Making the Most of a CSA
Today’s post is a guest post that comes to us from Wendy of The Local Cook. Her goal is to cook entirely local, seasonal foods as she cooks her way through a seasonal cookbook (you can learn more about her mission by visiting her blog). Since she’s the “local” cook, CSAs are one of her specialties! Today she’s telling you all about how to use a CSA to its fullest! Here she is:
CSA is shorthand for Community Supported Agriculture, where you pay up front for a “share” in the farm. Then, during the growing season, you pick up your share of the vegetables each week. This is a great way to get organic vegetables relatively inexpensively, as well as support local farmers and build community.
For some, the upfront cost seems like a lot of money. OK who am I kidding; it IS a lot of money! Even if it is cheaper than buying comparable goods at the farmer’s market, it’s still a large investment. So it’s important to maximize the return on that investment. Here are some ways that I’ve found to make sure I’m getting the most for my money:
- Get a working share. Some farms require you to work a number of hours, where others don’t require it, but you can get a discount if you agree to spend a certain number of hours working on the farm. This can be anything from weeding to helping out with the website. So if you have more time than money, you might want to look into this.
- Take advantage of U-pick opportunities. Many shares offer u-pick opportunities. The first CSA I was part of had an inconvenient location, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. The CSA I have now is right down the street, so I make sure to go and pick my full allotment. Sometimes they even have all you can pick; you can be sure I stocked up on beans when that was offered! I froze them and had beans all winter. You might also ask fellow members who might not live near the u pick area if they would mind if you picked their share. I had two friends who did the “in town” pickup option and never made it out to the farm, so they let me pick theirs and keep it.
- Learn what freezes/cans well, and what doesn’t. For example, there’s not much you can do with lettuce. So you’ll want to eat that right away. But green peppers, chard and kale, and other vegetables don’t take much preparation to freeze well. When you pick up your share, assess what you’ll be able to eat and focus on preserving what you won’t.
- Meal planning. This item goes hand in hand with the above. When you have a CSA, you need to get used to menu planning from the perspective of “this is what I have, what can I make?” vs. “this is what I want to make, what does my shopping list need to look like?” I’ve found it helpful to take a sheet of paper and divide it into three columns. On the left hand side, I write down the produce I need to eat. In the middle I write the recipes I want to make. In the right hand column I write what additional items I need to make those recipes. I also draw arrows from the side columns to the middle so if something goes bad or someone eats it I know I need to replace it or not do that recipe.
- Be adventurous. Don’t be afraid of new vegetables. A helpful book for figuring out what they are and what to do with them is From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce
- Be flexible. There are lots of recipes out there. Oodles of cookbooks. However not many are going to include all the neat varieties of vegetables that you get with a CSA share. So, don’t be afraid to substitute various greens (for example, Swiss chard for kale or spinach) or other vegetables.
- Choose a few go-to recipes. Some recipes lend themselves to flexibility. Salads, for example. Stir fry. Soup. Learn a few of these by heart and you’ll never be stuck wondering what to do with that random carrot or kohlrabi again. For my Top 10 Favorite “Recipes” for Random Vegetables, visit my website at ____________________.
Although the above tips were written with a CSA share in mind, they are helpful for gardeners too! How about you, how do you make the most of your share or harvest?
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