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!
The first time I heard of CFAs was back in 2003, visiting relatives on Long Island. I was chilling in their kitchen when my aunt... Read 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.
Comments on How to navigate a Community Supported Agriculture share
Thanks for this! While it’s a bit late in the season for my husband and me to opt in (we’ll just keep hitting up the farmer’s market), we hope to join a CSA in the next growing season. We have been debating whether or not to do it, since it can be a bit of a grab bag, from my understanding. BUT, it would make things easier, and I do love the challenge of unfamiliar produce. (What’s this? I haven’t used it before…What can I DO with it? Ooh, that’s tasty!)
I will just have to do some major research into how to long-term store different types of produce, as we probably will need to freeze a lot of things (or maybe even venture into the land of canning…).
I’m new to the CSA this year and these tips are awesome!! Especially cleaning out the fridge!!
I have 1 tip for veggies you don’t like: hide them in a sweet fruity smoothie. My cohabitant is not a veggie eater nor does he like blueberries, but he really likes them when they’re hidden in a kefir shake with lots of mangoes and bananas!
This article is spot-on. I will add that, for me, tearing up and washing (salad-spinning) all the salad greens at once helped me actually use my greens up. If I was faced with the prospect of washing the greens and washing the salad spinner multiple times in a week, it wasn’t going to happen. Wash them all at once, store them in a big sealed container with a clean towel – they’ll keep all week!
SOOOOO much this. Only I would add that the mason jar salad is another great way to store, and get around to eating, greens. It works better than other containers I’ve tried before, too.
YES! I don’t have the motivation to use the salad spinner every day. They say to store it unwashed because I think if you wash it but don’t dry it, it won’t last. But if you use the salad spinner and dry it, it does keep. And makes it a lot more convenient.
I picked a CSA that WOULD allow me to pick what was in my box from their list of available options. We made a rule to always pick at least one thing that was new, exciting, and a little outside our comfort zone each week. It worked out best because it meant my box didn’t include a bunch of stuff that triggers my allergies.
Also, it was just assumed that the night before CSA Pick-Up day was Stir Fry night. Which also contributed to easy meal planning! It might be “Italian Stir Fry” or “Indian Stir Fry”–many people would probably have called these skillet meals rather than “stir fry”–but whatever theme sounded good with the veggies we had, it was all throw into a pot with a sauce. And sometimes over a starch–I was still eating pretty low-carb back then, and finding ways to cut starches is still something I try to do.
Try this! Instead of rice or pasta, try making “noodles” out of veggies! Sliced kale (gently sauteed) and swiss chard (raw) make great replacements for spaghetti. Chopped mushrooms are great penne replacements, raw or gently sauteed. Minced mushrooms are awesome for rice, as is cauliflower, though neither works for risotto. Even just getting past the idea of NEEDING a starch helped to replace the volume of food lost from that with veggies.
Yes, this sounds similar to what I do too- saute everything and serve over a starch. I did find that instead of pasta with veggies, it became veggies with pasta, if I made pasta at all. With the bulk of all those veggies you don’t even really need a starch unless you want it. Other comments mentioned quinoa, which I use frequently, and herbed rolls, which I will have to try now!
Some weeks my CSA would have this or that options, but mostly you get a little of 7-8 different items during the summer. I only have one food allergy- mangoes- but it’s not like they are indigenous to this area! I’m glad that you have a CSA like that in your area.
I second all of the above, except –
not all CSA shares lock you into a box of x, y, and z! I work for a farm that does it like a store credit – you pay so many dollars ahead of time, and then at the farmstand you get 10% off of whatever you buy + the chance to pick herbs for free + other little perks throughout the season, and your purchase is just subtracted from your balance (to which you can add if you run out before the end of the season!).
That is true- there are many types of CSAs. The one I belong to is an organization of farms and orchards, some are a single farm, etc. That system sounds really neat and is probably more adaptable to different sizes of families.
This won’t work for strawberries or raspberries, but I put blackberries and blueberries in a bowl of ice water. Both fruits last over a week and I haven’t had a mold issue since. If you try this with the strawberries or raspberries most of the flavor leeches out into the water.
