I belong to a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program. The idea is to buy fresh, local ingredients from small, local farmers, instead of at big box stores or supermarkets. Consumers make sure farmers are paid fairly for their labor by bypassing the middle man. And by choosing to support farmers who raise animals humanely and who use sustainable growing methods, consumers can "vote with their dollars" for healthier food, a healthier environment, and for practices that align with their own values. Food dollars remain with the local economy, too, which adds value to the purchase. And the food tastes better, in my experience, than what you get in stores.
I belong to an online food co-op that supports several farmers in Virginia, the state where I live. The advantages of the coop are that I have a greater diversity of choices in my purchases, the farmers are already pre-screened for their use of sustainable methods, and I can order what I want each week, rather than have a box of what's available from foods pre-chosen for me.
The downside is, I tend to order a little impulsively because I get excited about all the exquisite offerings.
Sometimes this turns out well. This week I spent $20.00 for three "Eco-Friendly Wool Dryer Balls," for example, from Breeze Hill Farm in Powhatan, Virginia. Made from felted wool, they are fragrance-free and an all-natural way to reduce drying time in my clothes-dryer while softening clothes and reducing static cling. Commercial fabric softeners will reduce the absorbency of towels and diapers, but these felted balls will not.
I do not like fabric softeners or their strong fragrances, so I am happy with the purchase so far. The balls do seem to reduce drying time, but it's still too soon for me to decide about their softening and anti-static properties. I also bought some local honey from a farm in Chesapeake that is wonderful.
On the other hand, I bought a pound of shiitake mushrooms this week as well as three turnips. I have never cooked a turnip, and I'm not even sure I like them. And I have no idea what to do with a pound of fresh mushrooms. I thought they came dried, you see. I do know I will have to come up with some mushroom recipes and cook them up fast, because mushrooms only keep for a short time, and these were expensive for my budget at $9.00/lb. I also bought five pounds of wheat berries just because they seemed like a bargain. And, no, I don't mill my own flour, at least not yet.
But that's part of the fun and adventure of a CSA. I have already come up with a recipe for the wheat berries, one that I'll share in a separate post. And my new Twitter-pal Andy Bellatti shared a mushroom soup recipe with me that I can't wait to scale up and try.
Looking for a CSA or farmers' market near you? Local Harvest can probably hook you up.
**Update for May, 2012: The wool dryer balls are starting to come apart in the dryer. Strings from the insides of them are tying up pieces of laundry, making them harder to dry. And little bits of felt are getting on our darker clothes. They still do a great job softening clothes, even as ratty as they are getting. When my supplier has more, I will buy two packs of 3 balls in hopes they will last me all year.
**Update for February, 2013: I bought some more dryer balls from Gum Tree Farm. These are smaller than the original ones, but seem to be working fine. The clothes sure seem to dry faster when the balls are in there! I don't think they eliminate static as well as the chemicals do, but otherwise I'm happy with them.