I'm embarrassed to say that's pretty much the summary of my first experience with a 10-week CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program that was offered through my workplace. As a member, you purchase upfront a whole season of fresh produce from a local farm, which helps the farmers pay for costs related to running the farm. I love eating all vegetables, so I couldn't think of anything better than to receive a weekly box of colorful seasonal local produce. I'd just skip that section of the supermarket and plan my recipes on whatever was in the box. I'm a nutritionist and blogger after all—I should have done this a long time ago!
I didn't want to shell out the $440 upfront and neither did my coworker Eileen, so we decided to pay half and divvy up the weekly box. Week 1 was a delight. Opening that box and seeing vibrant strawberries, delicate carrots, butter lettuce, ears of corn. There was real dirt on everything! The slug in the lettuce affirmed this was farm-fresh. Wow I hadn't tasted real carrots like that since I was a child. Carrots nowadays have a bitter chemical taste. These were crisp and sweet. Same with the lettuce, which I devoured in one sitting. Week 2 offered strawberries again, though quite tart this time. Herbs that I didn't recognize. And more lettuce and carrots. But the carrots weren't sweet like last week's. We ate through most of the produce except the herbs, which wilted and turned yellow in two days, so they got thrown out. Weeks 3-6 I looked forward to seeing the box but became discouraged when I saw greens and herbs that were already droopy. I couldn't eat it fast enough. There was a lot of washing of dirt, chopping the greens, and peeling the beans.
Weeks 7-9 I actually started dreading the box. Hot peppers that I couldn't eat, unfamiliar herbs that looked like grass, purple-spotted beans. One week I forgot to take out of the box some beets that my husband enjoyed. He blamed me when he saw they'd molded. I'd been throwing out half the produce in the past few weeks. Oy vay, so much guilt.
Last week was our final box and Eileen and I silently rejoiced (she'd had the same problem as me). She was ready for it to end; there were just too many things that we would never purchase otherwise and didn’t end up eating.
The valuable lesson I learned is that my lifestyle is not CSA-friendly. Some crazy days I'm at the hospital 12-14 hours. Even if I work my usual 10 hours, I have to rush out to pick up my son from aftercare, then head home with 3 hours for us to eat dinner, do homework and wind down for bed. The CSA box arrived on Wednesdays, mid-week when I couldn't manage a cooking fest.
Week 10 had lots of plum tomatoes and potatoes to add to my mountain of tomatoes and potatoes from the previous weeks. To celebrate the end, I attacked it all with a knife, chopping and throwing everything in my crock pot. I added my favorite soup, Trader Joe's Low Sodium Creamy Tomato, spices, and olive oil, simmering everything down and then serving it with Trader Joe's turkey meatballs. Not bad at all. I've been eating that stew for the past five days for lunch and dinner and I do feel good about it.
My parents enjoyed some items I begged them to take. But overall I'm a failure because of all the waste I created. I couldn't handle even half a box. So humbling. The reason I'm sharing my failure is to give any readers who haven't tried a CSA to think seriously before jumping in. The downsides are that you will likely receive a lot of stuff you'd never buy in the supermarket, in large quantities. You need to be adventurous, find recipes, and be determined to use all the produce within a week (you can't stuff them into the produce drawer because guaranteed you'll forget they're there). Also I was disappointed that the CSA produce didn't always taste better than supermarket stuff. If your lifestyle is like mine but you want to support farmers and eat local produce, find supermarkets that purchase from your community's farms, or frequent farmers markets where you can choose items you know you'll use. Or else dig out your crockpot 😀.
I found some comfort in reading a similar perspective on CSAs in the Boston Globe, with a few interesting solutions described at the end.