This year, I finally bought a CSA share. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a way for consumers to connect with and support local farmers while reaping the benefits of wholesome local meats and vegetables. You pay a lump sum, usually a few hundred dollars, at the beginning of the season for a “share” of meat or vegetables, or a combination of both. Then, each week your farmer puts your share together in a box for pick up.
What you get in your box depends on what is harvested that week. I think of this as a partnership: I make a good-faith investment in the farmers who contribute to the local economy and they get the capital to buy what they need for the season.
I have been intrigued by this notion for some time, but I suppose I had the same misconceptions that many people have. Things like: “it’s too expensive,” “I’ll get weird things that I won’t like,” or “it will be too much trouble to pick it up every week.” I was wrong, wrong, and wrong.
Over the past few years, I’ve developed relationships with a few farmers, folks who are knowledgeable and eager to share their philosophy of farming. One of my first questions is always, “Why do you do this?” The answer usually tells me a lot about what I can expect when I bring home the fruits of their labor. My favorite answer so far is, “We wanted to provide healthy food for my children, so we decided to grow and raise it ourselves.”
I’m committed to buying most of my meat and produce from area farmers, which means that I generally cook what’s in season. I’ve had to figure out how to cook many new cuts of meat when the old standbys—think pork chops and hamburger meat—aren’t available. I have found this to be both challenging and rewarding. First, my cooking skills have grown because it’s forced me out of my comfort zone to explore new recipes and methods. Second, our diet is healthier. Produce begins to lose nutrients—and taste—as soon as it’s harvested. That butter lettuce or Zephyr squash or heirloom tomato retains far more of the good stuff on the short trip from the field within a few miles of Charlotte than when traveling from California. We’re also eating many more vegetables at home at a fraction of the cost, and I know that our food is as close to the land as possible without added chemicals.
But really, the reasons that I love my CSA box are much more simple. Walking up to my farmer’s booth each week in the Saturday morning buzz of shoppers at the Charlotte Regional Farmer’s Market feels good. I smile at them, they smile at me. They’re excited to show me what’s in my box, what they have grown out of a labor of love. I’m grateful to participate in that labor in the best way I can. We’ve forged a bond of sorts. In return, I have a box full of surprises and possibilities.
What the heck do I do with kohlrabi or garlic scapes? I make a killer slaw or pesto, that’s what. It’s like having a birthday every week and I get to create a masterpiece (or a complete flop) again and again, to stretch my culinary muscles and grow until I go back to see the farmers the next time. Did I mention that it feels good? And it’s cheaper than therapy.
Baked Summer Squash
Have an abundance of squash and zucchini all of a sudden? Try this super easy and fresh-tasting baked squash tonight. Adapted from thekitchn.com.
2 pounds summer squash: zucchini, pattypan squash, yellow squash
Olive oil baking spray or 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup bread crumbs (if using fresh, about 3 slices)
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9- or 10-inch pie plate with olive oil spray or coat with olive oil.
Remove the stem ends and slice the squash cross-wise in 1/4-inch-thick rounds.
If using fresh breadcrumbs, pulse to a coarse grind in a food processor. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, garlic, Parmesan, salt, and pepper.
Arrange the squash rounds in the pie plate, overlapping slightly and layering as needed. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top.
Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake another five minutes until the top is bubbling and crispy.
Serves 6 (or just 2, if you’re like my family)
Joanne Joy is a Charlotte native and local writer currently working on a project to document and preserve the cultural histories behind family recipes in the Carolinas. Follow her culinary adventures on Twitter @_joannejoy and Instagram at joannejoy.