Alarming reports from groups like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. credit animal agriculture via factory farming to be the number one contributor to global warming. Factory farms produce more than 99 percent of the animals grown in the United States according to Farm Forward, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes conscientious food choices.
These reports show that any meat you consume likely comes from animals that have been dragged through hell—along with the environment and the folks who work along the chain—just to get to your plate.
“Eating factory-farmed animals—which is to say virtually every piece of meat sold in supermarkets and prepared in restaurants—is almost certainly the single worst thing that humans can do to the environment,” writes Jonathan Safran Foer in his book Eating Animals.
One option for meat eaters is to be proactive and buy meat from sustainable sources. Another option is to eat less meat.
It took a long time for my husband and I to wean ourselves off the idea that we had to have meat at every meal, every day. I can’t even remember where that idea came from. It just seeped into our mentality, from birth. You need ample protein that can only come from meat, right? That’s what the beef, pork, poultry and dairy industries tell us.
After reading Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation I became nauseous if I ate meat that wasn’t sustainably raised, just the thought of how it got to my plate made me sick. I had to find a local butcher. Luckily, there was one who sold dry-aged beef from cows raised on his small ranch just 15 minutes away.
Because sustainably raised meat is expensive, I found myself preparing vegetarian meals more often. Walking the aisles of our farmers market on early Saturday mornings, I became angry when I saw perfectly round, bright red tomatoes available before their season hit in late summer.
Frustrated with this deception—who knows what counterfeit produce was being offered in the farmers market stalls—I talked my husband into joining a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. He didn’t like the idea of paying for six months worth of produce, in advance. It is a lot of upfront money, and what if we went on vacation?
It didn’t matter to me. I wanted to know who my farmer was. I wanted to support my community, and I am interested in taking steps that protect the environment. I signed up with Grant Family Farms in Colorado. The organic farm offers vegetable, fruit, fresh flower and meat shares and with 3500 members, it’s the largest CSA in the country.
CSA is a synthesis of connection within a community. It creates a symbiotic relationship between farmers and their members; the farmers need a direct way to sell their goods, the public needs safe, vital produce.
Members buy a share of the farm by pre paying for a season of weekly deliveries. The money provides the farmer with a secure source of income. The farmer knows exactly how much to plant, how many laborers are needed, how much seed to buy and how much water will be needed because he or she knows exactly how many people they will be feeding.
In return, members receive a box overflowing with freshly harvested—usually organic although not officially labeled as such—produce every week. I got English peas in early spring, vine ripened tomatoes in late summer and hearty squash in the fall. Because my CSA offered three sizes, I got just enough produce to last until the next delivery.
Grant Family Farms emailed a newsletter with recipes every Monday before the Wednesday delivery so members knew what to expect. Early in October, they celebrate the harvest season with Harvestival. A down home event where members and their families meet and mingle through music, food, art and craft stalls and a pumpkin patch.
When I left Colorado and moved to Kauai, I found one CSA on the island through a website called Local Harvest. This resource is easy to use, just type in your zip code and all the CSAs in your area show up.
As a personal chef, I became educated about the route food took to get to my client’s table through an organic farming class on Kauai’s North shore. At the farm, I found myself harvesting vegetables in the pouring rain and pulling weeds in the blistering sun. I learned that buying quality, seasonal, local and organic food is worth every penny and the extra effort it takes to find. I also learned that sustainable farming is honest work and farmers are the true stewards for protecting our aina, or land.
In my third year as a CSA member I still look forward to my box every week. I know who grew my produce and how. I know what the farm looks like. I know it travels just 20 miles to get to me. I feel good because it doesn’t come with any packaging. Sometimes, I find something new in my box.
This gets my creative juices going, and because I find unfamiliar produce in my box, I try things I never would have otherwise. A new favorite is Golden Frill Mustard. These lacy greens are powerfully spicy, like horseradish. I love tossing them in a vinaigrette and sprinkling a little crispy bacon on top before adding a poached egg.
When I eat meals made with local produce I imagine my body is being supercharged. Not only is the produce grown with intention and care but it is fresh, really fresh. So more nutrients are available to nourish and sustain me.
The benefits of participating in a CSA are many. Your pledge to support a local farm insures that you get plenty of vital produce in your diet. Knowing where your food comes from gives you confidence that the produce was grown with sustainable methods. Dealing directly with a farmer, your produce is cheaper and you increase your communities\’ food security.
Your carbon footprint is reduced because your produce hasn’t travel up to 9000 miles. There is no packaging contributing to the landfill or use of oil to make the packaging. You won’t be eating toxic sludge—a byproduct of waste treatment plants—that is used as fertilizer on conventional, genetically modified crops. Field workers generally earn higher wages and don’t have to breathe in chemical fertilizers and pesticides when maintaining and harvesting crops.
CSAs create strong communities through farm and family partnerships. Participating in your local CSA stimulates a healthy economy by creating jobs and supporting local businesses. Small choices make big differences. Get to know your farmer, sustain yourself with vital produce brimming with nutrients and protect our land, oceans and people.