Thursday, April 26, 2012

CSAs Part 2: Meat, Produce and More

So as promised, here is part 2. Beyond the world of produce CSAs, things get a little trickier. When you start looking into buying meats, seafood, and other local goods, it's sometimes hard to know where to begin.

I'm going to look at what I know to be some of the larger CSAs in the area and do some comparison shopping. Bonus for you if you're shopping around.

The first one I'll start with is Carolina Grown. They're a pretty familiar group, in fact, a few of my friends are members. They deliver right to your door, which I have to admit is mighty convenient. Price range is $25 to $50, with 3 different boxes sizes to choose from. They offer produce from a variety of NC farms, so you can customize your box, which is also a bonus. In addition to the produce, you can order meat, a variety of baked goods, seafood, and a couple other things. If you hate to go to the grocery store (ME!) this is close to a one-stop-shop. The downside for me is their meat selection. They have a nice selection, however, I am looking for quality, and one of the farms that they deal a LOT with is not exactly one I'd like to support. There are a lot of great offerings through Carolina Grown, however, I don't think it is important for them to only offer the cleanest and highest quality products available. They leave it up to you to separate, which is fine if you want to try to sift through all that. It should be noted, however, that the seafood they offer is top notch!

The second one is Papa Spuds. With this one, pricing is pretty similar, with the smallest box starting around $18 and ending with the higher priced $45 box. They also offer doorstep deliveryThey have a wider offering, including bananas and avocados. While I love both of these, it seems odd to be in a CSA box in NC, though they certainly list the sources for them. They source their products largely from the same people that Carolina Grown does, including their meats. So, I fall back into the same issue, at least as far as the meat goes. They also get their seafood from the same local company, which is superior to anything you will get at a grocery store.

And the last is Farm to Fork Meat. Most of you will quickly realize that is the CSA that I bake for and work with every week. But still, I wanted to compare this one to the two that are more widely known. Here the things I like about this CSA: everything is a la carte. The weekly required spending is $10, which is not hard to do. You don't spend a certain amount of money for a set number of points, which you then have to configure in some random way to make sure you spend them. You spend $10 or $100 dollars and get exactly what you want. Delivery is not doorstep, which is a bit inconvenient, though there are pickup locations in downtown Raleigh, north Raleigh and Cary. There is a delivery service for a small fee. However, what far outweighs anything else, in my opinion, is the screening process that happens before any product is offered to the membership. The quality that the owner strives for is as close to perfection as possible, and if you read the story of why the CSA came to be, it makes sense. If it's not something she would feed her family, it doesn't make it into the CSA. Because of the stringent quality expectations, sometimes there are shortages of meats, specifically beef. Not because it can't be found, but slow grown, grass-fed beef takes time, so sometimes we wait. And last, there's a cap on this CSA. Slow growing, sustainable farms can only service so many people, so you have to draw a line somewhere.

In the end, all of these CSAs offer meat, produce, baked goods, dairy products and a variety of other things. Some deliver to your door, some do not. They are all priced within the same range, but to me, the better value is the better quality. Whatever you choose, I think it's important that we support our local farmers. Why go to a grocery store to buy something that's grown 30 minutes down the road? The odds are that if you buy it at a grocery store, it has already traveled a lot of food miles.

Interested in a CSA? Find out more info at Local Harvest. Read what others are saying and decide for yourself. Just support your local farms!!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Looking for a CSA? Part 1

Most of my customers know that I not only bake for a CSA, but I also buy from and work with this CSA. It's always exciting to think about fresh, local produce and meats. As a small business owner, it's also about supporting local, hard-working farmers. And I would lying if I didn't admit that it was mostly selfish; clean, local grass-fed beef and better than organic produce. Who wouldn't be excited about that?

I have a lot of people ask me about CSAs, which one is better or what information I have on a specific one. I suppose it all depends on what you are looking for. So I sat down and compared a few of the more well-known ones in the area. I suppose as someone who works with one maybe I have a bit more insider knowledge, but as a consumer, I still had to look at each one and compare prices but more importantly, quality. Wanna know what I found out?

 So I'll start with produce ONLY CSAs.

The first one I came across is Wild Onion Farms, located in Johnston County. While I personally have no experience with this farm, here are a few things I like: they operate year round, there's no work required (what can I say, I'm lazy! lol), and there's a pickup location in Raleigh. Another thing I like is that they operate using strict organic practices, which provides a superior product and preserves the environment. Two things that are very important to me. They can also be found at a couple of Farmer's Markets. Here's what I don't like: there's an upfront cost between $200-$500. I realize that most CSAs operate this way, it's the support part of CSA. But it can be a bit scary to see that kind of upfront request. However, if you're not buying produce every week or two, it all washes out and you'll have your money for the next go round.

