Monday, February 14, 2011

Buy Local and Fresh at Rio Salado

Tempe residents can now purchase locally-grown organic and pesticide-free produce at Rio Salado as part of the college’s efforts to support sustainability through Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA).

“CSA’s have been around for decades, but have gained steam recently as people look at sustainability and local food movements,” said Elizabeth Cole-Fay, Director of Community Partnerships at Rio Salado.

Rio Salado College serves as a drop-off location for Love Grows Farms. Each week, the farm delivers bags of fresh vegetables and fruits to “share-holders” who participate in the CSA program.

Participants purchase 10-week shares and in return receive a weekly stock of 7-10 produce items in season. Products vary depending on the growing season and harvest. For example, a one-week share might include beets, lettuce, spinach, radishes, peas, sprouts, kale and tomatoes.

“I’m always excited about delivery day,” said Maryann Shockley, an administrative assistant at Rio Salado who participates in the CSA program. “It’s like Christmas because you never know exactly what you are going to get.”

Another participant, Heidi Capriotti, marketing coordinator at Sun Sounds of Arizona, also enjoys the surprise of CSA’s weekly delivery.

“I’ve been introduced to some vegetables that I’ve never had before, like Swiss chard,” said Capriotti. “It’s fun getting to try new recipes and expand my culinary vocabulary. But most important, the food is awesome and tastes great.”

Another benefit of the CSA is the availability of several local drop-off sites.

“Who wants to go leave work and have to stop and get groceries?” said Shockley. “This way is so convenient. The produce doesn’t spend a lot of time in transit, and doesn’t have to time to spoil.”

In turn, growers who receive working capital from shareholders receive better prices for their crops and gain some financial security, resulting in a win-win situation for both the grower and the buyer.

Capriotti has always made a conscious effort to live green, so when the local CSA opportunity arose, she jumped aboard.

“I feel like I eat better when I eat organically,” Capriotti said. “And with the CSA, I feel more connected to the local grower and state.”

Taking advantage of local products is one of the principles of the Real Food Movement and ties directly into Rio Salado’s sustainability initiatives.

“We’ve had a lot of success with our sustainability efforts, through academics, our sustainable café and through employee wellness programs,” said Cole-Fay. “We look at the CSA program as a way of embracing sustainability not only at the college, but in the community as well.”

The CSA program is open to members of the public. Produce can be picked up every Wednesday from 1-3:30 p.m. at the Café @ Rio, 2411 W. 14th Street in Tempe. A 10-week share costs $250.

For more information visit www.riosalado.edu/cafe.