Just over three years ago we were the typical American family that headed to the grocery store every week to stock up on cereal, bread, vegetables, milk and more.
To many, that was the norm – how else would you stock your cabinets? Your fridge? Feed your kids? Doesn’t everyone shop at the grocery store?
Fast forward to now and it’s hard to believe that we jumped on a different bandwagon and took a different approach to our food. It’s hard to believe that we have been on a real food journey for almost four years. We have come a LONG way since the days when the Sunday newspaper full of coupons dictated that we purchased and how much we spent on food for the family.
The biggest change in this journey happened in 2014 when we jumped head first into buying a share from a local CSA (community supported agriculture).
Discovering a CSA
I first learned about a CSA about 8 or 9 years ago when a neighbor from Germany mentioned that she had a share and picked up her vegetable box weekly. At that time, we had 1 child with one more on the way. Our neighbors were from Germany and they were incredibly passionate about high quality, local food.
She worked at a bakery that made everything from scratch daily, while they grew many container plants on their back patio. They picked up a small veggie box weekly from a local CSA and she cooked their meals based on the vegetables that week.
Although the concept was interesting, I felt like the whole idea was greater served for them – a family of 2… and not so much for a growing family with children. The thought about doing something out of the norm was questionable – why not just go to the grocery store? After all, that’s what everyone else does, right?
It wasn’t until 2013/2014 that we started to transform our thinking. My husband had returned from a deployment to Iraq and was struggling with emotional balance, and was trying to look towards alternatives to heal his gut from the myriad of prescriptions he was on. We watched several food documentaries and it wasn’t until we started to learn more about the processed food industry that we decided to take a huge leap.
We jumped on Facebook and reached out to a local CSA here in our area to make a commitment to ourselves.
What is a CSA?
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) represents a model of getting food directly from the farm, to your table. Instead of relying on visiting a grocery store, a CSA helps you connect to a local farmer.
A CSA permits you to buy a weekly share directly from the farm exchange, which in turn provides you with high quality, local, organic produce that is often times picked and delivered within 24 hours (field to table).
That same timeframe doesn’t exist in the traditional grocery store – where food is picked as much as a week out and travels in trucks anywhere from 100-1,000 miles if not more to it’s end location. From there it sits in the rear of the store until it finds it’s way out to the produce department and is placed on risers and bins to be missed by misting machines that make it look freshly picked and moist.
How a CSA Share Changed our Life
There are several big moves that we made over the last few years that literally feel like life changing events.
We got started with Essential Oils in 2014 and that experience was LIFE changing. But around that same time, we also jumped into a CSA share and found that to be an incredibly life changing event, too. Let me tell you why that experience was so monumental.
Related: 10 ways to love your CSA experience
When you are connected to a local farm, you think about your food in an entirely different way. Your meals transform, and your shopping habits evolve.
Going to the grocery store and wandering the produce selection doesn’t seem as appealing – and as you peruse around, you notice that most of the produce looks more dull or drab than the CSA produce you have at home.
It’s hard to explain, but it’s an entirely different mentality.
Your meals are based on vegetables. Suddenly you go from making that traditional grocery store list and shopping at the store, to picking up a CSA box and planning your meals based on the contents of the box Instead of relying on boxed mixes, frozen food, or refrigerated meal prep items, you base your meals on the vegetables and fruits that came in your weekly CSA box.
You always hear suggestions to cut down on meat and eat more vegetables, this is a great way to do just that. For most families, meal planing revolves around their main dish of meat or pasta (which is often on sale), then vegetables as the side. Flip that thinking around, and now your meals are based heavily on your vegetables, with pasta or meat as the smaller side focus.
You learn about new vegetables. Before my CSA commitment, I traditionally picked up the same things week to week at the grocery store – apples, bananas, salad, broccoli, etc. With a CSA commitment, I have opened up my horizons to NEW vegetables I have never purchased or tried before – and realized that there’s a lot of vegetables beyond the basics that we love.
The cost savings is incredible. The more you stay out of the grocery store, the more money you find in your pocket – hard to believe, right? The CSA bag for me each week is $25 – $30 – and sometimes more depending on what I need to add to the bag. That cost savings is incredible – considering that the expense is what our meals are based on each week, that’s an incredible price. Every time you enter a grocery store you find yourself purchasing much more than what you originally intended, for things you may not always need.
Your relationship with food improves. When you invest in a CSA, shopping at the store becomes very mundane. Your food at the store is season-less. A CSA, however, teaches you about how the weather and seasons impact what you eat.
Related: 5 ways to cook with a CSA
You might find that you develop a greater appreciation for the food you eat – local produce is fresher, and more nutrient rich, and grown by farmers who have a vested interest in you and the environment. Not to mention it’s produce grown without pesticides.
Are you Part of a CSA?
Here in Phoenix we are fortunate to have several CSA’s. I’m in the East Valley & we have a few that stand out above others. If you are not in my area of Phoenix, check out LocalHarvest.org – a site that will help you connect with local farmers for meat, eggs and produce.
Purchasing the right size share is important – and some farms will offer a single bag or a family bag. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or talk to your local CSA to find out more.
Here are some of the most popular CSAs in the Phoenix area.
Taste of Paradise – a local Phoenix CSA with locations all around the East Valley to include Scottsdale. You can order one time or as a regular repeat customer – and choose between full or half share. You will receive a weekly bag of produce that will contain 8 pre-selected varieties of locally grown, organic fruits and vegetables. The produce will vary each week and throughout the seasons, and will come in multiple pounds and quantities.
Desert Roots Farm – another local Phoenix CSA with pick up or delivery available; they have 15+ Valley wide pick up locations and you can opt from a full or half share.
You can see a larger list CSA’s for Phoenix HERE.