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Eating Healthy Doesn’t Just Mean Fruits and Veggies

How CSA can change not only the way you eat, but also the way you think about your food.

Americans have been taking a grassroots approach to getting access to safer and healthier food long before reports of tainted spinach made the news in 2006. Greenmarkets are one option but another gaining in popularity is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). What began as two CSAs in 1986 has grown to over a 1,000 operating in the U.S. today.

CSAs offer urban dwellers a closer connection to how their food is produced while also supporting small, independent family farms. Quality is a hallmark of any CSA since many practice sustainable and organic farming methods. They also eliminate a middleman, usually a warehouse, to clean, package and then ship their product. Before picking up your share, it’s safe to assume your food went from farm to truck to your table. That is the very reason many families flock to joining one.

It is important to note that not all farms are certified organic since it is a costly process with USDA set standards. That doesn’t mean, though, that the farmers are not using organic and sustainable methods of cultivating the land, including eliminating use of harmful pesticides. It just means they cannot legally call it organic without the certification. When joining a CSA, you have the right to inspect the farm in which you’ve “joined” as a shareholder and many CSAs schedule harvest trips throughout the year in which members can pick their own crops.

Membership is generally on a subscription basis in which individuals pay a farmer at the start of the season for the guarantee of vegetables delivered on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. The pick up location is often a community center or house of worship and the price averages $15 to $20 per week, with the season generally lasting from June through November. Many CSAs also charge a nominal administrative fee, around $25, when signing up.

Vegetables were the anchor product when Community Supported Agriculture began but the demand for quality and trusted food sources has evolved in the past two decades, increasing the offerings available. It’s now common to find fruit shares, egg shares, honey and most recently meat, available for an additional cost. Reports linking human resistance to antibiotics with the fact that we are consuming meat that has been treated with these same medications has raised concerns among consumers about the use of pharmaceuticals in livestock, a common practice for animals raised in commercial feedlots. Small family farms, however, provide an alternative since their livestock is usually pasture-raised, free of antibiotics and hormones.

Some of these farms also have their own USDA licensed processing plants, like Dines Farm, operating since 1984 in the Catskill Mountains of New York. That means their livestock doesn’t leave the land to be processed and packaged where there’s chance for contamination. In addition to peace of mind, pasture-raised meat delivers health benefits. In the case of grass-fed beef, also known as pasture-raised, it is higher in protein, lower in saturated fat and has higher levels of Omega-3. The difference in flavor can be an adjustment compared to the taste of the corn or grain-fed cattle many of us grew up eating. The consensus among those transitioning is that grass-fed beef has a “gamey” flavor. As with feeding small children, sometimes is takes a few tries for adults to fall in love with a new food too.

Diet plays a huge factor in not only taste but also how grass-fed beef should be cooked. Less fat means less cooking time if you’re using a direct-heat cooking method, like grilling. It is best served medium-rare to medium, so be sure to adjust your cooking time to avoid a steak that is tough or dry. Using an instant read thermometer is a good way to accurately measure the meat’s temperature. If you prefer well-done meat, grilling may not be the way to go. Instead experiment with different cuts of meat and cooking methods, like stewing or braising, that utilize a moist-heat cooking technique and result in a medium to well-done temperature. Try our Braised Beef with Tomatoes and Carrots below for starters.                          

If you’re interested in joining a local CSA, visit www.localharvest.org/csa and type in your zip code for a listing of participating farms in your neighborhood. If you currently belong to a CSA but meat isn’t on the menu, talk to the farmer or administrator about adding a cattle, beef or poultry farmer to your group.