Today, I did what very few of us modern Americans ever have to do anymore. I thought six months ahead about what I will be eating by writing out a check to Balanced Harvest Farms as part of their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group.

Being part of a CSA for the first time last year was a natural move in my progression to eat locally and organically. It’s been a several-year journey, and gradually, I find my cabinets, refrigerator and freezer filled with more and more local products. 

As a CSA member, I pay the Jamesons money in the winter for equipment, seed, and income, and in the summer, they pay me back in fresh produce. I take on some risk (it is farming, afterall), and Todd and Kathleen agree to be as diversified and nimble as possible to adapt to changing conditions (weather, pests, etc.). I felt the risk a little more personally, today, however, as I forked out half of this month’s grocery budget in hopes that the summer will be a good growing season. And by the time I finish making payments, I will have invested $325 for 15 boxes of food, one each week from June through September.

In addition to joining a CSA and paying for my food months ahead of time, eating locally and organically all year around takes a lot more time, thought, and planning. In order to eat locally in the winter, I have to keep Saturday mornings free each week so that I can shop at a local winter farmers market. Also, I spent many evenings last summer chopping and freezing berries and vegetables from my garden and the market so that I could eat locally when those items weren’t in season. And the meals I choose to prepare and eat require much more thought as I start with what’s available locally now and go from there, rather than deciding what I want to eat and buying it at the store.

It would be far easier and much cheaper for me to do all my shopping at the nearby chain super market. There are some items I still have to buy there, anyway. But committing to eating locally and organically is about more than just food, and my investment in local farming goes far beyond my love for fresh produce. Though I may spend more money on the food I buy and eat, these foods don’t cost more. Here’s what else I am buying when I shop and eat locally:

1.) GRATITUDE. I have discovered a deeper sense of gratitude to Jesus when I eat because I know what was involved in getting the food to the table.

2.) RELATIONSHIPS. I have a relationship with many of the people who grow and prepare my food. On Saturday, I spoke at length with Norman about his green house system for growing tomatoes in the winter. Later, while I was buying a couple of bunches of her green onions, Vicki and I spoke about the problem local farmers face when they have to keep side jobs just so they can have health insurance. And there were two other farmers that I had purchased produce from the previous week that I went back to just so I could compliment them. I also have grown closer to several friends who share my love of food. Many weeks we go to the Farmers’ Market together, sharing treats, swapping recipes.

3.) HEALTH. Local, organic food for me means less processing, less chemicals, more nutrients, more healthfulness. Not to mention more color and more flavor. When I buy food from people I trust, I know what’s in it. And it’s not just healthier for me, it healthier for the land, the people who grow it, and their neighbors.

4.) LOCAL JOBS. I help create jobs in my local community by purchasing goods directly from the people who do the work.

5.) A FAMILY HERITAGE. I am preserving a way of life, a connection to the land, a sacred vocation that has been part of my family for generations when I plant seeds, hoe dirt, pick vegetables with my own hands and support others who do the same.

I realize that eating this way is an idealistic and unrealistic for many people these days. Especially if you have children, or multiple jobs. But eating locally and organically can be done with some thinking, planning, and reprioritizing. And it’s not an all or nothing proposition. If you are interested in making small steps toward a different way of eating, here are a few ways to get started.

1.) Find a farmer’s market near you by visiting Local Harvest.

2.) Get to know what foods are grown in your area and in what season by checking out websites like this.

3.) Check out a couple of cookbooks that are organized by season, with lots of recipes for each fruit and vegetable: Simply in Season and A Midwest Gardener’s Cookbook. I own and use both of these books.

Happy Local Eating!

PHOTO ABOVE: This was my dinner this evening, almost entirely locally grown and purchased. A tomato grown by Norman in his green house, five miles from me. Cottage Cheese from Trader’s Point Creamery Dairy, just down the street from Norman’s. Green beans grown, picked, and snapped by my mom last summer, pulled out of the freezer yesterday. An Asian pear from Wild’s Apple Farm, and cornbread made with eggs and cornmeal from the farmer’s market.