We’ve explored if CSAs were right for you. Now let’s talk about what to do once you’ve joined one.
Thinking about joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share? I learned a lot about offbeat vegetables and how to prepare them. I learned how to roast beets without setting off the smoke detector (the key is to add a tablespoon of water to your foil packet.) I know I still don’t like cabbage, after trying it three ways. And that’s okay. I definitely got creative with how to fit even more veggies into my family’s diet. And I got to use my favorite knife… a LOT.
Here’s are all my tips from my experience as a first time CSA participant…
- Organic produce that I can pick up right where I work (like a farmer’s market for introverts).
- Pay a lump sum prior to the season, which you forget about, and then it’s like free food every week!
- No temptations like the bakery at the farmer’s market. (Wait, that’s a con…)
- No decisions to make about what produce to buy.
- Higher quality produce at cheaper prices than the traditional grocery store.
- You don’t get to pick what you get each week. They send out an email each week with what you will probably get, but you don’t know for sure until you pick it up.
- WTF is kohlrabi?
- What are those curly pointy things that smell like garlic?
- What if I get vegetables I don’t like? (I’m looking at you, cabbage!)
- Fitting everything in your shitty fridge, aka proper storage to prolong freshness.
Supplies I found helpful and/or fun:
- Good knife: the larger and sharper the better, amiright? Hollow-ground depressions are good for vegetables not sticking to your knife. I found a 10 inch Wusthof knife and a knife sharpener at a discount store. It makes a huge difference in how easy it is to chop vegetables.
- Large cutting board: The bigger the better in my opinion so you have more room to maneuver your badass knife.
- Paper towels or very clean dish towels
- Plastic containers of all sizes.
- Source of music in the kitchen
- Salad spinner: Salad dressings stick to dry lettuce better and the drier it is the longer it lasts. I got the smaller one from Oxo.
- Pantry staples: olive oil, spices, rice or rice mixes, canned tomatoes, canned beans, pasta, variety of nuts, veggie broth
Storage: I picked up my loot — now what?
First, learn a bit about the vegetables. You can find this information from your CSA website or a quick Google search. Take beets, for example. You can eat both the root and the leaves, but you have to store them separately: tops in a sealed bag and bottoms in a sealed container. Same with kohlrabi.
The best way for me to store a head of lettuce was unwashed, the bottom stalk cut off, and in a plastic container so it doesn’t get smooshed by other refrigerator inhabitants. I have an old refrigerator that gets really humid, so I put a paper towel to absorb any extra moisture. Storing it this way made the organic lettuce last a week or more!
Herbs can be stored in sealed bags or in a jar of water on the windowsill. Unless you’re making pesto, it’s unlikely you’ll use a whole bunch of basil at once, so you can freeze portions in baggies or in ice cube trays with oil.
Tomatoes you want to store at room temperature to preserve their flavor. If you get a lot, you can freeze them or use them to make sauce (or both!).
Berries are best stored in a single layer on a paper towel in a plastic container, but I never had to worry about them lasting that long in my house!
If you can choose a pickup day, pick your least busy day so you have more time to store and chop your food.
Meal planning and how I turned the cons into pros:
Earlier in the week my CSA sends out an email with what they are expecting to distribute that week, so at this point I can think about what I might get. Utilize your CSA’s website and social media connections for recipe ideas. If your CSA doesn’t have a website, poach information from other CSA websites. Most of them have lists of what to do with various veggies. I use Pinterest or a binder to organize potential recipes.
Once you pick up your stash:
- Chose final recipes. Don’t be too ambitious and plan several complex recipes — you won’t make them all, unless you really like cooking. Pick 1-2 recipes, and then prepare the rest of the veggies in a simple way. Make a grocery shopping trip the day of or soon after to get the remaining ingredients for your recipe if you don’t already have them in your pantry.
- This is a great time to have some fun and experiment. If you end up with a lot of one veggie, eat some raw, eat some sautéed, eat some grilled, eat some roasted for variety. For that pile of kale, you can make a massaged raw kale salad, sautéed kale with garlic, kale chips, etc.
- When in doubt, smother with cheese. Everything tastes good with cheese, right? Beets + goat cheese = heaven. Zucchini + parmesan = divine.
- Salads: I got a little tired of lettuce-based salads. But when the other veggies like peppers and snap peas started rolling in, I chopped those babies up, added more nuts and cheese, and salads became amazing.
- Freeze herbs to use in multiple dishes. A lot of other vegetables can be pickled or frozen.
- Cook at home instead of ordering take out. For my husband and me, this share was a lot of food. If people invited us to go out for dinner, we instead invited them to our house to cook for them. You don’t have to choose between a home-made veggie-based meal and socializing!
- Clean out the fridge the night before your next pickup. For example, I sauté or roast pretty much everything I have left, add some protein, season, and you’re good. Example: Swiss chard, kale, and garlic scapes sautéed topped with roasted beets, white beans, and parmesan cheese. Add a little rice or garlic bread for a complete meal.
- Change your perspective on what is at the center of your plate. (Hint, it’s veggies. Meat can be a garnish.)
And if Offbeat Homies have more tips on how to store their CSA share, or recipes to use, please share! Or if you have questions, leave ’em in the comments.