You better love root veggies: What you should know about winter CSA shares

November 13 2014 | Guest post by Emily

An earlier version of this post appeared here. Looking for a CSA near you? Check out localharvest.org

winter-CSA-pickup

Since 2011, my husband and I have survived the harsh, long New England winters in part thanks to our winter Community Supported Agriculture share.

At our farm (and your mileage may vary), winter shares begin in early November and we pick up our veggies at the farm twice a month through early March. Those fresh, delicious, organic vegetables seem to make winter a little less bleak.

I highly recommend winter CSA shares (and summer ones too, but that's another post). Not all farms have them, but they're awesome if you can find one. Below are some tips and some of what I've learned over the past three winters of our participation:

I never regret spending the money for our share

The initial price tag may seem like a lot of money for produce, but once you've paid you're set for the season, and it feels like getting free food every pick-up. I know I wouldn't consume nearly as much produce if I didn't have a share at our farm.

Our CSA meets the bulk of our produce needs for the winter

The farm we use has a variety of size options and, though it's taken a bit of trial and error about how much we'll eat in the winter, I love knowing where almost all our vegetables come from. I buy very little produce in the supermarket, which is awesome.

Don't sign up for a winter share if you don't like root vegetables or squash

Once December strikes (at least in New England), our CSA pick-ups start to look really redundant. Most of the vegetables are being stored, not harvested. Amazingly, I never did get tired of potatoes, squash, or turnips. Plus, our CSA share has given me the opportunity to try out new things like rutabagas, parsnips, beets, chard, and Brussels sprouts.

Creativity is important

Since there's not a lot of variety from week to week in a winter share, I've found it incredibly helpful to have a big recipe collection. Thank goodness for Google, Pinterest and food blogs [and Offbeat Home & Life's recipes!]. If you don't want to get bored, creative uses for the food are a must.

Some of the produce has been sitting in the root cellar for a while already

I was a little surprised when some of our squashes went bad because I thought they'd last a really long time. I was then reminded that they'd been sitting at the farm for months since harvest before we'd picked them up. Just because you're picking up root vegetables it doesn't mean that they'll keep forever.

Any other CSA members with winter shares? I'd love to hear your tips, advice and/or experiences!

  1. Roasted beets, they are delicious, and super easy. It was a recipe I picked up in the official Game Of Thrones Cookbook. Roasted beets with onions and green beans. I am thinking this weekend I might make some foil balls of beets and onions and toss them in the fire to roast while I do some yard work. Also Turnips are awesome for mixing with your potatoes to make mashed potatoes with. They give them a little more zing and make one or two potatoes go further. Plus if you have family like mine they will not try anything new, so it's a good way to give them some more nutrients without them knowing.

    1 agrees
    • My CSA helped me learn that I liked beets, among other things. Now, beetroot and feta tart is one of my favorite dishes. Those mashed potatoes sound really good, too. I've had mashed potatoes with leeks, but never turnips. And, to be honest, my partner is far more the turnip fan than I am, but I can put away some mashed 'tatoes.

      2 agree
  2. Yup — although we do occasionally have a "World of" year — like winter 2012-13 was World of Spaghetti Squash, and I don't much like spaghetti squash. Ours does do certain frozen things to make it look a little less redundant, though — frozen, local apple cider, frozen blueberries…

  3. We did a CSA for the first time this summer. 18 weeks of veggies. It turned out to be a LOT for just my husband and I, but I don't regret it. Next year we may try to team up with another childless couple to split the share, because frankly you can only eat so many salads before two giant heads of lettuce, two bowls of mixed greens, and a bundle of chard every week starts to just be TOO MUCH. Other vegetables keep longer, but the greens always seem to get wilty and soggy before we were able to finish them all up. With the both of us working two jobs, it got tough to prepare all of those veggies before that got funky. Our chickens ate pretty well though. 🙂

    A winter CSA sounds more my style…all the root vegetables that DON'T wilt after a week if you don't eat them right away.

