A Field Guide to Your Local CSA

Written by Regan Hofmann on . Posted in Dining Our Town, Dining West Side Spirit, Eat & Drink, Our Town Downtown.


The vegetables aren’t the only foreign creatures you have to learn to love when you join a CSA

As the season starts to turn and the prospect of edible things growing from the ground begins to seem less like a crazy fantasy, CSA membership drives are gearing up. CSAs work with a particular farm and use member dues to fund their farmers up front so they’re covered for the expense of the start of the growing season, rather than starting out in debt and racing to catch up with produce sales later in the year. In return, members get a share of the farm’s bounty, typically weekly; a box of whatever’s ready that day starting May-June and stretching through October or so.

Though the upfront commitment is heavy, membership is generally a great value compared to the cost of heading out to the farmers market every week. The only drawback is that you don’t get to choose the veg you take home, and you may end up with some things you’ve never seen before or something you’ve always hated—oh, and, as with any community organization, you’re going to have to deal with people you’d think twice about giving directions to on the street, let alone giving them your time and money.

The C in CSA doesn’t just mean the community you build with the farmers, it’s also the community of veggie-loving neighbors who are in this thing with you. Volunteers run the pickups, volunteers collect the money, volunteers argue with the farmers—and you’re expected to volunteer to earn your keep. But though they may be completely alien to you, fear not! Here’s a handy guide to the CSA types you’re most likely to encounter, their likes, dislikes and tricks for staying on their good side.

The evangelical food politician. Will corner you for 20 minutes to force raw food recipes on you; may carry laminated magazine clippings or a dirty notebook just for this purpose. Brings the same plastic bag she’s been washing and reusing since 1998 to the pickup every week; says it’s carbon-negative, unlike those industrially made canvas tote bags you’re carrying. Likes composting. Hates people who drive to the pickup. Tip: Avoid even suggesting that you might eat some of these vegetables alongside meat.

The clueless parent. Only in it because Dr. Oz told him organic food was best for developing minds. Doesn’t know or like most vegetables. Will bring his kids to the pickup and let them rampage, offering them a “healthy snack” like a radish when they throw a tantrum over candy. Will eventually give them candy. Likes carrots, anything familiar his kids will eat. Hates trying new things. Tip: Hang around the swap box when he goes through his weekly share, offer to trade him your potatoes for the precious scapes/broccoli rabe/rhubarb he wouldn’t dare bring home because “nobody will eat it.”

The adorably out-of-touch hippie. Leans over the box every week and takes a deep inhale before looking at what’s inside—she just loves being so close to the earth! Has a great recipe that will use all of the vegetables from your box; it only takes three days to make and requires nutritional yeast, texturized vegetable protein and Bragg’s amino acids. Likes anything that still has dirt on it. Hates pre-packaged, pre-cut “convenience” veg. Tip: Express an interest in her canning techniques and she’ll bring you jar after jar of surprisingly delicious homemade jam.

The know-it-all. Will hang around the pickup on days the farm sends an unfamiliar vegetable, hoping someone will wonder aloud, “What do you do with this?” so he can casually toss off the cultural significance, genetic lineage and culinary properties of everything in the box that week. Will shake his head sadly when the swap box is full of kohlrabi. Likes explaining. Secretly hates beets but would die before letting anyone else know it. Tip: Mention that your Hungarian grandmother used to make a traditional lovage soup and watch his eyes light up.

Most New York City CSAs are now accepting applications for the 2012 season. To find the one closest to you, visit justfood.org/csa.

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