As we (okay, I) accept more and more that we live an urban lifestyle---one of my choosing, in fact!---we have moved from growing our own items (darn those squirrels) to shopping the weekly farmer’s market to considering support of one of the many local CSA options. But, in a family with dozens (at least) of food allergies between us, is a CSA really the right move?
CSA, if you don’t yet know, stands for community-supported agriculture. Where I grew up, this was just called shopping. The groceries were filled with local items (especially the smaller grocers, Italian or otherwise), and sometimes neighbors swapped foods for others that they didn’t grow themselves. One of my early memories in our “new” house when I was 10 was giving peppers from our garden to other people and getting brown bags of fresh-picked corn from a local friend/colleague of my parents.
In cities, CSAs are the organized move to support the nearby farming communities and to show them that we city folk still appreciate them and want to rely on them, not global preserved shipments, for good food.
I’ll be honest: I’m a tough mom who makes my kids eat foods that aren’t their favorites at the dinner table. So the variety of foods, and the lack of well-in-advance notice about the box contents, was not ideal for planner-me, but it was not a large barrier.
The bigger problem really was the cost. I like to plan my budget, so having a weekly payment was nice on one hand. On the other, though, was that I was locked into a weekly payment. In a house with a government salary (read: not going up or getting bonuses anytime soon) and a freelance “salary” of mine that varied by the day, months of a weekly payment for anything is something I like to avoid.
Even if the CSA cost is less than I might possibly spend at the farmer’s market or grocery, I like the idea of being able to spend at those places and support those businesses more when I am earning more, but less when it doesn’t work for us that week.
We’ve considered splitting a CSA, because I really do think it’s cost effective in the long run, and having a partner to swap with seemed like a good compromise to the cost, frequency, and quantities. But we never really found an ideal partnership for that.
Now that we’re removing wheat from my diet, and our dishes are starting to center more on the veggie and less on the grain, I decided to give CSAs another hard look. It’s almost the end of summer here in the DC metro area, and our local market will wind down soon. Having fresh options to pick up or be delivered to our door would be a wonderful self-birthday gift to last all winter, and it would be a great way to celebrate my 1-year anniversary of heart surgery, too, to keep a healthy diet going when it’s just too darn cold to go out!
Locally, the CSA options are varied enough to make your head spin, though. All, or at least most, seemed reliable, often organic, and principled. As far as convenience to us, I wanted, at the very least
I used localharvest.org as well as good old Google searches to determine what fit our needs. From options like Kuhn’s order-as-you-go to Groundworks' on-farm membership, I got down to these few that met our needs:
What we ended up with, though, was none of these, at least not this year. Instead, we’re trying Washington Green Grocer, a CSA collaborative, so to speak. Washington Green Grocer delivers products from different local farmers in a single box right to your door. Choices include a vegetable-only box, a standard fruit and veg option, an organic-only box, and small-business add-ons like eggs or vegan waffles. At least two box sizes are offered, each at a flat fee.
Unlike a CSA, there is no member enrollment in WGG; instead, you pay weekly when you order a delivery. There’s no requirement to order each week, either. So far, the only downside from my point of view was that all items appear packed in a shared box, so allergic foods could be jostled with safe ones.
So what convinced me to give this a go? WGG orders are set online, within 1-2 weeks ahead of delivery, and the site offers a detailed “never order” and “always order” page. Yep—I can never get those highly allergenic bananas, even if they’re scheduled to be in the box. Never and always selections can be entire food groups or just single items.
And it gets better: If you don't want the planned box that week but don't want to skip it entirely, you can opt for a different size or type of box, or you can even build your own custom box! When I sent a question about my first order to their email address, I received a text response directly from Zeke within the hour. So I already feel like my family is in good hands, before we even get our first delivery.
This somewhat personalized CSA-like option sounds too good to be true for food allergy families. We’re trying our first box on August 16th, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out. Look for an update here this fall!
Update 1: August 26, 2017
Oh my, is everyone in the house awfully happy with our CSA pick. For week 2, we opted for a small box custom-revised to include only a handful of food types instead of the usual variety. We got extra romaine lettuce, extra ginger gold apples, and some beautiful orange tomatoes---and we're packing it all for our beach vacation!
Also included, sweet potatoes and fresh green beans. Check out the lovely heart-healthy fries we had for our dinner side last night:
Update 2: September 7, 2017
To start off the school year, after a couple of weeks of low work on my end, we stuck with a small farm box from WGG. I definitely feel like we get more bang for our buck with the larger boxes, but I love the chance to downgrade when I don't want all that's offered or I only have a few days' need before our own local market comes.
Our new favorite safe-for-everyone dinner for the fall seems clear already AND relies on this week's fruits, veggies, and starches from WGG: Lean pork loin roasted with diced sweet potatoes and apples, crusted with fennel and sprinkled with cloves, cinnamon, and coriander. Fresh green beans sauteed for the side. It's already gone, so there's not even a photo to show it off!
Hi, I'm Nicole.
ABOUT THE BLOG
An apothecary is a person or a place. Either one implies healing and relates to pharmacy in its truest sense, as a source of treatment and advice.
This blog is my way of uniting my pharmacy training with my efforts to provide a healthy and safe lifestyle for my family. In true apothecary form, I research and prescribe alternative ingredients that work just right in each specific recipe, and I would like to share the results with anyone who needs help making their own family’s kitchen allergy safe and heart healthy.
I made the 2017 Top-40 Food Allergy blogs!
Nicole Van Hoey's books on Goodreads
Bakery Bites: Breads and Treats Without Dairy, Eggs, Nuts, Seeds, or Soy
ratings: 1 (avg rating 5.00)
Kitchen Adventures With Multiple Food Allergies: A Recipe Collection for Celebrations Without Dairy, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Seeds, or Soy