Hello Fellow CSA members. I am so excited to write for you for yet another wonderful Holcomb Farm growing season. I am Julie Wern, health coach, food writer, cooking instructor and author of Holcomb Farm’s Simply Fresh blog. Simply fresh is a weekly blog designed to inform, instruct and inspire the healthful, flavorful, and efficient use of your CSA bounty. The blog offers weekly tips and recipes on featured produce that include storage and preparation instructions, cooking ideas, and helpful tidbits.
I thought I would post before our first distribution to share with you some tips and strategies I use at the start of the CSA season to ready myself for the upcoming weeks so I can be most efficient and creative with my bounty.
Each year I introduce my readers to my pantry suggestions (click here) in which I list all the major condiments, spices, fresh produce, grains, legumes, and other items I stock up on before the CSA season begins. With a full pantry I am prepared to meet the harvest head on in the kitchen with relatively few last minute trips to the conventional grocery store. Feel free to alter this list according to your personal preferences, but do note that these are the kinds of items you will most often see in my recipes.
Another planning method I use is to schedule my weekly grocery store trip for a day or two after I pick up my share. Once I have my share for the week, I have a better idea of additional items above and beyond my pantry stash that I might need to flesh out the week’s menu.
How the CSA works and More Tips
Before I reveal the rest of my general CSA tips, let me share with you how the CSA works. I am writing now mostly to those who are new to the CSA and/or who will be coming to the CSA barn for pick-ups. Those of you receiving boxed shares at other distribution centers will find this section less relevant.
On pick up days, as you enter the CSA barn you will be expected to check off your name on the member list located at the cashier desk. The produce will mostly be lined up along the walls of the barn. A chalkboard above the main wall (and often signs in front of each item) will instruct you how much of each item a share or half share includes.
If there is excess produce available at any given time it may also be offered for purchase. If you wish to purchase additional items a price will be listed for given amounts and purchases can be made at the cashier table (here you can also buy non-share grocery items that are carried in the farm store such as eggs, yogurt, and meats)(cash, check and credit cards are accepted). Sometimes I find it worthwhile to double on certain items by purchasing, say, a second bunch of chard or bag of spinach, as these items tend not to go very far, especially if you wish to sauce them as a side dish and/or have a large family.
Another benefit the farm offer is an exchange basket where you can leave an item you are not interested in and/or exchange it for something someone else has left behind. This can be a good way to get double of one item simply for the cost of giving up your less desirable item(s).
While there is typically a roll of produce bags available for member’s use, the farm strongly encourages folks to collect and bring their own bags (plastic or paper or otherwise reusable). To limit the use of plastic and keep costs down, there is also a place to donate extra bags and members are encouraged to take these before using the bags provided by the farm. You will want to bring your own re-usable shopping bags for carrying your bounty to your car. In the first few weeks of the season, one bag is typically enough, but as the season progresses you will want two or even three such bags to carry your haul.
Pick Your Own (PYO) Procedures and Tips
At Holcomb Farm we are fortunate to have Pick Your Own (PYO) gardens in which members are allowed to harvest their own items. A white board inside the CSA barn will provide maps to the gardens, alert you to what is ready for harvest, and inform you of the allotted share amounts. For the PYO items you will need extra produce bags and scissors. The farm has a collection of scissors for general use, but they quickly disappear so stashing a pair of scissors in your car makes things much easier.
For picking in the fields I recommend closed-toe shoes, as you will be walking in dirt and mud. While it can be quite hot at the farm, long pants are often useful to avoid getting scratched or tickled by the leaves. Some bushes, like the raspberry patch, can leave one feeling pretty itchy! Bees can also be a menace. Sun hats are a great idea too. I haven’t really felt the need to bring garden gloves, but you may feel differently.
In the early part of the season, plan for about 10-20 minutes of picking time. However, as the season progresses, you will need to extend that to an hour. Since many of you will be coming in high afternoon, you might want to consider doing your picking last and bringing a cooler with ice to place your bounty in for the ride home. Oftentimes tender produce picked in the heat of the sun and put into a hot car will wilt and deteriorate quickly.
One of the most popular PYO items is the fresh flowers. Once the flowers are ready for harvest I highly recommend that you plan to bring a sturdy vase or bucket with water in it. Many of the flowers are very delicate and wilt quite quickly. Putting them in water right away keeps them fresh and perky. Many folks even bring their buckets right out into the fields so that the flowers get placed in water right away. Be sure to rig a way to transport your water-filled vessel without making a sloshy mess in your car!
My last tip is to really take time and savor the farm. The sights, smells, tastes, lovely people (and cats and dogs, and now pigs too!) have brought me such calm and joy over the years. I hope you come to love the experience as much as I have.
A Note About Simply Fresh
Finally, a note about my blog. I write each blog post up to one week ahead. However, it is very difficult for Farmer Joe to give me absolutes about the produce that will be offered in the upcoming distribution. Further, the unpredictable nature of farming also means that the distribution in one week may not be the same from day to day. I make every effort to guess correctly and make each post relevant to everyone. However, there may be times I highlight a specific produce item that you end up not receiving in your share, or the amount in my recipe doesn’t match the amount you have been given. I ask for patience and a little creativity in these situations. Bookmark posts so you can refer to them later when you do happen to get that specific item in your share. Also, feel free to do searches on the website—I have marked each past Simply Fresh post with key terms to make searching by produce item a cinch.
If you find you like what you read on my weekly blog, you might want to consider checking out my other food and lifestyle blog called The Wholesome Gourmande. In this blog I offer regular health and nutrition tips as well as delicious recipes and food preparation tips.
Summary of My Top 10 CSA Prep Tips
- Stock your pantry.
- Bring your preferred produce bags or use bags donated by other members (if you use them)
- Bring clean re-usable shopping bags and a cooler with ice for transport
- Wear closed-toe shoes and consider long pants
- Pack a sun hat
- Leave a pair of scissors in your car
- Bring a sturdy vase or bucket of water for flowers
- Plan your regular grocery shopping for one or two days after pick up
- Use the search tool on the website to find information on produce items that are not discussed in a given week’s Simply Fresh blog post.
- Take your time, smell the flowers, and savor your experience at the farm!!!
I would love to hear from you! What are your top tips for preparing for the CSA season?