Tips for Making the Most of CSA
Another season of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is upon us! Our first season starts in June, but we farmers are well into the preparation stages of our work, starting and planting seeds, ordering the chicks, raising the hogs, and finishing the cattle. As a farmer, eating in the style of a CSA program is just, well, eating for us! In truth, last year being our first year sharing our CSA program, it was also the first year that I was forced to eat by the seasons and even just by the week with our program members/customers. When you shop for your food at the grocery store, you don’t always eat by the seasons if rarely ever. Your food is planned by “what am I in the mood for?” and food that is eaten that way is emotional and overlooked. When you eat by what you are given with the seasons, your habits change and often so does your body.
But this is difficult for a lot of people to get used to. Why? Well, most often our lives are unaccustomed to planning out our meals. We like simple, easy, quick, and familiar. I am here to tell you that while eating different vegetables week to week can seem intimidating, it’s actually pretty easy and makes my life and meal plans much simpler than they ever have been before. There is always something available to eat, and I think that makes it fun, creative, and inspiring!
What to Expect + Why It’s Awesome
You can read more about determining if CSA is right for you and your family in this post, but most often CSA works for the type of person who is able to commit to a weekly or bi-weekly pick-up schedule, has a passion or new inspiration for cooking a majority of their meals at home, enjoys being creative in the kitchen and trying new foods, and is willing to support their local farmer even if crops fail.
In most CSA programs, you can expect a wider and more diverse variety of vegetables than you would find at the grocery store or even at the farmer’s market. As a farmer myself, I have noticed over the past couple of years that farmer’s market vendors tend to grow what is popular and sells well, while a CSA farmer likes to grow new and interesting vegetables so their customers have something new to work with each week. Our CSA members are our main priority, and they receive our best looking and most interesting produce like colored beans and carrots, kohlrabi, bok choy, microgreens, edible flowers, herbs, and more. We try to keep our boxes full of surprises!
Taking part in a CSA program brings you closer to your local farmer and involves you in the process of what it entails to keep a small farm running. We allow our customers to come see how we operate here on the farm and ask us questions about our growing techniques and how our animals are raised. You are supporting a local food movement and reducing food miles where produce grown out of season is flown or driven to your local grocery and is often weeks old! Less carbon emissions, less pollution, less waste.
Making CSA More Sustainable
Bring Your Own Bag. This is one of the easiest ways to make pick-up more eco-friendly! Our CSA customers are require to bring their own bags for bringing their food home in an effort to reduce waste and plastic usage. This was surprisingly difficult for people to remember (myself included!) and we did provide them with reused plastic grocery bags that we save. I think that even just reusing plastic bags is at least some form of a movement towards sustainability (read more about that concept HERE). You could even go so far as to bring your own containers for greens and other perishable veggies! I believe most farmers and CSA programs are open to this.
Use Every Part of Your Food. Veggie scraps? Save them! You can turn those amazing scraps or even the veggies that you don’t use in time to make delicious stock or broth. This goes for the bones from your meat as well! We even have super easy stock/broth recipes you are welcome to use: Vegetable Stock, Bone Broth. We are consistently trying to reduce our food waste and using every part of our vegetables and meats. Did you know that most of the leaves on your veggies are edible? Try adding Swiss Chard leaves, Kohlrabi leaves, Beet leaves, and Broccoli greens to your salads, soups, or pesto.
When in Doubt… Compost It! We love to compost. Most of the plant waste on our farm gets piled up into giant compost pile. This is also where our veggie scraps that we choose not to eat go as well! Starting a compost pile is super easy to do - read about it HERE. If you are a member of our CSA program and want to bring your kitchen scraps back to US to compost, please do! We’d love to use them!!
Reduce Your Food Miles. You cannot get everything you need in your kitchen from a CSA program. Goodness, I wish! But you are reducing your food miles by shopping locally. By shopping locally, you are purchasing goods produced in your local community. Conversely, when you shop at the grocery store, many of the food items you buy travel over 1500 miles to reach your plate. By cutting down on these miles, you are reducing the environmental impact of your food. Local food doesn’t create large carbon footprints through overseas plane travel or long truck trips. This cuts down on fuel consumption and air pollution. There isn’t a need for shipping facilities, packing facilities or refrigeration.
Meal Planning Around Your Share
Don’t Force a Meal. It’s really easy to look at a full CSA share of vegetables and to get discouraged about making ONE meal around everything you have. Try certain veggies for snacks instead. Take each piece as a single item and try to incorporate it into your regularly scheduled program. Snap peas and carrots make great lunch snacks!
Arrange Your Produce According to Urgency. When is it going to go bad? More perishable veggies like greens and tomatoes should be eaten within the week of receiving them, but other vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and winter squash can be saved for several weeks! You don’t have to use everything right away, and this can help you to plan your meals around what needs to be eaten soon and what can be eaten later.
Add It to Something You Know! This is honestly how we’ve learned to incorporate all of the food we now receive on the farm. I would say I am a semi-experimental cook. I like easy stir fry, and it growing all of the vegetables we do on the farm gives me a chance to be creative with what I use. Did you know basically any vegetable can be thrown into a stir fry or roasted in the oven with some olive oil, salt, and pepper? If you love pan roasting chicken and veggies, incorporate that kohlrabi into it! It doesn’t alway have to be salad!!
Share Recipes with Other Members. Last year, we tried sharing a recipe blog with our CSA members which was a romantic idea - I quickly realized that I just couldn’t keep up with it all! This year I plan to share recipes I find across the internet and come up with myself in our weekly CSA menu newsletters. If you join a CSA, get to know the other members or farmer and ask if you could start a newsletter or Facebook group where you share recipes that go with what you are receiving that week. It’s a fun way to get creative in the kitchen!
Adjusting to eating a seasonal diet can feel overwhelming, but it can really change your perspective on the importance of eating a local, fresh diet. When our family has moments of eating things out of season, it always disappointing. Tomatoes just don’t taste as good when they aren’t grown in the summer garden! I highly suggest trying a CSA program in your local area to get a taste of not only seasonal food but also to release those creative juices in the kitchen. There’s nothing better than cooking with your family and loved ones!