Wednesday January 17, 2007

Eating locally

If you’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (and you should; it’s a great book), you know that eating locally grown food is one of the best things you can do for yourself, your community, and your environment (see also 100 Mile Diet). The bummer is that Miami is not an easy city to eat locally in. One of the less-then-perfect options is the Redland Organics CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) food subscription.

Rebecca at Greener Miami and Tere at the mom blog have gone in together on a one-month trial, and have posts up on their initial reactions. The pros: you get super-delicious food, and you’re very legitimately eating locally. The cons: not for the faint of heart —

  1. You have no idea what you’re getting from one week to the next.
  2. You get lots of food. Better suited to big families with flexible pallets and hippie communes.
  3. You sign up before the growing season, then you get food for about 20 weeks; November to April. The rest of the year you’re back on your own.
  4. You need to pick up your stuff from one of the “convenient locations” every Saturday morning.
  5. Pretty expensive: a “half-share” for the year is $350. That’s $18 per week. (The full share works out to about $30 per week, the trial about $38 per week.)
  6. Rebecca reports that the vegetables need serious washing: dirt, plus “a spider, a little worm, and a snail.”
  7. The shared-risk aspect: you’re paying for the farming, not the food. If there’s a drought, you agree that you’ll get less stuff (or nothin’).

Wow, that’s a lot of downside. Everybody should still do this, though. Send ‘em an e-mail and get on their waiting list for the 07/08 season. The thing about it is that each of those downsides makes a lot of sense. The stuff is dirty because it comes out of the ground. It’s expensive because it’s grown by (relatively) well paid Americans. You get whatever they’ve grown because, well . . . you get the picture. Local food is good food. Can’t wait to see how the rest of the month goes for Rebecca and Tere.

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  1. j-j    Wed Jan 17, 12:24 PM #  

    Magoes tomatoes and avocados are growned locally. You may also buy local fish… would it be better and cheaper to check out the local harvests’ at Homestead during the weekends?

    This seems like something directed a yupies- not a very cost effective model for the average person/ family. They are charging a lot too… It really is a luxury… it seems, however, like a very profitable business model, maybe I should try it …

    I suggest that you read” Nation of Rebels: how counter culture became consummer culture. It’s a great book that deals with this type of issues. Perhaps- a local co-op were you donate your time to the harvest would be a better idea…

  2. alesh    Wed Jan 17, 01:03 PM #  

    Well, if you have a 4+ person family, and you shop at Whole Foods, I have a feeling this works out with cost effectiveness. I think when you add up their expenses, they’re charing what’s fair for them to charge.

    I have a trip down to Homestead planned to check out the farms, ‘cause yeah, buying there is obviously better in some respects. I also have on my list to check out some local farmers markets and their relationship to actual local farmers. stay tuned.

    From their website:

    Due to last year’s double hurricane whammy, there is virtually no fruit in South Florida this summer. Our avocados are doing well, but there are not enough lychees, longans, mangoes, bananas, carambolas, ciruelas, or anything else to satisfy. Therefore, we regret that we cannot offer a summer fruit share for 2006. However, we will have a few avocado sale days during July and August.

  3. j-j    Wed Jan 17, 01:33 PM #  

    if you have a 4+familly and shop at whole paychecks I mean whole foods then money is not an issue, but for most families shoping at WF is a major luxury

  4. Manola Blablablanik    Wed Jan 17, 01:37 PM #  

    Well, if you LIVE in Homestead shopping there might be ideal. Considering the price of gas and the cost of organic produce at Publix or Wild Oats, heck, even regular produce, $18/week does not seem expensive to me, even as a single person. Over time that’s a lot cheaper than eating out, doing take-out and an overall investment in good health if it’s going to make you eat more fresh fruit and veggies.

    We don’t think twice about shelling out $ for pizza or popcorn or fast food. Again, $18 and avoiding a long drive to Homestead seems pretty good.

