Photograph by Flickr user Suzie's Farm/ Creative Commons 2.0
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These are the contents of a CSA box that were sent from Suzie's Farm to a subscriber on August 5, 2013.
Photograph by Flickr user Suzie's Farm/ Creative Commons 2.0
The Plate

My Monthly Subscription to Fresh Food

By Maggie Kierstead, The George Washington University

Each week it’s like Christmas. I walk the three blocks from my dorm room to the pick-up location, and there waiting for me is a beautiful white box labeled ‘vegetables’ bursting with just that: freshly harvested, dirty, organic vegetables, smelling freshly of earth.

This fall is my first season as part of a CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which makes me one of a group of people in my area who have committed to receiving produce from a small co-op of farms located about 100 miles away from me in Lancaster, PA.

At this time of year, I get anything as normal as red-leaf lettuce or cauliflower or as strange as celery root, French breakfast radishes or giant purple-top turnips in the box of produce. Aside from my friend who I split the half-share of produce with, I am most certainly the only other student in the dorm who is cooking this kind of food. Let’s be honest—it’s not food you would naturally gravitate towards at the grocery store. Because of the CSA I am being forced to eat what is in season, and what can be grown locally. I eat what I am given.

A CSA is a win-win-WIN. It benefits the farmer, the environment, and me in more ways than one. I know each week I am receiving safe food, fresh food, and food cultivated with care by farmers who steward the land well and use minimal pesticides. My food is also more flavorful because it is picked at its peak and is nutrient-packed, because there is less time between when the food is harvested and when I cook it. As a poor college student, I also appreciate that it’s cheaper than what I would be able to get at the store. I get all the veggies that could possibly I consume in one week for about seven dollars per week. If I were to buy that at the grocery store, it would cost around $20 dollars.

The farmers benefit from this partnership, because they are guaranteed stable markets, meaning that they know I will be a customer each week because I have already purchased months worth of food. They have a little more job security.

The environment is benefiting because it receives less stress from the carbon emissions due to the distance our food travels. On average, the food you buy from the supermarket shelves travels 1,500 miles to get there, and a fuel-efficient semi truck driving it there will get an optimistic 7.2 mpg. At that rate, in the journey your food takes to get to you, 1.75 metric tons of carbon dioxide is emitted. That’s the equivalent carbon of 4 barrels of oil or 200 gallons of gas consumed, or the carbon emissions the car you drive might put off over three years on the road. You driving for three years equals one trip your food takes. And that’s only if it’s from the US. So often we get our avocados from Mexico, and our Bananas from Costa Rica, and our strawberries (that we crave in the middle of February) from Chile. Those foods travel a far greater distance, and burn even more fossil fuels in freight and flight. The food I get also has no packaging, save the box I use to bring the food to my room. But the box is returned each week. No bags or plastic containers wasted.

I have found in the short few months that I have been a part of this endeavor I have been stretched in creativity—finding new recipes and techniques for cooking like learning to can peppers. I have also found delight in a community of friends as they gather around this food, sharing in healthy eating and full stomachs.

Maggie Kierstead is a junior majoring in Journalism & Mass Communication at The George Washington University.

This story is from our Planet Forward Campus Voices program—an opportunity for students to celebrate and explore our complex relationship with what we eat and where our food comes from.