Fresh: Farmers markets are a wonderful way to buy your produce, but figuring out how to get the produce home and then what to do with all that bounty is an ongoing issue. (Dan Honda/Contra Costa Times/MCT)

Organic, sustainable, local -- everyone talks the trendy talk, but some foodies are taking the locavore message to heart.

They're not only frequenting farmers markets, they're launching locavore supper clubs and recipe-rich blogs, and subscribing to CSAs -- small, local farms whose Community Supported Agriculture programs eliminate the middle man by delivering fresh veggies direct.

You can credit Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver -- and the San Francisco Bay Area's wealth of fresh produce and small farms -- with the transformation.

"A lot of people are buying organic," says San Jose, Calif., resident Carol Provenzano. "We wanted to take it to the next step."

Provenzano and her friends began subscribing to a farm CSA and hosting locavore dinners after reading Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," which recounts the novelist's yearlong effort to lead the life of a locavore, serving only food she'd raised herself or that came from growers and ranchers she trusted.

It was Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma" that abruptly raised the consciousness of Christina Valencia and her best friend Jillian Abernathy, San Francisco twentysomethings who started researching local CSAs within days of finishing the best-seller.

"I didn't know anything about organic foods or pesticides," Valencia says. "It opened my eyes to a lot of things. I loved farmers markets, but it's Saturday mornings. I'm usually sleeping in! CSA was a great way to get local produce without hassle -- and support our local farmers."

If strolling a farmers market is casual dating, joining a CSA is going steady. Instead of browsing and picking and choosing, you commit to pick up weekly or biweekly boxes of fresh-from-the-farm produce -- and in some cases chickens, eggs and herbs. But for every delightful heirloom tomato discovery, there comes a time when the box brims with something strange.

"You just get what you get, which is pretty fun," says Provenzano, who picks up her CSA box at a drop-off spot on the Santa Clara University campus. "Farmers are able to provide varieties of vegetables that have a shorter shelf life, so you're getting different tastes, and the stuff is very fresh. You think you know what a strawberry tastes like and then you taste these."

Still, it can be startling. One of Provenzano's first CSA crates contained, apparently, weeds. They were edible greens, she knows now, but at the time, they bore an uncanny resemblance to the greenery she'd just weed-whacked in her backyard.

"It's definitely an adjustment," says Valencia, whose produce came from Farm Fresh to You, a large CSA that delivers to homes and offices, rather than general drop-off spots. "The first box I ever got, I threw most of it away because I didn't know what to do with it. Beets and beet greens -- I didn't know you can actually use those beet greens. But the more you explore, the more adventurous you are. You research it, and that's part of the fun. I just cooked for the first time with green garlic."

Soon, Valencia and Abernathy were recounting those culinary adventures with tender broccolini and leafy kale on their Bay Area-based food blog, Farm and a Frying Pan. It struck such a chord, the blog has begun adding writers in Chicago, Denver and Southern California. And Valencia, who moved to New York City earlier this year to join the staff at Epicurious.com, has added a bicoastal element.


CSAs and farmers markets are a wonderful way to buy your produce, but figuring out how to get the produce home and then what to do with all that bounty is an ongoing issue, says food writer Janet Fletcher. Her new book, "Eating Local, The Cookbook Inspired by America's Farmers," is a joint venture with Sur La Table. The cookware boutique's corporate headquarters in Seattle is a drop-off point for CSA boxes in a pilot program the company hopes may eventually expand.

The idea, Fletcher says, is "to make it easier for people to buy local, support local farms and get fresh food on their own table."

Part of that effort also lies in expanding, "people's produce awareness," says Fletcher. "Get people thinking about trying and cooking some of the vegetables they may have shied away from in the past -- kale, tomatillos, rutabagas, things that turn up in those produce boxes."

Meanwhile, Provenzano and her friends have moved beyond the CSA box. By fall 2009, what had begun with a book had become a passion.

"I was making cheese and yogurt, and canning tomatoes, and they were making jam and orange juice, and sharing with each other," Provenzano says. "We were trying not to use stuff outside the farmers market, our box and our backyard. And we thought, 'Let's see if we can do a dinner.'"