We’re not quite as good looking or well lit as CSI:Miami, but CSA:Charleston is a very colorful, sometimes frightening, often entertaining experience. Of course, by CSA:Charleston, I mean our recent adventures in Community Supported Agriculture.
After seeing Food, Inc., I mentioned that my husband and I could no longer ignore what we’d known for a while: we needed to radically change the way we eat. Within a week, Jon had signed us up for a CSA share from Pinkney’s Produce, we had vowed to eat MUCH less meat, and we started to think about what our new, more sustainable food life might look like.
Not too long after that, our first box of produce was ready to be picked up at the Glass Onion. Here’s where I should mention that my husband? He signed us up for a family-sized share, because it was a better deal (about $30 per week). So that first box of produce? It was ginormous. You can see pictured above a typical spread from our CSA, meant to feed us for one week, but really enough to feed us for like 3 weeks. And we’ve now been receiving these huge boxes for 3 weeks.
We quickly realized we needed to learn some food preservation skills, which we acquired via Google. We’ve been blanching and freezing yellow squash in quart bags. I made and froze a huge batch of ratatouille (recipe similar to this one) that yielded three quarts. The enormous zucchini bounty has been transformed into zucchini bread and, this weekend, cream-cheese-frosted zucchini cupcakes, with extra shredded zucchini frozen in quart bags for wintertime breads and other dishes. Jon learned from a coworker that the tops of radishes can be eaten, and I found a recipe for radish top soup, which I made and bagged and froze for later (it’s sort of like a sausage-free version of the potato soup at Olive Garden, pureed). I even learned how to make refrigerator pickles, and they turned out to be as delicious as my favorite store-bought Claussen’s, I kid you not.
I’ve cooked several things I’ve never cooked before, including raw purple hull peas and raw lima beans, both of which turn out to be amazing when cooked with bacon (but really, what isn’t)? (Also: found all natural, family farm raised, certified humane bacon at HARRIS TEETER! Couldn’t believe it!) I made squash casserole for the first time. I incorporated radishes into an Asian stir fry, and they actually tasted great. I even baked eggs inside pattypan squashes, and they were delicious, and, if I say so myself, quite fancy looking. Last night, I attempted to re-create shakshuka, a meal we had in NYC at The Hummus Place, a tomato stew with eggs poached in it. When I re-created it my twist was adding fresh green beans in the mix. I served it with whole wheat No-Knead Bread instead of pitas.
Meanwhile, Jon has been conducting an ongoing experiment in roasting the raw peanuts and making his own peanut butter, though we are increasingly convinced that we need a better grinder. He also devised a delicious all-veggie spicy pasta dish that fed us for several days.
One of our biggest convictions after seeing Food, Inc. is that we can no longer eat feedlot-raised, industrial beef, pork and chicken. We haven’t had chicken or beef at home in at least two weeks, and I’m not sure if we’ll be having it in the near future. I’m honestly not entirely sure I miss it or if buying the sustainable alternatives is worth the cost increase at this point, when simply doing without has been so enjoyable. The choices of sustainable chicken at Earth Fare were slim pickins. When I was shopping this weekend, turkey tenderloins were cheaper, and I bought two– they’ll be more of a treat than a regularly occurring dinner item. The bacon used to flavor our beans is really the only “meat” we’ve had, and we are, at this point, still eating fairly conventional fish: frozen salmon, tilapia, tuna, and mahi bought at Costco. Many nights we don’t have any meat or fish at all, and yet our dinners are delicious. We do eat a lot of pasture-raised eggs, and we buy organic dairy products at the regular grocery store.
Often people ask me about what we do for snacks. Jon makes homemade salsa regularly (basically just diced tomatoes, onions, maybe some bell peppers, black beans, white corn, lime juice, jalapenos, cilantro, salt, and pepper), and we buy regular tortilla chips. Though I plan to try making it soon, we buy hummus and pita chips as well. I’m currently trying to deplete my supply of microwaved popcorn, one of my favorite snacks, and plan to switch to popping actual popcorn on the stove in the future– all the packaging on microwaved bags seems a little excessive. We also buy regular ice cream at this point. And we eat Kashi brand cereal and granola bars. Other than that, we don’t have a lot of snack food!
Three weeks is not enough time to tell much about the overall cost or any savings as a result of this change. We also can’t say if we’re healthier or have lost any weight or have clearer skin or anything like that. I can say that I’m really enjoying the food. It tastes like the home-grown food I grew up on, and is truly more delicious than any store-bought produce I’ve ever had. I also just feel better knowing our food reflects our values.
I know to some people all the stuff I’ve mentioned above just sounds like a whole lot of work, but the truth is, whether I’m listening to podcasts or chatting with Jon or just quietly chopping, I enjoy my time in the kitchen. I enjoy making things with my hands, in the same way I imagine crafters enjoy their crafts. I happily spend quiet Saturdays when I could be doing anything I want experimenting in bread baking. I’m enough of a feminist to believe, though, that no one should feel chained to the stove, or like cooking is her job and hers alone, so if at least one member of your household doesn’t enjoy these things (and have the time for it), this way of eating might be impossible. For me, it’s one of my hobbies, and when Jon’s work schedule allows (he works 80 hour weeks a lot of the time), he enjoys it too.
Either way, I just wanted to share our experience, and encourage you to try joining a CSA if you can and if it sounds appealing to you. We’ve certainly found it enjoyable and rewarding, and I am getting a Little House on the Prairie sense of pride watching my freezer fill up with things that we can eat long after our subscription to the farm ends in mid November.