Back before the industrial revolution – and even during and just after it – most Americans had some sort of farm based labor worked into their lives. Gathering firewood, weeding, cooking, animal husbandry, and building new structures were an everyday occurrence. Most of the food they produced came by the labor of their own hands – their bodies were reflections of the land.

Not to romanticize, though. They didn’t have Google to answer every whim of a question that fluttered through their minds, stable food supplies, access to advanced medicines, or social safety nets. Their life expectancies were considerably shorter. Farmers of a century past lived hard lives.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t take pieces of our tradition and translate it into our present reality. Yes, we have advanced, but some fundamentals should remain. If we’ve advanced so much, shouldn’t we be eating healthier foods with greater ease? Clearly, this isn’t the case. For the most part, we’re eating food that compromises our health at best, and cripples us at worst. We pay for this later in life, increasing life expectancy on the back of subsidized health systems.

Alright, preaching aside, there is, indeed, a modern day way of bringing real food back into our lives, and connect to some culture roots all the while. If you haven’t already heard of it, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a way of strengthening the connection between the consumer and the food they eat.

What is a CSA?

The farmer provides each customer (“share holder”) with a weekly box of vegetables. This box is filled with whatever crops are currently available on the land, so the contents of the box shift from week to week. Most farmers look to have about 9 different items in their box on average, but during peak summer production, this number can jump to 15. Boxes are usually picked up by the share holder at the farmers’ market or directly from the farm, although some offer delivery services.

One box is typically enough to provide a family of four with vegetables for a week. Many farms will offer ½ shares that either give out smaller portions, or simply provide one full share every two weeks.

CSA’s can last for anywhere between 15 weeks during the summer month to year round. Prices range widely, but are usually around the $500 mark. In the end, each box costs around $18-$20, but buying the same produce from the grocery store would likely cost $25.

CSA Advantages

Farms that offer CSA’s are typically small-scale, local farms. Many incorporate environmental stewardship into their farming practices. The CSA business model allows farmers to receive all the capital from their vegetables up front, offsetting some of the risk that comes with farming. With the money you provide up front, they can buy their seeds, amendment, tools and pay their mortgage, providing greater assurances that you’ll get the vegetables you paid for – and lots of them.

The share holders get the freshest possible produce you can find, and at a price lower than they would find in the store. They also get to know their farmer, which is the best way to know the quality of your vegetables. With the freedom to converse with their food producer, they’re welcome to ask questions regarding farm practices and food handling procedures. And by living closer to their farmer, they’re free to go out to the farm and help out, if they feel like getting their hands dirty.

By getting a majority of your vegetables through a CSA, you’ll also be eating with the seasons. Eating vegetables that are grown in-season are invariably fresher and are locally sourced, minimizing their carbon foot print. Eating fresh vegetables also means getting the most nutrition out of your vegetables, as more and more studies are showing that eating fresh vegetables – rather than food shipped from hundreds of miles away – keep more of their nutrition.

How To Get Involved

The quickest and easiest way to become a part of a CSA is to go towww.LocalHarvest.org/csa . Most farms with a CSA will be listed on the website, and you can find one that is nearest you. Contact information will be listed, so get in touch with them, regardless of the time of year. Some CSA’s will not take on additional share holders in mid-season, while others are more than happy to prorate your share, and start providing you with veggies that very week. It all depends on the farm, and the best way to find out is to simply give them a call.

Talk to friends. If someone you know is already involved with a CSA, you might want to consider joining theirs, or at least taking a recommendation from them. You can deepen your relationships with friends and family by partaking in the same CSA program. Even consider splitting a box with them. You’ll be able to rejoice in all the delicious fruits and vegetables you’ll share!