Friday, June 4, 2010

The Lazy Twenty-Something's Guide to Sustainable Living - On CSAs

I thought this post was going to be about joining a CSA rather than container gardening, but it turns out it is going to be about both. I did not have Trish's rural upbringing. My only successful attempt at gardening was as a 6-year-old, when I planted (and harvested!) radishes under the careful supervision of my mother. While Mom comes from a family of truly talented gardeners, and has a green thumb herself, we never had an extensive garden. I grew up mostly in the North Western exurbs of Atlanta. Our house was built on Georgia red clay which is not much good for growing anything other than pine trees, bricks, and, surprisingly, azaleas. We did have a small garden that supported huge tomato plants and huge-er basil plants.

I am a convert to sustainable foods, rather than a cradle locavore. I never really thought about local or sustainable agriculture until I got to college. Metro Atlanta is very, very different from the Finger Lakes in terms of land use and attitudes. It's 5.5 million people in the worst kind of suburban sprawl. The instantaneous transition between urban space and farmland here still startles me. The Kennesaw grocery chains are not as conscientious about purchasing or providing local foods; there was no local farmer's market until very recently. Our only attempts at local or seasonal eating involved summer sweet corn and Georgia peaches. College coursework introduced me to food production and transportation issues, and I resolved to eat more sustainably once I was able to cook somewhere. Enter the CSA share.

The trick to doing these right (read: cheaply) is to split them with someone. Even if you don't, if you are already committed to sustainably farmed local produce, CSAs can be your most economical option. They're good for the farmers because they get a portion of their income up front, which helps with expenses at the beginning of the growing season. It's good for you because you are helping to ensure the success of local agriculture and because you get an entire season's worth of produce (in my case 24 weeks! 24!) for less than a month's rent. It works out to less than $20/ week for a huge amount of awesome produce. The catch is that it depends on your ability to write a sizable check up front. Several of the local CSAs have optional payment plans, but the price often goes up slightly. I like the 1-time full payment plan. It's like paying car insurance every 6 months instead of monthly; it saves you money in the long run.

A CSA share fits with the "lazy" in the blog title perfectly. I should point out here that my attempts at plant care have been abysmal since the radishes. In high school I managed to kill a small plant that is like a cactus, but needs less watering. I killed it dead. If it doesn't meow or bark at me for food, it won't get fed. Consequently, I am not confident in my ability to feed myself with a container garden. With a CSA, you get varied, seasonal produce and you don't have to grow it yourself. All you have to do is make a weekly trip up to the farm and bag it yourself. And oh, what a bag it is. There were at least 8 different kinds of salad greens this week. Stuff I haven't even heard of. So I got to happily munch on bok choi leaves and radishes for lunch today. Some super-spicy greens made it into my salad last night, and probably will tonight as well.

One of the more surprising things about this share was the seedlings that were up for grabs. I am determined to give gardening another shot because herbs are expensive. To that end, I already had basil started on the back deck. I took a second basil plant last week (because "enough" is rarely an apt modifier for basil) and 2 kinds of tomato seedlings. This week I took chives (for eggs!), rosemary (for bread!), and sage (what is it for?!). I grabbed discarded containers scattered around the back yard, bought some organic potting soil (about $2 more expensive than conventional), used some of the compost from our pile out back and remembered to water everyone once a day. All of the seedlings are miraculously still alive in containers on my deck. I promise to keep you updated on when (if?) the whole thing falls apart. As you can see, I am still not confident. Meanwhile, I will enjoy the organic, local, fruits (and vegetables) of someone else's labor.


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