Each week it’s like Christmas. I walk the three blocks from my dorm room to the pick-up location, and there waiting for me is a beautiful white box labeled ‘vegetables’ bursting with just that: freshly harvested, dirty, organic vegetables, smelling freshly of earth.
This fall is my first season as part of a CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, which makes me one of a group of people in my area who have committed to receiving produce from a small co-op of farms located about 100 miles away from me in Lancaster, PA.
At this time of year, I get anything as normal as red-leaf lettuce or cauliflower or as strange as celery root, French breakfast radishes or giant purple-top turnips in the box of produce. Aside from my friend who I split the half-share of produce with, I am most certainly the only other student in the dorm who is cooking this kind of food. Let’s be honest – it’s not food you would naturally gravitate towards at the grocery store. Because of the CSA I am being forced to eat what is in season, and what can be grown locally. I eat what I am given.
Guide To Your First CSA
Joining a CSA is a commitment. A commitment to eating seasonal healthy food and a commitment to figuring out HOW to cook the food you are getting each week. In the fall and winter you will receive some vegetables you didn’t even know existed. In the winter particularly much of the box of food will consist of root vegetables, because in most areas that is what grows at that time of year.
But have no fear. There are countless ways to be creative, and if you can’t think of anything yourself, there is always Pinterest. With the fall mix of greens and root veggies, an easy go-to for me was stir-fry.
Any veggie is good in a stir-fry. I would throw in the classics that came in the CSA like bok choy, broccoli, and cabbage but would also add in other CSA veggies like radishes and turnips. You can’t go wrong. Salads were a common lunch for me. I consistently had greens like lettuce, kale, arugula, or spinach in my fridge from the week’s box, and would throw on beets from the CSA I had cooked earlier with a little goat cheese and balsamic vinegar and have a quick delicious meal.
Finally, if all else fails, probably one of the greatest meals to experiment with is soup. Almost every vegetable you receive can be an ingredient in soup. With mushrooms, make cream-of-mushroom soup from scratch. With collards and cauliflower, make a stew with vegetable broth and lentils. With fennel bulb and leek, make a blended soup.
The Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op I was a part of also sent us weekly emails with a list of all that we would receive in the coming box and a few recipes that used what we were getting that week. Plan ahead to have any extra ingredients you might need to maximize your use of the box.
As a busy millennial with limited time to put aside to cook, it can be overwhelming to find time to spend in the kitchen cooking. With a little planning, I would spend one night a week cooking multiple meals with the CSA veggies, then have all my meals prepared for the rest of the week.
A CSA is a win-win-WIN. It benefits the farmer, the environment, and me in more ways than one. I know each week I am receiving safe food, fresh food, and food cultivated with care by farmers who steward the land well and use minimal pesticides. My food is also more flavorful because it is picked at its peak and is nutrient-packed, because there is less time between when the food is harvested and when I cook it. As a poor college student, I also appreciate that it’s cheaper than what I would be able to get at the store. I get all the veggies that could possibly I consume in one week for about seven dollars per week. If I were to buy that at the grocery store, it would cost around $20 dollars.
The farmers benefit from this partnership, because they are guaranteed stable markets, meaning that they know I will be a customer each week because I have already purchased months worth of food. They have a little more job security.
The environment is benefiting because it receives less stress from the carbon emissions due to the distance our food travels. On average, the food you buy from the supermarket shelves travels 1500 miles to get there, and a fuel-efficient semi truck driving it there will get an optimistic 7.2 MPG. At that rate, in the journey your food takes to get to you, 1.75 metric tons of carbon dioxide is emitted. That’s the equivalent carbon of 4 barrels of oil or 200 gallons of gas consumed, or the carbon emissions the car you drive might put off over three years on the road. You driving for three years equals one trip your food takes. And that’s only if it’s from the US. So often we get our avocados from Mexico, and our Bananas from Costa Rica, and our strawberries (that we crave in the middle of February) from Chile. Those foods travel a far greater distance, and burn even more fossil fuels in freight and flight. The food I get also has no packaging, save the box I use to bring the food to my room. But the box is returned each week. No bags or plastic containers wasted.
I have found in the short few months that I have been a part of this endeavor I have been stretched in creativity— finding new recipes and techniques for cooking like learning to can peppers. I have also found delight in a community of friends as they gather around this food, sharing in healthy eating and full stomachs.
Maggie Kierstead is a junior majoring in Journalism & Mass Communication at The George Washington University.