There are a few tried and true ways to get fresh, local, organic, in-season produce. You could attend your local farmer’s market, you could plant a garden, or you could raid your neighbor’s garden in the dead of night. Or, you could do what Beth and Marta decided to do — join a CSA!
When you become a member of a Community Supported Agriculture organization, or a CSA, you agree to pay a farm or group of farms up front for a season’s worth of fruit and vegetables. Then, each week, you pick up your share of the harvest. Depending on which CSA you join, you may have more or less choice in what you bring home. And that’s part of the fun! So, bring on the kale! Pile on the rhubarb! Joining a CSA is a great opportunity to prove to the world that you are “cook” enough to handle swiss chard six weeks in a row.
Marta and Beth are both newbies to the CSA world. Read below to find out why they joined and hear about their initial impressions. Then, throughout the summer, stay tuned for updates on how it’s going and what they’re cooking…
So, why did you decide to join a CSA?
Marta: I found out about Farm Direct Co-op on a cold, drizzling day in April. I had just finished an Earth Day 5K run in record slow time, and with post-race bagel and banana in hand, I wandered over to the exhibitor tables. I picked up a brochure on the Co-op and stuck it in my pocket along with some other promotional literature on massage for runners and green cleaning products. The very next day, I went to the website to sign up.
I had considered participating in a CSA before, mostly for the tomatoes. I wanted great tomatoes. No more tasteless, paste-like orange-red orbs for me! I wanted something juicy and bursting with earthy sweetness that has been bred to be eaten, not bred to travel hundreds of miles. In my pursuit of this excellent fruit, last summer I tried to grow my own. Lacking a proper yard, I lined the patio with terra cotta pots bearing seedlings. I nurtured them with fish byproduct and watched them grow straight up, but thin and scraggly. They never produced more than a handful of cherry tomatoes.
So, this year I decided to join a CSA. This way, I knew that I would get my fresh, ripe tomatoes alongside a broad array of locally grown, organic or IPM fruits and vegetables. I was motivated by the promise of healthier, better tasting meals, and the idea of supporting local farmers and taking part in the slow food movement. I signed up for a small veggie and small fruit share, plus a local bread and cheese share.
Beth: Signing up for a CSA has been on my “to do” list for a while. Ever since the experience of volunteering on organic farms in New Zealand (2007) and again in Canada (2010) I’ve felt connected to vegetables. Rows and rows of proud carrot fronds waving in the wind, tangled pea vines and stifling greenhouses do it for me. I’ve seen lumpy radishes, worm-infested cabbages, and too-small brussel sprouts that never make it to the store or stand, despite the work that goes into them. With these types of memories I feel like I have behind-the-scenes information into the secret world of farmers. I also have the remembrances of biting into succulent melons right off the vine, and eating raw spinach straight from the earth. Somehow the time was never quite right to sign up for my very own CSA share until this year – so I had made do with extras from my parent’s garden, farmer’s markets, and the occasional overflow from friend’s CSAs.
This year though, I spent March looking into some of the various CSA options found near Salem, MA. I chose to go with Farmer Dave’s – a farm located in Dracut, MA, which has a pick up location at the Beverly Farmer’s Market on Mondays. It was perfect! My husband could get the fresh produce on his way home from work.
What are your first impressions?
Marta: We started the season on June 5th, and I was not sure what to expect. I parked at Leslie’s Retreat Park, near the Salem train station, and approached the Co-op’s white tents clutching my reusable bags. I tentatively followed the instructions on the chalkboard – take this, choose between those, weigh this – and walked away with a head of lettuce, a crown of broccoli, radishes, spinach, strawberries, and rhubarb. The next week brought more spinach and strawberries, plus beets, kohlrabi, feta cheese, a loaf of sourdough bread, garlic scapes, and two tomatoes! So I didn’t have to wait long for my tomatoes after all.
I guess a “large” size share really is large. The giant bin was filled to the brim with leafy greens and we were in vegetable heaven, but on Tuesday when I opened the refrigerator door and a few loose radishes fell out I thought, “What have I gotten myself into!”
What’s your favorite part of participating in a CSA? And what do you do with all those veggies?
Marta: The mysterious, unknown vegetables have been the most fun part of belonging to a CSA. I grated my kohlrabi and mixed it in a salad with apples, walnuts, and an olive oil-lemon dressing. On the Farm Direct Co-op’s animated Facebook group, I saw that others were making French fries, purees, and eating it raw, sliced thin with a bit of salt. Week three brought two culinary stumpers, hakurei turnips and napa cabbage, as well as garlic scapes, green onions, strawberries, rhubarb, and a baguette. But, most things are tasty when sautéed in butter; the turnips proved to be no exception. The napa cabbage morphed into four meals: sautéed cabbage with garlic scapes and sesame oil served over rice, stuffed cabbage baked in the oven, leaves of crunchy, raw cabbage leaves rolled around meatballs, and shredded cabbage mixed with white beans, feta, and cauliflower and tossed in a lemon-olive oil dressing.
Beth: Along with Marta, I think one of my favorite parts of being involved in a CSA is the element of surprise – it took me two weeks for figure out what this vegetable was.
It’s Tatsoi, an Asian vegetable similar to Bok Choy.
I also enjoy learning about new ways to use vegetables to keep up with the overwhelming amount. I experimented with making pesto with garlic scapes as well as sauteing them into a variety of ingredients like noodle stir-frys, eggs, and with tofu. Scapes, and making pesto were totally new experiences for me.
Then there is the thrill of figuring out how to get as many vegetables into my diet and out of my refrigerator as possible (yes, they really are always falling out of the door!) – Spinach Omelettes, Veggie Wraps, Zucchini Roll ups, and my favorite – Potato, Rainbow Chard and Feta salad have been just a few of the ways we’ve managed it. Emptying out the bottom shelf each week before it overflows with new vegetables is an exhilarating race against time for my husband and I.
Keep an eye out for the second installment on CSAs in the coming weeks. And let us know — have you ever cooked tatsoi? How about kohlrabi? Drop us a line in the comments.