The scene at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market was subdued last Saturday, the weather chill and drizzly. Snow still lay in patches over the bright green grass of the park; spring flowers wore fragile caps of melting ice. Customers were still few at eight in the morning, some vendors hadn’t come, and those who were present wore jackets, caps and scarves. Gayle of Gayle Grows It created some brightness amid the gray with the tulips and daffodils in her miniature vases of spring flowers — $2 each, and you get to keep the vase. Karen Beeman set out her planters of vibrant green lettuce on the Wee Bee Farms stand, and greenhouse cucumbers and tomatoes were on hand at Rocky Mountain Fresh. Hazel Dell Mushrooms displayed the savory king oysters I’m addicted to. And stall after stall boasted spinach, lettuce and dozens of bedding plants.
Though the market is very important to the farmers, many of them rely equally on community supported agriculture — or CSA — memberships for additional income. CSAs are a trend that began in the 1980s and have taken off around the country. When you buy into a CSA, you get regular groceries from a particular farm: The size of the haul depends on your level of commitment; specifics such as prices and pick-up points vary farm to farm. Farming is a rough business, and all the farmer’s efforts can be upended by hail, grasshoppers, intense fluctuations of heat and cold and — since the farm family itself usually does all or most of the labor — personal crisis or illness. Because you pay upfront, reaping rich rewards in a good season and fewer rewards in a bad one, CSAs help stabilize the farm. And a CSA also does a lot for you.
Several local farmers are offering CSAs at the two Boulder County Farmers’ Markets. You can find your own CSA at the Longmont or Boulder farmers’ markets, or check the Colorado CSAs website for farmers who offer pickup locations near you. Here are ten reasons that you should join a CSA.
Potatoes and carrots just pulled from the earth, ears of corn picked on the same day you’re planning to cook them, tomatoes plucked from the vine, little, earthy, new, just-dug-up potatoes—nothing you can find at the supermarket, even if it’s organic, tastes like this.
There are many studies arguing about whether or not fresh, organic food is better for you than non-organic and non-local, and most of them strike me as meaningless. They only measure a limited number of nutrients among the zillion unknown elements found in living foodstuffs. We haven’t yet begun to figure all these out, or to understand how they work in the body. How, for instance, do nutrients in food affect the mysterious microbiota—those micro-organisms in your gut whose balance helps determine sickness and health? So I’m going with my gut here and saying that fresh, local vegetables—even if not certified organic—boost your health. My taste buds and body tell me so—and it’s very unhealthy to argue with your body.
Nowhere but on a local farm can you get seven or eight different kinds of potatoes, from German fingerlings to Colorado Roses or small, fragrant alpine strawberries instead of—or along with—huge fat, juicy ones.
4) Getting lots of vegetables into your diet
You know you should, but dutifully adding a serving of frozen broccoli to every meal is so boring. Nothing inspires vegetable eating like an array of sparkling choices.
5) Learning to prepare new dishes
Perhaps you haven’t cooked parsnips before or figured out how to make cabbage interesting. When those things arrive in your CSA box, you’re likely to find yourself inspired. And you can ask the farmer for cooking tips.
6) Extra treats
Your farmer takes care of you. Maybe she’s only got a few boxes of blackberries, or most of the apricot crop got lost to frost, or she’s experimenting with a creamy new eggplant variety and only put out a dozen plants. If there’s only a little to sell you, as a regular, get first dibs.
7) Forming a relationship with your farmer and the farm
Take the kids for the Halloween corn maze or to pick out a pumpkin. Visit for the annual picnic. Glean in the fields. Whatever the farmer has organized, it’ll deepen your understanding of the food you put in your mouth, what it takes to produce it, your relationship to the seasons, and a thousand other things you’ll never quite be able to put into words. And honestly, food tastes better when it isn’t anonymous, when you’re working with, say, Wyatt’s squash, Peter’s spinach, Anne’s tomatoes or Eva’s pork sausages.
8) And speaking of kids...
They’ll be much more likely to eat their peas after rooting through that weekly or bi-weekly box from the farm.
9) Knowing exactly where your food comes from
If you aren’t nauseated and/or terrified by all the news stories about the inorganic elements the government allows in foods labeled organic, pesticides that kill bees and may cause cancer in people, the filthy and viciously cruel conditions in feedlots and slaughterhouses, you probably should be. With a food share, you can ask the farmer about his practices—how the crops are grown, methods of animal husbandry—and even go to the farm and check for yourself.
10) Helping to create a locally based and economically significant alternative to the industrial food model
Every dollar you spend with a local farm is a vote for a clean, sustainable, cruelty-free, human-centered and delicious system.
Angela Buchanan is an accomplished Colorado cook who writes an expert, passionate, beautifully designed blog called Seasonal and Savory. Angela’s wonderful recipes aren’t the kind you’ll find with a quick Google search. They’re original dishes — mostly paleo and gluten-free — that she’s created herself through years of experience and experimentation.
She’s a strong advocate for CSAs. “Beyond the ethical and social benefits of directly supporting small farms, our shares make it easy to eat with the seasons and to connect with the ways that people ate before produce became available year-round,” she says. “It also gives you a sense of seasonal thrift and abundance. Those first shares are always light on substantive vegetables and loaded with delicate things, and as the season moves on you get shares that are so abundant you start to preserve some things from week to week. I like that direct connection to how things grow.
“I appreciate knowing where my food comes from," she continues, "and if you have the resources to do so, buying a CSA share is one of the best ways to subvert the current political system that heavily favors agribusiness over small farms. It is a political action that also translates into beautiful meals.”
Pasta with smoked salmon, mushrooms and asparagus
Pasta (I’ve been using spaghetti or linguine noodles, but I think fusilli will work very well too to catch all those lovely food fragments.)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Three shallots, sliced thin (mine came from last year’s harvest at Oxford Gardens, Shallots last a long, long time)
1-2 cloves garlic (Wee Bee Farms, last year’s), minced
1 bunch asparagus (Miller Farms) 1/2 pound, cleaned and sliced on the bias
½ pound mushrooms (I used king oysters from Hazel Dell), sliced
½ cup white wine
1 cup stock or water (a few ladlefuls from the pasta pot will help thicken the sauce.)
½ pound smoked salmon (Wild Alaska Salmon), flaked and skin removed
¼ to ½ cup heavy cream or half and half
Salt and pepper
Cook the noodles in hard-boiling, salty water according to directions. Saute the asparagus in olive oil until cooked but still crisp; season halfway through. Remove and set aside. Saute the shallots in olive oil until translucent, two or three minutes. Add garlic; saute for another minute. Raise heat to medium-high and saute mushrooms. Season halfway through. (When you add salt, vegetables give up their moisture. I like to make sure they’re nicely coated with oil and halfway done before salting so they saute rather than stew.)
Deglaze with wine and cook down to about half. Add stock or water. Cook down a little. Taste for seasoning. Toss the asparagus back in, along with the salmon. Heat gently. You can also add halved or quartered cherry tomatoes before heating, and a scatter of herbs—chives, tarragon, whatever takes your fancy. Oregano or thyme can be added earlier, as the liquid cooks. Swirl in the cream. Taste again. Add a few drops of lemon juice if you feel it needs a bit more brightness.
Serve over pasta with grated parmesan.