Starting a CSA share

CSA stands for community supported agriculture.  The idea is you give farmers money at the beginning of the season.  Then they provide you with fresh veggies and possibly fruits at set intervals during the season.  They end up with a predictable income, you end up with fresh locally grown veggies (often sustainably farmed if not organic).  Generally you don’t get to choose the veggies you get, but some CSAs allow for choice.

The local harvest website can help you find a CSA near you.

Some thoughts about CSAs:

A CSA is not for the faint of heart.

If you can’t handle bugs or dirt, don’t do a CSA unless you live in Southern California or some other major metropolitan area that is really good at washing veggies.  Salad greens are the worst for bugs and grit.  Some websites recommend using saltwater to get rid of the bugs, but that can wilt your veggies.   For greens, rinse your veggies off briefly.  Then fill the sink with luke-warm water and soak the greens.  If things are really bad, clean out the sink and do it again.  Rinse as needed as you transfer veggies to a salad spinner.

If you don’t like greens, find someone to give them to (easier than you think!) or don’t join a CSA that has winter deliveries.  Greens! Glorious Greens! can make some greens bearable, but …

Get a salad spinner!  Also:  if you can’t eat your greens fast enough, the salad spinner in the fridge is a great place to keep them.  They stay fresh longer and are easier to grab for things like sandwiches.

The Victory Garden Cookbook is essential, as well as amazing and awesome.

Is a CSA worth it?:

CSAs are often less expensive than buying veggies at the grocery store.  Often even if they’re not certified organic, they use organic practices (the ones around here think organic certification is a government conspiracy but also have serious organic credentials in terms of knowledge and sustainable farming outreach).

CSAs can provide amazingly fresh and sweet produce that make you look at some vegetables with newfound admiration.  Lettuce for example.  A freshly picked salad is joyous.

CSAs help you to eat more veggies and to try veggies you’ve never tried before.

You may end up getting veggies you can’t stand.  Or used to mildly dislike but after several months can no longer stand (hello turnip greens).  If you don’t find someone to pawn them off on, you may feel guilty.  Some CSAs will donate your unwanted veggies to local shelters, which is a good thing.

You may not be able to process all of your veggies before they get unhappy.  Don’t be afraid to process and freeze them.  Still, some weeks you may not have the time to process them.  For these busy weeks we recommend taking them to work or daycare or giving them to a neighbor.  Especially if they’re greens.

So money wise, they’re totally worth it if you always buy organic and if they’re improving your health by encouraging you to eat veggies.  If you don’t use the veggies in time, they can end up being more expensive than hitting the farmer’s market or Whole foods occasionally.  Even if you don’t care about organic, the flavor from fresh local produce can make this a phenomenal option, even if it is more expensive than conventional veggies shipped in from South America.

Have you tried a CSA? Could you handle random veggies every week? What are your favorite and least favorite veggies?

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: , . 24 Comments »

24 Responses to “Starting a CSA share”

  1. Everyday Tips Says:

    It sounds like a very interesting idea.

    I don’t grow greens for the very reason you mentioned. My mom grew some one year and said what a pain it was because of the bugs. That is why I love growing tomatoes and cucumbers- easy to wash.

    Salad spinners are great by the way.

  2. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    This morning I’m enjoying a kale, sausage, and cheese pot pie for breakfast. Nom.

  3. kh Says:

    I love my CSA, although it’s not any cheaper than the grocery store and sometimes more expensive (depending on the time of the year and the harvest). I agree that the freshness of the food is well worth the time and effort – it all tastes so much better than what you get from the grocery store.

  4. Linda Says:

    I haven’t used a CSA although I was tempted to look into one this year. I have so much gardening space at home, but I’ve had to concede that I must scale back my gardening this season. There’s just not enough time and energy to take care of it all by myself this year. (In past years I’ve had friends do a “garden share” with me where they come over to help grow and get a share of the produce; no one was able to do that this year.)

    A single friend used to split her CSA box with another couple. That was a good way for them all to get a fresh produce yet not be overwhelmed. Plus they could negotiate with each other for less desireable stuff. (This friend hates squash, so she always tried to bargain it away in the fall.)

    I happen to *love* greens. My capacious garden beds are always skewed pretty heavily to greens: lacinato kale, mustard greens, chard, and arugula are some of my favorites. Turnips are yummy, too, as are their greens.

    Since I won’t be growing so much this year, I’ll be cycling to the farmer’s market much more frequently, I guess. That’s usually a fun morning jaunt.

  5. MutantSupermodel Says:

    This is something I’m dying to try when the money gets a bit better because the CSA’s here are pretty expensive but definitely seem worth it. In my case, I’d be likely sharing with my grandma who’s my neighbor and my mom who I see every day at the kids’ school.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Sharing with extended family sounds fun!

      One of the daycare ladies (a grandmother herself) takes the greens I give her to her mom, and her mom fixes them up with bacon and feeds them to the family.

