CSA Alternatives

It’s March.  Some parts of the country are still getting snow.  But, if you are thinking of joining a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), now is the time.  While thoughts of warm weather and juicy, sun-ripened tomatoes are at the back of our minds, local farmers are getting ready to start planting.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  By joining a CSA you are purchasing shares of vegetables and produce from a local farm.  When joining a CSA you pay upfront for a certain number of weeks (usually about 20 weeks from June – October) of produce.  While the price can be daunting, (approximately $600-$700 for the season) many farms provide payment plans to help ease the cost.  Each week you pick up your share of locally grown produce.  Most farm CSAs include only veggies.  However, other goodies like fruit, eggs, cheese, syrup and more can be added at an additional charge.

Joining a CSA has many benefits.  Since a CSA is provided by a local farm you are supporting local agriculture.  You are getting fresh produce, every week for a set number of weeks, the quality of which is far superior to anything found on a grocery shelf.  You also get to try new vegetables and/or experience different varieties of familiar favorites.

Last summer my family joined a CSA for the first time.  We experienced all of the benefits listed above and were introduced to new vegetables like mizuna and buttercup squash.  We joined a CSA that offered choices in the veggies we received each week.  For example, one week we could choose a bunch of swiss chard or kale and mix and match 2 pounds of several different varieties of peppers and/or eggplant.  It was fun taking the kids with me each week and having them see and help choose the vegetables.

However, this year we aren’t joining a CSA.  We plan on traveling a lot this summer.  Unfortunately, the CSA that we joined last year was for 20 weeks with a specific day and set times for pick-up.  We would end up missing too many weeks to make it monetarily worth it for us.  However, I still would like fresh, local veggies when we are home.  There is nothing better than a ripe tomato in the summer.  Add a slice of fresh mozzarella, some fresh basil and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar or olive oil and I’m in heaven!

So what are are some CSA alternatives?

Take a trip the Farmer’s Market

Many towns have a local farmer’s market.  It’s nice to wake up early on the weekend and stroll the various stands.   Farmer’s markets differ in number and types of vendors, so you may have to check out a couple before you find a favorite.  A benefit of farmer’s markets is that you can also pick up bread, cheese, eggs and even sometimes meat, jam, pickles or honey.  You are also able to talk with workers who may have helped plant and pick the lettuce you are buying!  Another benefit of visiting the farmer’s market is that you can see the produce and purchase the quantity and type of veggies that you want.


 Join a Local Produce Delivery Service

Field Goods is a year-round local produce delivery service that delivers to many areas of the northeast United States.  It’s a subscription service with four different size bags to choose from.  You choose a delivery location convenient to you and the produce bags are delivered there weekly for you to pick up.  They even deliver to workplaces, if enough employees sign up for delivery.  You can put your subscription on hold and restart any time.  The produce bags include both fruit and veggies and they also offer add-on items including artisan breads and dairy products.  Some other produce delivery services include Farmbox Direct, Hungry Harvest and Farm Fresh to You.  Do a quick Google search for “produce delivery” + your town or state and you will likely find several different options.  Almost all of these services work similarly to Field Goods.

Plant a Garden

If you have the time and space try planting a garden!  While this option requires a lot more work on your end, it is much more cost effective.  You can either start plants from seeds or buy starter plants from your local nursery or even Home Depot or Walmart.  We have a super tiny backyard with very little direct sunlight, so unfortunately planting a garden isn’t a viable option for us.  However, we do try to do some container gardening on our deck and grow herbs and tomato plants.

Are you joining a CSA this year?  Or are you choosing a CSA alternative?


CSA Spotlight: Pattypan Squash with Basil

Pattypan Squash with Basil

In this week’s CSA spotlight, I’m focusing on Pattypan Squash.

Pattypan Squash

Pattypan squash are a variety of summer squash that have a unique, UFO like shape.  These squash come in yellow, white and green varieties and are also known as scallop squash, sunburst squash and custard squash (among other names used).  This recipe is a great summer recipe since there are few ingredients and it uses basil, which is abundant during this time of year.  Although the squash look different, I found them to have a similar taste to yellow squash and zucchini.  While the kids aren’t big fans of squash they each had small portions of this side dish.  I served this as a side with chicken cutlets and mashed potatoes.

