After a winter of eating root vegetables that lend themselves to hearty dishes filled with butter and cream, I always look forward to spring when our local CSA plants and harvests goodies like arugala, bok choi, pea tendrils, and radishes.
Community supported agriculture teaches people to tailor their cooking patterns and tastes to the season in their locale. It steps back to a time when folks ate what was grown nearby, knew how their produce and meat was harvested, and talked to their farmers. Eating “fresh” tomatoes in Massachusetts in January is a relatively new and unnatural phenomenon.
But why only get to know your farmers? Coastal states are known for more than their terrestrial produce. In 2007, the Mid-Coast Fishermen’s Co-op in Maine established the nation’s first community supported fishery (CSF), Port Clyde Fresh Catch. Since then, CSFs have popped up along both US and Canadian coasts. Modeled after CSAs, the principle is simple: Customers pay up-front for a share of the week’s catch and are rewarded with the sea’s local bounty. Shareholders get incredibly fresh seafood directly from people they trust while lifting some of the financial risk from the shoulders of fishermen. Fishing, like farming, is an uncertain business and no catch is ever guaranteed.
Similar to their agricultural counterparts, CSFs value transparency and education. They want shareholders to know how and where their fish was caught, the name of the fisherman that hauled in their catch, and why supporting local, independent boats is more sustainable than purchasing fish caught by industrial fleets on the other side of the world.
If you visit Red’s Best, a CSF that sells at Boston’s farmers markets, you’ll discover that they don’t just offer popular species like cod, tuna, and swordfish. Instead you’ll see a more accurate representation of the region’s fishery than you would at a supermarket. By providing a diverse array of seafood, the CSF model takes pressure off popular stocks while introducing consumers to new, delicious species. And like agriculture, ocean harvests vary seasonally, so the make-up of annual CSF catches is in proportion to what the ecosystem can provide. Chatham fishermen don’t catch bluefish in winter just as Massachusetts farmers don’t harvest corn until summer.