Belong to a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture)? What can I expect from my membership?
Hello! My husband and I bought a share of a local farm (CSA) and will be receiving a weekly bounty of produce and herbs from May-October. I'm giddy about this new adventure but also slightly wary. Am I going to have more swiss chard than I know what to do with? Please tell me about your good and bad experiences so I'll know what to expect!
I was a memeber of one in NYC for 2 years. I'll say that a lot depends on your region for one thing -- it'll depend on what grows near you. A lot will also depend on your farmer's experience with a CSA.
The first year I was a member it was also the first year for the farmer we were partnered with. Every week we had more summer squash than we knew what to do with. All varieties, all colors, squash squash squash. No members ever wanted to see a squash again. There were weeks where I'd be bringing home 5-6-7+ pounds of squash. We did a survey at the end and were asked what we wanted more and less of.... no one ever wanted to see squash again. The second year we didn't get one summer squash.
We did enjoy it, and discovered a lot of veggies we'd never eaten before, or rediscovered things that I ate growing up and my whitebread, meat, and potatoes hubby had never tried before that have now become staples in our house.
However, the second year we did get a lot of herbs. This time we were innundated with basil. There's only so much pesto one can eat. When we weren't getting basil, it was nice to get fresh herbs, but it was at the expense of having one less vegetable that week.
Make sure you have lots of recipes for greens. I wasn't of big fan of turnip greens, kale, and chard before our CSA. Now I can't wait. I even buy more in the winter. One of my easy favorite ways to make any green is to saute with olive oil, add a few spices such as fenugreek or cumin, and toss with almost any kind of pasta.
Our CSA has 6 different farmers so we get a wide variety of anything that's grown with some choices every week. Still it's greens and lettuce in the spring. Lot's of tomatoes and squash in the late summer. I still have one butternut squash since November. It's nice to have some "keepers."
One piece of advice that I would add, find a friend or two to pick up your bag when you're out of town. You might even recruit a new member that way.
We've been members of Rolling Prairie for 4 years.They've been together for 15 years. Their website has some useful information about what to expect. http://www.rollingprairie.net/.
I used to have a large garden and grow a lot of different things. After kids went to college, it's hard to have a garden just for 2. This makes my like much easier.
Good point, TexasIndia, about greens recipes. Last year, after the spring rush of greens in my CSA box had ended, I purchased a cookbook called "Greens, Glorious Greens," which I hope will help me deal with specifically the bounty of greens this coming spring.
I wonder if it's a regional issue, though, because I didn't seem to have such and excess of greens in the other CSA I belonged to. It might depend on the region of the country in which you live. In the harsh climate in which I currently live, there's really only one thing that can you can plant (once the ground thaws), grow and have ready for harvest in the May/June timeframe: greens--so, the spring CSA boxes is loaded with them and nothing else. In other, more temperate climates where the growing season is year-round they don't have to rely so much on the greens in order to get something, anything, in the boxes. That's my theory, anyway.
I've belonged to CSA's in two different regions of the U.S. and loved both experiences. Weeks do go by where you get the same thing in your box week for four or five weeks in a row (yes, I actually got to a point where I dreaded seeing yet ANOTHER pair of baskets of strawberries in my box, even though the first week I was so excited to have them I thought I would faint)...but, it does force you to think creatively about how to use up your bounty, experiment with new recipes, and freeze, dry, or can. It helps you become hyper aware about what's in season, and which items are most perishable and need to be used immediately.
If you can anticipate what's going to be in your box next week (my farmer always announces in the current week's newletter what's coming next...he also posts on his website the weekly newsletters from prior years) it helps you do some menu planning and research.
Most CSA's will provide recipes in their weekly newsletters, but it helps to have a couple of good cookbooks on hand (Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is a good one because it has a zillion recipes that are accessible to, well, everyone...) as well as be skilled at searching for recipes online. After all, if what you have is simulateously too many tomatoes and too much cabbage, you need recipes that call for both tomatoes AND cabbage... And, you don't want recipes that call for tomatoes, cabbage AND some random out of season vegetable that you DON"T have in your box because, if you're like me, you'll be darned if you have a fridge full of vegetables and you're going to go to the store and buy MORE vegetables just so you can use up the ones you have... And so on. Many cookbooks will have one or two recipes for, say, delicata squash, when you'll really end up needing 5-6 recipes over the course of the season. So, online recipe resources (*ahem* chowhound home cooking board) are good. As is your public library.
I've learned that, after the first couple of weeks they appear in your box, the best thing to do with zucchini is to shred, drain and freeze it in 2 cup increments for use in stews, chilies and soups all winter. Zucchini and cucumbers are plentiful at the same time of year, but zukes can be frozen and cukes can't. I also chop many of the onions and freeze those in one cup increments. Next year, I'm going to do that with some of my carrots, too as I received at least one bag of carrots nearly every week of my CSA this year. The vegetables and quantities thereof you get may be different in your part of the country or with your particular farmer, but, eventually, you'll get a sense of the rhythm.
