For the Love of CSAs

I’m a big supporter  of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs which, simply put, are an agreement between a farmer and the people he/she feeds to share the financial risk of farming. Basically, smaller–often organically sustained– farms offer a predetermined portion of produce to interested shareholders– folks who put in money to support the farm and, thus, reap the benefits. I was lucky enough to stumble upon Green Door Gourmet this year, which offers a CSA program that is a lot more flexible than others. For example, whereas most CSAs require an upfront payment for the season, Green Door allows you to pay at the point of pick up. Additionally, instead of obligating their CSA members to a produce box every single week, Green Door allows you to order by the week according to your needs; that way, if you happen to be on vacation, you don’t have to worry about alerting them to the fact you won’t be able to pick up your produce that weekend… you just don’t order a box! Moreover, they offer different sized boxes based on your household size: a couples box, a family box, and a pick-your-own option so you can figure out what’s best for your family. Also of note, Green Door sells a la carte local, organic meats, dairy and eggs (woot!). Perhaps most importantly, their service was always amazing. Sylvia, the owner was always at the farm on box pick-up days and was ridiculously helpful and nice. She just made you want to hang out all day and dig up sweet potatoes with her.

I found the Green Door CSA experience far more accommodating than other similar programs in the area and have enjoyed every single week of produce they’ve supplied! Sadly, this weekend was the last CSA pick-up day of the season.  Almost every week since May (when the program begins each year) I’ve ordered a couples box. And, whoa, will you look at all the stuff you get in the box?! AND it’s only $20! You’d be hard pressed to buy that much quality, organic produce from a grocery store for 20 bucks. The last box of the season features two acorn squash, a gargantuan butternut squash, turnips, sweet potatoes, arugula, apples, kale, oregano and bok choy. I certainly have my work cut out for me getting all of this used up!

That brings me to my next point about CSAs… you really need to be dedicated or you’re just going to end up throwing this beautiful produce away. I really take time to look up recipes for a lot of the veggies that come in my box each week because if I can’t figure out what to do with them, you better believe I’m just going to watch them sit in my fridge until they’re no good. Also, be adventurous! You’ve never had turnips? Who cares! Look up a recipe and get to it; worst-case scenario is you don’t like them. But maybe you will love them and come up with some rockin’ recipes of your own. If you don’t think you can finish all of your produce before it goes off, identify some items you can freeze and save them for later, or go in on a box with a friend so you can split the produce in to more manageable portions. Here are some recipes I’m looking at for the veggies I’ve got on my hands this week:

Roasted Acorn Squash with Chile Glaze
Orzo with Arugula and Tomatoes
Butternut Squash and Turnip Soup
Sweet Potato Bread (I’ve made this before and it’s delicious! I couldn’t stop eating it.)
Sweet Potato Coconut Curry with Tofu, Bok Choy and Carmelized Shallots

Of course, I’ll tinker with these recipes to fit my needs and tastes. For instance, I’ll substitute tempeh for tofu in the curry recipe and maybe use a different type of pasta in the orzo recipe since I don’t think I have any orzo just hanging out right now. But these recipes have given me more than enough inspiration for using up my CSA produce in tasty, healthy, satisfying ways! I’ll keep you posted on how these goodies turn out.

Overall, I think CSA programs are a great solution for those looking to eat healthy and clean; also, it’s a great bang for your buck in my opinion. It’s also a great way to support your local farmer! Those little farms need the community’s investment since they’re not backed by large agricultural corporations. I really enjoyed participating in a CSA program because it got me out of my vegetable rut; I usually gravitate towards the same kinds of produce in the grocery store, but the weekly CSA box kept things fresh and lively in my crisper drawer. Additionally, having so many vegetables around forces  you to eat more veggies! I frequently found myself opting to eat a plate of vegetables at home rather than go out to eat simply because I felt like I needed to make some space in my fridge.

My chosen CSA provider, Green Door Gourmet, was only about a 20 minute drive from my apartment and, additionally, out toward a shopping district I frequent so I never found it taxing getting to and from the pick-up site. However, I do know some people find it inconvenient to make it to the produce box pick-up location each week, so keep that in mind when you’re looking into CSA programs. Also, make sure you have the will to sit down and take a few minutes to figure out how to use your produce; your purchase just becomes a waste of money if you don’t use it. Lastly, think about you and your family’s eating habits. Are you, your partner or your kids picky eaters and won’t touch half the items in the box? Do you have allergies or dietary restrictions that limit your produce choices? If so, look for a CSA provider that offers a pick-your-own option so you can optimize your CSA experience and investment.

Are you a CSA member? Are you interested in CSA programs? Click here to search for CSAs and other sustainable food providers in your area. While a lot of CSAs are finishing up for the season (although some do offer a Winter option), I highly recommend looking in to them for next year. If you live in the Nashville area, I doubly recommend Green Door Gourmet!

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