For those that don’t know, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.
Yeah, I know. Even spelled out, it is descriptive but not…explanative? Which is evidently not a word and why you’re expecting clear language on this blog after 13 years is beyond me.
A CSA is usually a local farm (or collection of growers) that distribute “shares” for their “agriculture” to the “community” which “supports” them.
You know those monthly subscription-based services like wine of the month club? It’s like that. But usually weekly. And with more cilantro. (DAMN YOU CILANTRO.)
We have a nearby organic farm, EverGood farm, who does both 1/2 and fall shares for 8-16 weeks during the growing season. Every week we stopped at one of the farmer’s market they attend and picked up our box of goodies.
I love that we have a CSA available to us even though we’ve moved hours away from civilization. And that we have a farmer’s market just minutes from the shop.
(Of course there’s a but. Did you read the title?)
1) The CSA is available during the time of the year when we are our busiest.
2) The farmer’s market just minutes from our shop happens on a Wednesday. This has meant lots of produce sitting around until Saturday or Sunday when I may have time to cook and prep.
3) Even with two very adventurous palates and willingness to try new things, there have been some items we just don’t use (I’m looking at you, CILANTRO). Although the cost is small considering the amount of produce we receive, it is a waste to receive items we truly can’t or won’t eat.
(Cilantro tastes like soap to me. It’s genetic. I’ve tried using it in varying quantities in different recipes. And every time I think, “This is an awesome dish except for the soap.”)
The first year we struggled with some of the above issues but decided it was worth it to continue. Last year I was much more prepared and didn’t waste as much but at the cost of my free time and sanity.
So looking forward to year three, we’ve decided instead of participating in the CSA, we will pre-purchase credits to use at the market. This gives us flexibility in both the amount of produce (in case it’s a particularly busy week) and the actual product itself (we, uh, won’t be purchasing any cilantro). At the same time by purchasing credits in advance we are committing ourselves to eating local, organic produce and helping EverGood with a small economic boost in their non-growing season.
All that said, if you happen to not work 14 hours a day during the time CSA shares are distributed I think they are wonderful. Some of the positives (besides supporting local farming):
1) Usually fresher produce than you would find in a store.
2) Variety of produce including items you may not pick out on your own.
3) One-stop shopping for most of your vegetable needs for the week.
If you find the idea interesting, but are similarly concerned about being overwhelmed, here are the ways I made participating in a CSA easy:
1) Keep it Simple – Think Salads, Soups, and Smoothies
Sometimes confronted with a new or special food, I feel I must do something new or special with it. And if you have the time and energy, go for it! Let your CSA share be the canvas on which you paint a beautiful and tasty gourmet meal.
But if you don’t have the time and energy? Remind yourself the point is to eat a variety of local, hopefully organic, produce. Any format you choose to get it in your belly is an acceptable way to accomplish that. The Three Ssss’s are my favorite.
Salads. Just about any vegetable and many fruits can be chopped up and thrown in there. Keep your favorite “salad extras” (think canned beans, crumbled cheeses, sunflower seeds) on hand with two or three favorite dressings to rotate. This is an extra bonus if you have a heat-wave in the middle of CSA season. Great, easy dinner without turning on the stove!
Soups. I once was at a loss with a particularly large CSA share that included leeks, eggplant, fennel, zucchini, and potatoes. One long ass google search later, Soup! Yes, I needed several other vegetables to complete the recipe. But eating vegetables was the whole point, yes? A lot of vegetable-based soups will be very forgiving with omitting or adding ingredients; just start with good quality bases and use your favorite herbs. You can also translate many soup recipes to the crock pot which helps with time constraints.
Smoothies. When in doubt, throw that ish in a blender, add some frozen berries, and suck down those nutrients! Almost any greens are blender-worthy, as well as any fruits, cucumbers, celery, and even some herbs if you’re feeling spicy and adventurous. I have a green smoothie daily, that usually incorporates 1-2 servings of vegetables at 1-3 servings of fruit. (If you are not used to green smoothies, I would suggest starting with your favorite fruit smoothie with 1-2 cups of spinach added. Spinach is by far the easiest vegetable to incorporate without noticing a different taste or texture.)
2) The freezer is your friend
At some point, you will be faced with an item you can’t for love or money work into a recipe in a timely fashion. I had a head of cabbage stare at me for a week and a half for this exact reason. My husband had obliged me with two heads of cabbage earlier in the season by frying up cabbage and bacon. But I don’t like cabbage and bacon and I was sick of him solely reaping the cabbage benefit.
I had just the week before made baked egg rolls for the first time, using up some Napa cabbage. I definitely wanted to make them again, but not so soon. Again, google to the rescue with directions on how to prepare cabbage for freezing.
You can freeze cabbage? Who knew? But CSA desperation calls for pulling out all the stops. Now that cabbage has been quartered and blanched and is sitting right next to the leftover egg roll wrappers.
Every once and while I am also smart enough to freeze something ASAP. I grate carrot and extra zucchini then freeze for all sorts of sweet and savory treats later. I immediately freeze my rhubarb because I’ll want to make jam later.
Some items can be frozen raw with no (berries) or little (grated vegetables) preparation. Some items need a bit of coaxing (herbs made into a “pesto-starter”, chopped fine with olive oil) and some need actual heat before they cool off (blanching cabbage). But I promise you the small amount of work put into packing away frozen goodies is worth it.
3) If not the cold shoulder (freezer), how about some hot air?
I’m talking dehydrating, y’all. And it’s awesome. I immediately put herbs in the “dehydrate” pile. I just can’t use up the amount we receive fresh before they start to rot. I’ve also found that dehydrated scallions will plump back up for most recipes just fine.
Another thing I dehydrate a lot is tomatoes. Tomatoes are the sort of produce I received in small enough amounts in my CSA that unless I put them in salads, I rarely feel I have enough to “do” anything with while they are fresh. I dehydrate them and then use them in place of sun-dried tomatoes in recipes for months.
I store my dehydrated items in clean plastic containers with good lids in a pantry spot that won’t get a lot of light.
Those are my tips on getting the most out of a CSA and trying to not get overwhelmed. I do recommend trying a CSA if you have one available in your area. It is an easy way to get tons of fresh produce. Most CSAs will give you a heads up as to what is planned to be in a share so you can be prepared with recipes and menus for the week ahead.
I am really looking forward to this next season with Ever Good farms. I am a little concerned we will get so busy that we won’t use all of our credit, but that is why I purchased it now – to force us to shop where we really want to.