Buying a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a wonderful way to enjoy a bounty of fresh, local produce while supporting a local farm. But it can be a bit daunting to be on the receiving end of so many vegetables, especially when some of them are new to you and some may spoil quickly. You may find yourself wondering what to do with ten pounds of zucchini? And what is this wonderfully bizarre-looking thing called Romanesco?
But being part of a CSA need not make you feel overwhelmed or guilty — it can and should be fun! Just follow these six tips:
1. Get inspired! When you find out what you’ll be getting that week, take a few minutes to think about meals you might like to make with those ingredients. I find that this helps get me excited about the possibilities and increases the likelihood that I will actually use everything and cook some really good meals.
2. Only take what you will actually use. If you find yourself humming “killing me softly with cabbage” on your way to get your veggies and you know deep down that you’re not going to end up using that big bunch of parsley or those collard greens, don’t take them! Some farms have a box where you can put anything you don’t want so that others who are more excited about that particular thing can grab it, while some share unclaimed food among their volunteers in lieu of payment, and others deliver the produce to a local soup kitchen. Regardless, it will go to hungry mouths that will appreciate it instead of rotting in your refrigerator and making you feel guilty.
3. Wash the greens when you get home. I’ve found that I am about 10 times more likely to actually make use of, say, spinach if I take a few minutes to wash and dry it right when I get it home. Knowing there’s a big bag of ready-to-use spinach, lettuce, chard, or kale in the fridge makes it that much easier to start a meal. If you don’t have the time to wash them, make sure to at least remove any rubber bands, twine, or ties holding them in bunches since those will make them rot more quickly.
4. Don’t forget freezing and canning. If you’ve got too much of something, it’s a great idea to make pickles or jam or just freeze a big bunch of chopped fresh greens or herbs for easy use later. Not only does it keep good food from going to waste, you’ll thank yourself later when you’re munching on some spicy pickled carrots or grabbing a bag of chopped kale out of the freezer to add to a stew in the middle of the winter.
5. Consider signing up for a half share instead of a whole one. Whether you’re entering the wonderful world of CSAs for the first time or you’re just feeling a bit overwhelmed, a half share could be a good option. Some farms allow you to choose a half share and others may require you to split a full share with someone else.
6. Clear the decks before default CSA pick-up day. There’s nothing like knowing that another big load of great, fresh stuff is coming to motivate you to use up the last of the veggies in our fridge. Plan a big salad as one of your meals, whip up a stir-fry, make a big pot of soup, or start a batch of refrigerator pickles. You and your family will enjoy it and you’ll be thankful for the space in your crispers when the new load of produce arrives.
Happy eating, cooking, pickling, and freezing!