For two years, Sportsglutton and I lived in northern California. Life there can spoil a girl (or boy) because the food is top-notch and it is everywhere. You need a farmers market? No problem, you can find them year-round, seven days a week, in whatever location you happen to be in at the time (for the most part… the Sierras are a little chilly for year round markets). Vendors were loaded down with produce, organic and grass-fed meats, local cheese, honey, fresh bread, local made ethnic treats, wine, and anything else local that your heart may desire. I dream of those days… and that food. A simple sandwich of fresh tomatoes and mayo on a fresh-baked pretzel roll, or my beach cruiser’s basket loaded to capacity with produce on the weekends. Pure bliss.
Sportsglutton and I left the sunny/foggy, mild, mediterraneanesque climate of northern California for the four seasons of Utah in the high desert so I can attend grad school. We were sorely disappointed in the amount of produce available in general and the average to poor quality (even in stores like Whole Foods). I know we are spoiled, but I was determined not to be thwarted in my search for high quality, healthy (for us and the environment), affordable food. We tried the farmers markets last summer and were disappointed. There was not much abundance or variety – especially compared to what we were used to. Now, I am not trying to knock Utah, but in reality the local food movement, farmers markets, and organic/sustainable products available are in their infancy compared to other areas of the country (like California and the pacific northwest). That being said, they are working hard to build a local culture to support these efforts. Our local farmers market started back up last Saturday and it was PACKED, an excellent sign. While they keep up the good work, I still need to get my fruit and veggie fix.
This is where community supported agriculture (CSA) comes into play. You pay in advance for food and the farmer takes that money and uses it to fund the farming of those products. You are guaranteed fresh food, they have a guarantee that their products will be used. It reduces investment risk on the farms part, though it does increase risk to the customer slightly if it turns out to be a bad growing season, etc – the bounty can vary in size. They are popular and available in Cali, but it is VERY easy to get by without one – not so much in Utah and many other areas of the country. Typically, the cost is very appealing when you calculate it out (especially compared to organic produce in a specialty or even regular grocery store), though it can seem daunting when you pay the lump sum up front. Though you do not get to choose what is delivered each, consider this an adventure. The variety of foods encourage experimentation and exposure to new and delicious foods.
*A note on agriculture: Organic is great and that is what we are usually on the look out for, but the cost of certification can be prohibitive to small farms. Just because a farm is not certified, does not mean that they are not practicing organic agriculture. Take your time and do a little research on some local farms providing services (CSA or other direct food sales) even if they are not listed as organic, they may end up organic and sustainable anyway. Oh, and if you see the word biodynamic, that is also typically organic and sustainable farming practices. It is a theory and style of farming in which “farmers seek to fashion their farms…as self-regulating, bio-diverse ecosystems in order to bring health to the land and to their local communities.” -The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association
Last year we only ordered meat (pork, beef, chickens) from a local farm since many of the produce CSAs were sold out already when we moved in July. This year we added a produce CSA through a small, local, specialty grocer (about $30-40 a week for fruit and veggies).
I could write a very long post on all of this, but the main point is: do a little research – you will be surprised how much is out there, and upon tasting how much higher quality it is. CSA, food co-ops, farmers markets and farm direct programs are healthy choices – you are supporting your local economy, you are supporting sustainable agricultural practices, and you are consuming healthier food.
Some helpful links:
Christiansen Family Farm - raises Berkshire/Kurobuta (a heritage breed) pigs (the Kobe of pork) and Murray Grey and Black Angus steers. Christiansen Farm pasture raises all of their animals, mixes all of their own organic feed, does not finish their beef on corn (they are grass/hay/alfalfa fed only – I could go into a whole food chain competition discussion here, but I will save that for another day), does not feed them scraps, does not use hormones or antibiotics, and raises breeds that are suited to the climate (reduces stress on the animal and produces higher quality meats). The quality of this meat is off the charts (in addition to the high quality of the meat, they also dry age the beef). You will never want to eat a supermarket pork chop again – EVER. The beef is lean and flavorful with a strong grassy note – no blandness here. The second best part of all of this (aside from the ridiculously tasty meat that I would be willing to pay more for) is that the cost comes to about $3.50 a pound. They offer a few different ways to purchase their products at differing price points. The cheapest is a family share, which consists of a quarter beef and a half pig, or ordering of a whole or half pig or a quarter, half, or whole steer. These options require storage capacity outside of a traditional fridge/freezer combo on the purchaser’s part. CSA shares are also offered in smaller quantities, but at a slightly higher price ($4-$5).
Liberty Heights Fresh - our produce CSA.
Slow Food USA - A list of local chapters throughout the US. The local websites usually provide lists of local resources, including farms.