Gratefully Taking the CSA Challenge

Thursdays stress me out. I don't mean Thanksgiving Thursday, when all I have to do is clean my house, cook an elaborate, festive meal for ten, and smile like I'm not tired. I'm talking about ordinary Thursdays, when I go pick up a ginormous box of fruits and vegetables courtesy of my local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. If you've never heard of CSA, it's a mode of local, sustainable farming and food distribution. Consumers like me pay for a farm share at the start of each growing season, and receive a box full of whatever has been freshly harvested on the farm each week -- and just like life, you never know what you're going to get. Here's what came in my small share box from Live Earth Farm in Watsonville, California, last week:

Looks delicious, doesn't it? But those expansive rainbow chard leaves are concealing the fact that there's almost three dozen apples in the yellow basket. Can you tell I've got a couple pounds of carrots, and not one, but two, heads of butter lettuce? And two giant stems of bok choy on the counter? Unfortunately, it's not easy to shove all that produce in the fridge when I still have collards, radishes, beets, and two heads of cabbage left over from the week before. Every Thursday night it takes me at least an hour to clean the old, rotten produce out of the fridge, trim and bag the fresh stuff, and organize and put all the edibles away.

Thank goodness the Thanksgiving holiday gives me a week off from all that work!

Aside from the storage issue, participating in a CSA presents an even bigger challenge: getting the food prepared and eaten! Every time I manage to cook up a bulky bunch of something, I feel a glow of accomplishment. That kale in the upper right corner of the photo was doused with a little olive oil and salt and baked in the oven to make veggie chips. The eggplant got chopped, dusted with salt and cayenne, and fried up as a tasty side dish to an Indian meal. (Amazingly, my kids ate both of those dishes.) Almost everything else pictured is still in my fridge five days after delivery, but most of it will make it onto the Thanksgiving menu. Butternut squash soup, anyone?

Despite the challenges, I love being part of a CSA. Necessity has prompted me to offer my kids all kinds of foods I never would tried otherwise. Brussel Sprouts. (Not a hit.) Beets. (Meh.) Fava Beans. (Yum!) Arugula Salad. (Apparently a very efficient Parmesan Cheese Delivery System.) There's no question that my husband and I eat more fruits and vegetables now as well. There is always something in the house to eat now, even if its not as salty, sugary, or fatty as we might like, and always some extra bounty to pass on to friends.

Although I feel bad when I inevitably have to throw some produce away, according to food activist Michael Pollan, buying local, organic food and tossing some of it is still more sustainable then purchasing grapes from Chile, kiwi from New Zealand, or processed food from anywhere. At a time when so many people are struggling, I'm lucky to have the "problem" of too much fresh food. I'm glad I live in California, where so many wonderful fruits and veggies flourish. Our family has a lot to be thankful for, every single CSA Thursday.


  1. I love that you wrote about the stress of the basket of fruits and vegetables. I used to get it delivered once a week -- many, many years ago in NYC of all places and was so stressed on that day! I had gazillions of carrots and the cabbage -- oh, the cabbage!

  2. yep, it's definitely a different way to look at food. Like, we actually need to think about it. How we are going to use it, prepare it, taste it.

    It's a challenge, and I love it. Although, by no means is it without work.

    I applaud you for taking the challenge, it's not for the week!

  3. Wow... this is amazing! I have never heard of CSA before. I just looked into it and found a farm less than 5 minutes from where I live! Amaaazing! I have already contacted them to find out about their 2011 season. Thanks for sharing this great concept.

  4. I was wary of beets, too, until I tried this recipe:

    Put feta on top. Soooooo good. I ate the whole batch in one sitting. ;)

  5. Thanks for the beets tip, anonymous! Will try it.


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