Last summer we joined a local community supported agriculture (CSA) program, and started receiving monthly deliveries of locally grown, in-season fresh fruits and veggies. If you're new to the concept of a CSA, the basic idea is a group of people in your community partner with a local farmer to buy boxes of produce each week or month, and the farmer delivers the produce to a pre-designated drop-off location for members to pick up. The benefit is multifaceted; by purchasing straight from the farmer, you usually save money by eliminating the middle man of the grocery store, you help support local agriculture, you eat in-season produce which has been proven to be better for you, and you get exposed to a wide variety of produce you may not usually pick up on your routine grocery run. You also help to reduce your carbon foot print by buying less at the supermarket, where produce may travel for up to 1500 miles to reach its destination.
Depending on where you live, you may have a limited time to participate in a program like this, but us lucky ducks living in Southern California are able to get a produce box every month of the year. We tried it a few years ago, and truth be told, much of the produce went to waste and we eventually stopped participating. But since changing how we eat and drastically increasing our veggie intake, I now look forward to Farmer Steve Mondays with great joy and anticipation. The pretty picture above is a small smattering of the variety we get, but you can see below that we get a lot of citrus, various greens, and odds and ends like purple snow peas and bunches of carrots.
That's a lot of produce, and we admittedly don't always eat 100% of the items we receive, and sadly some lands up in the garden, where it will decompose and make some nutrient rich soil. But for the most part, we do a pretty good job of getting through almost all that we receive. The secret to eating your way through all this produce involves some prep work beforehand and once the produce arrives, setting a bit of time aside to properly store it. Once it's all cleaned and stored, taking inventory and planning your meals accordingly is the third and final important step in the process. Here's a little break down of how I handle our produce, in the perfect situation.
Before my box arrives, I go through my fridge to see if I have any leftover produce from before, and place that front and center so I make sure to eat that first. Then, once I get my box, I wash off and allow fresh delicate greens to air dry, or use a salad spinner, and then store in the refrigerator. If I have some extra time, I lay greens on a flat tray, and place a paper towel (or cheesecloth), in between each layer. This keeps them fresh for at least 2-3 weeks versus when I just toss them in the fridge. I also spend some time cutting up larger vegetables, and trimming off ends, like cauliflower and broccoli stems, which you normally wouldn't eat, and placing them in the freezer to make veggie stock at a later date.
Once I've washed and stored my veggies, I then start meal planning. Using up all the citrus is easy. We use it in our smoothies and/or veggies juices. We also have a small and affordable Black and Decker electric citrus juicer that we use to make fresh orange juice (I haven't bought a jug of OJ in months). I roast or steam broccoli and cauliflower in batches and keep it on hand in the fridge so that I always have a fresh veggie available to feed the kids. My kids admittedly don't like veggies such as asparagus or squash, so I reserve that for my husband and I (more for us!). I use bunches of kale in smoothies, juices or salads, and here's a good way to make your kale salad taste decent, by "massaging" the leaves beforehand.
Occasionally we'll get some exotic looking fruits in our box, like passion fruit, and I usually just do a google search for ideas on how to eat and use them. I began making my own passion fruit iced tea by just scooping a little bit of the fruit out and adding it to pre-made iced tea. To truly go through all this lovely produce, one thing is for sure, and that is we have to eat at home a lot more, which isn't always fun I'll admit. It means more planning and clean-up for me, but it also means we save a lot more money and I know exactly what I'm feeding my family.
This whole process was pretty overwhelming to me at first, but with each month that passes, I get more efficient at the prep work and get more creative at figuring out ways to include veggies into our daily routine. I'm not saying it's always fun and sometimes I do dread the extra work involved, but it is truly so worth it. And while the kids may not get as excited about all the different veggies we receive each month, I know that by at least exposing them to these foods in our home, eventually over time this exposure will most likely lead them to have a healthy and happy outlook on eating vegetables. One can only hope, right? If you have any questions or tips to share, please let me know. I'm always up for encouraging more participation in this type of program, and I'm always looking for additional tips to eat more veggies!