I stumbled across an article last week written by a person who had been really excited about trying out a CSA delivery service, but ended up cancelling her subscription for a number of reasons. It got me thinking about our own experience with our CSA, and how it makes me want to jump on a soap box about how much I love it.
I can empathize with some of the negatives the author raises, but now that we’ve worked our CSA into our eating routine, I’ll never go back. I’m writing this post to share how we make our CSA work.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a locally-based food distribution alternative where a community of people pledge to support a local farm (or farms) in exchange for receiving produce throughout the growing season.
There are a lot of good benefits to purchasing a share in a CSA:
- If you’ve been waiting for an excuse to eat better, start by joining a CSA. When your fridge and counter are full of healthy foods, you’ll eat better. It’s that simple.
- You’ll try foods you wouldn’t normally buy on your own, which introduces variety and possibly some new favorites to your diet.
- By investing in Community Supported Agriculture you’re cutting down on transportation costs (and unwanted environmental side effects) of shipping the food you eat from hundreds and thousands of miles away.
- You support a local farmer and your local economy.
- You can be assured that you’re eating healthy, natural foods when you know the name and face of the farmer who grew them, and you can learn their farming practices so you know exactly what you are eating
1. Get to know your farmers
My first suggestion speaks to the last point in the list of benefits; when you’re a CSA member, you can meet your farmer, talk to them about how they grow your food and just get to know the personality behind the food source.
Our CSA happens to be run by my cousin, Kate, and her partner, Bryan, so we know them very well―but it’s a safe bet that CSA growers in general have gotten into the business because they are passionate about growing good food and sharing it with their community. For that reason, they’ll welcome your questions and your involvement in wanting to get to know them and their farm.
Call them up, ask for a tour, or even offer to head out for an afternoon and help weed. I bet they won’t say no!
2. Find a good source for CSA-specific recipes
One of the great things about joining a CSA is the opportunity to try new fruits and veggies you wouldn’t normally put in your cart at the grocery store. On the flip side, you may not know how to cook all of these new foods.
We’re lucky to be in a CSA that comes with a weekly newsletter featuring recipes that use the items in our box. The recipes are collected by Kate, who has introduced us to some of our favorites like radish leaf soup, garlicky greens, beet salad and potato leek soup.
If you don’t get a newsletter like ours, there are still tons of sources for CSA recipes. Thousands of other cooks are in the same boat, and many of them are great about sharing the best recipes they’ve found. There are countless boards on Pinterest devoted to the topic, or try Farmer Dave’s Recipe Blog, CSArecipes.com or search by ingredient at Food.com.
This was a big one for us. At the beginning of the season, I kept my typical meal planning schedule and tried to squeeze in the vegetables where I could fit them in our meals, resulting in leftover vegetables when the next box showed up. After about a month, I started holding off on making the meal plan and grocery shopping until we knew what we’d have from the CSA that week. It made a huge difference in the amount of vegetables we used up, and as a result, we really were able to buy less at the grocery store.
4. Use your freezer
Even when you’re good at meal planning, there are weeks when you are away from home for several meals, or you just don’t have time to cook from scratch to use up everything you have in your box. Never fear! That’s what freezers are for. If you can double whatever recipe you’re making and stick one batch in the freezer, that’s great. But if you don’t have time even for that, don’t be afraid to chop or grate some vegetables and stick them in the freezer so you can use them later in the year. We used up the last baggie of green beans just last month; it was nice having extra vegetables in the freezer all winter, and our food didn’t go to waste.
Here are some quick tips on how to freeze some common vegetables:
- Spinach, kale & chard: blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds, then drain and squeeze out the extra moisture. Freeze in a baggie or an airtight container
- Tomatoes: blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds, then peel off their skins. Remove seeds if you’d like, then freeze whole
- Peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, & soybeans: Chop into smaller pieces, if needed, and blanch for 2-3 minutes. Dunk in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process, then drain and flash freeze (freeze on trays, then dump into bags so you can pull out just the amount you need)
- Onions & peppers: Chop and separate into containers based on how much your family usually uses during a meal (I usually use 1 cup mason jars or plastic baggies)
5. Find a go-to recipe for using up vegetables
You can only try so many new recipes; at the end of the day, sometimes you just want to eat. Start hunting early for a great go-to recipe (or a few go-to recipes) that you can use to cook up the vegetables you have in abundance.
Our favorite right now is quiche. Whip up a crust, saute whatever combination of vegetables we have on hand, and top with cheese, eggs and cream. We’ve made it a dozen ways depending on the ingredients available, but it’s easy and quick to make, and we know we like it (especially with hot sauce on top). Other good go-to recipes might be roast vegetable soup, stir fry or simply drizzling the veggies with olive oil, salt and pepper and throwing them on the grill. Find a recipe your family likes, and vary the ingredients so you can make it with different variations when you’re hungry.
Any other tips from CSA members on how you work the weekly box of produce into your eating routine?