Everything you need to know about community-supported farming – Advice Eating

It has never been more important to support our farmers and a CSA is a great way to do just that! Mike Geller, owner of Mike’s Organic, a farm-to-home delivery service in Connecticut, has been connecting consumers with farmers through CSAs for more than 10 years—more than 10 years actually Martha Stewart has raved about his fresh food and the sweetcorn he gets, plus she gets her Thanksgiving turkey from him every year!

Below, Geller shares his tips on how to maximize your CSA experience, what to keep in mind if you’re thinking about signing up for one this season, and how to channel your inner Martha as you munch on all those summer veggies.

(Mike’s Bio)

What is a CSA?

A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) connects consumers and farmers through a weekly rotating portion of produce, giving you the opportunity to eat with the seasons while supporting small local farms. Typically, CSAs contain a variety of vegetables (and sometimes fruits) that change weekly depending on what the farmer(s) are picking.

As a general rule, I live by the saying “know thy farmer”. This also applies to registering for a CSA. Once you have some information about the farm, what types of crops they grow, and what practices they use, you can make a more informed decision about signing up.

For example, if the farm grows a lot of vegetables (kale, collards, chard) and you’re not a big fan of those produce, you might want to look for another farm or talk to the farmer about the possibility of changing your share (Keep the kale , extra carrots please).

Related: 20 recipes for your farmers market finds

What should people consider before signing up for a CSA?

A lot of people jump into the CSA world with both feet, which I admire. It’s so great to be able to spend some of your grocery dollars to support the local economy and the people who care about you, your family and the environment.

However, not all CSAs are the same, just as all farmers are different. You need to know your family and know if the model works for you. Do you have small children? Then you might want to look for a CSA that includes fruit or has an option to share fruit. Don’t like to cook? Then a CSA might be difficult for you as it involves getting fresh farm produce that you need to prepare.

Agricultural practices are another consideration. If you have a strong feeling that you only want organic produce, you may be limited to certain farms. It’s really important to have this conversation with the farmer before making a decision as there are so many incredible farmers who are not “certified” organic but have excellent practices that are just as good or sometimes better.

At Mike’s Organic we work with many different growers to ensure the proportion is balanced, fresh and offers a few surprising produce each season (think bok choy, kiwiberries, turnip greens and cherries) while also incorporating many of the produce almost all are guaranteed winners (e.g. mini cukes, sun gold cherry tomatoes, donut peaches, strawberries).

Why is summer a good time to register for a CSA?

If ever there was a time to give a CSA a shot, it’s now!

First and foremost, our farmers need us. With many farms relying heavily on business from restaurants and other sources, the pandemic has been tough on farms, like many in the food industry. A great way to support our farms now is to sign up for a CSA – in addition to providing local and seasonal food supplies throughout the summer and fall, it guarantees many smallholder farmers a source of income throughout the growing season.

Also, so many of us are home cooking and a CSA allows you to be creative and introduce new things to your family!

What to do with your CSA box once you receive it?

The best advice I can give about CSAs is that if you take care of your products, they will take care of you. It’s so fresh when you get it and if you give it just a little love, it will give back a whole lot.

Some simple tips are:

