Friday, September 7, 2012

Supporting Our Farmers and Sustaining Our Bodies: A Win-Win Proposition


Will and I were talking to neighbors a few days ago about the extreme weather we have been experiencing and the plight of the small farm during this season of heat and drought.  Our neighbors—who had been talking to our local farmer’s market vendors—told us some distressing tales about what independent farmers were suffering.  Apparently, the apple crop around the Chicago area is all but nonexistent, not just because of the drought this summer but because of the unexpected heat we had in March.  So many farmers have lost their crops that they have resorted to purchasing produce from other larger farms and re-selling them so that they would not lose their customer base.

Last week when I was picking up my bag of organic vegetables and fruit from our local service that work with area farmers, I asked how farmers in the area were doing.  Again, I heard woeful tales of a shortened farming season, desperately praying for rain, and hoping somehow to survive this harvest season without losing too much.  All this has made me even more determined to buy and eat local produce so that I could do my tiny little bit to help out these stricken farmers.  After all, with so few independent farmers in the United States, what are consumers to do if even more farmers leave the flailing enterprise?

To that end, let me share some of my favorite farms, Community Supported Agriculture operations (CSAs), and produce services we enjoyed:

Angelic Organics

Angelic Organics introduced us to the CSA lifestyle.  One of the oldest, Angelic Organics is still one of the most popular CSAs in the Chicago area.  (Click here for more: http://www.angelicorganics.com/Angelic_Organics___Chicago_CSA/Angelic_Organics___Farmer_John_Productions.html)

Essentially, you purchase a “share” in their farm before the regular season.  By virtue of your early share purchase, independent farms like Angelic Organics can get the financial support they need to thrive in these uncertain farming conditions.  The idea is that they you share in both the “risks” and the “rewards” of farming.  I can honestly say that during the 2-year period that we bought shares with Angelic Organics, we never saw a box not brimming with vegetables.  

The boxes that Angelic Organics provide tend to be hefty, so you might want to split the veggies—and the costs—with others if you are not feeding a very large family.  In fact, Will and I split with two other couples.  There was always plenty of vegetables to go around to all three couples, and we regretted the splitting only once.  There was a week when I could really have used a whole luscious French melon to myself instead of cutting it up three-ways…

Abel and Cole

We had to discontinue our shares in Angelic Organics when we went to live in England for a year.  While we enjoyed our weekly trips to the Cambridge City Market, Marks and Spencer, and Waitrose, we missed having the surprise of an organic box of vegetables every week.  Surely—we thought—England also operates CSAs. 

Abel and Cole (http://www.abelandcole.co.uk/) turned out to be a very nice substitute to Angelic Organics.  While Abel and Cole obviously cannot service those of us in the Chicago area, I wanted to include them in this post because they featured many elements that we really appreciated.  First of all, they delivered to each household but rolled the delivery price in with the purchase price such that you didn't feel the pinch of extra $5-10 for the convenience of delivery.

Perhaps used to smaller households—or just catering to smaller appetites?—Abel and Cole’s delivery options included an actual "small box" that contained the perfect amount of food for two adults.  Their small box of "Fruit & Veg" for 1-2 adults featured a changing list of 3 fruits and 5 vegetables with (this being England) the requisite spud component.  It was during this year abroad that we came to love roasting parsnips more than we had ever done—parsnips were fairly ubiquitous!—and discovered, less felicitously, that eating prodigious quantities of Jerusalem Artichokes produced, well, “gaseous” aftereffects…

Genesis Growers

After we returned to the U.S., we wanted to continue on with a CSA.  But with a move further away from the usual delivery sites for Angelic Organics, we decided that we might need to try a different CSA.  After some investigation, we chose Genesis Growers (http://www.genesis-growers.com/), a farm in St. Anne, Illinois.  Not only did they receive excellent Yelp reviews, but they also had a pick-up location less than 2 miles from our new condo.

We really appreciated the fact that Genesis Growers had fruit included as part of their regular box since we consume at least as much fruit as we do vegetables.  The boxes tended to be full and varied—though the weeks in late fall and early winter tended to lean heavily towards winter squashes.  I can honestly say that I never knew there were so many varieties of pumpkins, and our freezer became a repository for containers of pumpkin and squash purees!

Fresh Picks

When we discovered that we were just not going through enough vegetables to support the smallest box from Genesis Growers, we had to re-evaluate our commitment to CSAs.  We earnestly believed in the mission and absolutely bought into the premise behind them, but we just could not eat so much!  Our now-scattered friends made splitting a share less practicable as well.  Besides which, while we could always attend farmer’s markets during the CSA seasons, it wasn’t clear what we could do during the rest of the year in terms of supporting farmers and consuming organic produce.

During a frenzied bit of research trying to find the Chicago equivalent of Abel and Cole (which really was ideal in terms of convenience, size, and year-round accessibility), I found an operation called Fresh Picks (http://www.freshpicks.com/cms/).  Since it turned out that their warehouse was less than two miles away from our condo, we decided to forego the delivery service (and fee) and pick up our boxes instead.  Like Abel and Cole, Fresh Picks allowed us to dictate when we wanted a box.  (Contents of our most recent box are in the picture at the top of this post.) That flexibility made it easy to bypass being charged during our vacations—or when we were still too busy going through contents of previous boxes.  (Click here for an earlier post describing meals produced from a typical box: http://eatingreadingwriting.blogspot.com/2011/11/csa-box-extravaganza.html)

We might not be purchasing a “share” before the farming season, but we are still supporting many area farms.  Between April and November, we receive mostly local produce—both vegetables and fruits if you opt for that box—and so we feel we are still supporting area farms.  Occasionally I feel guilty when I receive, in the dead of winter, a red bell pepper from Israel or bananas from Mexico.  On the whole, though, Fresh Picks has enabled us to eat organic produce and to support area farmers. 

Hopefully, those of us who participate in CSAs or who order through services such as Fresh Picks are able to help give farmers some measure of comfort and security during these seasons of extreme weather.


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