Monday, February 29, 2016

CSA adventures

In December I signed up for a CSA box.  If you haven't heard of CSA, it is Community Supported Agriculture--you sign up to buy a box of vegetables weekly or monthly from your local farmer, and you don't have much of a choice about the contents.  It supports your local farmers, and gives you local, seasonal produce.

There are different choices for a CSA.  I looked around, and narrowed my choices down to two.  First was the local farm a few blocks from my children's school, which is a traditional CSA.  You sign up, you get a little box or a big box, and you get no input whatsoever about what goes in the box. What they grow is what you get.  You can pick up your box at the farm on a designated date every week, or they deliver to a few Whole Food or Sprouts locations, and you pick up from there.

The other choice was a larger, not-so-local West Coast co-op.  The co-op gathers produce from small, local farms (like my local farm down the street), and distributes it all up and down the West Coast.  It has a wide variety of produce, sizes of boxes, and allows you to mix vegetables and fruits, or just vegetables, or just fruits, or veggies one week and fruit the next, or whatever other combo your heart desires.

The large, not-so-local co-op is still mostly organic, seasonal produce; it doesn't offer cherries in January.  Importantly for me, since we have multiple food allergy issues, it allows us to customize our choices, to an extent.  I can refuse any nuts, or limit my selection of foods I don't like.  It also has the advantage of home delivery.

As you  might have guessed, I went with the not-so-local co-op.  Being able to customize the box was important to me. Also, the week I decided I wanted to do a CSA, the small, local farm took a Christmas break for six weeks, meaning that I wouldn't get a box till February if I went with them.

Its been a month of CSA, and here's what I've learned: I'm doing it wrong.

1) Getting a CSA with mixed fruit and veggies has not lowered my grocery bill. I'm not buying less fruits and veggies at the grocery store.  I don't know why.  Getting a CSA has increased my food bill by $33 a week.  We are eating almost all the food, so its not that we are wasting it....but $132 extra dollars a month is a lot.

2) I think "mixed fruit and veggies box" might be part of the problem.  I get two kiwis, two potatoes, two oranges, etc.  I don't mind two kiwis or two oranges to throw in the mix (the fruit always gets eaten), but I can't meal plan around one beet or two potatoes for a family of five.  I think I need to commit to a veggie box or a fruit box.

3) I hadn't thought of this before, but it has come to my attention that in the winter I eat a lot of sauteed greens, like kale/swiss chard/fennel, etc.  In the summer I eat more lettuce in salads.  However, I can't customize the box to give me all the kale in the winter and give me more lettuce in the summer.  I can't keep up with the amount of lettuce that keeps coming. I can eat three bunches of kale in a week, but three heads of lettuce are going to waste.

Actually, technically I CAN customize like this--but it involves paying $33 for the regular box, then removing items I don't want, and paying an additional fee for other stuff I would like.  So I can't swap out for more stuff I like.

4) I can customize the box to an extent--I can check off categories of vegetables I don't want. However, apparently I am a really picky eater, because I have now categorized too many vegetables as off limits, and they cannot fill our box with the available offerings.  So instead of just giving me  more kale or more potatoes or something else already in the box that I DO like, I am being penalized with MORE LETTUCE.  Or more cabbage.  Or more of whatever item I have checked off as "yuck."

5) We have tried many new vegetables. I have discovered that I do not like cabbage in any form. I can eat a small "no thank you" portion if socially necessary of everything delivered so far, but I cannot eat an entire head of bok choy, or four roots of ginger (we are getting more ginger this week, what to do with all this ginger??). I don't mind romanescue cauliflower but I don't actively like it, either.  Why can't I just have more kale??

6) Small (large?) nitpick:  the produce all comes individually wrapped in plastic bags. And then all the individual plastic-ly bagged produce is put into a larger plastic bag, which is then put into a cardboard box for delivery.  For a business that markets itself as so close to the environment, blah blah blah, there's a lot of plastic packaging.

