Tuesday, June 8, 2010

CSA - Reflections on a Season

It's been more than a month since I picked up the last box for our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share through Bee Heaven Farm. I've always been amused at how South Florida's growing season fades away right as the rest of the country's season begins: it was literally about a week after our last delivery that the rest of the blogosphere started to bloom with discussions of CSA programs and farmer's markets. For us here in South Florida, it's mostly mangoes, lychees and avocados until the fall.

For those who are unfamiliar, Community Supported Agriculture is a way of shortening the chain between farmer and end-consumer. Before the growing season begins, farmers sell subscriptions to a share of their product for the season; then over the course of the season, the customers get their share - whatever happens to be harvested at that particular time - direct from the farms. The Bee Heaven Farm CSA that I subscribed to actually consolidates the products of several local farms, and delivers them to several drop-off points throughout Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

The season was for twenty weeks total, and you have the option of subscribing to a "full share" or a "half share." For those interested in the nitty-gritty details, the price of a full share was $630, the price of a half-share $375. With an extra $40 added for using a Miami-Dade pick-up location, our total cost for a half-share amounted to a little more than $20/week. To get an idea of what that gets you, you can look at the newsletter archives, which listed each week what was in the box. That may seem a bit steep, but during the season, the CSA basically supplanted our grocery store vegetable-buying (for a family of four who, I will confess, were not cooking at home nearly every night of the week), other than for staples such as onions, carrots and celery (each of which would make occasional appearances in the box, too).

This was my first season trying a CSA, and I'll admit I did so with some trepidation. I'm an enthusiastic but infrequent cook, and the notion of plowing through an entire box of vegetables every week was somewhat daunting. In addition, one of the mixed blessings of CSA programs is that it is quite literally market-driven. Unlike going to the grocery store, or even a farmers' market, where you can go in with a fixed notion of what you want to make that night, what's in the box - and what you'll be cooking - is dictated entirely by what the farms have planted and what's ready for harvest that particular week.

Miami has, for the most part, struggled to really support genuine farmers' markets. Often what style themselves as "farmers' markets" are really nothing other than folks who buy and resell produce from wholesalers, along with an assortment of vendors selling flowers, candles, and various knick-knacks. You'll often be hard-pressed to find an actual farmer, or even sometimes any produce that has actually come from local farms. That may be changing some with Bee Heaven and others' participation in the Pinecrest Farmers Market this past spring, and the nascent Roots in the City market in Overtown. But even in places where farmers' markets are better supported, the "Where's the Farmer?" question still comes up, and it may well be that programs like CSAs are, in some places, anyway, a more efficient means of doing business than farmers' markets.

I can't claim that I managed to cook everything every week. I also can't claim that I enjoyed everything. Truth is, while I am almost entirely omnivorous, there are some things I don't get too excited about: green peppers, zucchini, and yellow squash are a few of the things on that short list. On the other hand, we love just about any form of greens, and there were many which made regular appearances in the box: swiss chard, dandelion greens, collards, calalloo, bok choy and more. I adored the little French breakfast radishes we got occasionally, even if they were primarily an excuse to break out some butter and good salt. We learned that our resident tropical fruit maven, Little Miss F, loved canistel; though even she never got truly excited over black sapote.

(continued ...)

If you visit this blog often, you'll have noted that my CSA posts petered out well before the season was over. This was not reflective of any disillusionment on my part, but rather just that the cooking I was doing simply was pretty boring stuff. Folks like Redland Rambles did a much nicer job of documenting what was in the box every week, and Tinkering with Dinner was doing much more interesting cooking, even if every experiment didn't come out perfectly.

Participating in the CSA also gave a much more vivid and first-hand sense of how tied the agricultural market remains to the weather, as the unusually cold winter put a damper on much of the citrus crops and tomatoes, and we could read on a weekly basis the steps the farmers were taking to preserve everything they could. But perhaps the most significant benefits of participating in the CSA were that it got us in the kitchen more, and got us eating more vegetables - vegetables that were grown locally and mostly organically.

If I could have a wish list of what I'd like see in next season's CSA box: less zucchini and yellow squash; more varieties of eggplant; less green peppers, more red peppers; more chile peppers, while we're at it; less gigantic heads of soft lettuce, more varieties of smaller leafed lettuces (arugula, bibb lettuce); more variety of herbs, less dill; more heirloom tomatoes; more corn; more citrus; and a bountiful season for all.

And with that, here's a couple of my favorite things from the past season:

Tomato, Tofu and Shiso Salad

Canistel Flan


  1. I found that trying new recipes was the key to making the CSA rewarding. It doesn't matter how how exotic or high quality the produce you're getting is if you're throwing it into the same stir fry or soup pot every week. And maintaining the blog was the prod I needed to find and make new recipes. That's how it worked for me, anyway.

    I agree with your wish list for next year's CSA. (I'm already signed up) I'd be particularly happy to see Japanese eggplant and hot peppers. And far less lettuce.

  2. thanks for the information on this blog! I find it very interesting and entertaining!

    I take photos of Miami all the time =you can see them in my Photo blog Jasmandii.wordpress.com

  3. Thanks for the shoutout! Glad you liked looking at the CSA share pictures on my blog, Redland Rambles. I miss the weekly visits to the farm, and I miss all the greens. Margie told me that she doesn't grow that many hot peppers, but she does bring some to the farmers market. Hint: there's things at market that don't make it into the CSA box...