Chicken Cutlet, Mashed Potatoes, Patty Pan Squash

Pattypan Squash with Basil
Recipe slightly adapted from Food Renegade

3 1/2 cups patty pan squash, sliced (approximately 7 small squash)
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.   Spray a 2 quart cooking dish with non-stick spray.  Place a layer of squash slices on the bottom of the dish.  Drizzle some of the melted butter on top and sprinkle some of the basil and salt on top.  Continue layering this way until all the squash and basil has been used.  (I had 3 layers).

2.  When finished layering, cover the dish and cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until squash is tender.  Serve warm.

Spicy Grits with Chorizo, Leeks and Corn {CSA Challenge}

Spicy Chorizo and Grits

In this week’s CSA challenge I am spotlighting leeks.  Leeks look like long, thick scallions and are related to onions, shallots and scallions.  However, they have a milder flavor than onions.  Leeks need to be cleaned really well, as they grow in sandy soil, which tends to collect among the layers.  In this recipe, to prepare the leeks, I chopped the tops and ends off.  Then I made a cut down the length of the leek, sliced it and then rinsed them in a bowl of water.

To showcase the leeks I made Spicy Grits with Chorizo, Leeks and Corn.  I have recently come to like grits, especially with cheese!  The kids were visiting their grandparents for a few days and since they don’t like grits, I thought it was a perfect time to make this recipe.  This recipe is versatile, in that you can substitute different vegetables.  I used Swiss chard in place of the spinach the original recipe called for.  I think adding some sautéed zucchini would be tasty as well!

Spicy Grits with Chorizo, Leeks and Corn
Recipe adapted from Real Simple

2 links of chorizo, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
3 leeks (both white and light green parts), thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
salt and pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1/2 cup grits
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (from 3 ears of corn)
1 bunch of Swiss chard, chopped

1 . In a large saute pan, cook chorizo over medium heat until browned, approximately 3 minutes.

2. Add the leeks and garlic , cooking for approximately 3-4 minutes until leeks start to soften.

3. Add the tomatoes, 2 cups of water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and crushed red pepper.  Bring mixture to a boil.

4.  Stir in the grits.  Reduce heat to medium low and cook, stirring often until grits are tender and slightly thickened.  (While the original recipe noted about 10 minutes, it took at least 20 minutes for my grits to thicken).

5.  Add the corn and Swiss chard, cooking until the chard wilts, approximately five minutes.



CSA Challenge: Watercress and Red Pepper Quiche

Watercress and Red Pepper Quiche

Today I am linking up with Johanna and Heather for their monthly Recipe Club linkup.  This is a new linkup and my first time sharing a recipe with them.

This is also the second week of my CSA Challenge.  In this new series, I am spotlighting vegetables from my weekly CSA and how I use them.  Last week I showcased escarole and how I used it in Penne with Escarole and Sausage.  Today, I am spotlighting watercress.  This is a leafy green that I’ve eaten at restaurants but had never cooked with, prior to receiving it in my CSA.  Raw, watercress has a slightly bitter taste.  I have found that cooking “bitter” greens tend to lessen the bitterness, as this recipe did.  Since joining the CSA, I have been stocking up on frozen pie crusts.  I am not a baker and don’t have the patience for making my own pie crust.  However, using the pre-made pie crusts makes making quiche a breeze.  I’ve made several different quiches and my husband and I enjoy them for breakfast.   The kids don’t especially enjoy the veggie filled quiches.  However, if it has bacon and cheese, they want in!  Since there’s no meat in this quiche, my husband and I enjoyed this Watercress and Red Pepper Quiche.

Watercress and Red Pepper Quiche
Recipe adapted from Allrecipes UK

1 frozen pie crust, thawed as directed
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 bunch watercress, stalks removed and leaves chopped
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 large red pepper, diced

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F, placing a baking sheet in oven to warm.

