When I first moved to Vermont nine years ago, I decided that I wanted to start eating better.
I slowly started cooking meals that required fresh ingredients, and not just something from a box or a can. After buying a house two years later, I planted a small vegetable garden. My husband and I loved the taste of the fresh vegetables, but we didn’t have the space to plant more than a few varieties. Instead, we decided to buy a CSA share. I had no idea at the time how much this decision would affect my family.
CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. Members pay money at the beginning of the season and in return they receive a share of the harvest, which is usually delivered weekly. To get started, I looked up the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont’s list of CSAs. Definitely consider the convenience of picking up your vegetables when choosing a farm. While I loved the vegetables from my first CSA share, I found the pickup times to be increasingly more difficult and stressful for me to fit into my schedule. I ended up switching to a different farm that had a pickup location closer to home. There are also different levels of involvement in picking up your share. Some programs have the members weigh and bag the vegetables themselves while others only require picking up a bag that is already filled. More involvement can be very educational for children, but it can also be difficult to fit into a busy family’s schedule.
Also realize that there are many different options for the amount of vegetables you will receive each week. Some farms offer larger shares for larger families and smaller shares for smaller ones. Many people also end up splitting a CSA share with a friend or coworker. I would recommend trying out a smaller share at first, especially if your family tends to eat out at restaurants often. If you get too large of a share, you will end up having to throw away vegetables because they will spoil before you get a chance to use them. This happened quite a lot to me when I first signed up for a CSA share because I wasn’t used to cooking with so many fresh vegetables. Many farms also offer shares of meat, eggs, or other local products. Purchasing these items through a CSA program will save you some money over the retail price, but only if you actually use the product before it spoils.
Many CSA programs also offer recipes that incorporate the vegetables provided in your share. This was such a valuable tool to me. When I went to pick up my first CSA share, I honestly didn’t know what some of the vegetables were. I had never even heard of celeriac before! I also couldn’t distinguish between chard, kale, and spinach. I ended up just diving right in and trying out recipes for everything. Some of the food I made tasted amazing, but there have also been a few times when the food got thrown out because it was nearly inedible. Just keep trying new things and you will become a wonderful cook!
After six years of hating beets, I finally came across a recipe for a beet pizza that my husband and I both love. Persistence pays off!
Being a part of a CSA program has been an incredible opportunity for my children to learn about where their food comes from. Most programs welcome participants to the farms where their food is grown, whether or not the shares are picked up there or at a different location. My children both love to help me carry the vegetables into the house and peer into the bag to see what variety we have received that week. They also enjoy helping me to prepare the vegetables when I’m cooking. While my children can be picky eaters, they are willing to at least try everything that I make. They may not be eating the beet pizza with me yet, but I am hoping that as it becomes more familiar to them, they will give it a chance.
My biggest advice about joining a CSA program is to just go for it! There are so many options out there that at least one is bound to work for your family. I can’t believe how much healthier my entire family eats these days. I base all of our meals on the wonderful fresh produce we receive. Junk food is now a treat on special occasions and we all appreciate it more as a result. I have learned so much about cooking since my days of heating up cans of soup in college. Now I can make my own soup from scratch.