I feel bad about not supporting my local farmer.  I've looked into changing over the local farm now that they are back from break, but....current offerings for the next few weeks include much lettuce and cabbage (obviously, since these are seasonal produce). The local farm also includes some baked goods and jams and chutneys in their boxes, and I don't have the option to leave them out.  Peter can't eat those and we try very hard not to bring forbidden items into the house so as not to contaminate our kitchen prep I don't think we'll be doing the local farm CSA.

I think I will go down to a smaller box, because that will reduce the number of items in the box.  (The medium box gets nine to ten different items, and if they can't fill that because of all my restrictions, perhaps the six item box would be easier with our restrictions?) I also think I need to do either a veggie or a fruit box, or perhaps the fruit one week and veggie the next.

Do you get a CSA?  What do you do with all the cabbage and lettuce?  Do you get a mixed vegetable and fruit, or just vegetables?  Give me your tips on getting the best use out of your csa box, please.  


  1. Hi ,
    I don't get a pre ordered box because they never seem to have what I want. I do go shopping at our local farm and buy fruit and veggies direct - at least I get what I want, but usually I end up buying a bit too much of everything.
    Cabbage - I recommend trying Jamie olivers mexican street salad, it goes with any Mexican meal . I have reduced the ingredients as I am too lazy to but different types of cabbage and have found that finely sliced cabbage , a couple of carrots thinly peeled , coriander lime oil and salt - is delicious - I think the carrot really hides the taste of the cabbage. For Cauliflower, I have just discovered a delicious looking haloumi and cauliflower salad recipe which I am hoping to try . I will let you know if it is any good. and we use a lot of ginger in ginger lime pear spinach smoothies for breakfast . I hope this helps
    Kind Regards

    1. You are correct! I should just go shopping at the local farm. I canceled our box.

  2. i also think buying direct from the local farm is your best bet. we used to do a CSA and had similar issues as you are having. and now i just stop at the farm and purchase what i want. can you buy from them without doing the CSA?

    ps, i love bok choy, send it to me :)

    1. Yes, I can buy directly from them, and often do since they are right down the street from the kids' school. Good idea.

  3. Ths is the most awesome way to eat cauliflower,ever.

    I do not have a csa. Nor do I want one after reading this.

    1. Cocoa on cauliflower is an interesting choice. I just got a head of romanescue cauliflower in the last box, so I will give it a try.

  4. And you've just confirmed that this will never be for me.

    Like Jessica, I try to shop at a local farm during the months it is open. During the winter, I eat what's at the grocery store. Our vegetable palate is very narrow. (Did I spell palate the right way?) I got the kids to eat some carrots tonight. Woo-hoo! Green is a much harder sell.

    I think from what I've read elsewhere, many people experience the challenges you are.

    1. Apparently it is not for us either, as I just canceled our csa.

      Yes, you spelled palate right :-)

      My kids are not huge eaters of vegetables, so I make whatever vegetable I feel like eating (zucchini gratin, sauteed kale, etc) and also a put a plain steamer bag of either peas, mixed veggies, or broccoli on the table. We also have a lot of crudite with homemade ranch dressing.

  5. We had a weekly csa bag for a short time (one summer) a couple of years ago, and then the very small whole foods-type store which organized it went out of business. It was both a relief and a sadness for me: I experienced all the same problems you describe here, and yet I SO wanted it to work, because I do really believe in the whole "local" movement (and it did result in us trying a bunch of new veggies which we never would have tried otherwise, which was a huge positive for me).

    1. Yes, exactly! I wanted this to work! I wanted to be that person who eats organic food and supports her local farmers. But apparently I am that sad sack who goes to her local Ralph's and buys what is on the shelf, even if its not in season, and remembers her reusable cloth bags only upon arriving at the checkout. :-( (Luckily the Mister does most of the shopping; he remembers the cloth bags every time.)

  6. I agree with all of the above! I really wanted to enjoy having a CSA, but it ultimately turned out to be unworkable for us. Luckily, someone turned a nearby vacant lot into a garden, and I try to spend my CSA budget there instead. I get more for my money, and I know I'll like what I get. Plus, I get to have a more personal interaction with my local farmer, which is nice.

    1. Well, I'm glad to see I am in such good company. It seems like shopping directly at the farm is the way to go.


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