Friday, May 17, 2013

Is a CSA Right for You?

by Beth

So, you’re thinking about joining a CSA. It sounds all locavore and romantic, right? But every day you are already getting surprised by some school project that your kid forgot to tell you about, or if you can just get your socks to match. Do you really want to be ambushed weekly by a vegetable, too? Here’s how to tell if a CSA is your best bet — and how to make it work for your busy family life.
You are comfortable cooking with what you have on hand.
CSAs are a great fit for you if you are at ease in the kitchen, keep a few pantry goods on hand and you know you can use whatever vegetable that arrives in some kind of salad, roasted, raw dish or soup.
What if this is not you?
Here’s the magic secret: cooking is just formula and technique. You can modify any recipe with what you have on hand. Do you have a recipe for slaw? That red cabbage or kohlrabi will work there. Do you have your grandmother’s chicken soup recipe? Toss in the week’s carrots and potatoes while its simmering to add some veggie heft to the bowl. Got beets or root veggies galore? Simply roasting these with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper and they are table-worthy.
Still worried about veggie surprise?
You can still buy local at the farmers market, supporting many of the same farms that offer a CSA. As mentioned in the previous post in the series, you can even “subscribe” to a farm, much like a CSA with pre-purchased market bucks. Pre-pay, and then pick your favorites at the farmers market where you farmer sells.
Another great step is to learn what’s in season when for your area. Ask your farmer which of these items he or she is planting. Then, you can plan ahead for each week easily.
Some surprises in life are good.
Even when they are leafy and green. Over the last decade, thanks to our CSA habit, my family has learned about the joy of heirloom tomatoes; how much fun it is to shell peas together; and, that crunchy purslane is not a weed, but perhaps the best salad green ever. We’ve also fallen in love with microgreens and miner’s lettuce, baby kale and bok choi — things I may never have bought otherwise.
You can fit a weekly pick up into your schedule.
Shortening the path from farm to table is one of the main reasons to choose local foods. The good news is your lettuces that were traveling 1200 miles to your plate now only need to travel twelve. It’s just not financially feasible for your farmer to travel those extra miles to each of the 50-plus CSA members’ doorsteps, thus most farmers choose a central location in town where their CSA members can come pick up the weekly subscription. Others have pickup times at the farm location or the farmers market, or other delivery options.
What if my schedule is really tight?
Good news for you, many CSAs do offer a delivery service for an extra fee. Your fresh vegetables show up in a cooler on your front step. Like UPS, only healthier. Or, you can also do a “split share” with a friend who can pick up the weekly box and then divide the produce. If your friend is also willing, and wants a full share of the CSA, he could just pick up both boxes and you can get yours later. But, you might have to share some of your tomatoes as a thank you.
I still can’t pencil in the produce.
Our lives are loaded down with a lot! It’s hard to fit even breathing in some days. A CSA may not be right for you — yet. But, you can start toward that path by making time to add more fresh produce to your grocery cart. Or, better yet, make it even once a month to the farmers market. Even a monthly purchase of local food feeds your local economy by two-fold. You may find out how much you enjoy the variety and experience at the farmers market and make time for more local food as a result.
You’re good with a knife.
The crazy thing about those veggies in the CSA box is that they don’t ever come pre-cut, washed and individually packed in plastic containers. Some would say this is one of the best things about a CSA, given we generate about 31 million pounds of plastic waste per year in the US. Most of which cannot be recycled.
Of course, this does mean some added prep work, breaking down those veggies into clean, ready-to-cook pieces. Personally, I find my “chop time” kind of like therapy from my day job. The bits and scraps make fantastic compost for my own “local food” garden out back.
No thanks, I like my fingers where they are.
Did you know you are actually less likely to cut yourself with a sharp knife than a dull one? Knife skills are easy to learn and there are a lot of online videos to guide you. Not only will you be able to get that CSA basket prep work done, but every time you cook, you’ll save time and be more efficient just by learning a few easy techniques.
I still don’t have time.
Many hands make the work light. No, really. Every Thanksgiving, the first list I make is the menu and “shop list.” The second is the “chop list.” My spouse and I then split the knife duty and get the prep work done in advance. It’s a great system, and kids can even help with some of the easier prep tasks like washing and peeling, or shelling peas and fava beans. Older kids — if responsible, and based on your parental judgment — can even help with the chopping part. Make good food a family activity.
Why do you, or don’t you, participate in a CSA? Are there tips you can share for how to make your diet more local and still do-able when busy? I’d love to hear them!
Beth Bader is the author of The Cleaner Plate Club: Over 100 Recipes for Real Food Your Kids Will Love. You can find her recipes and food musings at her blog Ex-expatriates Kitchen.

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