Handling CSA Stress
"Is it almost over?"
The weary words of my partner, asking plaintively when the CSA madness will end. "Just five and half more weeks," I say, "and then we can go out to a restaurant once again, like normal people."
For the uninitiated: A CSA is a socio-economic model of agriculture and organic food distribution, an alternative to buying produce in a traditional grocery store. Consumers, such as myself, pay a nearby farm upfront in the agreement of receiving several months of fresh, organic produce delivered or picked-up weekly. CSAs usually consist of a random selection vegetables and/or fruit, or increasingly, bread, cheese and meat - all organic and produced by said farm.
It began after attending TEDxMileHigh back in April whereupon leaving with my schwag bag, I discovered a coupon for a free duck (!) from Grant Farms, plus a five percent discount on a veggie share. It was too hard to resist for you see, I am obsessed with food at every stage - growing it, harvesting it, buying it, cooking it, eating it and composting it - I can't get enough.
In a related passion, I am deeply interested in agriculture, both big and small. Although I have family roots in farming, I am rather late to the party and trying desperately to make up for lost time. When I discovered that my CSA offered something called a 'Working Veggie Share' - meaning you could donate 18 hours of manual labor on the farm in exchange for a $90 discount, I had but one thought: 'Sign. Me. Up.' I adore food and adore agriculture but honestly, I'd stand on my head for a discount.
As promised, we showed up at Grant Farms one hot Saturday ready to work and had a blast. We worked alongside other farming amateurs and dedicated employees in the tomato fields, rolling up muslin coverings. After lunch, one of the owners - a super healthy-looking older woman straight from a Ralph Lauren ad - asked us all an important question: "Who here can handle a machete?" Um, that'd be us.
So, we spent the rest of the day in the garlic fields, decapitating thistles, evil motherfuckers that they are. My partner's 4WD truck came into good use as well and it felt like the first honest day's work I'd done in awhile. Transporting a massive load of of muslin in the truck bed, I opted to climb atop and ride in the back, facing the sky; this is how I spent much of my childhood and it felt glorious.
We left there filthy, exhausted and totally elated from the experience. We also left with the damn duck that initially got us into all this CSA madness. (Grant Farms has a photo blog by one of their summer interns - it's delightful.) Without a doubt, it has been a joyful experience.
Every Wednesday, I ride my bike .9 miles to my designated pick-up location, Highland Gardens Cafe, and lug my veggie bounty back to the homestead. There, I unpack the known (carrots, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, cilantro, parsley, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, etc.) and the unknown (kohlrabi, Napa cabbage, Cinderella pumpkin, Gold Hubbard squash, Yugoslavian Finger squash, etc.) Akin to an Iron Chef, a CSA recipient is charged with a weekly assignment: What the hell do I do with this food?
Thankfully, our CSA sends out a weekly email newsletter that includes some incredible recipes and a helpful section called, 'What is this?', which identifies certain vegetables that resemble alien pods. I'm especially grateful for the introduction of Cilantro Pesto, which, in my mouth, blows away traditional basil pesto. Not to mention the clever inclusion of the 'Pie Pumpkin' with explicit instructions (more like a dare, really) on how to make an actual Pumpkin Pie from said pumpkin.
I started to feel like a Farm Wife with One Good Dress who says things like, "Oh, for heaven's sake!"
But as the season ramped up, my fridge began to bulge with too many vegetables. I tried to keep up best I could but we simply couldn't eat enough. (There are two of us. He, an omnivore, and I, a mostly-pescatarian.) Thank goodness, we hadn't ordered anything bigger than a Single Veggie Share.
We had some strategies that helped. Happily, we'd turn over our beets and turnips (yuck!) and occasional lettuce to our grateful neighbors so they did not go unappreciated. Because we live in a co-housing community, we'd occasionally donate some veggies to the weekly common meal. We'd also donate some CSA veggies to a local restaurant, The Comfort Cafe, a non-profit with an all-volunteer staff where customers pay what they can. Also, I manage my neighborhood's community compost system so the food was never completely wasted.
Still, I'd made the mistake of planting some of the same vegetables in my garden, so we had twice the kale and double the tomatoes. D-oh! I felt like a real garden tool. As the season winds down, I have to admit I am looking forward to some relaxation in the kitchen. We have a long list of local restaurants that have been avoided due to extraneous veggie guilt. (How could we possibly eat out knowing that we've got just seven days to make those veggies vanish?)
Would I do a CSA again? Absolutely. Despite the weekly stress, I am already dreading the idea of being reliant on grocery store produce. (Winter's first tomato purchase puts me a funk for days.) However, I would be more prepared, especially when it comes to my own garden. I would likely try a different kind of share this time - perhaps a fruit or cheese share. And there is no question that I would repeat a working share as long as I can still bend over.
But for the sake of these photos, I pulled out every single CSA item in our fridge and, as you can see, the amount is overwhelming. The pressure of unloved vegetables entering into decay due to my neglect is an odd feeling, one I do not care for.
For example, tonight I am scheduled to party down with some friends but all I can think of is how I should really stay home, watch the World Series like a good American and eat that damn spinach that is starting to shrivel and die.
Ultimately, I appreciate the food awareness that a CSA commitment brings to my kitchen, my stomach and my cooking experience, but I look forward to hanging up my well-worn apron for a while and ordering pizza.
And yes, you can expect a 'I Miss My CSA!' post in this very spot sometime in February…
BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns; Section Editor, LIFE & GREEN; Proprietor, ClizBiz