Community Supported Agriculture is a great way to feel good about investing in the local market, feel good about the foods you’re serving your family, and feel good about how colourful it makes your fridge or your Instagram feed.
It’s also a good opportunity to feel entirely overwhelmed, discouraged at the amount of vegetables that spoil (especially when you find a recipe you want to try in order to use something up “before it goes bad”), and generally paralyzed over how to deal with a fresh CSA box when all you want is a greasy burger and fries from Five Guys.
Eight weeks in, my brother-in-law, who happens to be a retailer of locally grown produce, asked whether we felt we were getting our value out of the CSA. It really felt like two different questions: are we getting our money’s worth of vegetables and are we making use of all vegetables. Those were two very different answers for us. Without a doubt, we are getting delicious, quality vegetables. We certainly get a LOT of vegetables in our pack. Once we got past the first few weeks (which are understandably difficult in our Zone 3 fields), we definitely get a LOT of variety.
But we’re picky eaters. And there are few vegetables we all agree on (cucumbers, carrots and peas are pretty standard in our house). We’re more likely to agree on what we don’t like (braised leafy greens, beets). It’s been difficult coming up with recipes for vegetables we don’t usually eat. As a result, we’ve had more spoilage than we’d like to admit.
Especially once we realized that all the tops for the root vegetables? Ya, we’re supposed to eat those too.
The only one who hasn’t struggled has been C. While she’s never been big into leafy greens, she is more than willing to try anything that’s brightly coloured (and green is a colour afterall!). She has even been known to walk off with some produce when we’re sorting and putting it away. (At first, I thought it was sweet that she was treating a zucchini like a baby. It made me worry a little less about how she would treat a younger sibling. She was so gentle, and caring. And then she took a giant bite out of it).
Over half done our 16 week season, we’re starting to get the hang of it. We have two recipes for zucchini that don’t make me want to gag. Most of our spoilage now comes from a vegetable rolling to the back of the fridge. We are, by no means, experts, but as picky eaters who are more likely to eat carbs, we’re pretty proud at how far we’ve come.
Newbie CSA Tips
- Switch your grocery day to the day after your CSA pick up
Even on weeks when we knew we’d be getting something like beets, we never knew how many. Sometimes it was enough for a garnish. Other times it was enough for a full salad to bring to a family gathering. Giving yourself 24 hours to figure out what you can make from the vegetables you have.
- Don’t feel guilty about repeating a recipe if you find one for a veggie you’re not crazy about
Zucchini grows like a weed here, and I’m not much of a fan. The only way I can stomach is is barely sauteed as noodles, or shredded into “meat” balls. If there i a chance of it getting soggy, I’m gagging. Sometimes it’s just safer to stick with what you know will work with difficult vegetables rather than giving you more reason to dislike a vegetable.
- Don’t feel like you have to eat them all that week
Now not every vegetable will last in the fridge beyond 7 days (especially not locally grown organic vegetables), and it’s not always a good idea to “save” vegetables when you know more and more will be showing up a week later. But remember that sweet-turned-sour moment where C babied a zucchini, and then bit into it? That happened after we’d already started making a non-zucchini supper. If we wanted to “save” the zucchini, we had to think fast, and think long term. As Scott finished up supper, I whipped up a batch of Autumn Vegetable soup to freeze for a winter day (pureeing the zucchini, obviously.
- Make pesto
I think every “green” that we got, when I researched how to use it, included at least one recipe for pesto. Chard. Beet greens. Celery greens. Apparently basil is totally replaceable (and trust me, after having fresh, local garlic, you know THAT is the important ingredient in the recipe). And the best part? Pesto freezes up nicely in ice cube trays
- Know when to admit defeat
If I see another beet green, I’ll lose it. I’m tempted to send Scott to veggie pick up with a knife so he can chop them off the beets and hand them directly to my parents when he picks up C. A friend at work has also said she’ll take anything off my hands. One week we had more kale than we knew what to do with (and we like kale), so we made a kale salad for a family gathering.
- Expect to still buy produce at the grocery store
The week you expect lettuce will be the week you don’t get it. And that mint you hoped would last just a few more days got a little too close to that cold spot in the fridge. And sometimes, even the best farmer can’t beat blight.