Much like recycling, exercising regularly, and giving up whatever your poison is, joining a CSA (community-supported agriculture) is one of those things we should do but likely haven't.
The idea is this: Pay a biweekly fee for a share size of your choice, and pick up fresh, locally grown produce every week, all winter long. But as with almost anything, there's more to the membership than meets the eye, as I learned since I signed up a few weeks ago. See what after the jump.
As a vegetarian, I'd been toying with the idea of a CSA membership for quite a while. I'm no master chef, however, so I worried whether I'd actually use the green goodies. And I hate the idea of wasting food, so I postponed the process.
But recently I bit the bullet and joined Teena's Pride CSA. My quarter-share runs $22 per week ($44 biweekly), and I can pick up my products at a local market just around the corner.
Here's what I've learned since I got on board the locavore express:
You gotta get creative.
Sometimes you might get vegetables or herbs you're not a huge fan of. That's the way a CSA works -- it's all about what's in season. Farmer's choice, so to speak. Unless you want to eat tomatoes the same way for weeks on end, you need to come up with new ways to use the same stuff. There's always variety -- but you'll still see a lot of the same veggies we're good at growing in South Florida.
Hate kale? Too bad. Better learn to love it. You'll probably get your fair share of stuff you're not really into, but such is the way of eating locally. Remember, this is the way we're meant to eat -- not the same veggies year-round, but what's sprouting from the ground in our own backyard. Luckily, you get tips and recipes along with your haul, so you're not totally up the creek without a paddle. Plus, there's always Pinterest.
You need to make use of your share almost immediately. That means cook it, eat it raw, or preserve it. Freezing is your best bet if you have a surplus. For herbs and most veggies, you can blanche them and then stock your freezer. You need to eat leafy greens pretty quickly. Once you get your weekly email about what's in your share (which comes a couple of days ahead of time), it's best to create a POA for your veggies. Then you won't be racked with anxiety when faced with a big bag of goods and zero ideas.
It's sustainably grown, so you're safe from nasty chemicals -- but you could end up with a blob of dirt or a bug or two on your dinner. Rinse/wash your lot when you get home.
It's a lot of food.
Even the smallest share is pretty hefty. For just me, it's a lot. But that's a garden-grown blessing, since it means less shopping for plastic-wrapped produce at Publix, from God-knows-where engineered by God-knows-who. Luckily, there's the whole freezing deal. If you're truly committed, you could even learn canning, pickling, and fermenting. Like I said -- committed.
It will make you a better cook.
When you open the email announcing your weekly share contents, it's like winning a moderately sized lottery prize. Exciting! Titillating! Inspiring! Then you can scour the interwebs for recipes and ideas for your rainbow-hued bounty. You'll get a hell of an education. Also, you might not recognize a lot of the goods by sight. Luckily, there's a picture with your weekly email, so you can decode your assortment that way (plus, most of the produce comes with a handy-dandy name stamp).
The CSA haul is veggies only (tomatoes are an exception). So you gotta pick up your dessert ingredients elsewhere.
You'll get spoiled.
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Supermarket produce (for the most part) is crap. CSA produce is brilliant -- colorful, impossibly fresh, intensely flavorful. It will ruin you for everything else.
If you wanna take the next step in 2014 and eat out of the ground instead of out of a paper bag from McDonald's, check out additional details on Teena's website.
Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahalexs.