“Plant a radish, get a radish, never any doubt. That’s why I love vegetables, you know what they’re about.”
– Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt
Everything that comes in your weekly share is usable. Really.
Alongside the edible pleasures of being a CSA member is the sustainability pleasure. The amount of waste involved in a single-dinner shopping trip is atrocious. From bagged vegetables (or often Styrofoamed, then Saran-Wrapped vegetables [see Trader Joes’ red peppers, for example]) to bagged then boxed grains, to plastic milk containers, it’s nearly impossible to shop responsibly. Since a CSA is a community-oriented project, participants can actively reuse everything they make use of.
When greens come in plastic bags one week, the bags are eagerly anticipated to return the week after. Same with fruit containers and egg cartons. Some CSAs deliver your food in boxes and your job is to bring the box back every week. But for those that use bags, the grin you get from bringing your own and handing the plastic right back is well worth remembering one.
Try using your leftovers for stock. Stock is a very strongly flavored broth, and having it around will save a lot of dishes that are lacking in punch. It’s easier to make than you’d think and keeps well frozen in ice cube trays. The base for stock should be water with two parts onion, one part carrot, and one part celery. To this you can add virtually anything, but leave out the nitty gritty bits, like roots. Throw in your kale spines, carrot tops, mushroom stems, almost anything you find you’re not using that might have flavor. Then simmer. (We’ll be doing a stock soon and will happily explain in depth then.)
And compost, compost, compost. I know it’s tricky in the city, but if you don’t want to purchase a tight-lid compost container to keep in your kitchen, clear a space in your freezer and dump all your vegetable leftovers in there. Find a local garden and ask if they take compost, or ask neighbors with outdoor space if they’re interested. There are drop-off spots all over New York where you can leave your carrot greens, beet greens, potato peels – anything that comes off a plant. Composting is important because it creates nutrient-rich soil from food scraps that would otherwise be wasted in landfills. And plus side to NYC composting is you’re far less likely to find bears rummaging through your compost pile than if you’re in the outskirts.
If you return your bags, fruit containers, and egg cartons to your CSA weekly and compost and/or turn your vegetable remains into stock, your footprint will barely resemble a foot – maybe just a pinky toe.
It’s been pointed out to me by someone near and dear – we’ll call her Turkey Legs – that the explanation of gathering our share has gone somewhat ignored. Turkey Legs asked if we get to pick and choose our own, or if our crop is simply handed to us. The way our CSA works, and as with all of things it varies from share-to-share, is we show up at the location where the vegetables are brought in weekly and they’ve been laid out for us in boxes.
As half-share members, we’ve split our take with someone else. So whoever gets there first collects each bunch of vegetable and divides them equally leaving it in a bag for their other half. Batta-bing, as they say.
In this week’s score we managed to get:
A few other meals based in share goodies from week one and two were:
And a stir-fry with onions, bok choy, cherry tomatoes, (unfortunately shipped from afar) pineapple, and (fortunately local) tofu…
… on sticky rice!
*Flavored with 2 parts soy sauce, 1 part sesame oil, a handful of sesame seeds, and a squeeze of honey.
So for our first share meal, we made a frittata and a salad. We used almost exclusively products from our share, plus some dairy and aromatics. Everything else had been in the ground that very morning (cool, right?). Making a frittata is practically as easy as making toast. You start by what is essentially a stir-fry, and then add egg.
Start with your aromatics in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. We used a little bit of onion, scallion, and the green garlic.
I almost never measure, so I apologize for my estimations, but feeling your way around a stove always tends to make things taste better loved (in my approximation). That being said, while this is all cookin’ up, crack four or five eggs into a bowl with a splash of milk (maybe about a third of a cup?). Add in some cheese: we used goat here, but shredded moz is great, a little bit of cottage cheese can make it surprisingly fluffy, and ricotta or feta is mmm-worthy.
