This week I decided to just post a general reflection on my experience doing the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for the first time last summer (2012). Spoiler alert: I've already sent in my subscription payment for summer 2013. So that tells you something.
Here is what I learned by participating in a CSA:
I grew up on a small one-family farm--I grew up eating fresh produce from the garden, my mother canned everything and made homemade bread, and my father made homemade maple syrup. We were a real back-to-nature-movement family. So I'm probably more tied to the land than the average folk my age. But you don't pay that much attention when you're a kid. Now I was paying attention, and it was pretty dang cool. Somehow, it made summer seem to last longer.
2. A little produce can go a long way. At the beginning of the summer we were getting one bag full of stuff. By mid-summer, I was hauling a couple of overfull, incredibly heavy bags plus a few other containers to try to get everything home. I did fairly well keeping up with it, except for when I was on the road. The fam wasn't good at using fresh produce if I wasn't around to force the issue. There were two memorable occasions when I had to toss out a lot of stuff that had gone bad before I had the time to deal with it.
The reality is, with my job and summer schedule, I just don't have time do canning. That would the ideal, of course. However, until such a time as I'm no longer on the road several weeks out of the growing season, I have begun exploring vacuum sealers and may be able to quickly seal and freeze or refrigerate produce so I can work it into my schedule more easily. I'll come up with something.
3. It's an extraordinarily creative endeavor, finding recipes and inspiration for using (1) vegetables you've never worked with before (yes, I mean you, kale), and (2) vegetables you're getting week after week and are thinking you'll scream if you see another one (stop trying to hide, zucchini--you know who I'm talking about). I had a blast! I was tossing combinations that I'd never tried before into the pan just to see what would happen. I'd wander through my spice cupboard, sniffing spices to see what smelled right for whatever concoction I was working on. Some were more successful than others, but they were all a blast to do!
4. Purple green beans and bell peppers are just fun. 'Nuff said.
So, yes, I'm doing the CSA again next year. And having done it once, I'll be fore-armed with some tried-and-true recipes to turn to while I'm working new ones in. I'll also hopefully be fore-armed with better long-term storage methods so I'll be able to have the benefit of my CSA well into the winter months.
I would adore finding a dairy CSA that's got goat cheese involved. Now that would be heaven!
Check out your area--see if you have a CSA near you. Give it a shot! If you're single or a couple or a very small family, you might want to talk to a neighbor or friend to see if you want to share a subscription the first summer, until you get a feel for how much produce you'll be getting. Each CSA works differently, so be sure you read the information thoroughly. Check Local Harvest for more information about what a CSA is, how they work in general, and listings of CSAs in your area. (And no, this is not a paid endorsement! That's how I found my CSA, and I also check it for area farmers' markets and the like. It's a great resource.)
It's not too early to start thinking about what you'll be eating next summer. In fact, I can't think of anything better to do when the snow starts blowing!