Summer is in full swing, and with it comes a beautiful bounty of produce. This is the second year my family has opted to support a local farm by purchasing a weekly supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve talked to many friends who have been intrigued by the idea of community supported agriculture (CSA) but have been slightly intimidated by the idea of staring into a box full of unknown foods and trying to make meals of them for their families.
I totally get it. As parents, we are faced with a bunch of non-adventurous, picky eaters and not a whole lot of time for the creating of new recipes—not to mention figuring out the mystery vegetables ourselves. But I can’t recommend the CSA route enough, y’all. It can be cost effective (most CSAs offer different price points to suit your family’s needs, and you can always share with a friend!), a time-saver (your produce shopping is done and ready for you to take home, and you didn’t even have to strap your screaming kids into the grocery cart!), and obviously the ultimate in fresh and healthy. Best of all, it’s an amazing way to support local farmers and teach our kids about sustainability. We get the added bonus of introducing them to new foods. It may seem a lot more in-depth than whisking through the grocery store on your well-known trajectory and sweeping the same old romaine and apples into your cart, but it’s really not that much more effort at all.
Through trial and error, my family has discovered these tips for getting the most out of our CSA, and we’re sharing them with you!
- Wash and prep everything before putting it in your fridge. I learned quickly that if I left everything in the bag, by the end of the week there was slimy lettuce or moldy peas at the bottom. Taking everything out as soon as I brought it home was the best way to see everything I’d gotten and make sure I remembered what I had in my crisper for later in the week. Prepping everything could mean taking a look at it, pulling leaves off stems, or chopping and dicing. Of course, I don’t always know HOW to best prep my produce—because I sometimes don’t know what I’m looking at…which brings me to my next point:
- Google is your friend! If they don’t do it already, get your farmers to give you a list of everything in your box so you can look up what it is and how to cook it when you get home. I know I’m a rare breed, but I LOVE bringing home a vegetable I’ve never seen before and finding a recipe for it. It’s such a fun challenge to cook and try new foods! Last week, I was introduced—for the first time ever—to kohlrabi. It’s a vegetable with an edible bulb and edible leaves, and I found dozens of recipes online. I just had to choose one that sounded good, and it turns out both the leaves and the bulb are quite delicious.
- Meal plan for the week after you bring your produce home. I always plan my meals for the week, and I used to sit down with cookbooks and trusty Google at my fingertips on Sunday afternoons, but now that I pick up my CSA on Wednesdays, I meal plan in the middle of the week. I still sit down with cookbooks and Google, but now I have an added element for my weekly meal planning—the produce I need to use!
- Not sure what to do? Roast it.* More than once, I’ve gotten to the end of the week, knowing I have one more day before I pick up my new produce, and I have a crisper drawer full of root vegetables. My go-to? Roast ‘em. They will turn out so delicious you will vow never to not roast another vegetable EVER. Just chop everything up together (seriously, don’t worry about it… I’ve roasted patty pan squash with turnips and radishes and carrots, and it all tastes amazing together), toss with some olive oil, sea salt and pepper (bonus points if you chop up any unused herbs and toss with the veggies!), and roast at 425 for about 15 minutes. They will get a little crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, and they tend to caramelize a bit so the flavor of the vegetables is mild and slightly sweet. Mmm…I’m drooling now and wondering what vegetables I’ll roast tonight…
*Of course, this all depends on what you have left at the end of the week. If it’s leafy greens, chop them all up together and sauté them for a savory side dish. Tons of herbs? Make pesto or chimichurri. If you have an abundance of zucchini or pumpkin, make bread!
- Freeze it. A big worry I hear from parents who aren’t sure about getting a CSA is that they’ll end up wasting food. There’s just nothing sadder than food from your CSA that went bad before you had a chance to use it, but this doesn’t have to happen to you! You can honestly freeze (almost) everything. Lay out sliced vegetables on a baking sheet in your freezer until they are frozen (so they don’t stick together) then bag ‘em up until you need them. It’s such a great way to have local produce handy all year, and you’ll be so glad you froze some when winter comes because hot vegetable soup on a cold day is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
- Give it away! If all else fails, find a friend who can use what you can’t! Personally, I can’t stand beets. I’ve tried them every way, and I just do not like them. But I have a friend who loves them! And she will be getting a big bag of them on her front porch next time they turn up in my CSA.