• Preparing for CSA season

    Posted on June 3, 2012 by in Eating healthy, Making it happen, Recipes

    If you have circled me on G+, you have probably seen me promote Community Supported Agriculture.

    Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

    CSAs aren’t confined to produce. Some farmers include the option for shareholders to buy shares of eggs, homemade bread, meat, cheese, fruit, flowers or other farm products along with their veggies. Sometimes several farmers will offer their products together, to offer the widest variety to their members. For example, a produce farmer might create a partnership with a neighbor to deliver chickens to the CSA drop off point, so that the CSA members can purchase farm-fresh chickens when they come to get their CSA baskets. Other farmers are creating standalone CSAs for meat, flowers, eggs, and preserved farm products.

    CSAs create several rewards for both the farmer and the consumer.

    Advantages for farmers:

    • Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin
    • Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm’s cash flow
    • Higher profit margins, which helps keep small farmers in business (Only 9 cents of each dollar actually goes to the farmer while 91 cents of each dollar goes to suppliers, processors, middlemen, and marketers. In the U.S., a wheat farmer can expect to receive about six cents of each dollar spent on a loaf of bread-approximately the cost of the wrapping. The money in agriculture is almost all in food processing – the giant agricultural companies reap the profits, while small farmers and ranchers struggle to get by.)
    • Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow

    Advantages for consumers:

    • Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits (And vitamin B12 benefits – CSA produce is often still covered in dirt, which means it contains more vitamin B12.)
    • Lower price points than the grocery store, especially on organic produce (We pay $28/week for produce for two people. Certified organic.)
    • Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking (Turns out I love kohlrabi!)
    • Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season (We went up to our CSA farm to pick up our pumpkin at their harvest festival last year.)
    • Find that kids typically favor food from “their” farm – even veggies they’ve never been known to eat
    • Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown

    It’s a simple enough idea, but its impact has been profound. Tens of thousands of families have joined CSAs, and in some areas of the country there is more demand than there are CSA farms to fill it. The government does not track CSAs, so there is no official count of how many CSAs there are in the U.S.. LocalHarvest has the most comprehensive directory of CSA farms, with over 4,000 listed in their grassroots database. Farmigo is another good online resource.

    America imports most of its fresh produce from Mexico, Chile, India, China and Thailand – these imports are foods that can and should be produced locally. The current food system, as convenient and cheap as it may be, holds repercussions for the environment and impacts the economic wellbeing of our local communities. A typical carrot will travel 1,838 miles to become part of a meal. 35% of food is wasted in transit before it gets to us. In 1866, 1,186 varieties of fruits and vegetables were produced in California. Today, California’s farms produce only 350 commercial crops. And do you really think the carrot that’s traveled 1,838 miles to get to your plate is as fresh as it was the afternoon it was pulled out of the ground?

    Industrial farming is focused on quantity, not quality. Ever wonder why tomatoes taste so watery and not-tomato-y, especially when they’re out of season? Well, that’s because they’re probably grown in Florida, in sand.  And are of a variety that was chosen for planting because it ships well, not because it’s delicious. A big part of that California crop reduction is that we have stopped growing produce that won’t ship well those 1,838 miles. We even have a new word for those varieties that are tasty and were valued earlier, but don’t work well with industrial agriculture: heirloom.

    I don’t know about you, but I like my tomatoes to taste like tomatoes. I like them to fill my mouth with juicy sweet tangy tomatoiness when I bite into one. I like my food delicious and tasty. And I mean that in the most direct, obvious way possible. Who doesn’t?

    However, for the CSA share member also trying to follow a particular meal plan, this lack of control over what produce shows up every week can pose a bit of a challenge. Hence, the preparation.

    I’m doing P90X2. I am using the P90X2 vegan nutrition guide as a base for eating a whole foods, plant-based diet for an athlete. (I am not vegan in a strict sense; I eat bread made with eggs, and occasionally I’ll even eat eggs, meat, and dairy at restaurants. I eat fish, still. I am also not an ethical vegan, someone who avoids animal products because they feel using/consuming them is unethical, and most people who identify as vegan seem to be of this variety. I’m just convinced by the body of evidence suggesting that whole plant foods as a group are healthier than whole animal foods, and that adding oils to your food isn’t a good idea.) So, how am I going to unite my passion for P90X2 with my passion for my CSA share? (CSA shares, actually – we have a vegetable share, a fruit share, and a mushroom share.)

    The answer: I am going to structure my P90X2 nutrition guide servings in the most general way possible. Not a single specific dish is going to be on the weekly menu starting next week, when the share distributions start. It will all be generic, to be ‘filled in’ when we know what we will be getting in our share that week.


    Working out the P90X2 vegan oil-free nutrition guide servings for myself.

    First, I redistributed the oil serving calories into vegetable and condiment calories. I want to be heart attack proof, so no oil. (Except for my one teaspoon a week for the P90X breakfast potatoes, which really don’t come out the same, and my husband loves them so dearly I can’t take them away, when I’ve already cracked down on meat and dairy.) And frankly, I’ve never heard of anyone suffering because they ate too many vegetables, so oil to vegetables it is. I took the nutrition guide advice and went straight to the endurance food pattern, and since I already know from following the P90X nutrition guide rigorously that I don’t do well on low-carb diets for very long (two weeks max before I start running out of glycogen during workouts (“bonking”) and running out of energy in general) and since I’m into endurance sports, sounds like that’s a pattern suitable for my life anyway.