For raspberries, if you soak them in 1 cup apple cider vinegar mixed with 1 cup water, and then rinse them thoroughly, it will help prevent them from molding. And the vinegar smell goes away quickly–I’ve never had a problem with that!
Yes, ACV rinse! I just started doing that this summer, and the berries last waaaay longer – though usually only about a tablespoon of ACV per cup of water. My strawberries and blueberries will last so long they getting wrinkly before they ever get moldy. (Then they migrate to the freezer for later use in pies.)
Also works with strawberries! And I’ve used regular white vinegar maybe 3 or 4 tablespoons (I just eye ball it) to 4 cups water
I should send this link to my in-laws, who think that CSAs have only two steps:
1) Sign up.
2) Wait until food has been picked up, then start calling grown children frantically, begging them to take all the extra produce off of their hands. Refuse to take no for an answer, leave kohlrabi on doorstep while children are at work.
Haha, I have thought about leaving lettuce and jalapenos on my neighbor’s doorstep! It is very easy to get overwhelmed. I did give some stuff away, but it was also fun to invite people over to help eat the excess veggies.
Also, I really like kohlrabi raw (like a less intense more crunchy turnip), but I also made kohlrabi fries.
Jalapenos are great in dressings! A local salad specialty place makes a “jalapeno pesto” dressing that I adore. Maybe try that?
Or, come and be my neighbor…?
Auuugggggh! Offbeat Home&Life should have a meet up group so that local peeps can meet each other.
I ended up slicing them in half and baking cornbread right in them. It was only a spoonful or so of cornbread, and I should have added cheese, but they were good!
I should try some jalapeno dressing to go with all the lettuce, right?
Yeah, I would love it if I had some OffBeat neighbors!
I belong to a CSA that actually runs all year! It’s wonderful! I get 5 vegetables, one fruit, and one herb every week.
They put on facebook towards the beginning of the week what’s going to be included and I then try to fit everything into what I want to eat that week so I can buy supplemental foods to help make them a meal. At about $15/box it’s totally worth the money!
Ours runs seasonally. I am thinking I will probably sign up for Fall because of what will generally be offered (squash! apples!). There is a winter share distributed every other week, and it includes frozen items. I think I will try and talk to someone who has done it before signing up myself. What does your CSA do during the winter?
My CSA certainly has been a value. If I bought all that produce from the grocery store, I would probably spend about $30-50 a week, depending on the items. However, I wouldn’t actually buy that many veggies myself, so this is a good way to eat more veggies!
My CSA community makes a CSA cookbook, as ideas for how to use everything.
The farm I go through for my CSA share sends additional recipes to us each week. It really helps if you haven’t seen something before.
Garlic scapes (those curly pointy things that smell like garlic) are my FAVORITE! But so seasonal…. can only get them in the spring.
I love that the CSA is local, fresh, and in season!
We have a 20 ft by 30 ft city allotment garden (i should write something about allotment gardening, maybe), and these are great tips. We too find ourselves swimming in certain veggies at certain times of the year and there is a learning curve to shifting how you think about eating when you are a ‘farmer.’ 🙂
I also make sure i have freezer bags on hand. I have learned now (in our third summer) that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t eat that many green beens (or peppers, or whatever). So, don’t wait till they are soft and mushy before you deal with them. Just bring some in, blanch them quickly and freeze!
Also – quinoa is your best friend. you can mix ANYTHING into it with a little seasoning and some sort of dressing (or not) and you have a meal.
also – (a) kohlrabi and apple slaw is great and (b) garlic scapes are great pickled.
Haha, your allotment is only a little smaller than my backyard. My own tiny garden plus the CSA is a little overwhelming the past 2 weeks, but I am able to use, preserve, or give away the extras.
We put garlic scapes on pizza and sauteed with greens, but I did not try pickling! Our CSA also recommended “Dilly Beans” to use extra green beans. Last year I made veggie stock partially with the green beans that stayed on the plant too long and were too tough to eat.
It sure does force you to be creative. You’d walk right by it in the grocery store or farmers’ market, but when it’s growing in your space or delivered, you try to use it.
