local gems and develop relationships with neighboring producers. However, most of us know that as hard we as try, buying local is not always so easy. The local section at the stores is not always plentiful or diverse, and we can’t always commit to make it to the farmers market. Part of the solution, may lie in a concept that has been popping up on our radar lately: Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs.
A CSA gives local savvy consumers a chance of “buying into” a farm, or farm sharing. CSAs begin accepting farm shareholders before growing season begins. Shareholders agree to pay in advance to cover the costs of farming supplies, seeds, and farmers’ seasonal salary. Once growing season is underway, shareholders receive bounty from the crops typically on weekly schudule at a local pick up site. Pick up sites could be anything from a fellow shareholders home, a parking lot, or a designated stand at a farmer’s market. Being a CSA shareholder brings the consumer closer than ever to food, as technically, they own part of the farm. This cuts out the middleman and allows us to buy more directly than ever from the source. Many times CSAs will offer shareholders updates on happenings at the farm and what to expect in the season’s crops.
This works beautifully for smaller farmers—by selling directly to shareholders, the farmers are able to charge appropriately for their crops. This helps keep the small, local farms more financially stable, while staying independent. CSAs are one of the finest ways to buy local produce, and learn a little more about Colorado agriculture, straight from the source — the farm! The best part is anyone can be a part of a CSA, and they are growing in popularity; schools, individuals, families, businesses, and the food industry can all be a part of supporting our local agricultural.
Luckily for us, we have an expert Serendipity chef who specializes in local foods and working with CSAs. Chef Elizabeth Gibb is our go-to gal when talking local foods and farms. She was nice enough answer a few questions about CSAs and give our readers advice on the best local products.
CSAs have really taken off in the past few years! What’s your take on why?
A CSA brings you into a close relationship with the farm and the people who provide food for you. You develop a relationship with them and feel invested in their success. The CSA program also gives them the ability farm sustainable; they can grow what they need to support the soil. You get to feel more in touch with what you eat and how it was grown, as well as possibly getting the opportunity to try vegetables you might not have picked out on your own. Right now we are more aware of all of this, it’s a good feeling.
People are more in touch in their food now since before big farms took over. What is one thing about “going local” everyone should know?
The local slow food movement has been amazing to watch over the last decade in particular. The awareness of where your food comes from, and how it and the farmers are treated has been a great step in the right direction. I believe that it needs to take another big step to really start to understand what sustainability means. Going local is a big part of sustainability, but we also need to be aware of the resources we use and mis-use to raise that food as well as the amount of food our production systems waste before it ever gets a chance to see the dinner table.
What surprisingly grows well in Colorado?
Quinoa! This versatile, nutty tasting grain grows very well in the High Deserts of Colorado like the San Luis Valley. It’s an amazing source of protein and essential amino acids and uses a lot less water resources to grow than many of our other standard grains grin in Colorado. Quinoa is primarily imported from South America. We are able to grow it locally here making it a very sustainable option on so many levels; travel distance to market, low fresh water usage, easy to cultivate.
Aside from produce, what other superior Colorado products are there?
One of my favorite Colorado products is mushrooms from Hazel Dell Farms. I will seek these out at farmers markets and Whole Foods. They grow six varieties of mushrooms; Shiitake, Oyster, Lion’s Mane, Portobello, Button, and Cinnamon Cap, all amazing to cook with and taste great with sautéed with a little olive oil and salt. The Lion’s Mane are a wonderful treat pan seared and served with drizzle of lemon juice and sea salt.
Another product that I love from Colorado is all of the fresh goat cheeses available. There are many great farms; Haystack Mountain, Jumping Good Goat, Broken Shovels, just to name a few. I recently discovered a Goat Lemon Yogurt Cheese from Broken Shovels. It was a perfect blend of creamy, salty, sweet and sour. It had a light lemon curd flavor that went well with fruit as a light desert.
When planning a menu for an event, what local foods do you look to for inspiration?
It is really important to be able to look at what is going to be in season at the time the event is going to take place. What you see at the farmers market right now might be completely different. Having a good relationship with the meat vendors/butchers can help out with this too, they can keep you in the loop of what they are expecting as well as the natural cycles of their products.
What is your favorite growing season, and favorite local food?
Funny enough spring is my favorite growing season even in Colorado where the abundance of foods are not available until late summer and fall. The tender spring greens and herbs when they are first harvested just sets the stage for the rest of the summer. I’m a big fan of Crocuses, Irises and other bulb flowers for the same reason, once they start to arrive, you know warm weather and a great summer is on its way!
What local meal is your favorite to prepare at home on a night off from cooking?
A night off from cooking usually means no cooking at all but creating a cheese board that can mix and match different flavors; a wedge of Goat Brie, salted feta, fresh sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, and basil and a loaf of Artisan Bread. Hopefully peaches or berries are in season to round it off.