We speed home (it's usually Vicki and me) and I unpack item after item, a smile of contentment slowly spreading across my face. It may just be my favorite part of the week.
I have written a lot about how much I loved our CSA in Kansas. I really enjoyed getting to know John and Ramona, seeing their farm, and tasting their food. On a larger, ethical level, I like knowing that my money is supporting them and not Monsanto. But John and Ramona could only go so big with their family farm. They were able to supply us with vegetables, some fruit, eggs, and chicken.
My friends Julie and Jimmy have been doing a similar program through a farm and co-op called Avalon Acres. Because of increased demand from the Middle Tennessee consumers, they have taken it to the next level. They offer subscriptions for vegetables, grass-fed meat (pork, beef, chicken), eggs, cheese, raw milk (has to be called "pet milk" in Tennessee and labeled that it is unfit for human consumption!), goat milk and cheese, bread, pasta, home-jarred goods, and more. You put together what package you want per week, sign a contract stating that you will be responsible for paying for it through the end of the season, and you pick up your food weekly.
After we found we would be moving back to Nashville, Julie told me about it and I investigated a little further. I basically had one thought: Yes, please.
We signed up for a somewhat ambitious package. Every Wednesday, we get 1/4 share of produce (usually one fruit item and four or five servings of veggies), 1 dozen eggs, 10 oz of cow's milk cheese, and an assortment of meats.
This week: eggs, tomato-herb cheddar cheese, cherry tomatoes, green heirloom tomatoes, french beans, summer squash, delicata squash, cucumbers, okra, potatoes, jalapenos, banana peppers, breakfast sausage links, ground chuck, pork chops, whole chicken.
The meat has been an interesting situation. In the program descriptions, we checked the box next to the meat selection that had 1 chicken portion, 1 pork portion, 1 beef portion, and 1 breakfast meat portion per week. The portions were described as "enough to feed two adults." I thought it would be just right, since Vicki still doesn't eat a whole serving of anything at meals.
What has been arriving has been WAY more than that. I'm having trouble complaining about it, because the meat is amazing! Tender, flavorful, well-marbled steaks, plump chickens, delicious chuck for burgers, bacon to die for, etc. But we have easily been getting enough to feed four in each of those portions. For instance, today we got: 1 whole chicken, 1 lb pork chops, 2 lbs ground beef chuck, and 1 lb of breakfast sausage links. Tell me what family of two adults can get through that much meat in a week!? My freezer is bulging already. I think what I will do is just continue with this through the end of the season (late October) and then do a veggies, eggs, and cheese only package after that for awhile to work through my backlog of meat.
I have tried their raw milk, and was impressed with the quality. However, the cost was high. $3.75 per quart. Since my Avalon Acres subscription started, I've found a separate co-op for raw dairy that is much more reasonable ($3.50/gallon).
So, for all this locally-grown, absolutely delectable, high-quality meat, dairy, eggs, and produce, we must be paying an arm and a leg, right? You may be surprised.
We pay $72.75/week for all this food. What we buy outside this is negligible (coffee, milk, tea, a bit of fruit, bread, pantry items). I would say that, in all, we pay about $100/week for groceries. It's certainly more than if I just went to Kroger and got the store brand of everything and the cheapest meat available. But it is so much better in every way. I literally feel better after eating a meal from the farm. I digest everything well. I feel light and energetic.
Call me crazy, too, but I really trust these people. The Avalon Acres farm works together with three Amish communities in a sort of co-op to get their food to the consumers and our money to them. I tend to feel that the Amish, as a whole, are one of the only groups left in America whose product billing and promises are real. I trust their word if they say the cows are fed grass and hay. And my husband will tell you that I don't trust people easily. A bit of a cynic over here, especially about marketing and branding.
If you are in Nashville and are interested in this kind of program, you must try it out. Perhaps don't dive in headfirst like we did! But give your money to this community and your heart and your body will thank you.
P.S. My old junior-high colleague Erin did a great piece on her blog about how the "locavore" movement is really kind of silly, or at least doesn't have all the environmental benefits that its adherents claim. I think that's probably true. The old truck that delivers my box every week is certainly not very fuel-efficient. But from a health standpoint, I can say that this kind of eating does seem to be better for me. Also from a "help your neighbors"/invest in local business kind of standpoint.