5 Ways to Optimize Your CSA Experience

Promo image. Cedar Down Farm

If you haven’t signed up yet for a CSA share, now is a good time. The spring harvest is just beginning – at least in this corner of Ontario. There might be limited spaces available, but it’s well worth a try.

CSA (“community supported agriculture”) programs are a wonderful way to eat the freshest, highest quality, and most nutritious produce available in your area. They are founded on three principles: sustainability for the environment, a fair price for the people who provide the food, and a good product to be enjoyed by the community.

Since shares are paid for in advance of the harvest, a CSA program provides much-needed financial and moral support for local farmers. “By purchasing a CSA share, you commit to the viability of local agriculture and to your own food security. CSA rebuilds the relationship between farmer and community and reacquaints each with the knowledge of their mutual dependence.” (Cedar Down Farm newsletter)

Here are some good things to think about when you sign up for a CSA share:

1. Be flexible and creative

A CSA share offers a wholly different experience in eating and preparing food than shopping with a list at a grocery store. With a CSA, you must be willing to relinquish a certain degree of control over what you eat because you never know exactly what you’ll get. Meals take on a life of their own.

Fortunately most recipes are flexible, and you can easily substitute a local seasonal vegetable for an imported one. Use kohlrabi, broccoli, or cabbage instead of cauliflower. Try chard, spinach, or cabbage in place of kale. It’s hard to go wrong, though a recipe might taste different... and fresher!

2. Devise a strategy for handling extras

There will be some weeks, especially at the peak of the summer harvest, when you will wonder how it’s possible to eat that many vegetables before the next round arrives. The good news is you don’t have to. Focus on eating the produce that spoils first, such as salad greens, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Then wash, dice, and freeze the others to use one night when the fridge is bare. It will be a welcome taste of summer in the middle of winter.

3. Read the farm’s newsletter diligently

A good CSA farmer is involved with his or her community. Mine provides a wonderfully detailed weekly newsletter with updates about what’s happening on the farm, which crops are being planted and harvested, any complications or pest problems that might affect crops, storage tips for keeping vegetables fresh and crisp, and – most helpful of all – excellent recipes that use the (sometimes strange) vegetables in a given week’s share.

4. Visit the farm

Many farms offer guided tours throughout the summer, which is a good way to see where and how the vegetables are grown. It strengthens the relationship between consumer and farmer – always a good thing – and encourages transparency. Farm tours are a lot of fun for kids, too, especially when they realize that the same vegetables they eat at every meal come from a place they’ve visited.

5. Explore alternative CSA programs

Summertime vegetable CSA shares are the most common, but due to their tremendous success, alternative CSA programs are cropping up. I subscribe to a year-round vegetable CSA, which provides root vegetables in winter, and a grain CSA, which delivers wheat, dried beans, popcorn, bulgur, barley, cornmeal, and oats. There are meat CSA shares, seafood CSFs (“community supported fisheries”), and even local cheese CSA shares.

Start looking! Here are some links to get you started, but it’s easiest to Google CSA farms in your own area.

csafarms.ca (only in Ontario)
justfood.org (New York City)
localcatch.org (seafood CSFs in USA)
offthehookcsf.ca (Atlantic Canada)
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