Are you familiar with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)? Until recently, I was not. I discovered it in early May by reading about it on blogs. I kept seeing bloggers referring to their CSA box, which seemed to be a box of vegetables, but didn’t know what it meant. Now I do.
In a community supported agriculture program, a farmer will sell shares to interested individuals. The share provides the individual with a box of fresh farm produce on a weekly basis, for a pre-determined period of time. The individual purchases the share before the start of the production season. This gives the farmer some cash flow to allow him to purchase what is needed to have a productive season.
The CSA model is quite interesting. The farms that participate usually are mixed vegetable farms, although some also have fruit and some may have meat or eggs. These farms are typically relatively small operations that may not have very large reserves of cash.
The individuals that purchase a share get a box of vegetables each week. The individual doesn’t select her vegetables; she gets whatever is in the box. The vegetables are fresh, as they are usually picked that day. They are the vegetables that are in season. In addition to having lots of fresh vegetables each week, participants don’t have to worry about going to the store to try to find good veggies. There is a determined day and time to pick up one’s CSA box. Like the farmer though, participants are subject to the whims of the weather. Crops are never guaranteed. Depending on the weather, some crops may be more successful than others.
Here in Ottawa, there are several farms that offer a CSA program. As they are mixed vegetable farms, they are small farms in and around the city limits. Some of them sell at farmers markets, some of them sell at their roadside stands. Some are very small and run just by family members; others are a little larger and also have employees. They are members of the local community.
I was very excited when I discovered that we have CSA programs here in Ottawa. I was even more excited when I discovered that there was still time to sign up for one.
Why did I buy into a CSA program?
- Guaranteed access to fresh veggies. We eat a lot of vegetables, and this is one way to ensure that we have a steady supply of fresh vegetables that are in season.
- To get out of my comfort zone with vegetables. We eat a lot of veggies, but it tends to be the same handful of vegetables, over and over again. The CSA box will bring more diversity to our diet.
- To support a local farm. I believe that farms are essential to the health of a city. We need access to fresh farm produce. There needs to be land for farms. If farmers are supported and able to earn a living, maybe less agricultural land will be sold off and converted to residential properties.
- It supports the local economy. If the farm is supported, the farmer is not the only one who benefits. So does everyone the farmer employs.
There were several farms to choose from when trying to select my CSA program. In the end, three factors helped choose which one I wanted.
- Pick-up location. Some farms offered pick-up locations that were convenient for me; some only had locations at the other end of town.
- Familiarity with the farm I chose. I have often purchased fruits and vegetables from the farm I chose at one of my local farmers markets. I was familiar with what they grow and have been happy with their produce.
- Option for bi-weekly box. This factor was the clincher I think. My farm offers a bi-weekly option, which means that I get a box every second week instead of each week. As there are only two of us here now, I was worried about being overwhelmed with produce if I went with a weekly option. I certainly don’t want food to be wasted.
I am excited about receiving CSA boxes, because it fits very well with my goals of (mostly) eating real foods that are prepared at home, not in a factory. I want us to eat healthy foods so that we can feel and be healthy. Fruits and vegetables play a large part in that.
There are some aspects of the CSA boxes that are a little intimidating to me.
- Not being able to choose my vegetables is exciting and scary all at the same time. I am a picky eater. I don’t like all vegetables. Not by a long shot. I have promised myself that I will try them all.
- I won’t know what’s in the box until I get it. Then I need to figure out what I will do with those vegetables. I need to do that while finding a way to not waste my veggies. This means I will challenge me to be creative in the kitchen. This one is a little scary and exciting too.
Okay, okay, enough with the background. Now time to talk about my first CSA box.
I picked up my first CSA box a week and a half ago. Here’s what was in it.
I was surprised at the diversity in this first box (the second week of the program with my farm). It is still very early in the growing season here in Canada. I just planted my herb and vegetable garden two days before picking up the box. I had forgotten that my farm uses greenhouses for parts of its crops.
So, what are all those things in the picture? Starting at the back left:
- cooler bag – this is what I transfer my veggies into, as they are transported to the pickup location in plastic crates. I am to bring this bag with me each time I go pick up my box. Very practical.
- 1 bag of spring mix (lettuces and herbs) – was expecting this one and quite happy, as I usually buy it from this farm
- Rhubarb (yay, I had bought some at farmers market the week before and I wanted more)
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 bunch dill (for this I had the choice of dill, sorel or arugula)
- Radishes (not excited about those – I don’t like radishes, and I discovered that Greg doesn’t either)
- Beet greens
- Tomatoes (I knew there would be tomatoes eventually, but was really not expecting them this soon. I can’t stand raw tomatoes. I’ve known from the beginning that tomatoes were going to be a challenge.)
Getting the box is the easy part. After that, I needed to do something with all those veggies. When I buy vegetables my strategy is to use the most perishable ones first. I applied that strategy with the contents of my CSA box.
Here are some of the results.
Roasted asparagus with parmesan
I used some dill in vinaigrettes. Greg wanted me to make more of this orange maple vinaigrette, which was perfect as we had so many salad greens. I still have some dill left, so need to come up with more uses for it.
Radish green soup. Did you know radish greens are edible? When I saw those beautiful green tops, I wondered if they were, and Google provided the answer. Yes, radish greens are edible. So are carrot tops. Who knew? The soup was really good.
Salad. Salad. And more salad. We (I) love salad, so it is a staple here. The spring mix, spinach and cucumbers were very tasty.
Two different rhubarb crisps: strawberry rhubarb crisp and apple rhubarb crisp. I’ve shared the recipes already here.
Sautéed beet greens with pine nuts. Based on what I have read, I was afraid the beet greens would be bitter. They were not and this was a very side dish.
Roasted radishes with parmesan. Meh, we didn’t really like these. Greg and I both tried some of the smaller radishes raw, sliced in salad. They were not as bad as we remember them. We dislike radishes because they have such a strong, peppery flavour. The raw ones in thin slices were okay in salad, but we did not enjoy the roasted ones. I was surprised because usually roasting vegetables makes them better.
Tomato pasta sauce. While most people probably would have used the tomatoes in the many salads I made with the other ingredients, not I. No way. I knew I would have to cook them in some way. I didn’t make my usual pasta sauce, but tried a new recipe that was supposed to be quick and easy. I did live up to that, but I didn’t love the sauce.
Overall, I think we did pretty well with this first CSA box. I definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. We haven’t had any waste so far. I did have to supplement it with some additional veggies from the grocery store. Greg and I really do eat a lot of vegetables.