Congratulations – you signed up for a local community supported agriculture -or CSA – share from a local farm this season and you are excited about the plethora of fresh veggies that will be soon be gracing your table. Now is your chance to make the most of your CSA share.
But wait – signing up is half the battle (isn’t is always?). To really take advantage of the experience of farm fresh, in-season produce there are a few things you need to do to prepare yourself and your kitchen for success.
Making the most of your CSA share might look a little bit differently for everyone based on your bandwidth. And that’s ok! If this is your first year you might only be able to execute some of these on a consistent basis.
We’ve curated these tips from our friends and our own personal experience as CSA customers, so we can assure you that they will help you make the most of your CSA share. We encourage you to refer back to these tips and incorporate others as you gain confidence with your CSA experience so those farm-fresh veggies end up in your belly (rather than the compost bin).
Make the Most Out of a Routine
The convenient thing about most CSA share programs is their consistency. Whether you are a routine or scheduled person naturally or not, this is one constant – your CSA share pick up day is likely the same day and the same time every week. This can be helpful in creating a routine that helps you to maximize your involvement in the local food movement.
One routine we recommend is preparing yourself and, possibly, your vehicle with a way to get your share in a cool location ASAP after pick up. That might mean packing your car the morning of pick up with a hard or soft cooler (or lunch box, thermal reusable grocery bag, etc.) and some ice packs (reuse 12oz. water or pop bottles by refilling them with water and freezing – there’s no need to go buy new things!).
Leaving your share in a hot car will encourage a faster spoiling of the produce and you might encounter some immediate wilting of items. Remember, most smaller farms, including ours, pick your share items at the peak of harvest. This means, unlike grocery store produce (hello, green bananas), the produce has been picked a day or two prior and it’s ripe and ready to be eaten. Being able to cool your produce down will allow you to enjoy the items longer into the week before your next pick up.
If you don’t have room in your cooler for the entirety of the share, we recommend using precious space on greens, such as a salad mix, tender herbs, and tender greens, including dandelion greens, rainbow chard, broccoli raab, or beet greens.
The second routine we recommend is preparing your produce when you arrive home before storing. You don’t need to take more than 10-20 minutes to do this. However, those 20 minutes can help busy families throughout the rest of the week enjoy the produce on the go or quickly add them to recipes. Wash your produce, slice or trim it, and store correctly according to the type of produce.
Not sure how to store your produce correctly? Our CSA members have access to our A-Z Produce Storage Guide. Not a member? You can download this free guide when you sign up for our newsletter.
Lastly, pick a night of the week to have a family meal where everyone cooks together and spends time in the kitchen using items from the share. One of our CSA members last year shared this tip with us, saying that it helped their children learn more about what the vegetables look like before they are prepared and had them try varieties they typically had scoffed at. If your little ones are still too little, maybe invite them in to make snacks versus an entire meal together.
Make the Most of Resources
One of the things we pride ourselves on with our CSA is the resources that we provide our members. It’s important that not only are you picking up high quality ingredients for your meals, but that you also know how to properly store, prepare, and enjoy those ingredients.
We realize that everyone comes to a CSA membership at different entry points so that’s why we’ve created various resources to support your in-season vegetable journey.
First, is our A-Z Produce Storage Guide which spells out exactly where and how produce should be stored. In addition to giving you advice on how to store produce in the fridge for short term use, it also includes directions on storing items properly for the freezer. Even if you aren’t a member of our CSA you can download this reference guide for free when you enter your email.
Second, we encourage our members to read and reference the e-newsletter that arrives each Sunday in your inbox with suggested recipes, tips, and storage reminders. This e-newsletter helps to acclimate and identify for our members the different varieties in their share on any given week, with information that might not be known or included in our other resources.
Thirdly, we created a CSA Recipe E-Book that allows our members to search for a recipe that includes the items found in the share for the week. The e-book is organized by vegetable and includes a section on substituting one vegetable for something similar that might be found in the share, rather than the one called for in the recipe.
If you aren’t a member of our CSA, we recommend typing the items you have in your share in an internet search engine followed by the word “recipe” to identify some interesting recipes to feed you and your family. A few websites we recommend include The Kitchn, The Spruce Eats, Love and Lemons Food Blog, and Half-Baked Harvest. You can also use any cookbooks that have been relegated to the back of your cupboards or borrow recipe books from your local library.
Finally, ask your farmers or fellow CSA members how they use or prepare certain vegetables. Oftentimes at the farmers market, customers will ask how to prepare certain vegetables that they may be unfamiliar with. We love to share tips and recipes with you all so that you can enjoy your produce at the peak of its perfection.
In their “how-to” section of their website, The Kitchn goes through many varieties of produce and identifies how to prepare and use the item in various recipes. Take these blogs for instance about How to Dice an Onion, How to Roast Broccoli, and 5 Essential Things to Know about Sauteing.
Prep the Kitchen for your CSA Share
The last suggestion for making the most of your CSA share is getting your kitchen prepared for cooking and readying meals with multiple ingredients.
Take stock of what equipment you have in your kitchen. While we aren’t advocating for you running out to the store to drop hundreds of dollars on prep/cooking equipment that might be missing from your cupboards, there are some things you might find helpful.
We always recommend seeing if you can find what you need at a second-hand shop (there are always SO MANY kitchen items on the shelves at GoodWill). I’ve personally purchased a salad spinner, strainer, and cast iron frying pan from a second-hand store and use them regularly in the kitchen. Some items you may want to include in your cupboards are:
- Salad spinner for washing lettuces and greens – This is especially true if you are a member of our CSA since each week you’ll receive a 7oz. bag of salad mix.
- Frying pan or wok (with top) to saute vegetables.
- Cook’s knife
- Strainer or colander
Before you enjoy your vegetables, be sure to wash them. This does not have to happen immediately when arriving home, but we always recommend this before you prepare or use your CSA share produce. While we do wash our salad greens and other vegetables before pick up, we miss some dirt on those radishes when we are washing 200+ of them in an afternoon! It happens.
If you don’t already, add olive oil and balsamic vinegar to your pantry. These two ingredients are so versatile to help you enjoy your veggies from your CSA share.
For instance, if you have a busy week ahead and don’t have lots of time to prepare meals or make dinner, simply chop up some veggies, drizzle in olive oil, bake at 350F in the oven (or toss them on the grill) and enjoy now or later in the week. If there is a plethora of salad greens or lettuce in this week’s share, make your own salad dressings with herbs and items in your pantry (like that olive oil and balsamic vinegar).
Lastly, find ways to incorporate new produce into recipes you are already accustomed to making. You might even jot down a list of dishes you keep in quick rotation and then write an addition to the recipe beside it, using the list of suggestions below. Keep this piece of paper in a place you can see when you are cooking – like on the refrigerator door – as an at-a-glance reminder.
- Kale, rainbow chard, and beet greens → add to salads, tacos, or smoothies
- Kale, rainbow chard, mustard greens, or collard greens → add to macaroni and cheese, rice, soups, or pasta dishes
- Peppers or herbs → onto a pizza
- Zucchini, beets, or carrots → in baked goods
- Kale or dandelion greens → into meatballs or meatloaf
- Green beans or peas → into your soup, stews, or stir fries
- Herbs → toss into salads or create salad dressings and dips
- Winter squash → chili or macaroni and cheese
- Radishes → tacos
By creating a routine, utilizing resources, and prepping your kitchen you now have the tools to make the most of your CSA share. We hope that these suggestions help you feel confident in your ability to really enjoy the farm-fresh, in-season produce that arrives in your weekly share. If there are questions you still have or other suggestions, share in the comments below or reach out to us via email.