When you participate in a CSA, you get to enjoy the freshest locally-grown produce. This includes not only produce, but sometimes even flowers, eggs, honey, and more. And you get to experience unique varieties and items that you might not otherwise try.
If you’re not familiar with community supported agriculture, or CSA as it’s commonly called, here’s a quick explanation. In short, a CSA is a farm-to-consumer model where members purchase a “share” of a farm’s offerings. Members pay up front for an entire season, and then receive weekly or bi-weekly collections of the fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, honey, meats, flowers, herbs, milk, cheese, yogurt, and so on, from the farm. You never know from one box to the next exactly what you’ll get. But you can be sure it will be the best the farm has to offer!
Each CSA has its own operational model. Once you pay up front for a month or an entire season, your CSA box may be delivered to you, or you may pick it up at the farm or a drop-off site. The box may only contain items from one farm, or at may include items from multiple farms. The items in your CSA box will vary from week to week, depending on what’s in season. One week you may receive a bunch for vine-ripened tomatoes and other salad vegetables, and later in the season you might receive many root vegetables, pears, and apples.
CSAs have a number of benefits. Besides getting the freshest produce, you experience a personal relationship with the farmer and his or her farm. You have access to special buys, and sometimes receive invitations to members-only special events and opportunities to u-pick at the farm. You also develop a serious understanding of the seasons and what grows in your area, and you learn about new vegetables and fruits.
Kohlrabi? Fava Beans?
What about the items in your CSA box that you’re not familiar with? Be brave! Introduce them to your family meals with fun recipes. Or you can ask your farmer to trade out one or two items for another. If you’re willing to experiment, one interesting vegetable to jump into the unknown with is kohlrabi.
Or how about fava beans? We recently had a bunch of smooth, bright green fava beans in our CSA box, so we thought we’d share a bit about what we did with them.
After cleaning the fava beans, we snapped off the end by pulling toward the string side of the pod.
Then we pulled down to remove the string that runs along the pod.
With the pod open, we removed the beans.
Next we brought a large pot of water to a boil, and added salt. This helps the beans stay green. Then we added the fava beans and cooked them for one minute.
Next we drained the beans and put them in an ice water bath to completely cool. This takes about three to five minutes. It stops the cooking and makes the beans easier to peel.
Now comes the “fun” part—shelling the beans. This can take some time. To make it easier, we found this technique works best: with your thumb nail, break through the shell at the dimpled point and pull up to remove the cap at the top of the bean, and then pop the bean out.
We were rewarded with bright green shelled fava beans, perfect for many dishes.
Back to the CSA
CSAs are a relatively new phenomenon in the United States and Canada. They’ve been occurring here for less that 20 years. The CSA concept originated in Japan in the mid-twentieth century. Japan’s Teikei system is a producer-consumer co-partnership developed by a small group of Japanese women concerned with food safety, pesticide use, and other farming issues related to the decrease in Japan’s regional small-scale farming population. Loosely translated, Teikei means “putting the farmers’ face on food.”
If you’re interested in joining a CSA, the Internet is full of resources to help you locate one in your area. For example, the Fairshare CSA Coalition lists CSAs in Wisconsin. If you have a CSA in your area that you’d like us to feature on our CSA pinboard, leave a comment below.