And once your veggies are cooked down, pour the egg mixture over it, making sure to evenly distribute.
Let it cook on the stove for 5-7 minutes until you notice the ends are crusting, and then throw it in the oven (375 degrees – ish) until the top looks solid. I like to throw it in the broiler at the very end to crisp up the top. When all is said and cooked, it should look something like the following –
Chopped up the beautiful radishes (which not bought from a store taste entirely and surprisingly different) and let them canoodle with the mixed greens. Our salad dressing is 1 part balsamic, 2 parts olive oil, a forkful of mustard, and a dollop of honey. Really, measuring spoons-shmeasuring spoons.
Pair it with your salad. And voilà, dîner à la CSA.
Not all farm shares are the same. Our farm offers the standard vegetable share, a half vegetable share, as well as fruit and egg shares. We chose to go with a half vegetable share and a fruit share, and are currently regretting the decision not to splurge for an egg share. The fruit for the fruit share isn’t grown on the same farm as our vegetables, but is sourced from nearby fruit farms. It turns out the notion of spring strawberries are somewhat irresistible.
When the season is just getting started shares tend to be smaller since things are just peaking. What grows this early is mainly leafy vegetables. It’s also been a rainy spring, which means that it’s harder for the farmers to get things into the ground so things are starting a little slower. Thus, yay greens! But even for a half-share from a rainy spring that’s early in the season, this year’s first share was nothing short of a bounty.
Stocking in preparation for your big pile o’ CSA veggies will make your decision-making process considerably easier. Some standard and easy meals for share days are stir-fries, frittatas, pasta dishes, and salads. Bulk items are terrific backdrops for veggies and if you keep a pantry (or likely in New York apartments, a cabinet) stocked with grains, beans, and pastas, cooking from a share can be a cinch. Not to mention bulk items save money and reduce packaging waste. Here’s a list of some things always in our kitchen:
This summer my honey and I chose the B’nai Jeshurun Hazorim CSA because it’s in our neighborhood and had fruit shares available, and we were particularly excited about their participating local farm, Free Bird Farm.
For New Yorkers trying to live the farm-life, a list of CSAs around town can be found here. Be sure to read about all the farms involved first to see which gets you the most excited. The culture of a farm is a greatly underrated factor in the way food is experienced, how it tastes, and the way it feels. Many of the CSAs even have farm days where partakers can go and visit the farms their shares come from. And if you are a fan of the fuzzy and the feathery, I strongly suggest a trip.
When we manage to get out of the city (a rare and delightful treat), we are great fans of Stone Wall Vegetables. We know many a Connecticut resident who thumb-twiddle their way through long winters awaiting their Stone Wall shares. Their produce is scrumptious and beautiful, and they have pick-your-own-crops every week. And for the carnivores in our family, we love the way Tom Levine treats his furrier friends at Longmeadow Farm, and this summer he’s even promised the less fur-inclined some organic and gluten-free tofu.
Forks up, folks.
“Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.”
– Elizabeth Berry
The benefits and delights in joining a CSA are infinite. Among them, of course, is avoiding veggie jet-lag. Another is creating a city full of happy and healthy foodies. As the spring season erupts, so do bustling local CSA stands across New York City.
For those of you out of the CSA loop, here’s how they work:
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. A CSA is a system in which a group of people from a designated area loan a local farm money, allowing its farmers to plant crops, hire workers, and pay for machinery. The farm then repays the group throughout the harvest season in the form of food. Interested parties put down a deposit in the beginning of the season and then get whatever pops out of the ground in a box weekly. You help out local farms (with soul) while getting nourishing, colorful boxes of yummy.
The challenge and fun part then is being handed a surprise package and getting to experiment with foods you normally wouldn’t cook with and having to learn how to put them together with whatever else is in your fridge. This means lots of experimenting (probably a failure or two) and lots of adventures in cuisine. Just as the contents of the share vary from week-to-week, so will the content of this blog. Welcome.