Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) offers an opportunity for households to receive local, seasonal produce while supporting local farmers. CSA members purchase a share of the farm, and in turn, farmers provide weekly produce throughout the growing season. Most often, the money is invested up front before the growing season, and some farms offer working shares where members commit to a certain amount of work hours on the farm. Consumers and farmers partake in “shared risk,” such as crop failure or pest or disease problems, which allows farmers to have a steady income and customer base while receiving fair market prices for their products. Fortunately, even if it is a hard-growing year for one crop, it will probably have good growing conditions for a different one. Each CSA operates a little differently and many offer a variety of food shares such as meat, cheese, eggs, and other specialty options like locally roasted coffee. This fact sheet will focus on meal planning with a fresh CSA produce share, specifically vegetables.
CSAs can provide additional benefits beyond supporting a local farmer and receiving weekly food shares. Studies have shown that being a part of a CSA can have a positive impact on health via increased consumption in a high variety and quantity of produce. One study showed that CSA members increased their servings of fruit and vegetables by 2.2 times per week. This can lead to healthier eating habits and can contribute to decreasing the amount of processed foods consumed. CSA memberships also increase the number of home-cooked meals. The same study also found that joining a CSA contributed to 4.9 more home-cooked meals per month. Time spent together on home cooking can also lead to healthier relationships within the family.
Joining a CSA may be exciting yet challenging, as an abundance of weekly fresh produce may be something new to a household. It is estimated that in the United States, food waste is about 30 percent of the food supply at the retailer and consumer levels. Meal planning for the CSA share is one way that families can help avoid food loss. This fact sheet will highlight some ways to help increase the variety and amount of vegetable consumption, increase home-cooked meals and decrease food waste. Though it may seem daunting to use the entire CSA box each week, meal planning may be an effective tool to better family health!
CSA members can be aware of and learn about the weather, pests, and other factors to stay informed on how the crops are growing and what is being harvested when. Some CSA farmers preview the weekly produce shares in a printed newsletter or on social media. This allows members think ahead on meal to preparation. Members can anticipate the produce and then create a grocery store list of items to compliment the CSA share. This planning and use of a grocery list can cut down on additional food shopping costs as well. In addition to previewing “what’s growing” CSA farmers may also share recipes, ideas, and connections to additional local resources including other CSA members. Consider joining or starting an online or in-person group to talk all things CSA!
Many cookbooks focus on local, fresh, seasonal eating. During the CSA season, keep a notebook to add recipes for different types of produce. Add recipes from friends or online, or create new recipes. At the end of the season, go through the notebook and note favorites for next year. The local library may be a good resource as well as a local bookstore for cookbooks on seasonal eating.
Prepare simple meals that can be changed up depending on the current produce. Determine certain “go-to” meals that can be made quickly and without much planning. Meals such a frittata and stir fry are convenient because they can be made using a wide variety of vegetables depending what is in the CSA share. These can be easy meals to make in between trying new recipes that might be more time consuming. Like to bake? Many vegetables can be shredded as an ingredient for baked goods like quick breads or some desserts. Want to keep it cool? Many vegetables can be washed, sliced, or shredded and added to either a salad or a favorite slaw recipe.
Review the types of available vegetables and plan two to three recipes per expected item. There will be multiple uses for everything in the box so have several options for that week in case there is more than expected. Vegetables can be used in a variety of dishes. Tomatoes can be used in spaghetti sauce one night, salsa for nachos, bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches for lunch, and bruschetta for an appetizer or snack.
Substitute new or unfamiliar vegetables for your familiar vegetables in favorite recipes. New, and sometimes seemingly unusual, vegetables could appear in the weekly shares. For some people, vegetables such as kohlrabi, chard, and fennel may seem intimidating at first, but the more you research, the more you will find that many vegetables can replace or complement other more commonly used vegetables. Try adding shaved kohlrabi into slaw recipes or substituting lettuce with a mix of kale and chard. The possibilities are endless, and experimenting is half the fun when it comes to meal planning.
It is inevitable that some weeks there will be an overabundance of veggies. Look at the selection of vegetables in the share and determine which ones should be used sooner and which ones can store for a longer period of time. For example, in the springtime share, a box might contain lettuce, spinach, other greens and radishes. The lettuce, spinach, and delicate greens should be used within the first couple days of harvest. The radishes, as well as other root vegetables like beets, carrots, parsnips, and turnips can be stored in the refrigerator crisper one to two weeks if the green tops (leaves) have been removed. Start with eating salads and then decide how to enjoy the root vegetables in the near future.
A CSA summer box might include zucchini, eggplant, and peppers. The eggplant is best used right after harvest. Eggplants do not like cool temperatures, so it is recommended to refrigerate them only one to two days before they start to develop soft spots. Summer squash like zucchini, yellow squash, and patty pan store well in the refrigerator for two to three days but peppers store well in the refrigerator crisper up to two weeks.
In addition to planning the timing and storage in the refrigerator, CSA members might have enough produce to consider long-term storage. Home food preservation like canning, freezing, or drying offers enjoyment of the local produce throughout the entire year. For safe home food preservation, use reputable, up-to-date sources like the National Center for Home Food Preservation or Ohioline fact sheets for recipes that are validated for safety. Canned food must be properly processed the correct amount of time for a safe product. It is important to remember that many vegetables must be pressure canned. Water bath processing is generally used for high acid fruits, tomatoes, and pickles. Following a recipe from the sources above will help ensure the correct process is used.
With some intentional planning, the family CSA share can offer much enjoyment and many benefits for everyone in the kitchen and at the table.
Cohen, J. N., Gearhart, S., & Garland, E. (2012). Community Supported Agriculture: A Commitment to a Healthier Diet. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, 7(1), 20–37. doi:10.1080/19320248.2012.651393
Jackson, G., Raster, A., & Shattuck, W. (2016). An analysis of the impacts of health insurance rebate initiatives on community supported agriculture in Southern Wisconsin. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 2(1), 287-296.
National Center for Home Food Preservation, nchfp.uga.edu
Story, M., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2005). A perspective on family meals: do they matter? Nutrition Today, 40 (6), 261-266.
US Food Loss and Waste, USDA, usda.gov/oce/foodwaste