Have you signed up for a vegetable community supported agriculture (CSA) share this year? Are you a bit worried about how you will eat through your share without wasting a lot of it? As CSA season is just getting started, I thought it would be a great time to share some of the tips and tricks that help me keep produce waste to a minimum, which means saving money.
As I shared with you last week, food waste is significant in North American households. Several years ago, I realized my family was wasting a lot of food. I decided we had to do better. Then, three years ago, I signed up for a vegetable CSA share. The CSA share meant that I would no longer be the one selecting our vegetables, or even the quantity of vegetables. I was getting what was in season. The farmer, and Mother Nature, was deciding for me. At that point, I knew I really had to implement a strong strategy to minimize our food waste.
Reducing food waste is good for the planet, and good for the wallet.
Produce waste can be a problem, regardless of where you buy it (a CSA share, the grocery store or the farmer’s market). Having a CSA share can pose some particular challenges, as you don’t have control over what or how much you buy. This strategy can help.
When you pick up your vegetable share:
- Ask about any unfamiliar items – The person giving you your share should be able to identify any new to you vegetables, and let you know the best way to prepare them.
- Note what you can’t / won’t eat – There may be some items that your family doesn’t like or can’t eat. In this case, if you can’t leave it at your pickup location, make arrangements to donate the unwanted items to family, friends, or neighbours. They will likely be happy to receive these farm fresh offerings.
When you first get home with your vegetables:
- Inventory what you have – Knowing what you have will help you meal plan for the week.
- Post list on the fridge—You’ve taken inventory of what you have, now place the list in a prominent place where you will see it. I keep a whiteboard on my fridge. I list my vegetables on it as well as the meat in my freezer, and erase items as I use them up. This way, I can easily see what I have at all times. It has eliminated that moment of discovering an item that made its way to the back of the fridge only to be found weeks later. It also helps me decide what to make for dinner and I don’t even have to open the fridge or freezer door to hunt to see if I have a particular item.
- Clean and put away – A bit of extra time spend at this stage can greatly extend the shelf life of your produce. Clean the excess dirt from root vegetables before putting them away. Dirt can harbour bacteria that will accelerate decomposition. Select the best storage method for each item. I shared some of these with you here.
Over the week/2 weeks between vegetable pickups:
- Make a meal plan – A meal plan helps you map out how you will use all the fresh produce you have on hand that week. Try planning your meals around the vegetables. Yes, I said the vegetables. I know this may seem radical for North American meat centered meals, but this way, you actively think about using your vegetables, as opposed to having them be an afterthought. I find that by looking at my inventory of vegetables I see patterns of what I want to use together, and it helps to me plan my meals. For example, if I have broccoli, carrots and peppers, I might plan for a stir fry, while tomatoes, hot peppers and onions might mean some pasta sauce.
- Eat the most perishable first – Some vegetables have a short shelf life. Eat those first. Making a meal plan can help you with this. I often use the most perishable item on the day I bring my vegetables home. On vegetable pickup day, I’m usually prepared for the possibility that I might need to grill highly perishable items like eggplant and summer squash, or I might make a salad with the various fresh greens.
- Highly perishable, eat within a few days: eggplant, berries, corn as it turns starchy, tomatoes if very ripe, radish greens, summer squash, mixed salad greens, spinach, asparagus, peas, and surprisingly, broccoli
- Moderately sturdy, eat within 5 to 6 days: cauliflower, head lettuce, cooking greens like kale and chard, peppers, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes if firm, rhubarb
- Store well, eat at your leisure: onions, carrots, potatoes, beets, cabbage, radishes, leeks, kohlrabi, Brussel sprouts, winter squash
- Eat the whole vegetable – This is one many of us can improve as we tend to discard many parts of the vegetable. In reality, many of those parts make good eating. Most green tops, for example, are edible. You can eat beet greens, radish tops and even carrot tops. But these are very perishable, so you want to do that within the first couple of days. Also, the skin on many veggies is edible. Think carrots, potatoes and even baby beets. When you get your vegetables fresh from a local farm, the skin on them in quite nice and delicate. No need to peel them. Just scrub well before preparing.
- Freeze the extra – There may be items you are unable to eat that week. Before they spoil, freeze them. Many vegetables can be frozen, not just the obvious like beans, peas and corn.
- Tomatoes: Yes, you can freeze tomatoes. Wash and dry the tomatoes, then place them whole in freezer bags. The texture will change due to freezing, but they are great to use in any way you would canned tomatoes – chili, tomato soup, pasta sauce. Think of how much you will enjoy using locally grown, vine-ripened tomatoes in the winter.
- Onions: Onions are often much larger than what is needed for a recipe. Dice the entire onion, use what you need in the recipe, and freeze the rest in one cup portions. Like tomatoes, due to high water content, freezing will change the texture, so use them in dishes where they are cooked, like soups and sauces.
- Google is your friend – Have a vegetable that you aren’t sure how to prepare? Don’t know what to do with that overabundance of cucumbers because you can only eat so many salads? Google. You will find something new.
This strategy has helped my family to significantly reduce food waste. It has helped us win in many ways:
- I feel better about wasting fewer resources;
- My family is eating more vegetables on a daily basis;
- We save money by planning our meals and eliminating the need to replace vegetables that have gone bad; and
- I can happily say, my days of finding gross things in the fridge are over.
Do you have any tips for getting the most out of your CSA share? Please share in the comments.