CSA season is around the corner and I am very excited to start receiving a share again. We have a month (plus or minus) until asparagus comes on!! I would ideally love to grow everything we eat ourselves, but we just don’t have enough space. And our CSA grows such beautiful, delicious food, I can’t resist signing up year after year. They take good care of their members, using a blog, Yahoo group and Facebook to help foster community. They’ve even put together a cookbook full of recipes submitted by CSA members over the years.
All CSA’s are as different as the members and farmers who run them. Since we are heading into our fifth year with Monroe Organic Farms, our CSA, I thought I’d offer up some of my best tips on making the most of your share.
1. Open the bag and figure out what you have. Most people get their share home after a long day at work. It might be tempting to leave the bag sit until tomorrow, but it’s best to open your bag right away. You will want to store some things right off the bat, and if there is anything delicate in there like lettuce or basil, you’ll want to get it in cool water or the fridge right away. There’s nothing worse than waiting a day or two to get to your share and finding you let your green beans wither and die in the summer heat.
2. Wait to plan your weekly menu until you get your share. I pick up my share on Tuesdays, so I wait until Wednesday to go to the grocery store or market. I spend a lot less this way, and I can plan meals around what we received in our share.
3. Wash and store everything the day you get it. I do my washing outside. The potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips and onions all have a lot of dirt on them. I used to do it in the kitchen, but then I had to sweep, mop and clean the sink too. Instead, I dump my share on the lawn, hose it off and then sort it into what I want to eat right away this week and what I’m going to freeze for later. Freeze what you’re going to save right away so it’s frozen at it’s peak. It’ll be just as fresh when you go to use it this winter.
4. Read the newsletter! Every week you’ll get a run down of everything included in the share, plus important updates on upcoming distributions and events with the farm. If you read it you’ll know just what that odd looking vegetable is, and you might even get a recipe on how to use it!
5. Use the cookbook. Don’t know what to do with a celeriac? How should you freeze your extra beans? It’s in the cookbook. What to do with all those potatoes? Not sure you like beets? Try a new recipe. All the recipes in the Monroe cookbook are from farm members. They’ve all been tested by real people here in your community. You might just get a new favorite dish.
6. Get involved. Read the farm’s blog and Facebook page. Contribute to the yahoo group or the calls for recipes. Come to the Harvest Festival. This is the community in community supported agriculture.
7. Understand that some things are out of our hands. Some years will be bountiful pepper years, some will be tomatoes, some will be melons. Usually never all three at once. You might have been dreaming all winter of your strawberries only to have them hailed out (please no!!), or you might feel like you can’t shuck one more ear of corn. But such is life when you are relying on the weather to bring you the freshest local food. Enjoy your melon now, for in November it will be gone.
8. Visit the farm. See where things grow. Check out the chickens, help load the shares onto the truck. Connect with what you’ve invested in on every level. Take advantage of the U-pick crops and the harvest festival. It’s fun, you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll go home with even more delicious fresh food.
9. Be gracious: Be on time, return your bags, call ahead if you can’t make it. Remember that your farmers and the volunteers at your distribution center are people too.
Do you participate in a CSA? What are your best tips for making the most of your share? If you’ve arrived here from the Monroe blog, share with us your experiences, favorite part of the CSA and what you are looking forward to most this year!