Join a CSA and enjoy more vegetables!

Hi again! I hope you enjoyed the first Green Kitchen Challenge of switching to cloth napkins. I’m really enjoying crossing ‘napkins’ off my grocery list. We are all about buying less in this minimalist household. It feels great that less paper products are coming in the door, and less are going out the door in the trash. How are cloth napkins going for you?

So, for this month’s challenge, I thought we’d extend a side hug to our local farmers. They really do grow the best tasting food. And since we eat 3 times a day (well, some of us are lactating and eat 4 times a day), it’s important! When you cook with high-quality ingredients, you have to do little to make the final dish taste stellar. Less work, better taste? You bet!

CSA stands for ‘community supported agriculture.’ To put it simply, you pay a monthly fee and get products from a farm in exchange. But it’s so much more than that. It means that you, a member of the community, belong to a farm and pay for the products it will produce ahead of time. This gives the farm money to buy seeds and invest in crop management all season long until harvest. Then, each month or week, you pick up products from the farm. Think of it as paying for your groceries to be grown ahead of time.

Joining a CSA is a great way to support a small farm that’s trying to get it’s sea legs. If I learned anything from working in agriculture for years, it’s that farm equipment is expensive. A brand new tractor can go for $100-250,000. Crazy, right? So, when you join a CSA, you help them guarantee funds to stay afloat.

I first heard of CSAs when I lived in California, though I never joined one because I preferred to visit the farmer’s market instead. I lived outside of Napa, which is near Capay Valley, which in my opinion, is one of the best vegetable growing areas of California. Not to tread on Monterey County, but since it’s too cold for tomatoes in Monterey county, Capay wins in my book. The produce that came out of Capay was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen before. Baskets of frilly lettuce, eggs with golden orange yolks, all types of herbs most months of the year, and oh, the melons. I think if you have qualms about eating vegetables, you should go to the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market in San Francisco and get your mouth fixed. When vegetables are fresh out of the dirt or fresh off the tree, they are nothing like the stuff in the grocery store that’s been there for a week or more.

Here in St. Louis, I’m a member of a CCSA, a combined community supported agriculture program. This means that products come from many farms instead of just one. So, our CSA baskets are widely varied. Gone are the days of receiving 25 pounds of root vegetables in your weekly pick-up. With a combined effort, the best products from lots of local farms come your way. I don’t just get produce–I get bread, dairy, meat, and fun specialty products. Through my CSA, I found out Missouri has maple trees and local maple syrup can be sourced!

Take a look at everything I got in my CSA last week:

green-kitchen-challenge

First, let’s start with protein: I received 1 dozen local eggs, 1 pound of pork sausage, and fresh pasta made with local eggs and local wheat flour. As for vegetables, I received two kinds of peppers (Italian sweet and Poblanos), two giant heads of red leaf lettuce, baby beets, slicing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and an Asian leafy green called ‘cel-tuce.’ It’s the funny looking lettuce thing on the right. I was told it’s a cross between celery and lettuce. I also received chestnuts, a loaf of bread (made with local flour), and fresh ginger. I did a little happy dance when I saw local ginger. I am a ginger fiend, and this fresh little nubbin was so fragrant!

local produce

As for fruit, this time of year we only received apples. Last week, I received the final cantaloupe of the year. And I cried.

So, this huge basket of local fruit and vegetables with local meat, eggs, and bread was $50. Totally affordable, right? My CSA also keeps a running list of products for sale from local farms, and buys them for us, too. So, in addition to this basket, I bought half a pound of honey, a block of cheddar, goat cheese crumbles, and an extra loaf of bread. They also offer dairy shares, which I know I will be doing when Camille is drinking cow’s milk. And just because I haven’t convinced you of how cool my CSA is, I’ll mention that they partner with other CSAs in the country and make trades. They partnered with an Alaska CSA and we got fresh salmon this summer!

So, this is my challenge to you:  Check out local farms in your area, and see if they offer CSAs. You will find the most delicious stuff! If you need help cooking meals using up your gorgeous bounty, one of my favorite blogs is Dishing Up the Dirt. Andrea and her husband run an organic farm in Oregon, and she blogs recipes that she makes using their produce. Plus, they’re probably the cutest farm couple I’ve ever seen. I want to be their neighbor.

Let me know if you already belong to a CSA, or let me know if you have any questions! I’m here to help.