We all know that eating locally is the best option. We’ve been told that meals made with seasonal and organic ingredients are better for both the environment and our bodies. However, it's not always easy to find produce that meets this criteria. There are factors to consider: where was the food grown, under what conditions, and how did it get from the farm to your table? The answers of which can have serious environmental consequences.
Say, for instance, a particular fruit or vegetable is out of season in your area. That produce must travel from one location, often hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles away, all the way to your grocery store. To say nothing of the environmental impact of such a long trip, the fruit and vegetables being hauled are often treated with ethanol gases to keep from spoiling.
As Chicagoans, we are lucky to be surrounded by so many local farms in and around the Great Lakes area. However, it can be challenging to find local produce without shopping at specific groceries or seasonal farmer's markets. CSA boxes, or a Community Supported Agriculture box is a great way to provide you and your family with healthy, usually organic and local produce.
A CSA box is a monthly subscription to various locally grown seasonal fruits and vegetables. Most farms offer a variety of flexible services that you can cater to you and your family's personal needs and preferences. Boxes can be filled with just about anything: fresh produce, healthy grains and delicious eggs and dairy products.
With the menu constantly adapting to the harvest, eating seasonally means that your produce is more flavorful and nutrient dense. Receiving a CSA box every week makes eating seasonally easy and fun. To make it even easier, some boxes deliver directly to your home; others, using a more common option, are available at designated pickup-locations.
Utilizing everything in your box presents itself with an interesting challenge. While most people plan out their meals for the week and grocery shop accordingly, CSA subscribers work backward, starting with the produce they develop meals based on what they have. Recipes like soups, smoothies, salads, stir frys and curries are incredibly versatile and can be readily adapted to what you have on hand. Working backward with your recipes can really challenge you to become a more intuitive cook. Tasting your food as it cooks, and becoming less dependent on recipes is not just rewarding, it’s a lot of fun!
A CSA subscription is not only a great way to support local farmers and the environment, it's a great means of exposing yourself to new local produce and to eating a diet that consists of more whole foods and vegetables - which is never a bad thing.
If a CSA box sounds like something you'd like to try, there are so many resources at your fingertips! The Local Beet provides a huge list of CSA boxes, what the include and flexible plans for the Chicago land area.
Some smaller grocery stores like NewLeaf near Loyola offer CSA boxes without a subscription if you're looking to try something new without a big commitment. Not only does supporting local produce support your city and the environment we live in, but it's such a personalized service with a huge sense of community pride. If you make good connections with your farmers, they'll take care of you and help cater to your personal needs. Check out CSA subscriptions close to your area. Eating your veggies never tasted so good!
To get more seasonal vegetable know-how, take The Chopping Block's upcoming Fall Vegetable Harvest cooking class. You'll learn how to work with root vegetables, squash and dark leafy greens.