Our dream to make a free CSA Farm Share available to patients and their families has become a reality at the Family Medicine – Colchester. This summer, 25 patients were selected to receive our “Health Share” from Vermont Youth Conversation Corps (VYCC), thanks in part to a grant from TD Bank.
Last fall, Diane Imrie, R.D., Nutrition Services Director, Alicia Jacobs, M.D., Director of Colchester Family Practice, and I met to brainstorm ways that we could integrate our resources and knowledge to create lasting health benefits for our community. One of our “brainchildren” was creating a free CSA Farm Share.
Why? Because CSA shares offer many benefits to recipients:
- CSAs are a convenient way to get fresh, sustainable, healthy, and locally-grown organic vegetables, as well as other local foods.
- CSA shares support our neighbors and provide a direct link to our surrounding community.
- CSAs provide us with an opportunity to try new foods.
- CSAs generally do all of this at a fraction of the cost of purchasing equivalent items at a grocery store.
Despite all the benefits, CSAs can be a challenge.
Participation becomes a commitment: One is generally faced with a high initial cost, despite long-term savings. We are faced with the decision of weighing cost versus use and benefit. Will I use enough of my produce to save money? That is one of the reasons it is so wonderful that we are able to offer a free share, especially for first-time participants. The focus can be on health and learning, rather than cost.
There are other common questions:
- When do I pick up my food? Verify pick-up locations and times. If you are concerned that you will be unable to pick up a share, ask what will be done with it. Many CSAs hold on to “leftover” shares a day or two to allow for pick it up on a later date.
- What do I do with all this food? Prepare for the unexpected, and think outside the box! Use what is most perishable first. If a share is full of a mix of “greens” and root vegetables, concentrate on the greens first. Generally, root vegetables have a shelf life of several weeks. If you find that you are getting a buildup in your fridge, plan to create a meal that uses up all or most of what you have.
- What is this? I’ve never had this before. Your CSA will provide you with a listing of what is in your share. If you come across something you aren’t familiar with, don’t be afraid to “Google it.” As someone who has worked in Foodservice/Hospitality for more than ten years, I still come across ingredients I am uncomfortable with. If it’s something that you don’t think you’ll like, add it to something that you know you’ll like. Sautee some Fennel Root in your Scampi, add that Swiss Chard to your favorite White Bean and Chicken Chili recipe.
Due to these challenges and questions, we realized that simply giving healthy food away wasn’t enough. We’re hosting food demonstrations and tastings at nearly all 12 of the pick-up sites. The demos will feature ingredients relevant to the CSA for that week, or an upcoming week, and provide ideas for utilizing the food. Recipe cards will be provided with each share. In addition, those of us helping with the pick-ups/demos will be available as resources for questions and cooking advice.
William T. Cosman is a Supervisor in Nutrition Services at the University of Vermont Medical Center. He has previously been a Line Chef within the UVM Medical Center. Prior to employment at the UVM Medical Center he worked at several restaurants in Chittenden County. He is a firm believer in the health benefits of CSA participation and the “Farm to Table” movement.