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What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)?

Most people never think much about the food they eat or more importantly where it comes from. From opening a little styrofoam box, unwrapping and consuming their "fast food" to a fine meal at a five star restaurant and every meal in between, one rarely gives a thought how that bounty made its way onto their plate, tray or bag.

You go to the grocery store, wind up and down the aisles tossing your loot into the cart and head out the door. As consumers, we rarely if ever, think about how that product made its way onto the shelf or who was involved getting it there.

By joining a CSA you will take the mystery out of where some of your food comes from, how it was grown, and who grew it.

Eating well means different things to different people. To the gourmet, it means eating delicious food, full of complex flavor. To the health enthusiast, it means eating natural foods, low in fat, high in nutrition. The Inland Empire CSA provides a convenient way for both of these groups to eat well, while also answering concerns about our earth and environment.

CSA stands for Consumer Supported Agriculture. Simply put, a consumer buys shares in a farm, or farms. In return for the investment, the consumer receives a box, or share of produce each week. The Inland Empire CSA is unique because it is made up of several farms, De Luz Farms and and Nursery in De Luz (Temecula), that grows many tree crops such as citrus, avocado, pomegranate and guava, Menos Farm in Riverside and Moonrise Farms in Murrieta, that grows row crops such as potatoes, lettuce, beans, carrots and more. These farms provide a much wider variety of produce than a single farm CSA can. The result is a weekly box of organic produce that contains an ever-changing seasonal variety of fruits and vegetables. The produce has been picked usually no more than 48 hours before being put in the box and generally less than 24 hours.

The impact of being part of a CSA is both very personal and far-reaching. The instant impact is the convenience of receiving perfectly fresh and delicious produce. There are no concerns about pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or genetically modified food. The box encourages healthier eating by making fruits and vegetables accessible and interesting. The foodies love it because the flavor of the produce is like nothing one can purchase in the grocery store. The healthy eaters love it because a plethora of produce is delivered nearly to the door with the extra nutritional value of food eaten within days, not weeks, of being picked.

Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food” encourages us to “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Southwest Riverside County is home to the highest concentration of boutique and organic farms in the entire country. Consumers here have access to the best, highest quality food, arguably in the world. One has to question why we feel compelled to pay more for peaches that are out of season from Chile, when we can be eating oranges, in season from De Luz. Produce from Chile, for instance, travels over 5,000 miles to get to the grocery store down the street. A peach has to be very firm and less than ripe to make that trip unblemished. It takes a long time, and much of the nutrition has vanished by the time the fruit, which may have been off the tree and in refrigeration for two weeks, reaches the local grocery store. Compare that with an orange from De Luz, which is less than ten miles from Temecula.  The organic orange has been allowed to fully ripen on the tree, so the fruit’s natural sugar and flavors have developed. The orange is picked in the morning, when the flavor and fragrance are at its peak. It is then put into a box, along with the rest of the farm’s share for that week. It is taken to one of 30 pick up locations, and is in the consumers hands, usually before it has been off the tree for more than 24 hours. Personal health and global impact are two reasons to support a CSA. The third reason is supporting local commerce. Small farms, especially organic farms, depend on many things outside of their control for their success. The weather, crop size and many other things factor into a farm’s longevity. When consumers buy shares in a small farm, they are ensuring the farms viability. When the farms output is bigger, the shares in the box are bigger. It benefits everyone.

There are a number of reasons to join a CSA.

  • The food you receive in your boxes is locally grown. No guessing how it was grown or who grew it. Locally grown food has better flavor and retains its nutritive values better than produce in refrigeration for weeks, and transported over hundreds or thousands of miles.
  • You can actually talk to the farmers who grew the food and ask questions about their growing practices.
  • If there are kids in the family they can participate in the CSA experience. They get to talk about the food that their farm grows.
  • Try new vegetables. Most new CSA members have an "adjustment" period they go through when first start a CSA. What is it, and how do I use it, are the most frequent asked questions about new veggies and fruits. By and large, the majority of CSA members who start with this "mystery produce" will soon find something they truly look forward to.
  • Most CSA's (including The Inland Empire CSA) hold annual open houses. You get to see how the food that shows up in the box actually got there.
  • Save some time. The CSA boxes are pre-packed for you. You pick up your just-picked organic produce at a convenient location. No shopping required.

Beware the CSA that offers you produce that can't possibly be grown near you. A lot of CSA's are springing up all over. We think that is great. The more awareness about CSA's the better. But be aware that not all CSA's are the same. Some buying clubs and co-ops claim to be CSA's when they are really resellers. They get their produce from all over (even from out of the country). We don't believe they should call themselves CSA's as you really can not be assured the produce is from local farms. There is nothing wrong with buying clubs and co-ops, as long as they are up front and tell you what they are doing. There are also other CSA's that consist of many multiple farms in an area. Again, as long as this CSA arrangement is upfont and is willing to let the members know where and how the produce is grown, it's up to you to make an informed decision whether to join or not. You can and should always ask questions about where the produce you will be consuming comes from and how it is grown.

CSA’s are not a new idea. They trace their origins to Japan where a group of people seeing that the small family farms were rapidly disappearing, decided to do something to help the farmers. The community would purchase the harvest from the farmers in advance. By getting paid up front, the farmer received monies he or she would not normally get until after the harvest. This ensured the farmer could survive even in the lean or bad years when most small farmers go out of business. The community was rewarded in the bountiful years as well, as they are entitled to the additional harvest. This system is a win/win for the farmer who can concentrate on farming and not marketing his crop, and for the community that is able to consistently acquire locally fresh grown food. However, the greatest benefit came from the survival of small family farms that may have disappeared without this arrangement. 

CSA’s are the right thing to do for the planet. The foods they produce are “locally” grown; this will reduce your carbon footprint. Just check out the labels in the grocery stores these days; China, Honduras, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, New Zealand and the list goes on.

There are of course limitations of the CSA’s. Oddly some of the largest CSA’s are in the eastern United States. Obviously the weather there is a major limiting factor to year round production. Even in California where most CSA’s operate year round, there are limitations on what can be grown. 

Again, beware of anyone offering produce that is clearly out of season and saying it is locally grown. Ask questions and find out where the food you are buying comes from. 




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