Now that I know it will take at least two acres of land to feed my family of four, it’s obvious we will not be surviving our indoor farming endeavors. Thankfully, we don’t have to. The next best thing to growing your own food is relying on someone who actually knows what they’re doing, such as the farmers at Roxbury Farm, where we have had a Community Supported Agriculture share for the past 8 years. If you don’t already have a farm share, now is the time of year to sign up. You can locate one near you through the website, Just Food (New York) or Local Harvest (Nationwide).
Participating in a CSA is more than just an alternative way to shop for produce – it is a commitment. One that I believe is completely worth making, but can be overwhelming at times. We’ve all had those days where you open your fridge, which is bursting with produce in various states of decay – none of it appetizing – and sigh at the thought of picking up yet another haul tomorrow. But with some advanced planning and strategy, it doesn’t have to be this way!
How do most of shop for food? Well, we make a list of the things we need (that we’re out of) or want (that we feel like eating) and head out to the market, either daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on how you shop. With a CSA, the key is to start with the food itself and build from there. Our share is delivered on Thursday, but the farm emails us a list of what it will be on either Tuesday or Wednesday. So (in a perfect world) the routine goes something like this:
Tuesday/Wednesday: Open email. Look at list of impending produce. Call husband (or roommate, or partner, or friend, or whomever you like to talk about food with). Discuss.
The week of August 15th, 2011, our share looked like this:
- sweet corn
- bok choi
- Carmen sweet peppers
- bell peppers
- head lettuce
- salad mix
- tomatoes galore
- green beans
The first thing to do is to determine which are the most perishable items: the bok choi, salad greens, and the peaches, for sure. These are the items that will play a featured role in your Friday and Saturday meals. Tuesday and Wednesday can be spent looking up recipes for bok choi, sweet peppers and eggplant, while you are supposed to be doing something else (like working, maybe). How do you feel like using them? Here is what we might have done that week:
Friday night dinner
- How about this Apricot-glazed Salmon over Baby Bok Choi? Gojee makes everything look appetizing. Or this?
Saturday or Sunday lunch
- Salad greens with a black bean succotash (sweet corn, chopped peppers, tomatoes, cilantro)
Weekend cooking (for the week ahead)
- Meze platter: hummos, baba ganoush (eggplant), tabbouli (parsley), roasted red peppers.
- Tomato confit: a great way to preserve the multitude of tomatoes that arrive in late summer
The peaches and green beans are easy and kid friendly, so they will be gone by Tuesday.
This is just one variation, but the fun is coming up with the possibilities. I can spend hours plugging ingredients into Gojee for inspiration or looking through Alice Water’s cookbook, Chez Panisse Vegetables. Once you have determined the basic meals you can make from your share, you can fill in the rest of your grocery list. Do you want grilled chicken with your salad? Pasta with your confit? The rest of the grocery shopping can be done on Friday or Saturday and the bulk of your cooking on the weekend. Easy Peasy, right? In theory, that is.
Thursday: Pick up share and process your vegetables. I’m always amazed at how long it takes to properly put away food. Thursday has become taco truck night at our house because, frankly, who can cook when you have all that freaking produce to wash, prep and put away? The proper storage of fruits and vegetables is a lost art in the modern world – a topic I will address in an upcoming post. Suffice it to say, not everything goes in the fridge.
Friday: cook the delicious meal that you have been thinking about since Wednesday. Appreciate the awesome freshness of your bok choi.
Saturday/Sunday: Use up the rest of the share in your weekend cooking: preparing staples and foods you can eat all week. This, too, will be dealt with in greater length very soon.
Monday – Wednesday: enjoy the foods you started preparing over the weekend. Get a new list, and think up some more meals.
Of course, this is a perfect world scenario. Inevitably, something will go wrong. You go out on Friday night, have plans Saturday. The cooking never materializes, etc. Here you have a couple of options: gift the produce you know you won’t use to your neighbors (if they’re into that kind of thing) and compost what goes bad. At least, then you are feeding it to your plants!
How do you optimize your CSA produce?