CSA intro series: Bringing home your share – summer edition

How you bring home your summer CSA share can set you up to easily, successfully, and deliciously use your share. This is an update from a previous winter-share focused post.

First thing is first – when you pick up your CSA, bring grocery totes. The box that your share is given to you in is awkward to carry. And if you bring the box home, you have to remember to bring it back (and, I don’t know about you, but I never remember to do that) because most farms reuse those box week to week. A better option is to bring a few shopping totes. I bring three bags for our share, which feeds 2-4 people. I could fit the share in two large bags, but I like to have a third bag for delicate items, like tomatoes or peaches.

Bring home your summer CSA share - CSA boxes

When you get home, lay everything out on your counter and take an inventory. List what you got and how much to help with meal planning.  Including the quantity will help to determine if it needs to be used in one or more dishes. Check if anything is damaged – star those items so that when you go to meal plan, you know that you will need to use those items first so that they don’t spoil. Check out my meal planning post for how I make sure to use up all my vegetables.

Take anything left over from the previous week and consolidate into one of your produce drawers, using the other drawer for the new share. That way, you know what you still need to use up before starting on the new stuff. This is also an opportunity to clean out the empty drawer before you put anything new in. A quick vacuum (yes, I vacuum my refrigerator) and a swipe with a damp towel, and you’re good to go!

Vegetable Storage

Before putting everything away in your fridge, separate leafy green tops from root vegetables. This keeps the root vegetables fresh longer – if you leave the tops on, you will find that your root veggies get soft quicker. Doing this also make storage easier. Then decide if you are going to use the vegetable tops or if you would rather discard them. It is okay to get rid of them – it took me a few seasons just getting comfortable enough with the influx of vegetables to even be able to even to consider using the tops.

I also recommend that you wash and prepare your lettuce immediately. It keeps it fresh longer and makes it more likely that you will use it. Separate the leaves into a big bowl, fill with some salted cold water (helps remove the little bugs that might be on there), and let sit for a few minutes. Remove leaves in batches to your salad spinner and rip into bite-sized pieces to spin down. Store in a large ziploc bag or tupperware container with a folded paper towel to absorb any moisture.

CSA intro series: Meal planning

I forgot I had another post in mind for this week, so we’re going a little out of logical order, but I promised meal planning, so meal planning you will get.

Meal planning

Before joining a CSA, I had a set of ingredients that I would buy each week along with a pantry and freezer of staples. These could be put together into a number of different meals – usually protein, carb, vegetable. If I had anything left over at the end of the week, I would take that into account for my next grocery trip. With a CSA, though, you get a new box the following week and the week after that.

When I first started getting CSA boxes, I didn’t meal plan and cooked like I did previously. I would come home, and decide on something to make with what I had on hand. What ended up happening, though, is that I didn’t necessarily completely or efficiently use up the ingredients. I would get my pickup the following week and still have leftovers from the week prior. I found myself throwing stuff out because I hadn’t used it in time. This is where meal planning comes in.

Benefits of meal planning

These are what I find to be the greatest benefits to meal planning.

  • Enables me to use all the vegetables during the week, so I can start with an empty vegetable drawer for each new box, keeping ingredients fresher and reducing waste.
  • Removes dinner-time stress because I know what I am making every night of the week and can prep elements ahead when I have time.
  • Saves time because I think about dinner one day per week and shop one day per week. Each night, all I have to do is pull up the correct recipe and cook.
  • Can save money by consciously planning budget-friendly meals and being intentional in purchases so as not to overbuy food.
  • Can lead to healthier eating.
  • My favorite benefit, however, and where this blog came from, is that I started cooking much more interesting dishes. Because I had time, I started experimenting more and looking for new ideas. I save recipes for later and get excited at the opportunity to try a new one.

Meal planning process

As part of bringing your CSA home (I’ll post next week on this topic), first take inventory of what you got and make special note of anything that is damaged. This is key for when you sit down to meal plan for the week.

  • As you plan out your menu, cross off what will be used in each dish and make note of what else you need to buy.
  • Plan meals starting the day after pickup through the end of the day of the next pickup (I pick up Wednesday, so I plan meals through Wednesday night of the following week). I never want to come home from pickup and have to scramble for a meal that night. I would rather be putting away what I’ve gotten and planning my meals for the coming week.
  • For the first meals of the week, plan to use any damaged ingredients and anything delicate, like leafy greens.
  • Make the first meal of a CSA box (the day after pickup) simple so you can go grocery shopping.

This is what mine ends up looking like (much less pretty than the top of the page). My meal plan is in Google Docs as a sheet. I make a list of what I got over on the side and start planning. This document is shared between me and my husband so that whoever gets home first can start dinner without question. It is a system we’ve been using for a while, and it definitely works.

