Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The CSA Pick-Up and Aftermath

Want to know what it's like to pick up a CSA share of produce? If you're considering joining one, have already committed to the upcoming season and are about to receive your first share, or are just plain curious, read on. I'll contrast it with an off-season grocery run. Note that the menu/grocery list is made up before heading to the regular store while it's made up after the CSA pick-up.

Off-season Grocery Run:
  • Head to store with list. This rest of this might look different if I went to our local food co-op, produce stand, or other "green" store, but I shop at Aldi and Kroger a lot during the school year.
  • Check items off as I add them to the cart.  Fuss at kids who are making a ruckus :-).
  • Pay.
  • Put grocery bags in car. 
  • Once home, put produce up: fridge or counter/cupboard as applicable.
  • Before using, a brief wash usually suffices unless the produce is waxed (like cucumbers). Perhaps some chopping/peeling or other prep is required.
  • Admittedly, I end up wasting some things because I don't always make what I've planned.

CSA Pick-Up:
  • Head to pick-up spot (for me, a farmer's market spot alongside a neighborhood park). 
  • Chat with farmer (*my* farmer is usually Caleb Colvin) while watching kids play on playground. Chat with others at booth about how to use a tomatillo or cook a turnip. Agree to take an extra head of lettuce someone else left behind or take some tomato seconds to turn into salsa or, yes, I enjoy okra, so thanks for the GIANT extra bag or politely hand back an eggplant....
  • Take big bag (brought from  home) full of the weekly haul and corral kids. Head back to car. I need hardly tell you that this is more fun for my children than dragging behind mom in the regular store....
  • [side note: if it's raining and/or I am in a hurry, I can simply pull up near the booth, leave the kids in the car, hop out, get the veggies, and hop back in the car--but we enjoy the outing on most weeks and take more time!]

  • Once home, lay out all the produce and take a picture (honestly, this started out as simply a way for me to record what we'd received/used so I could make an informed decision the next year). 
  • Fill sink with cool water (if clean; if not already clean, then clean out sink). Plop lettuce and/or greens into water and let sit while I do the next steps (if you get salad greens in hot weather, this step will help perk them back up). 
  • Put produce like tomatoes or melons on counter (do NOT put your tomatoes in the fridge!!). 
  • Cut tops/greens off veggies like kohlrabi, radishes, beets, turnips (VERY important to do this right away!!). 
  • Start a wash/dry cycle with all greens (my salad spinner gets a real workout, let me tell you!). I use the same water by starting with the cleanest items and proceeding down the row. At the end, I dump in potatoes and things like that. I've learned that it's much easier to use in the days to come if I do all of this the first day. I'll save washing veggies like zucchini until I'm ready to use them, but greens and root veggies get washed the first day (potatoes, for instance, would keep longer if I didn't wash them, but we usually eat them within the week and they aren't as messy in my cupboard when they're washed--CSA potatoes will have some dirt on them!).
  • Store all cleaned and dried produce in appropriate spots/containers (I'm a fan of Tupperware fridgesmarts). My favorite way to store lettuce is really simple: once it's washed and dried, store as much as will easily fit in a 1 gallon Ziploc bag. Seal bag and slash a few holes in it with a knife; store in your fridge. I end up having 2-3 bags going and, since I re-use them, I label them "lettuce." Otherwise, someone might put something liquidy in a bag with holes in it! CSA and storebought lettuce both keep well like this. I also usually put the pretty leaves in one bag and go ahead and rip up some for salads in another: salads and BLT's within easy reach!
  • Get a mental or written list ready of meal possibilities and add any extra items needed to regular grocery list (like ginger for a stir-fry). 
  • Head to regular store in the next day or so.

Incidentally, we've learned that there are several "catch-all" recipes that we can whip up at a moment's notice provided I keep things like flour, oil, ginger, rice, beans, chicken, and similar ingredients on hand: beans/greens/cornbread, entree size salads, pizza, stir-fry, roasted veggies with a flatbread side, etc. So I don't *have* to go to the store before being able to enjoy our delicious produce!

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