If you've been looking to support your community, cook a little more adventurously, and eat a lot more locally this summer, signing up for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share is well worth the commitment. A membership through any of Los Angeles' many CSA farms and co-ops (even one that specializes in Asian produce) gets you a box of farm-fresh vegetables every week, often with varieties you'll never find at the grocer.
But sometimes, new subscribers feel overwhelmed when that first box arrives, brimming with more salads than they know what to do with, herbs that go bad before they can use them all, and mystery roots that keep showing up every week.
Before you dive in to your first CSA share, here are a few things to think about:
1. Learn how to store your vegetables to make them last through the week.
If you've ever felt guilty for letting a crisper bin full of produce spoil (again), you're not alone. To get the most out of your membership, learn how to properly store all your vegetables, fruits, and herbs for optimal freshness. Most things should keep through the end of the week under ideal conditions, whether they're packed away in the fridge or kept out on the counter. Check out this printable guide (PDF) from UC Davis on how to store your produce post-harvest, and this handy infographic on what goes where inside the fridge.
2. Be realistic about your cooking capabilities.
Few families have the resources to make a hearty breakfast, pack a healthful lunch, and cook a three-course dinner all in one day. If your schedule leaves you with little time to spend in the kitchen, consider splitting a CSA share with a neighbor or co-worker so you still reap the benefits of membership without wasting any precious produce.
3. Keep an open and creative mind.
The beauty of CSAs is the sheer variety of vegetables you get in a given season. Don't be surprised to see everything from komatsuna to kohlrabi in your box, or a rainbow of heirloom squash in all shapes and sizes. A CSA membership is actually a great way to expand your horizons and learn more about all the food that's available in your region, beyond what you see at the local supermarket... which brings us to...
4. Read the CSA farm's newsletter or website.
A good CSA farm is involved with the community that supports it. Many farms include a weekly newsletter with their shares that highlight happenings at the farm, vegetables they're planting and harvesting, any complications or pest problems that might affect the season's crops, and perhaps most importantly, featured recipes using the sometimes unusual veggies that land in your box. Some CSAs may update their sites, blogs, or social media pages with this information, so be sure to check when you sign up.
5. If vegetables aren't your thing, look into alternative CSA programs.
Vegetable CSAs are the most common, especially in summer, but they're not the only operations dedicated to connecting you with local farmers. Look into CSFs (Community Supported Fisheries), artisan cheese CSAs, grass-fed meat CSAs, and even grain CSAs that specialize in delivering wheat, oats, seeds, and dried legumes. Some CSAs also partner with local producers that allow you to add on shares of milk, eggs, or bread. You can search for your nearest CSF through Local Catch and find a local CSA through LocalHarvest.