A CSA is only a great deal when you can use the items without them going bad before you eat them. Having read lots of comments across the internet about a reason not to join a CSA, the “I don’t eat enough produce to make it worth it”, I can see where it doesn’t work due to lack of time, space or family food preferences.
I just read a few posts on the I Want the Columbia MD Wegmans Facebook page about produce going bad quickly when bought in stores. The freshest produce is obviously just picked produce. The CSAs get you produce within one or two days of harvest. Anything trucked to stores is subject to storage variation, transportation problems and who knows what else. That is why so much is packaged, processed and full of preservatives.
Organic eliminates some of that, but is costly. A CSA with organic produce is a bargain. But not if the produce sits too long and goes bad. I have a few essential items that help me prolong the life of the produce, and use up my CSA.
One essential item is a salad spinner. Two, if you have room for them. I will be getting a second one before the fall CSA and the deluge of greens begins again.
No greens in it then. It had radishes and the last of a month old red cabbage, still crisp and still good to use in salads. Last night the arugula from David’s joined it. The arugula will be used in that pesto, and in a melon carpacchio recipe I want to try.
The second essential item in my storage drawer is my cache of “green” bags. They are indispensable when the crisper drawers are full. These you do need to change occasionally, since some really fresh veggies continue to give off moisture even if they look dry when they go into the bags. I keep beans for up to two weeks without them going bad or getting slimy. It extends my useful period for veggies when one week you don’t get something you like to use with others.
The other cute little gimmicky items that work well are my citrus and onion keepers. I use so much citrus in dressings and marinades, and always seem to need part of an onion. These really do keep the onion smell out of the fridge, and keep lemons or limes fresh after you only used half, or had zested them.
My most indispensable CSA saving item is the new chest freezer. A good deal at Costco. Seven cubic feet. It is already half full of simple frozen items to be used all winter long. Even if you are canning challenged, blanching, peeling and freezing tomatoes, charring and peeling peppers, making frozen berries for smoothies, or using ice cube trays to make syrups or pestos, you can use up excess fruits and veggies and herbs and have good food all winter.
It makes the cost of the CSA definitely worth it, with taking the time to pack and store it. Also worth it to go to local UPick farms, like Larriland. Some of my projects this summer are here. We picked six pounds of strawberries, froze some whole, some sliced and some pureed.
Garlic scape pesto is another great ice cube tray project. About ten minutes to throw everything in the blender, then pour and freeze. I no longer follow a recipe, I just use up the scapes I have, adding nuts, parm, and olive oil. Salt and pepper.
Oven drying tomatoes. I make tiny plastic containers of these all summer. They are heaven on pasta in February. Cut them in half. Sometimes I seed them, sometimes I don’t. Sprinkle a little sugar, salt and pepper on them. Drizzle olive oil. Bake at a low temp, like 200 degrees, for a few hours. I usually do this on a day I am doing laundry or a home project and can ignore them.
My final essential item is my crock pot. My use up the CSA stews give us two or three meals, and sometimes I do freeze one portion of what I made, since leftovers get tiring after the second dinner. A layer of sauce, a layer of veggies, some sausage or chicken or beef. Easy to throw in, even with frozen meat, and come home hours later to dinner. Like chicken soup. I added frozen stock and a frozen chicken to these veggies and had three meals from it.
If you aren’t a CSA type person, try the farmers markets and look for bargains, like slightly bruised peaches. They can be cut up and frozen, for smoothies all winter. Or, apples. Or, like right now. Blackberries at Larriland. I froze whole berries and made syrup.
Now, excuse me while I go blanch a boatload of tomatoes to freeze. Eight pounds of canning tomatoes yesterday.