It’s been just over a year since we moved from Boston down to Chattanooga and I signed up to be part of the CSA (community supported agriculture) program at Big Sycamore Farm. It’s one of the best choices I’ve ever made! I’ve been able to cook with and eat so much amazing local produce over the past year, and having a curated box has pushed me out of my cooking comfort zone and made me come up with some creative recipes I never would have thought of otherwise. Also, since the spring I’ve been doing a work share, which means that instead of paying for my box I go up to the farm about once a week and spend the morning working for my box. As someone who’s new to town and doesn’t have a ton of friends yet, I’ve loved having the chance to hang with the family that owns the farm and get a bit of fresh air and exercise while learning about farming. I get a lot of questions about my CSA, so I wanted to dedicate a post to explaining it and sharing the photos of the bountiful boxes I’ve received over the past year. (You may have already seen some of them on Instagram, but here they are all in one place. All of these are iPhone photos, so I apologize if they’re not totally sharp!)
What is a CSA?
CSA stands for community supported agriculture and is also often called a farm share. Basically you pay (usually a lump sum up front) for a share of the farm’s produce over the course of a season. Each week you get a bag or box with a selection of vegetables and/or fruits (some farms also offer CSAs that include eggs or meat). Part of the idea of a CSA is that you and the farmers share in the potential risks of growing food: if weather or other events lead to a bad season, you may not get quite as much or quite as wide a selection in your box. CSA members help farmers plan and pay for their crops since they know at the beginning of the season that they have a guaranteed demand for a certain amount of produce each week. Some CSAs require you to pick up your box at the farm, some bring boxes to various pickup locations, such as local farmers markets, and some may even offer delivery. When I do my work share I pick up my box at the farm, and otherwise I pick it up at my neighborhood farmers market. Find a CSA near you over on the Local Harvest site.
What is a work share?
A work share means that you actually go to the farm and help out in exchange for your box. Don’t worry if you’re too busy–most farms do not require that members do a work share, so you can simply pay for your CSA. When I first started doing a work share I was worried about the time commitment. Since my farm is flexible, they allowed me to pay half price for the CSA and work a shorter amount of time: just 8 mornings in exchange for about 6 months of produce. The fall season is shorter, so I’m doing a full work share: it’s one morning of work in exchange for each weekly box.
What kind of work do you do at the farm?
I help out with whatever’s going on that day, which has included weeding, planting seeds, transplanting seedlings, harvesting and washing produce, watering plants, clearing out beds, and feeding animals. It’s all been really fun and some days it’s physically exhausting, but it’s always rewarding and eye-opening. If you decide to do a work share, I recommend you bring/wear these things: lots of water and snacks, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug spray, and boots or old sneakers.
As a bonus, doing a work share at my farm means you get a little extra in your box each week and you also get more choice. Big Sycamore farm lets its work share members pick out 6-8 vegetables they want each week to put together their box. If there’s a ton of one particular vegetable or herb they sometimes throw that in on top of the regular amount of produce.
Do you still buy some produce at the grocery store?
I do, but not very much. Since I don’t get onions and garlic in my box every week but use them all the time in my cooking, I often buy those. I also buy fruit because it’s my go-to snack and I only occasionally get it in my box. I buy a few things I love to cook with that can’t be grown around here, like avocados, plantains, and citrus fruits. However, grocery shopping is easier, quicker, and much cheaper than it was before.
What about waste? Are you able to use up everything in the box each week?
I try really hard to use everything, but occasionally time gets the best of me and something goes to waste. I try to prevent that by storing produce appropriately so it will last longer, and using produce that spoils quickly first. This post from Alexandra’s Kitchen has some great tips for storage and planning. If I don’t love something or have more than I think I can use, I give it to a friend or family member. And when a little something does end up going to waste, I try not to beat myself up about it. My money and/or labor still went toward supporting a local farm, and wasting vegetables from a local farm is not quite as bad as wasting grocery store veggies because they haven’t required the use of a bunch of gas and energy to transport them to you from far away.
What’s in a typical box? Do you get to choose or turn down items you don’t like?
Obviously the boxes vary by season, so below I’ve included pictures of many of my boxes over the past year, along with a list of what’s pictured and a few recipe ideas for the items in the box. Some CSAs do not allow you to swap out items you don’t like–that can be a lot of extra work if everyone has special requests. However, Big Sycamore Farm sends out an email at the beginning of the week outlining what will be in the box, and if you email them back within a day or two they will make a fair swap for you if there’s something you don’t want.
As a note, a few of these pictures include produce that was not in my box because I purchased it as an add-on, and one or two pictures include produce from other farms that I bought at the farmers market (mainly the apples, since my farm does not have an orchard).
Do you have questions about doing a CSA? I’d love to answer them in the comments! My hope is that this post will encourage at least one new person to try a CSA.
Without further ado, here are all the boxes! My farm takes a break for December-March, so you won’t see any boxes for those months. Depending on the climate where you live and whether your farm has greenhouses, the off season may be longer or shorter.
Spring CSA Boxes
Late April: lettuce, radishes, strawberries, green kale, mint, red kale, turnips, parsley, and quail eggs.
