EATING WELL IN KANSAS CITY - March 2019
Joining a CSA?
Here’s what you need to know!
By Emily and Brandi
Eating locally is, without a doubt, rewarding. Lettuce heads so colorful, curly, and flavorful; an abundance of the freshest of healthy foods like spinach and sweet potatoes; tomatoes that were still on the vine only hours before they came to you; pungent herbs and fresh berries. The rewards are delicious.
Joining a CSA is a great way to reap those rewards and to support local farmers. A CSA—Community Supported Agriculture—is like a subscription to a farm. As a member of that farm, you get weekly bundles of the freshest harvests during the growing season. And farmers get the financial support they need to farm—and, what's more, they know just how many people they are growing food for. Both parties—growers and eaters—share in the ups and downs of farming and reap the rewards together.
But if you are new to CSA and just now beginning to learn the benefits and perks, there are a few things you can do to smooth your transition and to help as you shift your mindset and methods.
Get the tools you need to process your food.
One of the things that makes processed food so easy is that it’s ready to cook and eat. CSA vegetables (any whole foods, obviously) have to be chopped and prepped. So we recommend taking one night a week to prep your CSA veggies so they’re ready to use.
A salad spinner, a lot of storage containers for the fridge, a good sharp knife and a mandoline will work for most things. Though some produce shouldn’t be washed or chopped until you’re ready to eat (like tomatoes, for instance), many vegetables and greens can be washed and chopped in advance and stored in the fridge; then they will be ready when you are.
Use seasonal recipes and cookbooks.
We have found that cookbooks organized by theme or by courses weren’t very helpful when that weekly batch of produce came around. Websites and cookbooks that are focused on local food are helpful, especially if they are organized by vegetable. We particularly like local cookbooks which feature the exact same produce you get in your CSA. Examples: Rolling Prairie Cookbook and the University of Missouri extension program’s Seasonal and Simple cookbook and website (http://seasonalandsimple.info).
Farmers always have good recipes, too. Our CSA farmers do a great job of providing recipes that incorporate several elements from each share into one meal.
Create a “reverse grocery list.”
One of the nice things about food from a CSA is that it’s fresh. But fresh also means it’s not shelf stable. So we recommend prioritizing share items based on how long they will stay fresh and what you need to eat first (hardier greens, veggies, and peppers will last a week or two; tomatoes, peas, beans and berries need to be eaten sooner; etc.). Make a list featuring the entire contents of your refrigerator’s vegetable drawer and prioritize the items that need to be eaten first; then display this list on your fridge for when your family makes meal plans. We call it the “reverse grocery list” because it tells you the things you already have - not the things you need to buy. This also helps you remember what everything is when you can’t see it easily because it’s in a produce bag in the vegetable drawer, hiding behind a giant eggplant or something.
Have the right staples on hand and be flexible.
You will learn that you can turn almost any assortment of CSA vegetables and herbs into either a stir fry, a pasta, or a "bowl." If you have on hand the right sauces (or better yet - make your own and preserve them!) and the right grains (whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, noodles etc.), you will find it easy to whip together a hearty meal using a colorful, “eat-the-rainbow” assortment of whatever CSA vegetables happened to be harvested that week.
For example, an array of veggies like carrots, green beans, cherry tomatoes, and squash can be roasted in the oven and added to pasta for a Pasta Primavera - keep jars of tomato sauce on hand if you'd like, or let the veggies be the star. You could also take carrots, squash, radish, and greens and stir fry them in a little bit of sesame oil; add peanut sauce or soy sauce and add them to rice or rice noodles (which cook really quickly) for a fast and easy fresh local dinner. Quinoa also cooks quickly and makes a great base for a "Buddha bowl" - add broccoli, snow peas, cucumber, and an Asian-style dressing of your choice. Any of these options would be great on their own or with a selection of local meats, which are also available through CSA programs.
These formulas—and these tips —combined with the abundance of our region and our long growing season - make it easy to eat with the seasons by joining a CSA.
The KC Food Circle is a non-profit connecting eaters with local, organic, free-range farmers to promote a sustainable food system in the Kansas City region. For more information visit www.kcfoodcircle.org. WANT TO JOIN A CSA? Winter or early spring is a great time to join a CSA. Visit www.kcfoodcircle.org to learn more about local farms offering CSA programs. You can also speak to farmers in person at the Eat Local Expo on March 23, 10am-3pm, at Johnson County Community College.