I would love to see a post about your garden!
Informal poll for anyone who wants to answer:
1.) On a scale of 1-10, how picky are you when it comes to veggies (mainly, the variety of veggies you will eat)?
2.) How many weeks have you just been WHOMP WHOMP disappointed with your haul?
3.) How often do you forget to pick up your basket?
1) 1, not picky at all since I love most veggies. However, cabbage is my nemesis, and I am getting tired of lettuce after 10 weeks.
2) zero weeks
3) haven’t forgotten yet, but I follow them on facebook and get an email reminder
1) 8. I like almost all of them, but some feel like more work than they’re worth.
2) Several, usually in early spring, when it’s like, storage potatoes, carrots, onions & cabbage. (Our CSA runs year round.)
3) Never; our CSA delivers! I highly recommend this, if you can find one.
1.) Is 10 the most picky? Then…. 2. I will eat just about any veggies except Okra. After 2 weeks of okra in my CSA box, I’ve decided it can GDIAF.
2.) Several weeks. After the crops transitioned from hearty greens to high summer fruits, the bounty went from “WOW lookit all this!” to “What happened?” A lot of their crops have done poorly this year, the amount of food we get is just barely too much for 2 people to eat in a meal, but too little to be able to freeze/can, and with little variation from week to week.
I know that some of my complaints, like a lousy crop, are just part of the gamble in buying a CSA share.. but when half the crops are lousy, that’s not worth the $. But seeing the amazing bounties available from other farms at the market has convinced us to change farms next year. It’s a shame because we have friends who work for this one, but if I’m going to spend 800 dollars I expect to get good quality and variety.
3.) Never! I need my dang veggies!
1. 9 (not picky at all,will eat almost anything) I also learned that there probably is a recipe that I do like out there for the vegs that I don’t like so much (looking at you, sauerkraut, kale and brussels sprouts).
2. has happened a few times, mostly in winter (2 types of cabbage, onions and carrots anyone?). I’m a summer veg lover.
3. never, because after a week the fridge will be empty. And I set an alarm in my phone and so did my partner.
The last time I belonged to a CSA, I split 1 share with a coworker as I lived alone at the time and knew there was no way I could use everything before it spoiled. Worked great because: a) half the cost, b) 2 people to trade pick up duties, c) we could divvy up items according to our tastes (which almost always worked out), and d) no wasted food!
Love CSAs, love trying to figure out what the heck the green leafy stuff is this week (chard? kale? weird lettuce?) For two people, we get a half share of veggies, a dozen eggs, and two little bunches of herbs a week.
My favorite use-it-up strategies are:
Refrigerator soup. Made with whatever the leftovers are, plus extra veggies. Usually I stick to vegetable/beef/tomato, the results are more dependable. Green beans, pattypans, zucchini, chard, carrots, cabbage, onions, celery… whatever!
Herbed rolls. I always have tons of leftover herbs. There’s usually a bit of parsley or basil in with the veggies, in addition to the two bunches we get every week. So I take the leftovers and some of the new ones and chop them up finely. You can make your own bread, but I usually just get Pillsbury crescent rolls. Peel them open, cover in chopped up herbs, roll ’em back up, bake. Yum.
Maybe this will help?
I am so going to try your herbed roll idea!
So much great advice and comments. We’ve been doing the CSA thing for several years now and I can’t imagine life without it. Our farm lets you choose what you take each week, has pick your own and winter shares. I’ve written about it a lot on my blog: http://www.relishments.com/blog/tag/csa/
But kohlrabi is so yummy! I just slice it thin and eat it raw!! I could see shredding it and putting it on salads or in different types of coleslaw (like a southwest lime-based dressing coleslaw), kind of like jicama.
Kohlrabi is also amazing cut up into fries, tossed in olive oil and chili powder, baked, then dunked in honey mustard or a spicy mayo dip. You can slow-cook the greens too; if you’re into collards you’d enjoy kohlrabi greens
::Wistful sigh:: I miss the kohlrabi times. Stupid southern turbo-charged growing season.
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