Did you know that Hawaii imports 85-90% of all their food?  Shocking, isn’t it? Especially when you consider there are almost 2 million acres of agricultural land and 7,500 farms throughout all of the islands.

Photo courtesy of The Hawaii Independent. This is a photo of a Taro field in Waipio. Taro is still a major crop in Hawaii. Photo links to more stats on Hawaii's agricultural production.

I’m no growing expert, but the conditions in Hawaii seem to me perfect for growing an enormous variety of crops.  In many ways the climate is similar to southern Califorinia, only better. It IS paradise, after all.

You may wonder why I’m talking about Hawaii in a post about eating locally.  I just spent nearly two weeks there, and I tried my best to eat locally.  We tended to eat at roadside stands or at high end restaurants that pride themselves on sourcing their ingredients from the islands.  Since we stayed in condos, we were able to have some of our meals at home, and we shopped at the plentiful farmers markets or small neighborhood grocers for our produce and some of our dairy.

But it was still a challenge.  You can see if you travel there that there is a kind of locavore movement that has taken hold in many communities, and like communities in the Midwest, it’s a two steps forward, one step back enterprise.

Even so, the energy around local, organic foods and especially the plentiful farmers markets in Hawaii got me excited about the upcoming growing season here in Milwaukee.  I love shopping at local farmers markets, but there are downsides.  Going to a farmers market is a  time commitment, and honestly, I sometimes get overwhelmed by the selection and end up carrying out far more than my husband and I can consume.

After taking a year off from joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), I’m jumping back in.

The question is: Who should I sign up with this year?

I’m relying on the Urban Ecology Center’s Local Farmer Open House on Saturday, March 17 to help me decide.  Many local farmers who offer CSA shares will be there to provide literature about their farming practices, the length of their growing season, and what a typical box might contain at different times during the season.

It’s important to me that the CSA I join…

  1. Offers a half-share.  A typical share from a CSA farm feeds a family of 4-5.  Since I’m feeding two, I need a half share to avoid waste.  Because with waste comes guilt.  And guilt is definitely something I DON’T need!  Preferably, I would like a half-share to pick up every week. Many farms design their half-share so you pick up your basket every other week.  Easier for the farmer, yes, but more difficult for me.
  2. Offers eggs.  I signed up with Rare Earth Farm for a couple of years when I was splitting a full share with someone I worked with.  Their eggs were dynamite and while now it’s easier to find local eggs in the grocery store, it wasn’t as easy even just a few years ago.
  3. Doesn’t use excessive chemicals or pesticides in their farming.  I prefer organic, but honestly, the hoops farmers have to jump through in order to label their crop organic is sometimes too burdensome and resource-intensive.  If a farmer assures me that their crop is minimally treated, and they use ecologically responsible agricultural practices, even though it’s not “certified organic,”  I’m OK with that.

This year I’m planning to attend one of the great workshops they’re offering.  I’m debating between “Cooking from your CSA box,” led by Annie Wegner LaFort, a local chef and master food preserver, and “How pesticides and food choice affect our health and local water quality,” led by Lynn Markham, University of Wisconsin Extension Agent at University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point.

Because I’m a cook myself, Annie’s workshop is a natural draw.  It’s always interesting to see how other cooks approach ingredients. Also, having just gotten my feet wet in the world of preserving last summer, I’m in need of some good resources!

I know and understand very little about how our choices impact our local water quality, but it strikes me as a critically important topic.  As someone who cares about health and the environment, I feel a responsibility to learn all I can about these issues.

I’m excited to attend the open house this year, and to share my experiences with my CSA here.  Once the season begins, I’ll share each week what I’m receiving in my box, and how I’m preparing the items.

Aloha, and happy eating!