Recipe Ideas: Celebrate the beginning of strawberry season with this mocha ricotta pie with strawberries and roast the radishes together with their greens (salt and pepper roasted radishes on page 225 of Paleo Planet).
Early May: lettuce, kale, bok choy, strawberries, mint, sugar snap peas, broccoli, beets, green tomatoes.
Recipe ideas: Use the lettuce, strawberries, beets, and sugar snaps to make this spring farmer’s market salad. Use the green tomatoes to make this healthier twist on fried green tomatoes: baked green tomatoes with crab salad and fried capers from Wicked Spatula.
Mid-May: baby red onions, radishes, cabbage, Swiss chard, kale, sugar snap peas, lettuce, beets, potatoes.
Recipe ideas: Celebrate the first potatoes of the season with duck fat roasted potatoes (delicious with or without the sauces). Use the Swiss chard and onions in this frittata from Serious Eats–I often make something similar without the cheese and with browned breakfast sausage added in.
Early June: kale, globe zucchini, patty pan squash, beets, baby red onions, potatoes, rainbow chard, zucchini, zephyr squash, summer squash, tomatoes, and carrots.
Recipe ideas: Combine the bounty of squash and tomatoes in this pesto shrimp bake with squash and tomatoes. For the pesto, use this carrot top-kale version. Avoid beet boredom by mixing them with carrots in this roasted beet and carrot salad with goat cheese vinaigrette.
Summer CSA Boxes:
Late June: zucchini, green beans, summer squash, tomatoes, lettuce, mint, and potatoes.
Recipe Ideas: Use the green beans and mint to make these magic green beans from Melissa Joulwan. Spiralize your zucchini and summer squash and make squash noodles with everything pesto and/or shrimp and zoodles with garlic tomato sauce (add your fresh tomatoes to the sauce–they’ll only make it better!).
Early July: cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, kale, cherry tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini, onions, and Japanese eggplant.
Mid-July: Swiss chard, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, spaghetti squash, kale, sunflowers, watermelon, cherry tomatoes, and basil.
Recipe Ideas: Use the spaghetti squash and cucumbers in these Vietnamese caramelized pork meatball “vermicelli” bowls. Consider whipping up a refreshing watermelon drink like this watermelon gin cooler or this non-alcoholic agua fresca.
Late July: summer squash, patty pan squash, tomatoes, okra, parsley, corn, spaghetti squash, and beets.
Recipe Ideas: Win over okra haters with this blistered okra with garlic and cumin. Use the corn, squash, and parsley for this ribeye steak with chimichurri butter and grilled vegetables.
Mid-August: basil, zucchini, summer squash, sweet potatoes, eggplant, potatoes, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
Recipe Ideas: Use the potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, summer squash, and basil in this seared salmon with red curry vegetables. (If you’re not a salmon fan, just make the vegetable curry and top with your protein of choice grilled or pan-seared!). Try this eggplant involtini from Alexandra’s Kitchen–I’ve also made this with half eggplant and half zucchini and it came out great.
Late August: cucumbers, rosemary, bell peppers, tomatoes, Italian peppers, summer squash, and sweet potatoes.
Recipe Ideas: Put the bounty of peppers to use in this homemade harissa from Simply Delicious. Use the rosemary to perfume this roast chicken with crispy skin from Low Carb, High Fat Recipes–you can also cube the sweet potatoes and throw them underneath the chicken to cook. Spiralize the cucumbers and make the lemongrass shrimp and cucumber vermicelli from Paleo Planet (page 168).
Fall CSA Boxes
Mid-September: sweet potatoes, cabbage, pea shoots, onions, basil, potatoes, acorn squash, delicata squash, cherry tomatoes, and apples.
Early October: green onions, kale, butternut squash, chiles, bok choy, butterkin squash, potatoes, lettuce, and tomatoes.
Recipe Ideas: Use the butternut, potatoes, and green onions to make this butternut squash and potato soup. Make a stir-fry with your bok choy–try the chicken and cantaloupe stir-fry from Paleo Planet (page 78) or use it instead of asparagus in this cashew chicken.
Mid-October: lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, mizuna, cabbage, sweet potatoes, basil, parsley, rosemary, garlic, butternut squash, and bell peppers.
Recipe Ideas: Use the sweet potatoes to make bacon and sweet potato chili. You can also add diced fresh tomatoes when you add the spices. Or use the tomatoes and bell peppers to make this red pepper tomato sauce from Alexandra’s Kitchen (scroll down for the recipe).
Late October: lettuce, green tomatoes, potatoes, mustard greens, butternut squash, green onions, thyme, oregano, and cherry tomatoes.
Recipe Ideas: Use the potatoes, scallions, and mustard greens (or substitute kale, turnip greens, or any other hardy green) to make the colcannon from Paleo Planet (page 208). Try this green tomato relish from 100 Days of Real Food.
Late November: carrots, mustard greens, lettuce, parsley, green onions, daikon radish, and sweet potatoes.
Recipe Ideas: Use the daikon radish in this winter vegetable gratin (you can use sweet potatoes instead of kohlrabi). Or try this roasted jerk chicken with carrots and potatoes with sweet instead of regular potatoes. Throw some chopped parsley on top!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek into my CSA boxes. Hit me up with any questions in the comments!
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