When CSAs Go from Small to Big

In truth, The Box did very little to connect me with my foodshed; I didn’t learn anything about the farms behind the food nor, I’ll admit, did I care much at the time. On the other hand, it was through this service that I developed a borderline-unhealthy obsession with cooking everything we’d gotten one week before the next delivery arrived. I also learned that I liked chard, fava beans, and a few other seasonal foods I might not have tried. More importantly, I became a Person Who Got a Box of Organic Vegetables Every Week. And, looking back, that was a big step toward becoming the person I am today (a local food- and farm-obsessed gardener and home cook who reads and writes about food politics for a living).

Grist has a recent article about the rise of community-supported agriculture, and how the rise has made some small farms become bigger—not industrial big, but medium-size, and what this means for people who want to support small farms.

I’ve often thought that I might be the sort of person who might enjoy paying to get a box of mystery produce delivered to me each week, which would force me to change up my meals a bit more. But knowing my history with watching fresh produce go bad in my fridge, it’s probably best that I just buy it when I know I’m going to eat it. But perhaps you can convince to look up a good CSA in the city. Yay or nay on CSAs? (Or jeah? Are people saying jeah now? I refuse, Ryan Lochte.)

Photo: Annemod

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34 Comments / Post A Comment

cherrispryte (#19)

But knowing my history with watching fresh produce go bad in my fridge, it’s probably best that I just buy it when I know I’m going to eat it.
YES THIS. Cooking for one with fresh vegetables is not easy, and throwing out rotten veggies makes me feel like a horrible person.

iffie (#1,911)

JEAH! Embrace it, Mike!

Where I live there’s a service that allows you to have some control over what will be in your box. You can ban certain things and log on the week before and tweak the contents. They also have three different sizes including one that is perfect for a single person or two busy people. It seems that most CSAs are getting a lot more sophisticated to help people get over the fear of being stuck with a bunch of rotten (and expensive) produce.

This is my first year doing a CSA (Farmer Dave’s, if you’re in/north of Boston), and I kind of like it? I like knowing that I have a constant stream of veggies coming in, and it’s made me a better cook, but it is actually really stressful. I’ve had to add a giant plastic bin to my fridge because I ran out of room in my crisper drawers.

However, because the share is fresh-picked, everything lasts longer. (A pro-tip I learned from my farm: turn down the temperature in the fridge a couple degrees if you have problems with stuff going bad really quickly.) It’s also cheaper, but the same quality as, the farmer’s market. For me, it worked out to $25/week for what feels like an unlimited supply of food.

I think it’s worth it if you’re prepared to cook at home most nights and also eat mostly vegetarian.

Poppy (#1,438)

I’m kind of in the same boat as you. For now, I’m going to stick to buying what I need when I need it. My evenings are too unpredictable to make the most of a CSA scheme (that makes it sound like I have a wild partying lifestyle. I don’t.)

sockhopbop (#764)

I belong to a community garden right now so I’m not doing a CSA, but I think they’re rad — not only on the supporting farmers front, but because the weekly flood of vegetables encourages you to start experimenting with pickling, canning, freezing, weird recipes, dinner parties, and other outside-lots-of-people’s-comfort-zones types of activities.

Relatedly, there is a super-cool nonprofit in the Berskhires called Share the Bounty that raises money to buy CSA shares from local farms and then donates the shares to food pantries, kitchens, and WIC participants. I wonder if there are similar programs nationwide?
http://berkshiregrown.org/share-the-bounty/

Can we start a prize fund for the first Billfold reader to share their foolproof Secret for averting veggie spoilage? I’ll contribute $5 and some wilted bok choy.

ThatJenn (#916)

@stuffisthings I can’t give a foolproof secret because I’m only starting my CSA in October, but my way of dealing with my tendency to buy lots of unrelated and obscure veggies I’ve never cooked before without a plan is this: make stirfry with a tiny amount of meat, and also lasagna, omelettes, pie crusts full of meat/veggies/quinoa/cheese, and meatloaf all packed with more veggies than you thought could possibly fit in them. You of course lose some of the distinct flavors of all of them, but it means every meal is basically overflowing with produce. (Btw, you can use zucchini or, in a pinch, eggplant sliced lengthwise and thin in place of noodles in lasagna.)

