Thursday, February 27, 2014

Package of Meat (or, why we started using a meat CSA)

We joined a fruit and vegetable CSA about a year and a half ago, back when we moved into our condo. While some people argue that you can get better deals on produce at the Farmer's Market, as graduate students we have found the convenience of delivered veggies to be irreplaceable. For those in Northern California who are curious, we use Farm Fresh to You. The big reason why we chose them is the ability to completely customize the delivery schedule. Depending on how busy we are in a given month, we get deliveries either every other week or every 3 or even 4 weeks (filling in with visits to the Farmer's Market between box deliveries). We also enjoy the discovery of new vegetables we might not otherwise try, and I enjoy the challenge of eating with the seasons and using up everything we have. Without a CSA box, would I have learned so many ways to eat leeks? I doubt it.

Recently we joined another CSA group -- a meat one. These are not as common as the produce CSAs, and it took quite a bit of research to find one that met our needs. (If you're in the Bay Area, the one we settled on is Marin Sun Farms.)

Why did we decide to sign up for a once a month delivery of meat? We have been discussing on and off the problems with conventionally raised meat animals. The horrors of factory farms turn my stomach and make me sad. I completely understand why some people choose to become vegetarian, but, while I frequently will do meatless days, a completely meatless diet isn't for us.

I was buying organic chicken at the store, and organic grass fed beef...but while that helps, distributors still try to keep costs down for chain grocery stores so it's not always the most humane choice.

We started buying meat at the Farmer's Market, which was nice because we could chat with the farmers and know that the meat was organic and came from animals who were allowed to free range or pasture. But, again with our unpredictable schedules, sometimes we couldn't make it to the Farmer's Market. Or we would get there later and the more cost effective cuts would be sold out.

our first meat box delivery

We had been researching meat CSAs on and off for months, but finally made the jump with the new year. Here are the points that caused us to choose Marin Sun Farms:

1. Local, pasture raised livestock. While their farms are not certified organic (which can be costly for the farm) they do guarantee that their livestock are never fed antibiotics or growth hormones. Most importantly for us, the livestock live in pastures for most of the year, and are treated humanely.

2. Ability to get only the amount of meat we need. Some meat CSAs use the old model of customers paying an upfront sum, then receiving a half a cow when processing time comes. This wouldn't work for us, since we only have a small freezer! With this CSA we get about 6lbs of meat per month at a monthly rate. If we know we won't be available to pick up our box, we can call ahead of time to cancel that delivery.

3. Variety. This first box, we received about 1lb each of ground lamb, pork, and beef as well as a small leg of lamb, a pork butt shoulder and two pork chops. I like this variety because we will never get bored with the meat in the freezer. And who knows what we will receive next month?

Here's a good article about meat CSAs : link

Another benefit of this CSA is the reduced packaging. Yes, everything is vacuum sealed in plastic. But there are none of those extra Styrofoam trays, or the weird absorbing things that sometimes are packaged under meat at the grocery store. The cardboard box everything comes in is recyclable or reusable. So, per pound of meat, we are throwing less in the garbage than if we were buying conventional meat at the grocery store.

Those are my thoughts on our meat CSA so far. I'll be digging into the ground pork this weekend for our Baked Eggs with Kale dinner, so I'm quite excited about that!

Do you have any experience with CSAs, produce or meat? Please share in the comments!

*Neither Farm Fresh to You nor Marin Sun Farms has anything to do with my writing of this post. Eating locally and Community Supported Agriculture is just something that I've become quite interested in and I wanted to share my experiences thus far.*

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