CSA Survival Tips: Tip #1: Prep for the Week Ahead

Did the title give you pause? How could having a CSA be anything better than absolutely thriving and loving every second of it??

Ok, CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture shares) ARE awesome. But, if it is your first year as a share-holder, the bounty can sometimes be overwhelming. I wanted to post a few tips, and will do so throughout the summer, to help people out – this could be first-time shareholders, or people with a new situation in their life (new job, new baby, just moved, etc) that makes it all seem like new again. Even us old-timers (I use that term loosely, since CSA’s have been around for 20 odd years, give or take, and this is our 4th season as shareholders. But, its true. Many, many people don’t ever re-up after their first year – perhaps you were one of them? It is sad,   but, again – bounty = overwhelm sometimes!)

There is a point where the bounty can be stressful. And, you paid goooood money for it, and you really don’t want to waste it. But there is also a point where you, as the house-chef, wonder if you can look at another head of bok choy again (my own personal struggle).

Ok, without further ado, here is my first T.I.P. (To Insure Prompt-eating-of-vegetables):

Take the time to prepare your veggiesfor use throughout the week, no later than 24 hours after they arrive.

What you do:

  • Set aside a time each week to delight in opening your box, munch something right away, and then get out knives, cutting boards, your mandoline or food processor, etc, and then get out bags, tupperware, glass jars, etc. And go to town.
  • Chop some of your greens really finely (spinach, arugular, bok choy, cabbage) to add to sauces and soups. Juilienne or crinkle cut some more of them, to add to stir fry.
  • Cut up at least one tray or container of veggies you can eat fresh. When you kids complain of being hungry even after you fed them 10 minutes ago (anyone? anyone?) direct them to that tray and let them go to town. If they resist, stare at them blankly. Or walk away. They’ll catch on eventually.
  • Carrots, broccoli, and peppers (even onions!) could be cut up and ‘barely blanched’ – steam them until you notice the first hint of a color change. This makes them a little softer either for eating fresh, or nearly ready for a bit of a longer steam to add as a sidedish or accompaniment to a meal. *Credit to my incredible sister-in-law, C., who taught me this trick. Thank you, dear one!
  • Herbs you receive that you will use within the week can be left as is. But, if you get a lot of an herb, consider drying or freezing it for later use (more on that in a future tip).
  • Look at the recipes that probably came with your veggie box (most CSA’s provide some sort of newsletter, usually with some simple tried and true recipes), or take the time now to search out several recipes for veggies in your weekly share, especially those that are not so familiar.

Why this works:

For those used to putting together a weekly menu plan, this tip might not be so challenging. But for those who are new to the concept or really not into it, this tip forces you to think ahead a bit. While you need not write down what you’ll make when, you’ll take comfort in the fact that your veggies are already prepped and ready to go, making it much easier to include them in just about everything. And why within 24 hours? The sooner the better – just looking at the veggies, handling, chopping, steaming them – will get your mind working on what you’ll do with them. This is probably especially important if you’re just plain new to eating this much veggies! Your mind will work on the ‘wonderful problem’ of alllll these veggies while you’re not even conscious of it – and you’ll start to think differently as you’re preparing your meals.

Watch for upcoming tips in the next couple of weeks, such as:” the rhythm of the CSA week”, “tackling unfamiliar veggies”,”easy ways to preserve the CSA harvest and extend the fresh veggie year” and, “throwing zucchini on your neighbors porch, ringing the doorbell, and running away fast.”

The Local Foods Puzzle –

…Where do you fit?

That was a question I was asking myself over the two days that I attended the Dakota Grown Local Foods conference in Fargo, ND. That was also the question F/M area organic farmer Noreen Thomas asked us as we ate lunch together on Saturday, February 4th. Do we grow things? Do we consume local foods? Do we share information with others? Do we present unique opportunities to get people from diverse walks of life interested in where their food is coming from?

Over the course of the two days, I met small family farmers, like the hopeful, joyful, informative presention of  Brian and Angie McGuinness, of Riverbound Farm , in Mandan ND.

What sticks out in my mind is that these two young adult farmers absolutely know the odds they are facing – some would call them insurmountable odds, and truly, that could be said –  and yet their vision of creating and providing not only healthy, organic food – but community for their members, was very inspiring.  “We want this to be ‘our’ farm – we want people to come and hang out, and be part of the farm.” From creating a unique itemized CSA to providing a children’s play area at their CSA barn and awesome farm events like the “Take Back the Value Meal” event, the McGuinnesses are really thinking outside of the box, while they’re putting good stuff IN the box – the boxes for their 150 CSA members.This will be their third year offering their CSA.

Also inspiring was talking with my tablemates at dinner – Stephanie Sinner, who works with the USDA export program and frequently travels overseas. Recent trips include to Vietnam, China, and Cuba. A couple involved for many years farming near Minot, marketing to farmer’s markets and restaurants as well as feeding themselves, talked about the  flooding devastation for many, their own farm untouched. Kathy, a former journalist, and current staff member of the USDA, who was taking in the conference as well as helping to educate others about the services, opportunities, and new grant programs that the USDA could provide to small farmers.

After making a round around the outside of the room picking up pamphlets (I love pamphlets! I’ve been known to look at them once, and file them for years, “just in case”) I decided to just plop myself down at a table with other young-adult-type-looking people, and I’m glad I did. A young couple with dreams of farming right outside of the area and starting a new CSA in future years shared their own vision. Clint and Victoria Russell and I traded stories about our families and our poultry – ducks and chickens for them, three backyard chickens for me – and the surprise of loving farming and gardening after never having grown up with it being a huge part of our lives. They have recently purchased an existing farm and name, and plan to continue to expand, and serve the area with fresh vegetables, and make a life for their family.

On Saturday, I talked with a woman who grows heirloom tomatoes and sells them to a local upscale cafe, but lives in town, just like me.

We all fit different pieces of the puzzle. I have to admit, there were times at the conference when I thought, Why am I here? I think I know, now.  I’m here to tell the stories of those that are farming big-time and small-time, and anything in between. There’s all some way we can be involved in local foods. We just have to figure out where we fit.

Where do you fit into the puzzle of local foods? Consumer? Advocate? Backyard gardener, like me? Small or large scale organic or conventional farm?