ThatJenn (#916)

@stuffisthings Ooooh and also pizza/calzones, and salsa. Basically if you can put meat in it, you can put a huge amount of sauteed veggies into it, so just do it.

sony_b (#225)

@stuffisthings 1. Purchase How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. 2. Cook everything.

I was a member of a couple of different CSAs but quit when I started grad school and had no time to cook. Now I just do farmer’s markets, but my last CSA was a small farm that had a chicken house they rolled out into the fields – super fresh organic eggs! I miss them. They were so so so so good.

Fig. 1 (#632)

@sony_b I have the Best Vegetable Recipies from Cooks Illustrated…my CSA vegetables have a rather short shelf life in our kitchen.

I get the local CSA, but the weird thing is it’s winter only and I live in Canada so it’s really almost entirely potatoes, onion, beets, carrots, and garlic and is pretty expensive. What I DO like, though, is that to get a box you need to donate at least 4 hours of “service” to one of the farms to close the gap between the consumer and the farmer. Last year I pulled garlic for a day and I um, haven’t actually done anything this summer yet, so I will probably end up making preserves for the boxes.

Meaghano (#529)

I think you should do it because you seem into weird personal challenges and virtue. HA — it takes one to know one, believe me.

I did it this year and it has basically taken over my life. I keep wanting to overachieve my CSA. Which you probably would, too, so be careful. Every week when we get our share I make a “To eat” list and it is like a game show-level challenge to burn through it. And at the end of the week we throw a few things in the (yes) compost pile and talk about our “failures.” So it is masochistic and ridiculous, but I think we are getting better at it (and yes that’s honestly a phrase we say. “We’re getting better at CSA!”).

I make jams and pesto and freeze stuff and bring tomatoes to give to friends when I meet them for dinner (or make more meals for friends at our place!). It is a challenge and basically hilarious, but I like being so deliberate about food.

Mike Dang (#2)

@Meaghan O’Connell@facebook I do like challenges, you’re right! I will look into it!

blair (#1,962)

I worked on a CSA-model farm for a summer (the best job! THE BEST JOB, even though I had to get up at 5) which was kind of like a crash-course in using up all the vegetables you can. With that toolbox of skills, I’m pretty yay. (yea?) I also belonged to a meat-only CSA when I was in college, which was great because 1. I wanted to commit to eating only humanely raised meats 2. I was really bad at picking things out at whole foods and ended up getting nothing but chicken thighs and bacon 3. I learned how to deal with ham hocks, butcher whole chickens, and make my own stock and 4. it wasn’t much cheaper, but my farmers were really, really nice, so I liked knowing that they got my $385. We’re still Facebook friends!

@blair I never thought about a meat CSA… how many weeks does $385 buy you? Is that like a season, a whole year? (That would be pretty cheap for a whole year)

blair (#1,962)

@stuffisthings I had a three month share, but I only picked up every other month, being a single, not-that-aggressive carnivore. My bimonthly haul was something like two chickens, one pound each ground pork and beef, a pork shoulder steak, a pound of stew beef, a steak-steak, and two dozen eggs. I ended up eating meat-y meals about three days a week. But since all farms are different your mileage may vary!

worstkase (#1,000)

I did a CSA for the first time this summer, a half-share each of fruits and veggies. It ended this week, and I’m not kidding when I say I need at least a season off to de-stress. I hate throwing things away, but I also hate thinking of new ways to use bitter greens and holy cow WHO NEEDS THAT MANY SCALLIONS??

There’s also the added hassle of having to walk a mileish each way to pick it up each week, and I feel like I need to be free to be ME on tuesdays, you know? Come spring, I may join up again, but, sadly, fall CSA just won’t be happening for me.

Meaghano (#529)

@worstkase ha, so true. I love the part where you don’t have to sit around and wonder what to buy and what to cook, but I hate the part where after I go schlep to pick-up I get home and stare at everything and stress out about how the heck i’m going to put a pound of basil in my body in the next week.

probs (#296)

My girlfriend and I came reeeeeeaaaally close to pulling the trigger on a CSA membership (or participanthood or accolyteship or whatever it’s called) but changedI our minds because we often get a little optimistic with our farmer’s market purchases and wind up wasting food. I like food challenges, but you go to eork for 8-10 hours, do the gym, and it’s another pasta with prepared sauce night all of a sudden. I kinda of want to do a winter one with canned stuff and root vefetables, stuff that’ll keep a little longer. The whole enterprise just seems kind of nerve-wracking…

ElBlynx (#499)

If this was a New York Times article, it would be called “The Tyranny of the CSA Veggie Box” and focus on the agony of trying to use up all the food, watching the hopes and dreams of the farmers die each time a perfect piece of kale wilted before being eaten. I am interested in getting one, but I do not need the anxiety that it apparently causes.

