CSA has become a fairly well-known household term — even among us urban folks, but if it hasn’t yet shot up on your radar, the acronym stands for “Community Supported Agriculture,” and the idea is that you pay a certain amount of money up front to invest in a local farm that then provides you with a weekly supply of fresh (often organic) veggies throughout the season — and maybe fruit, dairy, or meat/fish, too, depending on the offerings at your area’s CSA. Some CSAs, including ours, are also mixed income CSAs, which means that they offer shares at different prices for a range of income levels. This is our first season with the Long Island City CSA, which partners with the Farm at Miller Crossing in Hudson, NY, and the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, and I love it!
We signed up for a half-share, which is plenty for 2 people, and picking up our seasonal, organic farm-fresh vegetables and fruits each week has made cooking even more fun than usual these last few months. Not only have we received the typical Northeastern summer bounty of cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, garlic, leeks, carrots, zucchini, squash, peaches, plums, apricots, apples, and berries, we’ve also gotten some slightly more exotic offerings like garlic scapes, broccoli rabe, baby bok choy, white Japanese radishes, and this week: kabocha, a Japanese squash.
The one thing that people who join CSAs often complain about is actually one of the things I like best about it: You don’t get to choose your produce; therefore, you have to be more creative about planning your meals. Personally, I like the challenge. Occasionally, I get vegetables I’ve never cooked with before. Though more often, because it’s locally grown and I’m a Northeastern native, I get stuff that I’ve cooked with a million times. And I can see how this could be really boring if you’re not especially into cooking or if you’re a vegetable hater. But for me, when I peruse recipes from my cookbooks or the online food porn, and then I start imagining all the flavors blending together, it’s instant gratification — not unlike when Julie Powell* expounds on the virtues of baking a simple chocolate cake in Julie & Julia.
I’ve made many delicious salads and side dishes from our CSA stashes this summer, plus a few early summer vegetable soups (before the sweltering began), and an amazing cardamom plum tart and 6 extra tartlettes, among other dishes.
One specific CSA challenge that has come up for me is that I don’t associate kale and chard with summer. And don’t get me wrong; I love kale and chard — in the fall, winter, and spring. However, judging by the earthy green bundles that the CSA volunteers keep shoving into my Baggu each week, they are actually summer greens. But hot damn! We’ve had a 3-month-long heat wave in New York City, and the last thing I want to do is boil, sauté, or bake these big, tough greens in my air conditioner-less kitchen.
Yet, I also don’t have it in me to let them wilt and die, and become one with the onion skins that confetti the bottom of our crisper. In honor of the green Swiss chard that we got this week, I’m going to experiment with grilling it. And then, I’m going to toss it with olive oil, minced garlic, cannellini beans, sea salt, pink peppercorns, and shaved parmesan, and see how it turns out.
Our CSA runs from June 2nd through October 27th, and it’s a really good deal for us, especially because our grocery options are a little grim. With just a small chain supermarket one block away that seems to only ever have produce from China or Chile (Wait, is that why they call it C-Town?) and a fancy, gourmet place that accommodates the residents of the luxury condos across the nabe (= grrr expensive!), the CSA is a welcome addition. I should add that we do have a farmers’ market, but the CSA produce ends up being cheaper. We can go to the farmers’ market or one of the other places for anything we need that didn’t happen to arrive in our weekly share.
But it’s not just about the money. Joining a CSA is also about supporting local farmers and agriculture, building closer ties with our community, and committing to a more sustainable way of living and eating, even while residing in the concrete jungle of New York City.
* Incidentally, Julie Powell also lives in LIC (when she isn’t in Kingston, NY, cutting up animals).