  5. Tere    Wed Jan 17, 02:04 PM #  

    We tried to go organic – meat, dairy and veggie – and “we” at that time was 2 adults and an infant that was breastfeeding, but we could not afford it. The meat alone was killing us. I agree that shopping at WF is a luxury, and Wild Oats is more expensive.

    One more thing on the CSA that’s a con for those of us raised on super-sized commercial fruits and veggies: since you’re getting the real deal, the veggies are small. (I’m going to be posting a picture of the carrots on Friday’s post.) So it’s also a question of quantity over price. Large amounts of food overall, but individual items are on the small side.

  6. KH    Wed Jan 17, 02:23 PM #  

    We got a full-share as a gift, and it is a lot of food, but the vegetables and fruit last much longer than the ones you get at the store yourself, so it’s not like you have to eat them all that week before the next share comes in (though my fridge has started to look like a garden, jam-packed with green goodness). Plus, you can share your share; we’ve been giving some of the extra to friends . . . The dirtyness of the veggies is fine; the bagged stuff all has a markup which includes the rinsing. A salad-spinner is a dandy thing. We did find a caterpiller and a spider, but no big deal.

    It’s really exciting to get the box and see what’s in it, but what’s best is that this program has totally improved my family’s diet. The variety of foods we eat has increased, and my reperatoire of receipes is growing. We are vegetarian, so it might be easier for us to consume a ton of veggies than it would be for others.

    Those small carrots Tere is talking about come with the tops, which you can use to make soup.

    A couple of weeks ago there was an enormous cabbage! Bigger than any cabbage I’ve ever seen in a store! I couldn’t even fit the thing in the fridge; I had to cut it up. There were also some Monroe (I think!) avocados, which I’ve never seen in a store—they were so buttery and yummy, I’m sad we already ate the last of the season.

    Everything has been incredibly delicious so far!

    Many of the veggies are heirloom, which often means better taste as well as preservation of seed strains which are well suited to our region, so that we’re not at the mercy of one specific crop’s hardiness.

    Also, our convenient location is very convenient!

  7. alesh    Wed Jan 17, 03:06 PM #  

    That’s awesome Kathleen! You’re in the middle of it right now? Wow… what a great gift.

    I had this image in my head as I was writing the post of vegetables accumulating week after week, trying frantically to eat them all, feeling guilty about not eating them all . . . basically vegetables taking over your life. Frightening.

    j-j~ I don’t know what an average, Publix-shopping family spends on vegetables in an average week. It’s probably less then $18, but the truth is that the $18 gets you more vegetables then it would at Publix.

    It comes down to being willing to change your way of thinking — if you’re willing to eat more vegetables, then you’ll get the best out of this deal. What I’m saying is that it theoretically could be a good deal for a family of four, even a poor one, under the right conditions.

  8. KH    Wed Jan 17, 07:13 PM #  

    Yeah, it was a great gift. Thanks, Mom! :)

  9. NicFitKid    Wed Jan 17, 09:16 PM #  

    To contribute to the Unemployed Pirates’ Scurvy Prevention Society, please send any excess veggies in a dirty bilge box to the NFK Penal Colony via underpaid courier.

  10. alesh    Wed Jan 17, 10:12 PM #  

    Right? Better yet, I’m picturing like a South Beach bloggers’ CSA co-op. NFK, me, fanless, and whl all pitch in and split the produce up. I call first dibs on turnips.

    BTW, just noticed: "I came late, and my box was missing!" is one of their FAQs. Yikes!

  11. Tere    Thu Jan 18, 10:00 AM #  

    To echo some of what KH said: I’m just discovering this week that I don’t have to scramble to eat everything before the next delivery – it DOES hold up way better than grocery stuff. Still, my fridge is overflowing with greens. And yes, delicious stuff, but it’s obvious that I am beyond veggie-ignorant (“braising mix”? wtf?) because I’m scratching my head at some of this stuff.

    Also, items like avocados and eggplants have been big, the small stuff so far has been turnips, beets and carrots.

    More on my Friday post…

  12. Rebecca Carter    Thu Jan 18, 12:53 PM #  

    I hope my post didn’t come off as negative. I’m just trying to represent reality. The amount of food you get is incredible…no way that would buy more than a couple of things at the grocery.