  6. ABDMama Says:

    I love my CSA! It has made me more adventurous as a cook and I feel like it frees me of trying to figure out what to cook. Instead I get to decide what I can make with the ingredients that I have. It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve eaten a lot more vegetables since joining.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s definitely one of the awesome aspects of the CSA. :)

      • ABDMama Says:

        Another benefit of the CSA has been opening my eyes to all the things that have been at the small grocer’s that I never knew existed before. Oh wait, they already had rapini! Also, I’ve really liked broccoli shoots, fava beans, and tokyo turnips that I didn’t know anything much about prior to getting the CSA. My strategy is just to stir fry the greens and veggies I’m unfamiliar with. Makes it easier to deal with and works surprisingly well (sweetness of beets counteracted by bitterness of collard greens).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Definitely! Though I’d be happy to know a little less about all the different types of greens. I’m very happy with my knowledge about different kinds of beans and eggplants and squashes and so on.

  7. Dr. O Says:

    I love my salad spinner.

    Hubby and I talked about CSAs, but we decided that we would probably end up wasting a lot of the veggies. We’ve gotten so use to buying for dinner on the way home from work. We look for locally grown produce (not necessarily organic) on sale at the grocery store. We’ve also found really good deals on produce at Whole Foods, even cheaper than what we find at the grocery store. We’re just willing to go with what’s on sale rather than walking in with a preconceived idea for dinner.

    When we have a house, I’m looking forward to growing a lot of our own veggies (staggering the greens so we don’t end up with bushels all at once). It’s hard to scale up enough for regular meals when you’re maintaining a patio garden.

  8. Cloud Says:

    I’m tempted by the CSA idea (and I have several to choose from- I live in SoCal), but I know that I wouldn’t process the veggies in time right now. Maybe when the baby is a year or so older and either able to entertain herself more or come and actually help in the kitchen, as opposed to stand on a step stool and reach for my knives.

    I live in one of the few neighborhoods in San Diego without a convenient farmer’s market, and the local chain with excellent (and cheap!) produce is just far enough away that we don’t get there every week.

    My compromise is to garden (yeah, I live in SoCal). My arugula was bug free this year. I wonder if that was an anomaly? I finally got off my butt and did this by giving myself permission to start small and to fail. I started small but it was quite successful.

    Have you made pestos with all the different types of greens you get? One of the other women in my book club made pesto with the kale from her CSA box and it was yummy.

  9. Rosa Says:

    We’ve belonged to, I don’t know, 6 or 7 different CSAs? The ones we like (cheap, large amounts of fewer things so I can put stuff up) tend to go over to restaurant sales or something else more lucrative after they get established, and the frou-frou ones don’t suit us – I guess I’m the person who wants a quarter bushel of kale when it’s in season, and there aren’t too many of us.

    This is the second year in a row of no CSA for us, after about a decade of always belonging – there’s a great 2x weekly farmer’s market right near our house that’s actually more convenient than having to schlep to the CSA pickup site, and I have a 5 year old who doesn’t really want “adventurous” on the table.

    Our winter CSAs tend to be stuff I LOVE though – squash, beets, cabbage, potatos. Not many greens in a Minnesota winter. Our “if you walk in the door you must eat a salad before you leave!” season is right now.

  10. bogart Says:

    I tried a CSA last year for the first time. It was pretty good; it introduced me to some things I’d never tried (hello, fennel!). I split it with my mom so we had some choice (about who got how much of what) even in a low-choice setting. And my son and I could walk/bike to the pickup location in our neighborhood, which was (mostly) nice. OTOH it was a bad season for growing here last summer, which of course affected output.

    This year I’ve discovered something I like even better — a local firm that boxes up stuff from multiple local producers (veggies, but also cheeses, baked goods, even some prepared foods) and then delivers the box to my home. Um, yes. Love it. So they ship a preset box each week unless I cancel it (forgetting to do which twice has led to, yes, greens), but I can go online (assuming I remember) and ditch the preset box and put in whatever I want provided I order at least $20 worth. The pricing is at a premium (relative to securing all the stuff myself from the different producers, our farmer’s market, or the local coop), but the service is well worth it for me right now (also? I hate to shop. Even for good food).

    Not to make you jealous, but I’ve discovered a local cheese that is (1) the form of a runny brie — or proper camembert — (2) goat and (3) blue. All in one cheese. SO FABULOUS!

  11. scantee Says:

    We’ve done a CSA for four of the last five years. I really like it but the amount of food can be overwhelming if you’re unaccustomed to cooking from scratch pretty much every day. This year we’re sharing a smaller sized couple’s box and switching weeks with our share partners which should be the perfect amount for us.

    Two things I’ve learned that help to process the food are:

    1) With things that can be roasted (broccoli, snap peas, carrots, onions, turnips, beets) I cut them up that night sprinkle on some seasoning mix with olive oil and then roast until tender. Then I can easily use the roasted veggies in various recipes throughout the week.

    2) With heartier greens like kale you can make chips by tossing with olive oil and salt and roasted at 400 for about 20 min. Greens are so much easier to eat this way, I find I can finish off an entire bunch of chips in one sitting.

    I just discovered mustard greens and I love them so I’m hoping we’ll get a lot of those in our boxes this year.

  12. The CSA will take over your life | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] Community Supported Agriculture is this neat thing where you give money to (usually) a local farmer, and then during the harvest season you get a box of random produce. […]

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