What, you may be asking, is a CSA?
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The idea is that members of the CSA pay the farmers an annual fee. The farmers use that money to raise their goods--whether it be meat, vegetables, or other product. When the product is ready, the members receive a share of the final product. Some CSAs are for vegetables (most require signup by a certain date); the one we joined is for meat.
We joined the CSA at Thompson's Painted Hill Farm in Wells, MN. They offer both a summer and a winter CSA. The summer program runs May-October and gives back 15 pounds of meat per month, as well as a dozen eggs. The winter program is November-April and gives 13 pounds and a dozen eggs, as well as a Thanksgiving turkey and an Easter ham. They allow payment in one lump sum or as monthly payments, and pickup is the first Saturday of the month.
Although I really have no problem in buying meat from the grocery store, I do like to buy local when I can. I've read all the food books--Supersize Me, Food Inc., Fast Food Nation (am currently am working on-and-off through The Omnivore's Dilemma when I have time), which is even more of an encouragement to buy local, sustainable meat.
Another benefit of sustainable meat is that you know it will be good for you. Many farms like Painted Hill are essentially organic (PH cannot claim organic status because, as I understand it, they do not have access to an organic meat processor) and offer home-grown meat that comes more or less from your own backyard. By buying from farmers like this, you know you're not ingesting pesticides, growth hormone, or other unnatural ingredients.
So, like I was saying, this is our first month. I went to the market today to pick up our package. I couldn't wait to get home to see what we received!
I can tell you now that I was not disappointed! Here is what we got:
* 2 packages of chicken thighs
*1 package of chicken wings
*2 New York strip steaks from grass-fed beef
*1 lb. ground beef
*1 lb. ground pork
*1 lb. ground Italian-style chicken
*1 arm roast (presumably from grass-fed beef)
*1 pork roast
*4 large, bone-in pork chops
*1 dozen farm-fresh eggs
I am most excited about the grass-fed beef. Grass-fed beef is supposed to be high in omega-3 and also better for your heart, as the meat has less fat and saturated fat. It is also supposed to have a very different taste than the corn-fed beef we're probably all used to. I've heard some people have to get used to seeing the yellow fat that grass-fed beef has.
Heidi Thompson, one of the owners of Painted Hill Farm, blogged an interesting story a while back. A member of a Yahoo group they belong to visited the meat counter at his local grocery store and asked about the availability of grass-fed beef. Long story short, the butcher tried to tell him that beef weren't meant to eat grass. Uhh. Another person I know had a total mental disconnect between eggs and chickens (as in, not realizing that chickens come from eggs). If this is the future of food, I can confidently say that I'm afraid. Hopefully the Thompsons and other farmers will be able to educate the public on the benefits of farm-fresh meat.
I have never cooked grass-fed beef before--this shall be a new experience. From my understanding, it's very easy to overcook. When I picked up my meat, I was advised to marinate the steaks with some sort of acid (balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, etc.) and allow them to come to room temperature. Hopefully this week I will be able to share my experience with you!