Goodbye, Grocery Store. Hello, CSA.

goodbye-grocery-store

When I tell people there are farms on Long Island, I generally get a look of disbelief. It’s like everyone thinks all of Long Island looks like Queens or Nassau County.

The East End is still home to some amazing farms and an ever expanding agri-tourism industry. My family, though, only purchase produce from the farms out east during our yearly pumpkin picking excursion. After loading my dad up with all he could carry, we swung by Lewin’s Farms for some fresh local produce. But after that, it was back to the grocery store.

Sidebar: Can we talk about pumpkin picking in Raleigh for a second? Pumpkin picking is not going to the farmers market to pick out a pumpkin from a bin. It’s not heading to some farm stand to, once again, pick out a pumpkin from a bin or a pile. That’s picking out a pumpkin NOT pumpkin picking. Pumpkin picking is trudging through a pumpkin field, moist with the guts of rotten gourds, in order to find THE pumpkin. And when you find it, it’s likely still on a vine. And then you have to work your skinny little arms to rip off the damn thing, likely falling on your ass in the process. You then put it in a pile that your mother is guarding so you can find the next pumpkin that is clearly THE pumpkin. After that, you and your siblings argue about which pumpkins are the best and you carry them all to about 20 feet before the cashier. This is when you load all the pumpkins into your dad’s arms because it’s $20 for all you can carry. THAT’S pumpkin picking. I feel sorry for all of these children that don’t know the pure joy of running through a real pumpkin field on a crisp fall day. Not my kids. Nope. My kids won’t be picking out pumpkins. They’ll be pumpkin picking. </end rant>

Phew…sorry about that.

Becoming Food Snobs

So moving to North Carolina really introduced us to the sheer awesomeness that is local produce (which is why the above situation makes me so damn ranty).

The difference is in the taste, which is significantly better, and the price for in-season produce is almost always cheaper. Why am I getting apples from Washington at the grocery store when I can get apples from Western NC at the farmers market?

For the first couple of years we did the bulk of our produce shopping at the farmers market, but last year we decided to sign up for a CSA membership with an organic farm that is literally three miles from our house. It was a great decision and a little bit of an adventure.

We do, of course, still buy some produce at the grocery store. It’s a much smaller percentage and usually consists of produce that isn’t grown locally (celery, garlic) or isn’t in season (peppers in the winter, carrots in the summer).

What’s a CSA?

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and while it’s done a few different ways, the key principles are the same. We provide upfront funding for the farm, which in turn uses the money to buy what it needs for the upcoming season. At harvest time, we get a “share” of the bounty.

Think of your CSA membership like an investment. This does mean that there are risks involved. If a rainy summer washes out all of the tomatoes, well, then you might be out tomatoes. If strawberries are growing like gangbusters, well you better find something to do with those strawberries.

First CSA share: Lettuce, spinach, radishes, arugula, dill, scallions and eggs.

First CSA share: Lettuce, spinach, radishes, arugula, dill, scallions and eggs.  Photo: After the Knot

Depending on how your CSA works, you may or may not have a choice in what you receive in your share. In our case, we didn’t, although they did start experimenting with a swap option. Some use a credit system where you buy credits in the beginning of the season and use those credits to “purchase” the items for your share.

This isn’t for you if you like predictability or security. It is for you if you like supporting small family farms, eating local produce and want to be a part of a growing change in the food industry.

A Year of CSA

This first year as CSA members, we went with a “small” share, which means we got a share every other week. This helped us figure out how much we eat and also cut down on food waste. It also helped us get a sense of what we’d be receiving each season.

Adding vegetables to our diet has been hard, but the CSA gave us a push to try new things.

It’s been a challenge. Sometimes it’s been rewarding, while other times it’s been frustrating. We plan our meals with the best of intentions only to sometimes see produce end up in the trash.

As we’ve learned how to use different vegetables, like radishes, mustard greens and turnips, our food waste has started to decrease. I think cooking vegetables is so simple, that it’s almost hard to wrap your head around it.

turnip-potato

We once tossed turnips in the trash because they went bad before we could figure out how to cook them. Then we learned that whatever you can do with a potato you can do with a turnip. Learning that fact was mind blowing. Suddenly we were making mashed turnips, roasted turnips, sauteed turnips. Not only do turnips no longer get tossed in the trash, but we consider them part of our diet.

A year later we upped our membership to a regular share, meaning that we’ll get vegetables once a week instead of every two. We also have quite the garden planned for this year so we may find ourselves overwhelmed in produce. We hope to start working on our canning skills so we can preserve some our bounty.

A CSA isn’t for everyone, but if you think it might be for you, visit this page for a more-detailed look at how CSAs work and the risks that are involved. From here you can also find a CSA in your area.

Salad made with CSA lettuce, sweet potato cakes made with local potatoes, scallops and trigger fish from local fishermen.  Photo: After the Knot

Salad made with CSA lettuce, sweet potato cakes made with local potatoes, scallops and trigger fish from local fishermen. Photo: After the Knot

For great CSA recipes, head on over to Grabbing the Gusto, a blog written by a food writer who also belongs to my CSA farm.

You can also follow my Pinterest board, CSA Veggie Things, for recipes that are specific to the vegetables we often see in our share.

Extra Tidbit

Farms are a really important to the future of humanity. This Guardian opinion piece by George Monbiot sounds a bit alarmist, but he describes a real problem.

Our CSA farm is run by a husband and wife team and every month or so will put a call out to volunteers to help with planting or harvesting. If you truly want to appreciate the work that goes into your food spend a few hours in the middle of the summer digging potatoes. This alone will be life changing.

Where do you buy your produce? Are you a member of a CSA? Tell me your veggie tale in the comments.

 

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