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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A Mom’s Real Food Manifesto

I believe in the power of moms. I believe all of us together can change the food system and keep our kids healthier. Feel free to share this graphic.

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Q&A from the Local Food Expo

First of all, THANKS to all the parents who voluntarily spent an hour with me at the Local Food Expo. I did see one guy nodding off, but I get that, I have a very soft voice. In fact, I used to read myself to sleep first while trying to get the kid down for a nap. Heh.

We had a lot of questions and great discussion. I did promise to post a few of the follow up links here, and I like to keep promises!

Beets, what to do with them
Beet salad dressing with spring greens
The beet risotto mentioned in the recipes handout
Plus, you can roast and chill beets, adding them to a smoothie (blueberries with cherry juice work great), dice into salads especially with citrus and fennel, add shredded to a red cabbage salad, and as I mentioned in our book, you can even put them (not pureed or stealthy) into brownies. You can also dye Easter eggs with them.

Flexible recipes
The handout I had was on making a risotto for all seasons. But other techniques can help you use nearly everything in the CSA box that is, uh, “cook-able.” Roasting is a perfect technique. The book specifically calls out Roasted Asparagus and Green Beans. The key here is quick cooking items like tomatoes you can roast at higher heat and short times. For the more dense veggies like pumpkin or sweet potatoes, use a lower temperature and longer time so the veggie cooks through without burning on the outsides. A bit of olive oil, salt and pepper plus time and heat equals side dish. As a ballpark guide, this will give you a starting point. Just peek at the food, test, and customize for your oven’s “quirks.”

Higher Heat (375 or 400), Shorter Time (10-15 minutes):
Tomatoes, asparagus, green beans, summer squash, peppers, corn, okra

Lower Heat (350), Longer Time (20-60 minutes depending on how fine you chop them)
Potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, other root veggies, beets, kohlrabi, carrots

For the adventurous, outdoor-cooking types, grilling and, yes, smoking of vegetables is fun to try. Other veggies that are amazing smoked: tomatoes, corn, peppers, okra, even winter squashes.

Picky Kids and Adults
This series is the research that was the foundation for our picky eating chapter
And these guest posts on Dr. Greene are a fantastic resource for the control, color, texture, taste issues. Scroll down below the author photo and bio, please without thinking, “wow, she did not look like that in person.” I was very tired and it showed.
We also talked a bit about using fun away from the table to get kids to eat better. And finally, if you are just stressed, stop by and read this interview I did with a feeding therapist on his 20-year career.

If I missed any questions or follow up, just ask me. You can reach me on our Facebook page, or by email at thecleanerplate [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Yes, you can have kids and a CSA, too

We moms get a lot of surprises in our lives. Everything from “projectile launch” by a kid with stomach flu on Christmas morning to trying to identify what the dog just ate from the scraps on the floor (a Christmas ornament, really?). Can we handle being ambushed by broccoli, too?

You bet! While the CSA, or community supported agriculture, box may hold a few new veggies for everyone, the fact is most fruits and veggies do have a certain season where they make their annual appearance. We’ve just lost track of it amidst the grapes from Chile in April and the tomatoes from Mexico in February. The seasonal guide from our book can help you plan ahead enough to give you some comfort factor — knowing things may vary a week or two depending on how soon spring is sprung each year.

Here is a basic list, not including many of the wonderful surprises a CSA can offer. Some surprises can be good! Look for the resources and links at the end of the list for further reading on CSAs!

Seasonal Calendar (not all items available in all areas! We don’t see too much “local citrus” in the Midwest for sure!)

Spring (March through May)

In-Season Produce

Alliums: scallions, leeks, garlic scapes, chives

Cole crops: broccoli, cauliflower

Greens: cabbages, chard, kale, spinach

Herbs: borage, chervil, lovage

Lettuces: leaf lettuce, mâche, miner’s lettuce, spring mix

Root vegetables: beets, radishes, turnips

Others: artichokes, asparagus, mushrooms, peas and pea shoots, rhubarb, sorrel

 

Summer (June through August)

In-Season Produce

Alliums: garlic, onions

Beans: green beans, pole beans, field peas, lima beans

Berries: blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries

Cole crops: cabbages, collard greens, kohlrabi

Greens: amaranth, arugula, collards, mustard greens

Herbs: basil, cilantro, lemongrass, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley

Melons: cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon

Peppers: bell peppers, hot peppers

Root vegetables: potatoes

Squashes: summer squash (yellow, zucchini, pattypan, and so on)

Stone fruits: apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums

Others: corn, eggplant, fennel, figs, okra, tomatillos, tomatoes, cucumbers

 

Fall (September through November)

In-Season Produce

Cole crops: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbages

Fruits: apples, grapes, pears, persimmons, pomegranates

Greens: kale, mustard greens, spinach

Herbs: rosemary, sage, savory, thyme

Nuts: chestnuts, hickory nuts, pecans, walnuts

Root vegetables: beets, carrots, horseradish, parsnips, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, turnips

Squashes: pumpkin, winter squash

 

Winter (December through February)

In-Season Produce

Though some farms may have greenhouses for production, with the exception of southern regions and areas with temperate climates, such as California, most growing seasons are over. In these warmer regions, the following are in season:

Fruit: grapefruits, lemons, limes, oranges

Others: avocados, pistachios

Resources and Links:
Types of CSAs, More Than Just Veggies
Five Good Reasons to Support Local Family Farms with a CSA
Five Foods I Only Tried by Eating Local
Why I am Changing CSAs
Agriculture Policy and Food Safety
Agriculture Policy and Your Health
Recipes, Recipes, More Recipes

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Powell Gardens Harvest Celebration

Thank you to all who came out to share some food and fun at Powell Gardens today! I enjoyed talking with all of you! Thanks for braving a cooler than normal day and supporting Powell Gardens.

As promised, here are the recipes from today’s event.

Sweet Potato Hummus
1 lb. sweet potato, diced, peeled and steamed for 30 minutes

1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 clove garlic
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. mace
Pulse in food processor until smooth, adding a bit more olive oil if needed. Serve with pita, pita chips or vegetables.
Fall Kale Salad

1 bunch kale, leaves torn finely, discard stems
2 apples, diced
2 pears, diced
1/2 lemon, juice
1/4 cup craisins
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
Dressing
3 Tbs. cranberry sauce
3 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
3 Tbs. olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 lemon, juice
Whisk the dressing together, toss with salad ingredients.

 

Posted in By Beth, In the kitchen, Recipes | Leave a comment