    That means I’ll have two protein servings (200 Cal), one fruit serving (100 Cal), 4 vegetable servings (200 Cal), 1.5 grain servings (300 Cal), 1.5 legume and tuber servings (300 Cal), 2 condiment servings (100 Cal), and two double snacks plus the recovery drink (600 Cal), for a daily approximate total of about 1800 Cal. Which, believe it or not, is still a deficit for me, even after 30+ pounds of fat loss and being a size 2/4. Not a big deficit, but it is one. Also, I’ve gotten used to meals of 400 Calories and two double snacks, plus the recovery drink, so as a pattern I know that works for me.

    The Vegetannual

    A screenshot of the interactive vegetannual.

    Then, I made myself a little ‘playbook’ in Numbers (I’m a Mac fangirl) with little shapes in different colors with the serving type and the calorie amount to play around with. That way, I was able to move servings around between meals and play with the structure of the meal pattern. I came up with three variants: the day with the bean leafy green salad lunch + standard protein-vegetable-grain dinner, the day with the protein leafy green salad lunch + bean-based tortilla dinner, and the day with the bean-based tortilla lunch + standard protein-vegetable-potato dinner. I’m planning on leafy greens being a big part of our diet, because last year we were awash in more greens than I knew what to do with in early summer. (That was also how I learned that I should eat more leafy greens, because they give me more energy.) This year, I will also be better prepared and informed about what’s in season when, having lived through a cycle of local produce and having become acquainted with the Vegetannual, a fictional illustrative plant invented by Barbara Kingsolver in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. An interactive version is available online, which is fairly self-explanatory.

    So, now I have three basic meal patterns. That’s going to go pretty far. Seen this way, my grocery list now simplifies into proteins/ingredients for proteins, grains, additional tubers if necessary, and condiments like soy milk and lingonberry preserve. I also get to be creative.

    What will go in the salad this week? What dressing? I’ve been meaning to try that citrus garlic dressing, maybe I should make some this week. Should we try that pink rice with the chicken seitan, or stick with brown? Is that tamari tofu over greens recipe any good? Maybe if we get kohlrabi, we could try mixing it in with cabbage in a raw salad. If we get pie cherries, we’re putting them into oatmeal.

    Structure with freedom, in the best way.

    Last year, the CSA share was a freewheeling experiment in cooking and nutrition simultaneously. It was a good experience, but I do want more structure this time around.

    When we ate according to the P90X nutrition guide, using the menu plan the first time through P90X, we religiously followed the nutrition guide as well as our budget allowed. We got the hearts of palm, which we’d never heard of, and the arrowroot flour. We didn’t get the strawberries in December. We were still very specific shoppers. It was also a good experience, but I do want more flexibility, and more of the dishes I grew up eating (boiled potatoes and oatmeal!) on the menu. (I don’t really miss burgers when they’re not on the menu; I do miss oatmeal immensely if it’s not on the menu, and I miss boiled potatoes a lot too. A good yellow-fleshed boiled potato, like King Edward or Yukon Gold, boiled just right, gives me an immense feeling of home and safety. Now that’s comfort food!)

    Basically, what I need is a mixture of the rigor and detail of the menu plan and the spontaneity and exploration of simply picking up a box of produce every week.

    My yoga teacher told us a story about her dog once. The point of the story was that like dogs, we are happiest with clear boundaries but freedom within them. Her point was more closely related to asana than meals, but I think the same is true for food. We are happiest when we have some structure and boundaries, but can be spontaneous within them. I think this is going to be it.

    I am prepared for CSA season.


    If you want to do your own plant-strong meal planning but don’t want to do P90X2, at least not right now, you can order just the P90X2 nutrition guide from me. Send me a message on G+ or email me at teresa at fityoginirunner dot com if you’re interested and I’ll walk you through how to order one. It’s no harder than ordering something off Amazon. If you’re an endurance athlete also, I’d bet you’re on a training plan already, given that it’s spring, no matter what your sport. (I’m running the Tough Mudder in exactly a week, so P90X2 was perfect training for me, but it’s also an obstacle race early in the season.) If you’re interested in keeping your diet finely tuned while also getting a CSA share, especially if you want to be eating a whole foods, plant-based diet that also takes into account that you’re an athlete, I’d definitely recommend paying the $40 for the P90X2 nutrition guide. It’s got both the basic meal planning structure (regular, vegan, and grain-free) as well as recipes. It’s very, very useful.

    There are many excellent resources for planning a plant-strong diet in good, hands-on detail, such as The Engine 2 Diet, and there are many excellent look-it-can-be-done articles out there about vegan bodybuilders and endurance athletes, but the two rarely intersect. I found one, and I’m loving it. It’s not too tight, not too loose, and adjusting my relative food group intakes has given me more energy, so I’d say it did better than I did on my own. (I’ve done so many things that have given me more energy that I’m starting to take having lots of energy all the time for granted, except for at night when it’s time to sleep. If I hit an afternoon slump, I wonder what’s wrong.)