By Mike Watkins – Photography by Alison Bickel
Off and on for the past 15 years, Krista Dittman and her husband, Doug, have bought seasonal vegetables from a farmer who offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program rather than at a local supermarket. Once a week, they pick up their share of vegetables at a drop site or at the farm and enjoy a variety of fresh vegetables.
Andrea Hansen joined a CSA at work this past summer, where she and several of her coworkers joined forces to reach a minimum number required for delivery at their workplace. As a result, a box of vegetables is delivered each week during the growing season. They don’t know from week to week what’s going to be available.
In Community Supported Agriculture, customers front money to participating farmers to cover the initial costs of planting, and then get vegetables from the harvest. Over the course of a CSA partnership, both parties reap the rewards as well as share the burden. When the crop is rich and plentiful, there is an abundance of produce for CSA program members. But when the farmers experience a dry year similar to last summer’s, the harvest can be smaller and more limited. Regardless, both Krista and Andrea love participating in a CSA program. They said not knowing what they might get in their delivery each week is part of the fun. Both highly recommend CSA participation, and insist that taking part has proven to be a life-changing experience.
How did you learn about Community Supported Agriculture?
Krista: “Doug knew Ruth and Everett from Common Good Farm in Raymond, Nebraska and wanted to try it.”
Andrea: “From friends and family in Colorado.”
What was your motivating factor for signing up?
Andrea: “I wanted to be forced to try new veggies. I knew that if I paid for them in advance, I’d have to try them.”
What was the biggest surprise once you became involved with the CSA program?
Krista: “The box changed my life. It was my introduction to eating seasonally. My family gardened when I was growing up, but not having a garden detached me from the seasonality of eating.”
Andrea: “I was surprised by how many varieties of veggies could be grown, even with the drought. I can’t wait to try it in a goodweather season!”
Would you recommend CSA to others?
Krista: “Absolutely. The whole experience is so grounding because you are reminded that food comes from your neighbor and what they grow is affected by the weather. It’s such a great way to be part of a community, and it’s a delicious way to eat.”
Andrea: “Yes. Being involved with a CSA program forces you to eat more veggies, and I love supporting local farmers.”
Did you have to make any changes to your cooking?
Krista: “Yes, it was a huge shift from making a shopping list and planning meals for the week to using what was available in the box. It was— and still is—great to open the fridge and think, ‘What do we have this week, and what can I make?’”
Andrea: “I had to be prepared to adjust to what’s available each week. It was a little challenging to try to incorporate everything into meal plans without much notice.”
What advice would you give to others considering signing up?
Krista: “If they are new to the idea, I always talk up the adventure of discovering what’s in the box. It’s also good to consider being ready to learn how to cook new things if what is delivered is unfamiliar.”
Andrea: “Try it! If you already eat veggies, you can save money and time in the end.”
What makes CSA participation better or different than shopping at the grocery store?
Krista: “It is definitely easier—by far easier—than selecting vegetables at the store. There is no thinking involved beyond signing up.”
Andrea: “Being able to go to the farm to learn more.”
What are the advantages of CSA participation rather than growing your own produce?
Krista: “We can eat well while not having to worry about all the things going on with a garden.”
Andrea: “Because of housing covenants in my neighborhood, I don’t have much room for a garden.”
Do you have any new vegetable loves that you previously hadn’t tried?
Krista: “Cilantro is the best! I love picking up my box after it has been harvested because the fragrance lingers in the air. It’s like swimming in salsa, but not as messy.”
Andrea: “I learned I love fall foods like squashes and Brussels sprouts.”
How has CSA participation impacted your food waste? Do you have less packaging waste, for example?
Krista: “Yes. It’s hard to describe the paradigm shift that happens when you stop getting everything from the store and instead receive a box of vegetables every week. It’s a bit like Christmas all summer long.”
Andrea: “The vegetables are delivered fresh and unpackaged. I waste less because I want to try everything I’m given.”
How has your family responded to products from the CSA program?
Krista: “Some things the kids don’t like as much as others, but the exposure to a wide variety of foods will hopefully pay off in the long run.”
Andrea: “My kids looked forward to seeing what was in our delivery bags each week.”
Have you noticed any health impacts as a result of participating in the CSA program?
Krista: “I’ve noticed that my kids know the differences between quality food and non-quality food—like school lunch—and I’m sure we eat more vegetables because of the CSA program. I would be hard-pressed to make that many vegetable choices at the store.”
Has knowing where your food comes from, how it’s grown, who’s growing it, etc., changed your view of food or food purchasing?
Krista: “Absolutely. There are lots of things to think about when considering what food to eat. For me, local trumps organic, and in-season trumps random food desires. A friend describes the food journey as being on the “health nut highway,” and we are all getting on at different exits to try different things. The main thing, as she points out, is that we are all on the highway trying to be healthy and making better choices for ourselves and our families.”
Andrea: “Yes. I like knowing where my food is coming from. It’s now a priority for me and my family.”
Iowa-based writer Mike Watkins typically writes sports and business stories, but as a lover of fresh food, adding Edible Omaha to his resume makes perfect sense. He recently contributed to Splashmakers, a book published by USA Swimming, and he writes regularly for the organization’s magazine, Splash, and website. He writes for a number of local magazines and for regional publications at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Iowa Western Community College and the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business and School of Education.