The next one I found is Smith's Nursery Doorstep Market, which operates out of Benson. What I really like about this CSA is their locations. There are plenty in the triangle area, and even beyond. Ranging from Rocky Mount, Clayton and even as far as Wilson, they have definitely made it convenient for people to get fresh produce. There is a $10 yearly enrollment fee, which pays for boxes, processing, etc., otherwise the price ranges from $20-$55, depending on what size box you choose, any add-ons. On the down side, I thought the pictures they posted of their boxes looked pretty scarce.  They use conventional methods to prepare the fields, though they do not spray directly on their produce.

The next veggie CSA I came across is with Double T Farm, located in Garner. While they are not organically certified (this is a VERY cost-prohibitive process!) they practice organic methods. There are many pickup locations in the Raleigh area, making it very convenient if you live in Raleigh. You can also pick up from the farm or a location in Morrisville. Their share prices range from $350 during the winter to $$675 in the summer. The nice thing is you can pay in installments, so it's not quite so daunting. They also encourage visitors on their farm, which I really appreciate.

And last is The Produce Box.This is essentially an affordable, doorstep delivery service. Delivery is during the growing season, so the service is just restarting. Price ranges from $17-$28, depending on size and whether you choose to go organic or not. Members pay weekly, which is always helpful when trying to work on a budget. Here's the thing with TPB, since I deal directly with farmers, I have heard of some unethical business practices happening. I'm really trying to remain objective in comparing CSAs and not share my opinions, but a CSA is supposed to support farmers, not encourage unethical treatment of farmers. That is all I will say on that matter.

Part 2: CSAs that offer meat and produce.

**These are just a few of the ones I found. There are many more, you can find more info at Local Harvest.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Time to pick back up

For some unknown reason, I've had the uncontrollable urge to blog again. I think when I first started I was so unclear on what exactly I wanted to do. I look at this blog and I was all over the place!! I knew I wanted to give to the celiac/gf community in some way, but clearly I was unsure how to do it.

Over the years, I have learned so much about what I'm doing, ways to eat not just better, but healthier. I've been gluten free almost 5 years, and I feel like this journey is never ending. Not in a bad way, always learning.

So I'll start by addressing a question some of you have asked me: Did I complete the Whole 30? What were my thoughts, and did I cheat?

YES! YES! YES! I completed my Whole 30! Can you tell I'm proud of myself?? :) Seriously, I did complete it. I didn't cheat... unless you count a piece of gum that I chewed while on a run. I suppose if you are an absolute purist, then I cheated. I'm ok with that.

I went into the Whole30 addicted to sugar, drinking a couple of glasses of wine almost every night, and pretending like I wanted to start exercising again. What I learned was invaluable. I learned that my body is extremely sensitive to soy. I learned how to eat breakfast without making myself feel sick; something that in my life I had not been able to figure out. I learned that I didn't need wine in the evening, that the reality was I wouldn't miss it, and that alcohol+my stomach really don't get along too well. I tried things I had never tried... some of them I feel I will not try again, but hey! I'm not worse for trying it, right? And I decided I really did want to exercise, so I stopped talking about it and did it. At the end of the 30 days, I felt better than I've felt in a long time. And yes, I lost weight. Not that I know how much... I didn't weigh myself before or after. That was not my motivation, but an awesome benefit.

My thoughts? The Whole30 is a bit extreme, but sometimes, that's what it takes. It takes something extreme to make you decide to change your habits. But it only lasts for 30 days, and in the whole span of life, 30 days really isn't that long. And in the end, I learned a lot and felt a lot better. Will I eat 'Paleo' the rest of my days? Probably not. At the core of who I am, I cannot wrap my head around an evolutionary diet. I cannot be convinced that some tribesman somewhere in the middle of the jungle wouldn't eat a potato or other tuber that grew from the ground. But I do believe we are a culture of people who eat far more starch than necessary, with most starches coming from nutrient-dead food.

I believe very strongly that our food system is severely flawed, and choose to use my precious food dollars buying local, sustainable, grass-fed as much as I possibly can. I absolutely believe it matters what you eat. I will lean toward what is termed 'Paleo' simply because of the focus on whole, clean foods, meat that way it was supposed to be (not ecologically or health destructive), and the avoidance of 'fake foods'. Because I undoubtedly function better eating that way.

I would recommend the Whole30 for anyone, especially if you are feeling like your health needs a boost. It is a challenge, but sometimes you have to work for what you want.