CSA Box with vegetables
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My CSA Box: What I’ll Do Differently This Time

Apartment LivingLiving Sustainably

My CSA box arrived every week for a year on my porch, brimming with vitamins, local variety, and a challenge, both for my cooking and my family’s eating.

I learned that a CSA box requires not just a healthy perspective and good intentions, but a plan. So this time, I’m starting with my own, basic recipes, ready to add in whichever seasonal fruits and vegetables my Front Range farm harvests on a given week.

What’s a CSA Box?

When you order a CSA box, you subscribe to a share of a local farmer’s harvest during one or more seasons. Instead of going to the produce section of your grocery store, list in hand, or browsing a farmer’s market for something particularly lovely for tonight’s dinner, the CSA farmer chooses your box for you.

While some give you veto power over a couple of items, or let you pause the box for a week or two, in essence you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit (as they used to say in my kids’ preschool.)

A CSA box shifts your relationship with fresh food. You’re invited to leave the strict consumer mindset that says, “I need this ingredient for my recipe and growers around the world will ship it to me to buy if and when I choose.” Instead you’ll eat differently depending on the season, where you live, and the specific seeds planted nearby.

What are the Main Reasons to Get a CSA Box?

You’ll get produce picked right before you receive it, for the freshest, vitamin-rich harvest. Reduced transportation time puts less strain on the environment, and keeps your food dollars in the local economy.

It’ll keep you choosing in-season offerings, invite you to vary your cooking, and introduce you to an assortment of items, some you might not otherwise think to buy.

You’ll also participate, along with others buying shares, in supporting a particular local farm. Which leads me to the first of my CSA box ideas: get to know the farm I choose.

Farmland with sunshine for CSA box
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Get To Know Your CSA Box Farmer

Fruits and vegetables arrived weekly, lovingly arranged in a closed cardboard box with ice packs to help them withstand summer heat. A consolidator of organic produce acted as go-between with one or more farmers. Options for prepared foods like cookie dough, even citrus from out of Colorado, snuck their way into the mix.

Similarly, many single-farm CSA boxes give you easy access to additional items baked or prepared in-house. For example, Blue Sky Organic Farms near Phoenix, AZ bakes authentic, flaky-looking croissants, and supplements its produce using other farms during the crazily hot Arizona summer months.

With no main sponsor, however, I missed out on the chance to visit a farm, and didn’t get to meet others sharing the harvest at weekly drop sites. Most CSAs bring shares to various central pick-up locations in and around your city or suburb. Some, like JBG in Texas, give members invitations to farm events, open houses, and even cooking and gardening classes.

So this time I’ll look for one local farm and find ways to visit, learn more, and exchange tips.

Start With A Flexible Weekly Meal Plan

I love to cook – and I’d say you have to be at least willing to love to cook if you’re going to get a CSA box – but I rely on recipes to stay organized. My new solution to keeping structure in my week while responding to the box of farm-fresh goodies coming my way? I’ve put together CSA box recipes that start with a base, then flexibly add in whatever produce that comes that week.

Kids, especially, like familiarity in what they eat. So if every Wednesday features spaghetti with red sauce, even if the vegetables melting into its spicy sauce vary, your family will likely feel comforted by the repetition.

What’s In CSA Boxes?

Ingredients from your box will vary depending on the season. Spring boxes burst with green leafy vegetables, like arugula or kale, asparagus, peas, and radishes. In summer, look for vine-ripened tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, onions, broccoli, and even potatoes. Autumn brings beans, root vegetables like carrots and beets, dark greens like bok choy, and squashes.

Some parts of the country grow vegetables year round, and if you’re lucky enough to be near citrus groves in California or Florida, your winter boxes will delight you with ripe oranges and tangerines. Some other CSAs include fruits, like fall apples or summer nectarines, and you might consider specialized CSAs for shares of eggs, beef, or pork.

Use My CSA Box Recipes as Starters for Your Produce

Smoothies: Have plain yogurt, kefir, or juice on hand. Choose any fruits, and vegetables like carrots, cucumber, celery, or greens. Add ice, a dash of vanilla and agave, then blend until smooth.

Pro tips: keep ingredient colors similar to each other, and top with a dash of cinnamon or cardamom.

CSA Box Smoothie
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Fried rice: Start with your protein of choice – tofu chunks, ground beef, shrimp, turkey, or pork. Saute in oil until brown, then set aside in a bowl. Add more oil to your pan and a selection of cut-up vegetables. Denser ones like onions or carrots go in the pan a bit before faster-cooking peas or zucchini. When tender, push veggies to the side of the pan, break a few eggs in and scramble, then add back the protein along with cooked rice and some soy sauce to taste.

Pro tip: Onion and garlic, whether green sprouts or the root, add depth.

Pasta sauce: Saute Italian sausage, ground meat, poultry, or tofu with diced garlic and onion in olive oil. When brown, add cut-up veggies of your choice. Cook a bit then add a ton of fresh tomatoes, augmenting as needed with canned tomatoes or tomato sauce. Spice with oregano and basil, fresh or dry, and salt and pepper. Cook for a while, until it tastes amazing. Serve over pasta.

Pro tip: A touch of dry or fresh red peppers make the flavor pop, and this sauce freezes really well.

Try dicing and roasting vegetables in olive oil, salt, and pepper. I bake these at 425 degrees on a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Sweet potatoes take about 40 minutes, broccoli 15 minutes, and other veggies somewhere in between.

Or combine vegetables to make a healthy soup – saute onions and garlic, add cut up vegetables until tender, then pour in stock, homemade or purchased, with spices, salt and pepper. Heat until warm or longer. Make extra and freeze.

Lastly, California-style, meal-sized tossed salads favor both the standard salad ingredients – any fresh greens, vine-ripened tomatoes, cucumbers, and heirloom carrots – along with steamed spring vegetables, diced roast vegetables, avocados, nuts, homemade croutons, fresh herbs, and the best dressing you can find.

Value for Money, but Not Necessarily a Bargain

Around the country, the pricing and sizes of CSA boxes vary. You might pay upfront for the entire season, anywhere from $200-775, while other farms charge by the order, $17-48. Most offer a weekly medley, though you’ll see bi-weekly, even monthly, options too. Look for a pick-up site you can commit to, and know the location might be a strip mall parking lot or even someone’s home. Some deliver, usually for a fee – $10 seems average.

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CSA Boxes Align Metro and Rural Areas

By buying a CSA box subscription, you’re participating in your local community, offering a farmer a consistent market for that season’s produce. You might learn more about soil health, seed varieties, and organic farming, while your feedback provides market research to the farmer.

I did struggle during my first CSA box go-round: making sure we ate it all; grabbing it off the porch early enough in the summer so it didn’t wilt; and navigating some oddly shaped or very small items that felt less valuable. But this time I’m prepared with a plan.

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