Sometimes we hear concerns from folks that the CSA will be too much food for their family or that they couldn’t possibly eat all produce that every week. We also sometimes hear that “oh, we don’t spend that much at the grocery store every week”… and to that I say, “I bet you spend a lot more than you think if you actually tracked it!”
Don’t get me wrong, the CSA is not be the right fit for everyone – and maybe the Flexible Farmstand option makes the most sense for you. That said, we do have customers who do the whole Traditional CSA for just themselves or for a household of two – it’s a matter of priorities and diet. If the CSA sounds like something you’d like to try and you are new to a CSA program, you might find that you have to approach your kitchen in a new way in order to make the most of your basket. But, make no mistake, you can do it! Here are some of the major points I make to new customers:
- Plan Ahead – Congratulations, you’ve brought your first CSA basket home – a big basket of the freshest bounty our neck of the woods can offer! Take stock – what can be eaten right away, what are you going to throw on the BBQ Friday night, and what should be prepared to eat later? Some things (e.g. lettuce, green onions) are best to eat right away, which others are going to be just fine (eg. Beets). Do some simple meal planning to make the most of your CSA.
- Make a Point to Eat Seasonally – Despite what the grocery store would have you believe, very few produce items grow year round. Each vegetable has its own personality, tuned to sun, heat, and wet. The garden is a symphony – not a steam engine – and when the ground thaws we get cool-loving lettuces, leafy greens, radishes, spring onions, which give way to tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in the hot days of summer, which yield to squash, pumpkins, brassicas and root veggies as days shorten and cool. The first frost will toast any last tomatoes, but it will make parsnips and Brussels sprouts sweeter than ever.
The CSA means you are eating the freshest food at its best. Don’t expect tomatoes in June or corn in October. Make appropriate substitutions to make the most of your CSA – use garlic scapes in the early summer before the garlic is ready, use kale or swiss chard in a salad when it’s too hot for lettuce in August.
- Store It Right – People often ask me the best way to store their veggies. Following on point #1 – maybe you’ve decided to hang on to those radishes for a couple days, or you know you aren’t going to eat those beets this week. Generally, most things are going to do really well in your fridge (consider that it was picked the day you picked it up – that’s fresh!). Simply wrap in plastic, and store in your crisper. Potatoes, sweet potatoes garlic, and onions should be kept in a cool, dark, dry place, and winter squash will keep fine on your counter. If the item you want to store has tops (like carrots, radishes, or beets), remove them before putting in the fridge. That’ll keep the item from losing moisture. Kale and swiss chard can be resuscitated by lopping off a bit of stem and putting them in water to get back their turgidity. Don’t put tomatoes in the fridge – they get mealy! Keep those heat-loving veggies, like peppers and summer squash, on your counter.
- Make Soup! – Consider buying a deep freeze if you don’t already have one – for the cost of the freezer and the electricity, you’ll be making up for it with delicious, fresh, and nutritious meals all year long with food you already paid for. I think pretty much any vegetable can be turned into soup – even lettuce (try it!). Make two portions when you cook, and throw half in the freezer. That carrot ginger soup or those stewed tomatoes with eggplant and zucchini is going to taste like pure sunshine come January.
- Good Ol’ Home Cooking – This one’s very simple: make a point to eat at home. Instead of a restaurant, invite friends over. Throw some veggies on the grill in the summer (or roast them in the oven for a fall get together). Maybe you have some pastured beef or pork for the BBQ (or the slow cooker) – then all of a sudden you have a beautiful meal, with almost no dishes, no muss, no fuss, that is just as good (nay, better!) than any take out or restaurant dining.
- Put It Up – Here in Canada, we have a beautiful summer… and then 6-8 months of winter. Our growing season is bountiful, but short. Any way you look at it, CSA is a great value for your dollar, but if you can make the absolute most of it and extend the season beyond October, you are practically making money! Herbs and hot peppers can be dried, brassica family (broccoli family) do well blanched and frozen, basil and other herbs can be process,ed into pesto, radishes become fermets, beans and beets are winter pickles, then there are tomato jams, corn relish, zucchini bread, carrot cake, homemade hot sauce, kimchi, sauerkraut, onion chutney… the list is infinite! Extending the season doesn’t have to mean getting into days of canning if that sounds intimating; your fridge and freezer, salt and sugar, and some creativity are your best tools.