I don't know about you, but here in the northeast, we waited a long time for spring to arrive. And after the final frost comes the promise of a long, productive growing season and a bountiful harvest.
As more people become educated about the journey of their food from seed to plate, many people are opting to stay local. Some plant home gardens. Others choose community supported agriculture, or CSA, available at local farms. Some support farmers' markets. And some do some combination of the three.
According to Local Harvest, (www.localharvest.org/csa) a CSA is a seasonal subscription program in which community members make financial (and at times, labor) investments in a local farm's growing season in exchange for a share of the harvest.
These shares are divided among the shareholders and most often include whatever produce is harvested that week, but may include other items, such as eggs, milk, cheese, bread, honey, flowers, meat, or whatever else the farm may offer.
This program can be a win-win because the farmers have the initial investment for any costs associated with the growing season, and the community benefits from the local, consciously grown, and at times, organic produce.
For some folks, the farmers' market is a better option due to scheduling or the upfront and, perhaps risky, fairly substantial monetary investment associated a CSA. Also, the farmers' market is a great way to supplement a CSA box, in case of a meager season, or to supplement a family that eats more produce than what the farm share may provide.
If you chose a CSA for your family's produce needs, here are a few things you can do to maximize the return on your investment.
1. Prep and Store
Wash and store your harvest as soon as you return home. Wash and dry your greens. Separate what needs to be refrigerated, and prep anything that needs to be trimmed or cleaned to be ready to eat. Educate yourself about the best way to store tender produce. If you planning to can or freeze anything, prep for what you need. Seal in flavor at its peak ripeness.
2. Get creative.
Often, the first harvest of a spring CSA box or farmers' market relies heavy on greens. Get creative. You can add greens to salads or soups. Toss with pasta, some white beans, garlic and olive oil. Try roasting them or adding them to a smoothie with some fruit. Can you use some of the bigger leaves for Asian-style wraps? Try making a pesto...add some garlic, Parmesan cheese, olive oil and pine nuts or walnuts. And when in doubt, ask.
3. Build around it.
In many European cities, people go to the market in search of what is fresh, and then, they build their meal. Start with your CSA box or what's fresh at the market and go from there. Search your favorite recipe websites for ways to prepare produce with which you may not be familiar. Increase your side dish or Meatless Monday repertoire. Talk to the farmer, and ask questions.
Maybe there is newsletter that offers recipes or cooking tips. Start with what is fresh and go from there.
Whether you have a CSA share or you venture out to your local farmers' market, you have the benefit of eating the best of what the local land has to offer. And if you have your own garden, you have the added benefit of taking your food from seed to plate.
And, if you're on a road trip and want to support a local farm or farmers' market, this app by Foodlander (iOS and Android) allows you to search for farms by location, including their hours, their website and their offerings. You can also check the Local Harvest website to find one near you.
Eating local simply makes good sense.
It's full of flavor.
It is more environmentally sound because it has a smaller carbon footprint: it's natural, unprocessed, and close by.
You can meet people involved in growing your food and ask questions.
You can support the local economy and support the idea that we care about what we eat and how it is grown.
It's a win-win.
Do you belong to a CSA or frequent farmers' markets? What are your tips for making the most of your share or navigating the market?