    3 agree
    • Depends on the CSA, too, though — ours paired up with a hydroponic lettuce farm, so lettuce actually is one of the things we do tend to get in the dead of winter.

    • This year was my first time buying a CSA, too! My husband and I luckily were able to eat most of the produce while it's fresh. Anything extra, I just froze. I didn't really have a plan when I went into it. But now that the summer CSA is over, my freezer is stocked with kale, brussels sprouts, pureed squash, tomato sauce, and corn on the cob. I will probably eat it all by January, but I am lucky that my farm attends the winter farmer's market in my area, so I can stock up as-needed.

  4. If my house didn't get a CSA i would probably never eat veggies. But it's there, in the fridge, and if I don't do something with it I'm wasting food and I already paid for the food…guilt is probably the primary motivating factor in my plant consumption.

    Anyway, CSAs are great! But yeah, they can be a lot of food. I live in a house of five and we barely make it through the box. If your house is only one or two people, finding someone to split a box with is a great idea.

    1 agrees
    • Several people have made comments about the amount of food. Some CSAs have more flexibility with sizes (ours has small, medium and large) and we generally get a medium share because we eat a lot of veggies. I also live and die by my meal plans, so that helps ensure that they get used up.

      • Our CSA does share sizes for veggies in the summer – half share, standard share, and double shares. In the winter, there is only one share size – standard.
        Other foods, like cheese, eggs, chicken, apples, blueberries and peaches, have their own share scheme. A lot of those items only have one size.
        I am vegetarian and my husband eats mainly vegetables, so the standard summer share is just right for us.

  5. I'm lucky enough to be able to split a CSA box with my parents, they are a host site and love getting veggies, but can't handle the volume of a full box. One thing that might be worth checking if you think a veggie box is way out of your budget is to see if they are looking for new host sites. Yeah, you get random people stopping by and you may end up with a few roaches, but it can be up to a 50% discount.

    The farm we get our veggies from does take a break from end of November through February, but we get enough that our fridge/freezer is just starting to empty out by the time Feb rolls around. We do sometime get WAY too much of something that wilts easy or doesn't keep for months and we've got a couple of workarounds. Hearty greens like chard, beet greens, radish greens, turnip greens, or kale blanch and freeze really well – just defrost and throw into soup, quiche, greens and cheese pastry puffs, you name it. Pumpkins and squash keep best in a cool, dark, dry location, I love keeping them out as decor all winter, but you'll want to check them weekly and set them on something that won't leak – we had a squash go from perfect to gross in under a day last year. OH – squash seed pro tip – boil the seeds in salted water before roasting so that they are salted through the shell and not so woody. Onions – if you get onions that don't have the papery outer layers – keep them in the fridge and use quickly. If you have carrots that aren't holding, peel, chop, and freeze raw for soup!

    Sometimes your CSA website has a recipe section – USE IT. Honestly, you could even start one for your CSA on a free website if there isn't one and share it with the other CSA members. Otherwise, check really old cookbooks or talk to your grandma! Kohlrabi isn't going to get a mention in many modern standard cookbooks, let alone with the advice that it's delicious peeled and raw or a good cabbage substitute in slaw. Try new things, know that not everything is going to suit your tastes and have fun!

    2 agree
  6. I wish! We can source most of our vegetables and definitely our tropical fruit locally year round it just takes a lot of running around. Now root vegetables…. Parsnips. Roasted with some whole shallots covered in balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil. My partner and I could eat that every night!

    • If you find a CSA that does winter shares, call them and ask about eggs. They may not explicitly advertise it on a website.

      1 agrees
  7. I do a CSA box and have for two years now. If you haven't tried Japanese curry, with or without the help of House products, it is a really enjoyable way of mixing it up. At some point after mashed roots, root soup and baked roots, I am ready for Japanese curry. Just boil or steam your veggies and throw curry into it, serve over rice. Bonus, warm curry belly, it is like warm soup belly.

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