'Subscription' to local farms delivers fresh produce, supports local farming

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 21, 2014 

Whatcom County farm The Carrot & Stick sorts fresh vegetables for packing in community-supported agriculture boxes in July, 2013.

SUSTAINABLE CONNECTIONS — COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

When you hear the word "local" what comes to mind? As stewards of the local message here in our Northwest corner, it's a question we get asked regularly -- how do we define local? When it comes to food, local products and services, and even what defines local businesses, it's a big question to ask, and just about everyone has a different idea of what local means to them.

Within the food and farming program here at Sustainable Connections and our Eat Local First campaign, we define "local food" as food that is grown or produced in Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan or Island counties.

At Sustainable Connections, when we are talking about our work with the "local business community," we're referring primarily to locally owned, independent businesses right here in Whatcom County. We also work with businesses within our community that support local business, are champions of sustainable business practices and are working to make our community a better place to live, play and work.

One topic that seems to come up in conversations about local food is cost. We know that while local food can cost more, it can also be comparable or actually save you money. A community-supported agriculture share, for example, is more cost up front, but the value throughout the season is high.

Did you know in the United States we spend less on food than in any other country? On average, we only spend about 6 percent of our budgets on food. Where do we spend the rest? Car payments, smart phones, flat screen tvs, cable bills, new clothes, vacations? If we are serious about supporting local food and farms, I'd like to suggest a shift in our priorities -- and recalibrate how we shop and think about food. Try buying small amounts of high-quality ingredients, planning ahead to prevent food waste and savoring the fresh flavors of our unique growing seasons in the Northwest.

This month we are hosting a May CSA Challenge to help folks connect with a season of local food that's delicious and convenient. Community-supported agriculture, known as CSA, is an arrangement between a farmer and the customer for a membership, or subscription, to a local farm. The farmer uses the upfront funds for seeds and everything needed to grow the food. In return, the farmer delivers a weekly "share" of the farm harvest, typically with a newsletter and recipe ideas.

Buying a CSA box directly from a local farmer is one great way we can support local agriculture, and incorporate more local foods into our diets, without breaking the budget. Broken down, most CSA programs run between $20-$30 a week. For a hefty box of the freshest, in-season produce it's a great deal and rewarding experience.

Businesses can also sign on to become a "Farm Fresh Workplace," and with five or more employee participants, have CSAs delivered right to their office each week. During the month of May, all individuals who sign up for a CSA share with a local farm will be entered to win one of two $50 Community Food Co-op gift cards, and the business that get the most employee CSA sign-ups will receive a basket of local prizes.

We're so excited to be partnering up with the Bellingham Farmer's Market to offer veggie demos every second Saturday through October - showing folks how to prepare, cook and dress up all types of locally grown produce, from chopping greens to DIY salad dressings, roasting veggies, soup stocks and more. We think local is about community, rooting in our place, growing a strong economy and building relationships. As a supporter of local farms, food and businesses, we strive to share resources with you for eating locally and want to point folks to all of the fabulous places working hard to help you get more local food on your plate and in your shopping cart.

Our choices matter - thank you for your support of local food and farms!

Find a list of CSA farms, a CSA employer toolkit, and more information on the food and farming program and Eat Local First campaign at sustainableconnections.org

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Southerland is food and farming program manager at Sustainable Connections. For more information online, go to sustainableconnections.org.

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