My parents share one with friends and it’s completely ridiculous because it is flown from WA state up to Alaska. Better than the barged up produce, for sure, but still a strange take on the spirit of supporting local farmers.

If you’re the kind of person who’ll say “Nah, I don’t feel like eating that tonight” and order a pizza while swiss chard wilts in your fridge, then don’t get a CSA share. But if you’re willing to let your life be more like Iron Chef, then go for it.

Throwing away food is as close as you can get to sacrilege in my house, so everything gets used. Which means I put kale in freakin EVERYTHING. Getting the right size CSA share is important- mine was $240 for the season, good for a single person or a couple but not an overwhelming amount of food.

synchronia (#185)

@Sandra Boiteau@facebook Yes! Now that I have a CSA, I regularly pretend I’m on an episode of Chopped.

pizza (#599)

Go for it. This is my second year doing a half share CSA from june-october. One of the tricks to not letting veggies go bad is to cook it prior and throw it in the fridge/freezer. I’ve totally made some meals/sauces/stews/etc and just stored the entire thing to eat at a later date. Of course, I love cooking and don’t mind spending a few hours in my kitchen.

Mike, maybe a winter CSA would be good for you. The one I do in the winter grows everything in the summer and immediately freezes it. And of course with frozen veggies you won’t have to worry about it going bad. http://www.wintersunfarms.com/

@pizza I totally just signed up for that CSA for this winter, that looks awesome, thanks for recommending!

joyballz (#2,000)

I’m loving my CSA. I found one in Chicago that offers a “solo” share instead of the half or full and it is MUCH more manageable than what I’ve seen previously. The nice thing about organic produce that comes straight from the farm is that you actually have MORE time to finish it. My veggies are picked a few days before I pick them up so they have a much longer fridge life than the produce from the grocery store that may have been picked weeks before making it to me.

I also give away anything I know I won’t use. It’s been jalapenos galore recently so my dad has had fresh jalapenos for his salsa and chili.

ThatJenn (#916)

I decided to get one because my partner is going back to school, and pre-paying while we were both still working full-time for something that would (a) cover a portion of our food bill every week, (b) make me go to the farmer’s market every week (there’s good cheap bread and good ethically-raised meat there and it also tends to fulfill my desire to eat out once or twice a week pretty cheaply), and (c) encourage me to cook at home.

I did some trial CSA weeks over the summer – my new CSA allowed people to buy a week’s worth at a time to try it out since it’s only going into its second season, and the summer is so unpredictable here that it gave them some freedom if they had a week where they had nothing to provide (people just couldn’t order that week). We did… okay. We had a hard time with eggplant because I don’t like it very much. I hope we mostly do better in the October-June season ahead of us.

selenana (#673)

@ThatJenn Me too on the eggplant. I don’t even like baba ganoush that much. I’ve had transcendent eggplant a few times but mostly it’s what do I do with this slimy thing? Suggestions!

singstrix (#1,974)

@selenana Baked eggplant parm (or the Martha Stewart recipe) is a favorite at our house, as is (approximated variants of) Moroccan eggplant stew. Or ratatouille? OR recently we made eggplant fajitas with a bunch of onion/bell peppers/poblano/cubanelle (though I’m not sure of the exact recipe, as I heard tell of soy sauce and liquid smoke being used w/ the eggplant.)

HereKitty (#1,423)

@selenana Strange flavor eggplant. SO GOOD.

@ThatJenn This eggplant curry is pretty fantastic!

singstrix (#1,974)

But.. yea? I think the ‘cook a lot of it up front’ advice sounds key. Also, Mr. Singstrix and I buy a lot of grocery-store produce every week (minimum 1 large bag kale, 1 large bag spinach, some array of eggplant/beets/cauliflower/squash/tomatoes/peppers, probably more onions, maybe more garlic), so a CSA could feasibly save us both time and money?

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