Sunday, August 19, 2012

CSA: dinner and reflections

Hubby and I decided to join a CSA for the first time last year. We'd talked about it for years, and every year I would do a ton of research on local farms...and then get totally overwhelmed by the number of choices and give up. Finally, last winter, we bit the bullet: picked a farm and sent in our money.

In case you're unfamiliar,
In basic terms, CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or "share-holders" of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.
From the USDA's National Agricultural Library:

Last year was not a good year for many of our local farms, so it wasn't the best for us either. It was too cold and then too hot and then too wet and then too dry...nothing much grew. We got squash, squash, and more squash...and that was it. I appreciated that the farm wanted us to feel like we were getting our money's worth (as much as they could, given the weather), but it was way more than we could deal with. I made every zucchini recipe known to man, froze a bunch of sliced squash and no-noodle lasagna, made countless jars of pickles, gave a ton of food away, and still couldn't keep up.

So hubby and I had a big heart-to-heart this winter; we knew that it wasn't fair to judge CSAs based on last year's experience. We decided to give it another try this year, although we switched to another farm that several friends had joined, knowing that they got a lot more variety than we did, even with last year's crazy weather.

This summer has been a true CSA experience. This farm offers us an amazing variety of veggies each week, but not too much of any one thing (except maybe cukes). The farmer sends fabulously detailed newsletters each week, filled with farm news, recipes, and pictures of the interns working on the farm. We were a little overwhelmed by the amount of greens at the beginning of the season, until we started making green smoothies as an afternoon snack each day.

Our box this past week provided us with this amazing meal: fresh tomatoes, garlic, carrots, celery, and onions went into this fresh tomato sauce. Scallions went into the cheddar and scallion rolls (twitterbaked with Kayte and Margaret). Fresh garlic, parsley, and basil went into the meatballs. We ate delicious broccoli on the side. All of the veggies are incredibly fresh; I can't believe how much better everything tastes than when we buy them from the grocery store. Even the celery, which I think of as being so bland, smells and tastes so celery-y. The whole family is excited to see what we get each week, and the kids love asking which of our foods came from our veggie box.

We still have many veggies to use before our next pick-up on Thursday. Farm potatoes and peppers will go with our grilled chicken tomorrow. Tuesday night's fried rice will include the rest of the broccoli, scallions, carrots, and cabbage. I gave two eggplants to my mom, I'll have to make another batch of pickles, and I'm waiting for inspiration for the giant bag of beets.

Which leads me to my final reflection: as wonderful as the food tastes, as much as I love the connection to a local farm, as much as I believe in the ideals of a CSA, I don't think we'll do it again. I miss choice; we get so much food that our meals are all determined by which recipe uses up the most farm veggies. This is especially challenging at the beginning of the summer when you get the same foods over and over (I could make this bok choy and kale recipe in my sleep!). I miss shopping at the farmer's market; although we still go, I can't justify buying additional produce when I can't keep up with what we have and when we've already spent so much money. And I can't stand the guilt of throwing food away when we can't get to everything, even though our farmer insists that it's still worth it and we're still doing good.

Still, it's been such a valuable experience, and I'm so glad we tried it...and I'm excited to see what's in this week's box! :-)


  1. Beet chips!! We don't really like beets that much but we love beet chips!! I'm with you, I did it a couple of years but it restricted me to so much and limited my choices as what they sent and what we were in the mood for didn't match a whole lot of the time. That said, I do miss it. The last year I went in with a friend and we did one share and split it...that worked out much better for us but then she moved away!! (Not because of It is fun to see what shows up each week and the kids learned a lot about it all and enjoyed trekking out to the farm to get the box. Now there are just the two of us and having lived here so long and been a 4-H leader for 30 years, I know where to score what I want to score on a weekly I just "shop" that way. Fun post to read.

  2. Thank you for the honest review. I've thought several times that I should look for a CSA to join in our area, but my concerns about it are exactly the ones you raised. I have a hard time using the stuff I buy now; I can only imagine how hard it would be with more produce, and not always the things we want/need.

  3. We used to belong to a vegetable box scheme and you pay by the box, having a choice as to size of box and some element of choice over what goes in it. So there were boxes for small households, boxes without potToes etc etc.Have you given your CSA feedback - it does seem a shame that the schemes can't adapt to their members' needs a bit more. Maybe it would mean employing more people and costs beung higher, but maybe it would be worth it to retain memberx and give you the choice you want?