Local Food = Comfort Food During COVID-19

In these challenging times, we’re reminded how important many of the things we take for granted are. Although the produce sections at grocery stores are still well-stocked (unlike the toilet paper aisle), a growing number of residents are turning to local farms for their fruits and vegetables. Suddenly, community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm boxes — a program where you sign up to buy seasonal fruits and vegetables directly from a local farmer — are selling out across the Bay Area. For instance, in Santa Clara County, Spade and Plow Organics’ CSA membership jumped by 150 subscriptions in two days in March.

As Green Foothills’ Legislative Advocacy Director, I’ve always understood the benefits of CSA programs, which help to create a resilient urban food supply and actively support local farmers and the local food economy. CSA programs provide our local small farms a steady source of revenue, allow farmers to personally interact with their customers, and to grow a wider variety of crops.

Nevertheless, I always resisted joining a CSA. Although I knew all the benefits, the idea that a box of produce would be delivered to me every 2 weeks without fail gave me anxiety. What if I didn’t plan well enough to use it all up and I had to put some of it in the compost bin? In my household, we can barely manage to eat all of the vegetables we buy on purpose (admittedly, I do sometimes get carried away at the farmer’s market and buy more than I should).

But recently, like so many others, I decided to sign up for a veggie box program, in my case Fifth Crow Farm’s CSA produce share. (As of this writing, Fifth Crow Farm is sold out of their pre-season produce share, but they are still accepting sign-ups for their main season, which starts on May 17.) I picked up my first box two weeks ago and I’m happy to report that we have indeed used up all those beautiful greens, beets and carrots. (Here’s one of my favorite ways to use spinach: pasta with greens and feta, based on a Mollie Katzen recipe.)

Of course, I’m not the only happy CSA customer at Green Foothills. Here’s Julie Hutcheson, our Director of Impact, on why she enjoys her CSA membership:

There are a number of reasons I joined a CSA – well, in fact two, One Acre Farm and Spade and Plow. I’ve been with both of them for a number of years and really enjoy visiting the farms and knowing how much care they put into growing the healthy food my family eats. And it’s not just what they grow, but how they grow it. Healthy stewardship of the land is part and parcel of what these farmers do. Plus, their produce just tastes better than anything you can get in the grocery store. They offer a great variety that has introduced my family to different foods and expanded our menu.

Having advocated for the protection of farmland for almost a decade now, I’m cognizant of the challenges our local small farms face and how important farmland and climate smart farming practices are to bolstering our regional resilience to climate change. It is critical that we support them as part of a healthy local food system that also includes food security and food access. So being a member of two eco-conscious CSAs that are literally just a couple of miles from where I live means a lot to me.

From Megan Fluke, our Executive Director:

For the past year I have received a weekly CSA delivery from Spade and Plow, a small farm operated by the Thorp family whom I have been lucky enough to call friends for many years. There is a special joy that comes when my box is delivered on Thursdays. I’ll often order optional “add-ons” like flowers and eggs that they source from other local farms, and extra salad greens — and it seems that we can almost never order enough carrots.

With “shelter in place” in effect, I’ve found myself ordering much more each week to reduce the number of grocery trips. Beyond the sense of security that comes from knowing I’ll have produce delivered each week, what makes me happiest about having a CSA share from Spade and Plow is knowing I am supporting local farmers who use ecological practices to grow the food that nourishes my family. This cycle is a part of the climate resilient economy that I want for my community.

We’re fortunate to have local farms, so let’s support them

Unlike many areas of the country, the Bay Area has a mild climate year-round and many acres of prime soil that’s perfect for growing crops. In fact, Silicon Valley used to be covered with fruit orchards, the blossoms of which made the whole valley so lovely in springtime that it came to be known as the “Valley of Heart’s Delight.”

While Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties still have thousands of acres of row crops in production, from artichokes to brussel sprouts to tomatoes, farming has always been an economically precarious endeavor. In addition, land speculation caused by sprawling development has been a key factor over the decades in the alarming loss of our local farmland including thousands of acres of fruit orchards.

Yet we know that local farms are critical to a resilient local food supply. So, if we care about having locally-sourced food, we need to prevent the loss of the farmland where it’s grown. We also know that farmland soils are a vital tool in sequestering carbon. Santa Clara County has found that greenhouse gas emissions go up by as much as 77 percent if an acre of farmland is converted to urban use. So, if we care about fighting climate change, we need to prevent the loss of local farmland.

At Green Foothills, we’ve worked to protect farmland for decades. We advocate for greater protection against development on farmland and funding for agricultural easements to preserve the land in perpetuity.

Local farms need our support, and we need local farms. If you’re looking for a CSA to join, the Santa Clara County Food System Alliance has a webpage with links to farms that are still accepting new subscriptions. And next time you receive or pick up your CSA box or head to your local farmers market, spread the good word with a picture and the hashtags: #greenfoothills #supportlocalfarmers

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