  • Sort all your items instantly: Then you can determine where you want them to live (crisper in fridge, shelf in fridge, pantry or counter). Then make room in the appropriate areas so you have room for all your goodies.
  • Take care of your green: Greens are the most fragile thing you get each week and also one of the most nutritious. The three factors that cause greenery to wilt are: temperature, lack of moisture and exposure to direct sunlight. So if you keep them cool, moist and protected from light, they will last longer. My little trick is to wrap all my veggies in a damp paper towel and immediately place them straight into the crisper drawer in the fridge. This increases durability and prevents waste.
  • To have a plan: Hopefully your CSA will include recipes that can help you plan your meals for the week. If that’s not the case, now that all of your fruits and veggies are safe in their respective homes, take a few minutes to sit down and plan out a few meals for the week. Lettuce is very fragile, so maybe every week the day your cut arrives can be a “salad night.” Turnips keep for a long time so they can wait later in the week.
  • Remove the tops of all root vegetables: This is a secret tip, and oh, does it help! Any root that comes with tops (carrots with tops, beets with veggies, radishes with veggies, etc.) will last much longer if you remove the tops immediately and then store the roots individually. The greens wick moisture away from the roots, so the beets are soft in just 4 or 5 days. Removing the tops can help keep them lasting up to a month if needed! For something like carrots, those tops might go to the compost heap. Beet and radish greens are delicious and nutritious, so these can be treated like your other greens, wrapped in damp paper towels and ready to cook.
  • Make a Great Sunday Cook: Our share arrives Monday to Thursday so I advise all my customers to always make a big cook at the end of the week to ensure nothing is wasted and you have room for the new items that come in. Make a big stir-fry with these hearty kale, those tasty scallions, and yummy cherry tomatoes.
  • Don’t worry and have fun: The most important thing to remember when doing a CSA is that it will feature things you have never tasted before and it is meant to broaden your taste buds and appreciation for all the wonderful produce our local farmers grow. Try new things, be adventurous and write down what you don’t like so you can tell the farmer next time.

See also: The best pizza from the farmer’s market

Best CSA Box Recipes

As the season progresses, you can look for different ways to prepare your produce. One of my favorite ways is to have one of my favorite green cooking vegetables like kale, collards, or Swiss chard for breakfast!

I like to sauté some fresh garlic in some good olive oil (a few chilli flakes too if I’m spicy), chiffonade the veg, add it to the garlic and oil, add a little water and sauté until soft.

Then I pour the mixture straight into a small bowl and, in the same pan, boil two eggs, sunny side up. Slide those babies onto the cooked veggies and you have what I like to call a “farmer’s breakfast.” You won’t believe how much energy you have and you’ll get your greens first thing in the morning!

A few more CSA-inspired recipes I love:

Zucchini carpaccio

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(iStock)

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium zucchini
  • Salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons fruity olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts or chopped almonds or walnuts and/or freshly chopped
    Herbs
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey, 1 tablespoon raisins or fresh feta or parmesan shavings
    (Optional)

directions:

  1. Using a mandolin or chef’s knife, cut the zucchini lengthways as thinly as possible and lightly salt. Place in a colander for 30 minutes to remove excess moisture, stirring occasionally.
  2. Dry on kitchen paper and arrange the zucchini in layers in a shallow serving dish, placing the garlic slices between the layers. Drizzle with lemon juice and marinate in the fridge for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour. If you have more than 2 layers, you may need to turn the zucchini upside down every 15 minutes to evenly brush them with the lemon juice.
  3. Arrange a few zucchini slices on each plate to serve. (Remove and discard garlic slices.) Drizzle with olive oil and top with nuts and/or herbs. If you like, add a few drops of liquid honey, or a few raisins
    some parmesan shavings.

Pasta with cherry tomatoes and goat cheese

one
(iStock)

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds red and yellow cherry tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 pound penne
  • 6 ounces fresh goat cheese
  • 1 cup loosely wrapped fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
  • Additional kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Halve each tomato and place cut-side up in a flat layer on the baking sheets. Drizzle the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast until tomatoes are dried on edges but still moist, about 2 hours.
  3. Crumble the goat cheese into large pieces and refrigerate until ready to serve the pasta.
  4. Cook the noodles in boiling salted water according to package directions.
  5. Remove and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Drain the noodles well and return them to the pot. Add tomatoes, goat cheese, basil, reserved cooking liquid, and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss well and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Serve warm.

To sign up for Mike’s Organic seasonal packages, CSA boxes and weekly shipments of local + organic produce, meat, fish, eggs and more, visit mikesorganic.com.

Next: The top 25 farmers markets across America

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