What once used to be privy to hippies and health nuts is now available to the masses; no longer do you need to join a CSA, peruse a farmer’s market, shop at a health food store, or maintain your own garden to have access to organic produce. Organic produce seems to be available everywhere. No wonder CSA memberships across the nation are on the decline. Sure, it is a step in the right direction for big box grocers to support organic over conventional farming methods, but your CSA membership remains a valuable decision; here are three reasons why:
1. Nutrient Degradation
The nutrient value of produce declines rapidly after harvest and the age of grocery store produce might surprise you. Here are a few averages: carrots 1-9 months, Potatoes 2-12 months, lettuce 1-4 weeks, apples 6-12 months, and tomatoes 1-6 weeks. Age matters because produce continues to respire after harvest, breaking down stored organic materials through oxidization. This alters the chemistry and in turn, the taste and nutrition value of the plant. For example, greens can lose between 15 and 55% of their vitamin C within a week of harvest and spinach is especially susceptible to decay as it can lose 90% within 24 hours (Eng, 2013). Antioxidant activity declines in tandem with taste and micronutrient content, which basically leaves the consumer with carbohydrate and fiber, none of the cancer-fighting, anti-aging, or anti-inflammatory phytonutrients for which fruits and vegetables are praised. CSA produce is seldom a week old and is often harvested the day before or day of CSA pick-up. This maintains the majority of micronutrients and antioxidants, especially if you keep it cool and moist (this slows respiration/oxidation). If you can’t use all of your produce before the next week’s pick-up, freeze it to preserve the phytochemical nutrition; it will still be great for smoothies or sautés!
2. Organic Crop Treatments
You may or may not remember back to your high school chemistry days, but “organic” simply refers to the chemistry of carbon compounds. Generally, organic pesticides and fertilizers are going to be a safer alternative to conventional ones, but that does not mean they are harmless. Grocery store organics come with no disclosure of what was sprayed or when it was sprayed, only that the USDA inspector checked the supplier off as “organic” after charging a large sum of money that the average local farmer can’t afford. The advantage of knowing your farmer through a CSA is that you can ask what is sprayed and when it is sprayed. While many small local farms are not certified organic, their practices may actually be organic. If you’re interacting with your farmer on a weekly basis to pick up your share, ask them if they spray, what they spray, and when they spray (you want to make sure fruiting plants are never sprayed). Knowing your farmer empowers you as the consumer. Just ask about their growing practices- it’s your right to know and chances are they’ll be more than happy to share!
3. Voting with your Food Dollars
We’re in an age where many of us feel as though our (political) vote doesn’t matter or isn’t heard, but the vote you make with your dollar is always heard. How you choose to spend your grocery budget is a vote you cast at least once a week that drives food production methods in the direction that the consumer demands. Your participation in a CSA or purchase of responsibly-raised animal products votes to support environmentally conscious agriculture, humane treatment of livestock, the local food movement, and farmers that work tirelessly to provide their communities with the highest quality, most nutrient-dense food possible.
Eng, M. (2013, July 10). Most produce loses 30 percent of nutrients three days after harvest. Retrieved July 08, 2017, from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-07-10/features/chi-most-produce-loses-30-percent-of-nutrients-three-days-after-harvest-20130710_1_harvest-farmers-vitamin-c