    Plus, you get to wash it yourself, so you know just how clean it is, and HOW it was cleaned. I’m not sure how they clean the bagged stuff. Plus, it’s local, local, local. Huge benefit for everyone. However, again, I have to say, it took me a while in the kitchen to go through and clean everything to my liking, dry it and figure out how to fit it all in the fridge.

    I’m with you Tere, not sure what to do with the braising mix, or the asian mix, to tell you the truth. I can only eat so much food!

    And wow, KH, what a great gift, you’re right!

    PS: We had Starfruit (carambola) for dessert this week. What a nice treat!

  13. KH    Fri Jan 19, 01:00 AM #  

    The newsletter said that you could eat that asian mix as a salad, so we did (with a nice blue cheese dressing—home-made)! It was nice and sharp (I love bitter greens, though). As for the braising mix, you meat eaters [RC?] should have an easy time of it—just saute the mix in a little butter or olive-oil briefly (don’t let it wilt, but make sure it’s tender), possibly adding some salt, pepper or a dash of basalmic vineagar, and then serve it as a bed of beautiful greens for your slabs o’ flesh.

    Alesh—I LUV turnips. LUVLUV.

    RC—good point about KNOWING how clean the veggies are.

    Tere: will keep an eye out for your post!

  14. Margie, CSA Farmer    Wed Jan 31, 07:40 AM #  

    It’s wonderful to see all this commentary about our program. Thank you for the great feedback!

    Yes, lots of folks think it’s ‘too much food’, but a number ALSO think it’s ‘not enough’—-can’t satisfy everyone all of the time!

    A couple of points…carrots are ‘small’ because that particular variety grows to that size. Many of these small(or big) or different shapes/sizes/colors are because these are heirloom or lesser-known varieties that are not to be found in any grocery store. Why do we grow them? FLAVOR! MAINTAINING GENETIC DIVERSITY! EDUCATION! FLAVOR! DISEASE RESISTANCE! WIDENING HORIZONS! FLAVOR! Oh, and did I mention, FLAVOR?

    As one of our CSA members said once to a member who complained that there were holes in some leaves- “if a bug wouldn’t want to eat them, I wouldn’t want to, either!” We try to make sure no one is hitching a ride, but sometimes they just tag along.

    ...FYI, have you tried digging a hole anywhere south of South Miami??? If we tried to grow a foot-long carrot here, we’d have to have artificially-constructed raised beds filled with soil trucked in—not the least bit sustainable, eh? We amend our shallow soil by composting everything we have.

    And… how to use all this bounty?? Read the newsletters-not just the one you get each week. Go to the online newsletter archive and browse 5 years’ worth for descriptions of the more unusual veggies (and some usual ones, too), tips and recipes.

    Finally (boy, I’m long-winded), you can find us as well as other local (but not organic) farmers at the South Florida Farmers Market on Sundays from 8-1, January thru March. It’s located at the Gardner’s Market in Pinecrest, on SW 124th St just east of US1. See you there!!

  15. janet    Sat Feb 3, 06:58 PM #  

    This was the first time it was offered in the keys. It is like christmas on Saturday. We get our box and cannot wait to see whats in it. Have not thrown out anything yet. I have had to look through some cookbooks to come up with ideas how to use the veges. A fan for life

  16. Melissa Contreras    Wed Feb 14, 09:40 AM #  

    I too am a CSA member, receiving a full share every week. I find that it is just enough for a family of 2 adults and 2 teens (plus a few bites for our 4 house rabbits). I love not knowing what I am getting beforehand- that is part of the adventure! I believe that part of eating a greener diet (pun intended) is eating what is in season, and starting with the ingredients, not the recipe. Many of us are used to looking at a recipe and then gathering the ingredients. Well, Nature would rather give us the ingredients and then we invent the recipe. The other way is upside-down, turned around, and all the other twisted descriptives that our society has come to accept as normal. Cheers!