Sometimes, your farmer will experience some bad luck--a crop won't come up, or it will get flooded, or get an infestation or whatever. Those are hard times, but, it is part of the point of Community Supported Agriculture--you're buying a share in the farm to help provide the farmer a more stable income.
re: The Dairy Queen
I agree with the freezing idea - I bought a big freezer this year just to accomidate my CSA and other vaious storage stuff. I have a freezer full of grated zuchinis and carrots for soups, quick breads, fritters, etc... - stuff where it won't matter that it's a bit mushy.
I frooze a lot of roasted sauce - a recipie I got on here = basically put all your extra veggies in the oven with evoo and s+p, roast, and whir in the blender - excellent easy sauce that can be different every week depending on what you have more of and adapts to everything - I used it to stew lamb skanks and just used it tonight in chili).
Pesto freezes great. I have trouble storing my winter squash so I cook that up and freeze as well - great in muffins, etc..
And tons of greens - wash, blanch, chop and freeze! I throw into pasta, soup, etc...
when my fridge was overflowing I made a big pot of veggie soup - I never used to like veggie soup until I made my own with CSA veggies, I love it, and if you want add a parmesan(?) rind at the end to give it a more full flavor. It freezes well, and if you have leftovers from the freezer in spring, which I probably will, it can all be made into soup!
So you get the idea, I loved never having to look at the produce section when I went to the grocery store!
A big help was having a cuisinart to do all my grating, pesto making, etc...label everything really well and you will eat well all winter!
ps and unlike TDQ, we don't get any fruit, but I am drooling thinking about the strawberries - I am trying my hand at infusing vodka, wine, liquers, etc...and next summer I can't wait to try with strawberreis!
re: The Dairy Queen
Speaking of freezing things, our CSA gives us bunches of celery for a couple of weeks. It's so strong that you don't need a lot of it in soups or sauce bases. I finally figured out that I could chop and freeze it, and then it's great because it lasts through the winter and spring.
I discovered that ethnic cookbooks that focus on traditional recipes are a good source of ideas for using things that are in season at the same time--for example, Carol Field's _In Nonna's Kitchen_ has a recipe for a leek, butternut squash, and chard tort that uses three ingredients that I always get at the same time in the fall.
We've belonged to a CSA for years (Stillman's Farm in Boston) and rate it highly. A lot of it is going to depend on your farm and their way of doing things, but overall, the best way to approach your share box is to pretend you're on Iron Chef. Open the box, see what you've got, think about what you can do with it. Some things will be more delicate and you'll want to use them first (leafy things, tomatoes, berries, etc.) and some will store for longer periods. Occasionally, you're going to get something that you will have no frickin' clue what on earth you're supposed to do with it. For us, that was kohlrabi. Think of things like that as an adventure. Turns out raw kohlrabi is good julienned into salads.
I've been a member of a CSA (in New York State) for three years now. You likely WILL have to change the way you think about menu planning-- it becomes, "what do I have, and what should I make with it" rather than "what do I want to make, and let's make a shopping list". Here in New York, the produce is VERY seasonal-- more lettuce than I know what to do with in the spring (so we try things like cooking it, or using it for wraps) and plenty of sturdy root vegetables and kale in the fall (sometimes hard to sell the kids on kale or collards *again*). I personally love the concept, and the creativity required, but some people have trouble getting around the idea that you get what they give you, not necessarily always what you want.
Yes indeed - I was not expect so many varieties of lettuce for the first month or so. You also end up using the FIFO method a lot more for veggies, but the up side is that they last much longer than veggies you would get at the grocery store (the down side to this upside is that you get more veggies to eat the next week - so start canning or you will have a LOT of veggies).
However, this was just the motivation I needed to eat more veggies and be less picky about it - I couldn't bear to waste a lot of veggies, so I just ate them. This year we will be canning and pickling some of the veggies we receive. It is a good amount for 4-5 people, but for 2 people, it is a large amount.
You'll probably have more luck posting your question on a local board to see if anyone else belongs to your CSA. Every CSA is different - some offer fruit, some offer herbs (mine doesn't), some are year round, etc.
I belong to one in San Diego and we get a lot of lettuce, green onions, mizuna/arugula/parsley, and tomatoes. In the summer we sometimes get heirloom tomatoes. They just started offering fruit from other orchards, but lately I've just been getting limes.
Here's a great previous thread on this topic: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/453590
It really depends on the CSA and your ability to be flexible on whether or not you're going to end up feeding your compost pile. They are a great experience, I've been a member of a fruit/veg coop for 5 years and a meat coop for the past 6 months.
I highly recommend these to extend the life of your produce! http://www.dennisgreenltd.com/ExtraLi... I get them at Bed Bath & Beyond but have also seen them in local markets and on Amazon.