Jun 262011

Seven Things I Learned from Joining a CSA

In my attempt to do something new and good for the world, I joined a Community Supported Agriculture share.  I discovered this practice late-fall of last year through Leda Meredith’s book about local eating.  I was so jazzed about the idea, I found the closest CSA and jumped right in.  My findings?

1.  A local-foods based CSA in the middle of winter in New York City would consist solely of potatoes, cabbage, turnips, winter squash and apples, and as far as I know, does not exist. Whoops, so much for trying out the ways of a locavore.  The Tompkins Square farmer’s market persists year-round, and these were the only local offerings aside from dairy, bread, fish and turkeys.  The CSA we joined did not provide purely local foods, but we did end up with beautiful organic foods grown in the U.S.

2.  Tuesday is not a good pick up day. For me, Tuesday just doesn’t work.  There’s simply not enough time to figure out what to do with the pick-up items in the mere 3 hours between getting home with the food and getting ready for bed.  It also means your produce sits for several days until you’re ready to cook each meal and it’s no longer in its optimal state.  Tuesday pickups also turn a potentially fun adventure into a cumbersome task.  After a few rough planning days, I discovered:

3.  If you don’t have a choice of pick up day, don’t plan to cook on pick up day.  Seriously, staring at a mountain of food that you could not anticipate while attempting to plan for maximum use, moderate creativity, and minimum waste is plain miserable if you’re hungry.  I thought I was overreacting the first couple of Tuesdays in which I stopped for the pickup straight on my way home from work and felt jittery, but I realized I’m ravenous by the time I get home and staring at the food was just a tease.  Preparing a meal the day before or having something in the freezer that is ready to go eased the pain.  I no longer felt overwhelmed by the obstacle in front of me, but strengthened and ready for attack.

4.  Googling an ingredient can give some great results.  I found an awesome stir-fry recipe that is now my go-to just by searching “pea shoot recipes.”  It’s not exactly rocket science, but if stumped for an idea, I didn’t usually run to one particular cooking website.  Using Google brought back blogs I never would have encountered in addition to the great recipe websites.

5.  Sharing is fun. My roommate, my share-partner’s roommate, other CSA members and homeless people of NYC all enjoyed the benefits of our CSA share.  Whenever there was too much, I gave some away.  It made for interesting conversation at times.  After we exchanged smiles while I juggled three eco-friendly bags brimming with fruits and veg, one homeless man explained to me how braised romaine is an often overlooked preparation for the salad green, and I should certainly try it.  He was grateful for a few pears I shared, and said I should also consider poaching the two others I had left.  If it seems like there’s too much in the pickup, share the bounty before it goes bad.

6.  Grocery store visits become less frequent.  Suddenly I had little use for the grocery store.  I stopped at the farmer’s market on Sundays for dairy products and visited the deli downstairs for eggs.  Aside from the occasional restocking of grains, pastas, frozen berries, and paper products, I didn’t have much need to trek to the grocery store.  Personally, I enjoy most grocery stores, so this is more an observation of fact rather than a benefit for me.  My CSA-share-partner on the other hand hates going to grocery stores, and rushes through as fast as humanly possible.  He enjoyed not having to go.

7.  It’s only for a limited time, and that’s good.  At times I felt like Marie Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond.  “Why did you do this to me? I can’t talk, there’s too much fruit in the house.”  The difference here is that CSA is not a fruit of the month club, it’s fruit of the week… every week… for twenty-something weeks.  But just like a difficult course in school, this is a limited term commitment.  If it turns out to be too troublesome, you can skip it or wait for better timing in your life.  If it turns out to be great, you can continue next year.

It all boils down to the fact that getting a heaping pile of food all at once can be either exhilarating or daunting.  Finding the joy is all a matter of frame of mind and preparation.

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