Local, sustainably-raised produce should be your ultimate goal when sourcing your food. So the best way to do that is to plant and grow your own crops, raise your own cattle, pigs, chickens, etc.
Problem is, not everyone has time, money and/or interest in doing that.
So what’s the next best thing?
It’s not the grocery store, if that was your first thought. Finding a local source for food via a meat or vegetable CSA (or maybe both!) would be your best bet if you aren’t growing your own food.
You can always take the grocery store route but most of the time food in the grocery store is not local, so it has traveled a long distance to get to you and had to be picked prior to being ripe.
An easy way to knock out the middle men and source locally is to connect straight with your farmer.
Let’s start with the basics.
What Is A CSA?
First let’s start with a quick definition. Maybe you’ve heard the term CSA thrown around and you’re still not sure what it is. Maybe you’ve never heard of it before. No problem! Let me be the one to introduce you to the acronym. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.
So what exactly does that mean? In the most basic terms, when you join a CSA you are sourcing your food directly from a farmer.
Why Should I Join A CSA?
There are several reasons why you would want to join a CSA.
If you want to know where you’re sourcing your food from, how it’s being grown, what chemicals may or may not be used in the process and you have no interest in growing your own food, you can join a CSA and have knowledge of all of those things.
With a CSA both farmers and consumers share the risks and benefits of food production.
When you become a member of a CSA, you’re purchasing a “share” of vegetables from a local farmer. Weekly or bi-weekly, from June until October or November, your farmer will deliver that share of produce to a convenient drop-off location in your neighborhood.
That is the typical CSA season however some farms offer an extended share for Winter and some offer shares throughout the entire year.
Around the end of March through April, May or June (if they’re not already filled) is when you want to start researching local farms.
It’s important to get to know your farmer. Talk to your farmer, ask questions about how things are grown, what pesticides (if any) are used and just be sure that you’re comfortable with the farmer and his practices before you join.
If you tend to vacation during the summer that’s typically not a problem, you can work it out with your farmer or have a family member or friend pickup and hang onto (or enjoy) your share while you’re away.
A great way to meet a whole bunch of farmers at once is to look for any local CSA Expo’s in or around your area.
Check Meetup.com or even your local library for events or just do a simple Google search to find out what events are happening in your area.
Jeff & I attended a CSA Expo in our area and were able to talk with 10-15 farmers all at the same time. All the CSA’s had drop off points within a 15-45 minute radius of our home.
There were both organic and non-organic farmers so it was important for me to talk with each farmer and find out why they were or weren’t growing organic and what their process of spraying included.
Before you choose a CSA, you’ll want to ask the farmer your own questions so you know exactly what you’ll be consuming and when.
Once you decide which farm you’ll be working with, CSA members pay for an entire season of produce upfront (typically this ranges from $400-$600). This early bulk payment enables your farmer to plan for the season, purchase new seed, make equipment repairs, and more.
Typically you may find individual shares (to feed 1 person), half shares (that feed 2-3 people) and full shares (that feed 4-5) although it may change dependent on the availability throughout the season and the size of the farm.
There are many variables that are involved so that’s another question to add to your list for when you talk to your farmer.
Additional Local Food & Other Products
Many CSA’s also offer the option of other produce available from local farms.
For a few extra dollars a week, in addition to your vegetables, you may be able to add fruit, eggs, meat, honey, and even flowers to your order, depending on what’s available.
Most farms allow you to come visit at some point in the season which I find super exciting! :)
Not only do you know who’s growing your food, how they’re growing it, where it’s coming from and how far it has traveled before getting to your door, you are also helping to support your local community in the process. There’s all sorts of goodness when it comes to CSA’s.
If you’d like to get an idea of what a farm tour looks like, watch the video below of our farm tour, thanks to Farmer Cliff at All Grass Farms, formerly Barrington Natural Farms.
Supplement With Your Own Garden
As I mentioned first thing, the most local you can get is in your very own backyard or balcony or kitchen, etc. We can never get enough herbs & greens so you may be interested in starting your own garden.
During the summer of 2014 I built an elevated garden to grow our own vegetables in our backyard. I planted a large assortment of vegetables and for the first time ever, I found success growing several different herbs (including sage, green & purple basil, German thyme & parsley). That year I also grew organic kale, swiss chard and sweet potatoes.
In 2015 I picked up some packets of organic seeds at the Good Food Festival in Chicago and changed things up from the previous year. I grew sweat peas, kale and swiss chard this time.
Plus, with the success I had growing herbs the previous year, I also expanded my garden to a few potted plants of herbs.
What a fantastic welcome home gift! Before we left on May 8th I bought a trellis for my peas to climb while we were away. Someone asked along the way who was taking care of my garden and I said Mother Nature was. One less thing for me to think about ;) The picture on the right shows the current state of my peas, kale and chard. I do not have a green thumb, I've always said it was black because I killed all my plants, but things change. ☺️ #soexcited #elevatedgarden #garden #growyourownfood #paleo #primal #sustainable #chicago #PaleoPorn
Don’t Forget The Meat
I was on the search for local pasture-raised eggs after I found out I couldn’t have backyard chickens in our town. That’s when I came across Erik & Sam!
They have been so great to work with and they even helped source our meat for the Paleo Porn Family Dinner!
Chicago Farmers We’ve Worked With
At the CSA Expo we met and connected most with Farmer Wayne and Farmer Trogg.
Neither one of them run farms labeled as organic however both farm the way our grandparents used to!
That means without the use of any GMO’s, chemicals (organic or not) or synthetics.
They both follow a sustainable practice and care about the health of the soil.
The 2014 season was a difficult one for all Chicago farmers due to unexpected weather conditions. But that is something to be expected when you invest in a farm, some things are just out of the farmers control.
We were excited to work with Farmer Wayne during our first season joining a vegetable CSA and because we signed up as a drop off point, we didn’t have to travel far to pick them up.
We asked Farmer Trogg to talk about his farming practices and what it’s like to run a sustainable farm in Illinois and he came out and spoke at our Paleo 101 Event. You can listen to all he had to say and learn more about what Paleo is by watching the video below.
Food Co-Op: Where Local Farmer Produce Is Sold
A Food Co-op or Food Cooperative is an autonomous association of people united voluntarily to meet a common goal to create, support and maintain local food.
The Chicagoland Food Co-Op Coalition is working to create food co-ops in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. There are currently two open for business (Dill Pickle and Sugar Beet Food Co-Op) and there are currently four in development.
To find out more about the Chicago Co-ops and if one is near you, visit the Chicagoland Food Co-Op Coalition website.
A Few More Resources If You’re Not In Chicago
Here are a few links to websites where you can search for a CSA in your area.
- Local Harvest: http://www.localharvest.org/csa/
- Farm Match: https://www.farmmatch.com/
- Eat Wild: http://www.eatwild.com/
- Chicago Area List of Farms: http://www.familyfarmed.org/find-a-chicago-area-csa/
- Band of Farmers: https://boftccc.wildapricot.org/Factors-to-Consider
- Paleo Porn Resources Page: http://paleoporn.net/resources