Have more questions about my process or your meal planning difficulties? Comment below and I’ll see if I can help.

CSA intro series: Preparing for your CSA

Preparing for your CSA ahead of your first pickup can make everything run smoother during the season. Here’s what you can do to be ready:

1. Clean out your fridge (and plan to do so periodically throughout the season)

Before your first pickup, get rid of any expired condiments, reorganize, and clean your fridge. Your share can take up a lot of space in your fridge, so make room. Your produce won’t generally come to you in bags or containers, so it’s a good idea to have clean shelves and drawers ready. You are going to want to thoroughly clean your fridge at least a few more times during the season because what you get will not look like what you get at the grocery store – shiny and clean. Your fridge will get dirty with actual dirt. My quick cleaning technique is to first do a pass with the crevice tool of my vacuum cleaner (the long attachment that comes to a point to fit into corners) followed by a quick wipe down with dilute white vinegar.

photo credit Andrew Gustar

2. Get a few reusable grocery totes

Your share will be given to you in a box, which is awkward to carry. And if you bring the box home, you have to remember to bring it back (and, I don’t know about you, but I never remember to do that) because the farm probably reuses those box week to week. A better option is to bring a few reusable shopping totes.For our share, meant to feed 2-4 people for a week, I bring three totes. It could fit in two, but I like the third bag for delicate items, like tomatoes or peaches. The Envirosax brand is my favorite – they’re big, durable (I’ve had mine for at least 8 years), washable, easily foldable, and come in all sorts of pretty patterns.

3. Save produce bags from grocery store throughout the year

Your produce will come to you mostly unpackaged. Things like green beans might come in a bag, but others, like kale or carrots, might come loose or bound with a rubber band. When I get home after pickup, I immediately sort and put some items in plastic produce bags. It helps keep them fresher and makes managing space in my fridge easier. To reuse, just turn the bags inside out to dry.

4. Get a salad spinner

You are probably going to get greens, be it collards or lettuce greens, that are dirty. I spent my fair share of time eating somewhat gritty greens (and was fine with it!), but then I bought a $6 IKEA strainer. What a difference! It is really nice to have clean greens. Four years and the spinner is still going strong!

Preparing for your CSA - get a salad spinner! IKEA TOKIG salad spinner

IKEA | www.IKEA.com | 888-888-IKEA(4532)

If you’re not into IKEA or sadly don’t live near one, the OXO salad spinner is supposed to be top of the line. It even has a brake to keep from over-drying greens!

Have more tips on preparing for your CSA? Leave a comment below and help others get ready for the season.

CSA Intro Series: What is a CSA?

With May here, CSA season is about to get underway in New England. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll explore CSAs and preparing for your upcoming season.

This week, we are starting with the basics.

What is a CSA?

CSA summer share

A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share is, in essence, stock in a farm. You are paying into the farm’s season, and, in return, the farm commits to providing you a weekly box of produce, which varies throughout the summer. At the same time, though, you are at the whims of nature. If the farm has a bad season, your box might look less bountiful. In my 10 years with a CSA including last summer as all of New England was in the midst of a severe drought, I never felt like the contents of my box were less plentiful. If anything, it usually means that, if they are having a superbly good year, you might see a bit more.

For you, this means that you are getting a pretty good deal on produce. If you do a price comparison to your local grocery store, you will see that your CSA box gives you more for less. For the farm, it directly connects producers with consumers and creates a guaranteed consumer base for their produce. But what you also might notice is that CSA farms encourage you to sign up early, so you might be paying for your summer share in winter or winter share in spring. CSA payments provides a guaranteed source of income for the farms at a time when the farm is not producing, but needs funds for things like seeds and investing in capital improvement. CSA members are a valuable source for some upfront capital to prepare for the season.

How to join

If you have not signed up for your summer CSA yet, I suggest you do so soon!

I am a member of Stillman’s Farm summer CSA and have been with them since 2009. I cannot recommend them highly enough! To sign up, go to their website and pick your box size. A small-medium box feeds two people for the week, while a larger box will feed a family. If this is your first season, try the small-medium box to get your feet under you.

To look for other options, the Massachusetts government website has a list of CSAs in the state. For those outside of Massachusetts, try Local Harvest to see what’s available in your area. Always check the farm’s website as these resources can sometimes be out of date.

If you are super excited about this CSA thing (and you should be!) consider signing up for Curt and Halley’s Still Life Farm winter CSA. With spring here, their work is well underway to provide delicious local produce for the fall and winter.