Could CSA Farm Crops Benefit Your Family?
If your family likes to spend Saturdays at the farmers market, you've probably heard about community supported agriculture programs. CSAs typically allow members to pay in advance for a share of the farm's crops, to be picked up or delivered in installments throughout the season.
Our household first joined a CSA in spring 2012 in order to add more locally grown produce to our diets. Since our family consists only of me, my husband and our young daughter, I was concerned we might find ourselves overwhelmed with produce. I envisioned bushels of cabbage and kohlrabi languishing on the kitchen counter while we ate salads for breakfast, lunch and dinner in an effort to avoid wasting food.
Fortunately, we loved our weekly CSA boxes and even signed up again in 2013. Over the past two seasons, we have learned a lot about making their contents work for our small family. Hopefully these tips will help your family do the same!
1. Choose the right CSA for you. Does the plan provide just veggies, or other foods as well? Is the produce organic? Are shares available weekly or biweekly? How far away is the pickup point? Does the pickup day and time work for you? Asking these questions will help you find the farm that best fits your family's needs.
2. Share a share. For a small family, it may be difficult to use a full-sized CSA share each week. We split the cost and contents of our first year's share with a family friend, which left each of us with just the right amount of produce for several amazing vegetable-based meals each week. Some CSAs also offer singles and small families the option of purchasing a smaller share.
3. Develop a flexible meal plan. Depending on your CSA schedule, you may need to visit your grocery store each week before knowing the contents of your next CSA share. Work around this by learning a few basic cooking techniques that allow for flexibility of ingredients. Shish-ka-bobs, stir-fries, pasta dishes and salads are excellent ways to incorporate a wide variety of produce. Just buy any necessary meats, sauces, grains or spices ahead of time, then throw in whatever vegetables seem like a good fit for your dish.
4. Promptly address food storage needs. Form a food storage plan as soon as you receive your share. Research appropriate storage methods for various types of produce, and prioritize vegetables with shorter shelf lives to ensure they are used while still fresh. It may also help to do some washing and cutting right away to save time later in the week. For food safety questions, visit foodsafety.gov.
5. When you can't use it. If you know you won't be able to make it through a particular week's share before it spoils, turn to your freezer for help. When freezing fruit, I typically use cookie sheets to do an initial freeze of individual pieces before combining them in a freezer bag or container labeled with the date. For many vegetables, a quick blanch prior to freezing is recommended. The National Center for Home Food Preservation at nchfp.uga.edu provides detailed instructions for freezing just about anything you can imagine.
6. Ask questions. The people you meet during pickup or delivery of your CSA share are likely to be directly involved with the growing process. Don't be shy about asking them for storage suggestions, recipe ideas or the name of an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable. You may even find a new favorite! I had never cooked Swiss chard before we joined our CSA, and it now makes a regular appearance on our menu - even during the off-season.
7. Resist produce temptation elsewhere. As delicious as the tricolored tomatoes at your local farmers market may look, try to refrain from buying vegetables from other sources - at least until you see what's in your weekly CSA box. After all, you most likely paid for your share in advance, and it would be a shame to let all that deliciousness go to waste.
We've found our CSA share to be an excellent investment in both our family's health and our local community. With a little advance research and an adventurous culinary spirit, your family will, too.
Michelle Shirk is an attorney, freelance writer and proud mother of one.