Repeat after me: CSAs do not have to be intimidating.
After many years visiting the Old Beach Farmers Market, I’d realized I wanted to up my commitment to my love for local food by subscribing to a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, which is essentially a subscription to seasonal or year-round shares of a farm’s harvest.
But first, a little history on my courtship with local food.
Being raised on a delicious upbringing of fried chicken and Filipino food (You can read a little more about my early eating life here.), I wasn’t necessarily bred to consider local and seasonal ingredients.
Fast-forward to my time at James Madison University, and my roommates introduced me to a new world of locally grown and harvested fruits and vegetables, many of which were new to me. They were involved in the Harrisonburg farming community, whether they volunteered at a local farm or at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market. I certainly credit the beginning of my love for experimenting in the kitchen to them.
We had the single kitchen stool that we’d fight over. After the stool tug of war, one of us would sit atop the kitchen counter, while the third would be cooking something over the stovetop as we’d all groan about an upcoming exam. Some of my fondest memories were spent in that kitchen or at our table.
Heather would whip up her weekly batch of roasted sweet potatoes drizzled with a healthy dose of olive oil, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper. And Emily was either making asparagus with a lemon and dijon vinaigrette or a single serving of oatmeal before class each morning—she always said this was what kept her grandfather young.
After moving back to Virginia Beach post-college, I’ve made it a priority to make near-weekly trips to the local farmers markets ensuring my husband and I always have the freshest, seasonal produce to cook with each week.
And yet, the thought of committing to a weekly CSA always seemed sort of daunting since it can be a bit of a mystery box.
What if I wasted all the veggies?
What if I didn’t know how to cook with the veggies?
What if I didn’t like all of the veggies?
Kohlrabi, purple sprouting broccoli . . . what?
Then there was always the thought that we couldn’t afford a CSA or that we couldn’t eat mostly veggies for a week. Since I didn’t know many others who had paved the CSA way for me, it was time to see for myself and report my findings for those whom are interested, too.
My Leap into the CSA World
Last spring, I bit the bullet and subscribed to my first CSA program with Mattawoman Creek Farms. Why Mattawoman? Well, we’ve purchased their produce longer than any of the other farms in the area for the last six years, and their produce is always fun and interesting. That’s not to say that there aren’t other farms I’ve purchased from and love. In the last year, I’ve also subscribed to CSAs with Cullipher Farm and New Earth Farm—both are fabulous and offer unique items.
After a year of CSAs, I've found that they're great because they push you out of your kitchen-comfort zone, can help you with your grocery budget and introduce you to veggies you would have never bought or would not have access to in a local grocery store. Plus, CSAs are as fresh as it gets since you’re purchasing goodies directly from the farmers! While you have to comb the veggies for a friendly worm every now and then, these veggies often last me double, if not triple, the amount of time in my fridge when stored properly.
Our local farms often offer smaller and larger shares so that you can choose the best size for your household. Cullipher even offers an all-fruit share, and New Earth partners with Three Ships Coffee and Bottlecraft offering their coffee beans or local beers as add-ons to their boxes for an additional cost.
For my first CSA, I decided to go with Mattawoman’s personal subscription, a smaller share, to see how Cody and I could tackle the amount. Here’s the skinny on their personal-sized spring subscription:
- The personal subscription is about half the amount of a family subscription.
- For seven weeks, the personal subscription breaks down to about $21 per week on produce.
- Each week, you get seven new items. Just to give you an idea of what to expect, this past spring, we had arugula, baby carrots, beets, bok choy, bunching onions, butterhead lettuce, chard, collards, curly kale, kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard greens, purple sprouting broccoli, radishes, sorrel, spinach, tatsoi, vitamin green and white salad turnips. As you can see, you get a wide variety of veggies!
- The day before pick-up, the farm sends a nifty newsletter detailed with tasting notes, tips for cooking and storing each item, as well as recipes. Though their farm is located on the Eastern Shore—where you can also pick up your share—they partner with several locations in Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach to offer a pick-up site that's most convenient for you.
After a year of CSA subscriptions, I admit it can still be a challenge to make sure we’re making use of all of the vegetables, but look out for another post where we'll share tips and tricks to ensure everything gets used . . . every single time!