2. To make the filling, heat the oil over low heat in a large, nonstick pan.  Add the onions, brown sugar and a pinch of salt, mixing them together.  Saute for 25-30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened and lightly caramelized. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

3. Crack the eggs in a large mixing bowl, add the milk and salt and black pepper and whisk well. Then stir in the watercress and mozzarella cheese.

4.  Spoon the cooled onions into the pie crust, spreading them out evenly.  Pour the watercress mixture and sprinkle the diced pepper over the top.

5.  Place the prepared quiche on the hot baking sheet and cook for 35-40 minutes until the filling is set and the topping is lightly browned. Serve it hot or at room temperature.



CSA Challenge: Penne with Escarole and Sausage

Penne with Sausage and Escarole

If you follow me on Instagram you know that I joined a local CSA for the first time this year.  It is fun being introduced to new vegetables, but it is challenging as well.  Some of the vegetables I receive I have never heard of, have only tried in restaurants or have never cooked with.  Over the next few weeks, I have a new series planned where I am showcasing how I use some of the vegetables from my CSA.  Hopefully, this will inspire you to pick up a new vegetable at the Farmer’s market or grocery store or help you cook with it, if like me, you receive it in a CSA pickup.


The first vegetable that I am spotlighting is escarole.  Escarole is a leafy green that looks like a head of lettuce, but has a more bitter taste.  Because the head of escarole I had was so large, I settled on this Penne with Escarole and Sausage recipe from the Cooking Channel, figuring I’d be able to use most of it up. I have made a similar recipe to this one in the past using broccoli rabe, another bitter green.  This recipe was a winner, as the bitterness of the leaves was greatly reduced by the heating.  It also blended well with the flavors of the garlic and sausage.  To keep the recipe kid-friendly, I omitted the crushed red pepper that the original recipe called for.

Penne with Escarole and Sausage
Recipe adapted from the Cooking Channel, courtesy of Emeril Lagasse

 pound pasta
 teaspoon olive oil
 large onion diced
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus additional for salting pasta water
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2  pounds sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and black pepper, cooking until onion is soft, approximately 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook until browned, 6 to 8 minutes, breaking up the sausage pieces as it cooks. Add the garlic and escarole, and cook for approximately 5 minutes longer, as escarole beings to wilt.

Add the cooked pasta and the reserved cooking water, and stir gently to combine.  Simmer until everything is heated through, approximately 2 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a large serving bowl. Add the cheese tossing to combine.




CSA versus Farmers Markets


Community Supported Agriculture, more widely known as CSA, is a membership arrangement between CSA members and one specific farm.  The member pays fees either upfront or on a payment system, depending on the farm.  This helps support the farm production costs at the beginning of the season.  In return, the member receives a weekly share of the harvest during the growing season.  Normally, the member  doesn’t pick the produce or other goods that they want in their “share” but instead receive a box with a variety of produce each week. There is of course risk buying into a CSA, with weather and other unforeseen circumstances that can affect harvest production. However, CSA membership supports the local economy and helps to keep small farms in business.

To contrast, farmer’s markets provide similar local economic support but an individual can go from stand to stand purchasing exactly what they want.

If you are interested in joining a CSA, now is the time to do so! Sign-ups for most CSAs have already begun and usually close by Mid-March.

We were torn between joining a CSA or relying on farmer’s markets for our weekly produce and, after considerable thought, I think that farmer’s markets work best for our family right now.  I was initially excited to find a CSA that is approximately 25 minutes away from where we live.  However, I would have to commit to driving to the farm on an assigned day between the designated times to pick up my share.  This particular CSA runs from May through October (20 weeks) and costs broke down to $32.50/week for vegetables only.

I think if we commit to making sure that visit the farmer’s market each week, like we would the grocery store, we will be more likely to make it each week.  I also think the kids will enjoy the process of seeing the different fruits and vegetables and picking out what they want us to try.  There are a couple of semi-local winter farmer’s markets near us that we can visit from January through May, when the regular farmer’s market season begins.  Once May arrives, there are several different farmer’s markets that we can visit.

We will be updating the blog with our purchases and recipes!