by Sarah D. Scalet
The first year my family participated in community-supported agriculture (CSA), we were overwhelmed by our weekly farm share. The fresh, organic vegetables were delicious, but we just didn't know how to use them all. Now that we're in our fourth season, we have a pretty good system in place, and I'm happy to say that we hardly ever have anything but stems, peels and seeds hit the compost bin. Here's how we do it:
1) Make a list of what you received. We keep a list on the refrigerator and cross things off as we use them. That way, we know what we have available without digging around in the refrigerator.
2) "Process" and clean the vegetables the day you get them. Cut off the bulky greens that you don't intend to eat, like the tops of carrots or radishes. As much as possible, wash and trim vegetables so they are snack- or salad-ready. For delicate greens that you don't intend to eat within a few days, such as an extra head of lettuce, leave on the dirt so it will keep longer. For everything else, aim to reduce the bulk and minimize the prep time later. We store everything in large Ziploc bags that we rinse and reuse. Try to tempt yourself by bagging vegetables in such a way that you can grab some for a quick snack.
3) Quit buying grocery store vegetables. You probably have favorite vegetable "staples" that you purchase every week. Take them out of the cart. This will force you to be creative in finding ways to eat your farm share, and help keep your kitchen from being overloaded with more produce than you can eat.
4) Plan your menus around your farm share. We do all our menu planning and grocery shopping for the week after we have our farm share. Cookbooks that focus on fresh, seasonal produce will help you find recipes that fit together the ingredients you have now. My favorite is Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and there are other great ones at About.com's Local Food site.
5) If you have an especially large share, plan your menus around what keeps best. If the tomatoes are perfect today, then eat them. The potatoes can wait. Reduce the share by taking some easy-to-store vegetables out of the rotation. On weeks when we're overwhelmed, we might freeze the green beans, spinach or corn as soon as we get it, so that we can make our way through everything else. GardenGuides.com has some good advice on freezing vegetables.
6) If there are vegetables you really, honestly, truly don't like, then give them away. So you've tried kohlrabi three different times, and just don't think it's worth the bother? Don't just stick it in the back of your fridge and let it rot until you really have to toss it. Find someone who will enjoy it. Some CSAs have a "swap" table where people can leave their unwanted vegetables for other members. If yours doesn't, ask the site coordinator if you can add one.
7) Don't give up. It can be hard at first to use everything, but after a few seasons, you'll have your go-to recipes for different parts of the season, and things will get much easier.
Sarah Scalet is a New Jersey-based writer and editor and long-time member of the Bloomfield-Montclair CSA (http://bloomfield-montclaircsa.org/).