Austin and I love to grocery shop. Until I met my husband, I had never met someone who loved to grocery shop as much as I did, who could spend a chunk of an evening meandering from market to butcher to baker and home to kitchen to cook. But it’s quite possible that Austin loves to grocery shop even more than I do.
Grocery shopping is a household sport, something we tackle as one, strategizing markets to visit and ingredients to buy and recipes to make and how we want to stock our fridge each week for maximum effect. We’re built from the same kind of strange.
Because of our shared grocery shopping obsession, I’ve been ever-reluctant to join a CSA, or community supported agriculture program, through which a box of farm produce is delivered to your doorstep each week. Why would we strike the fun of grocery shopping from our lives and have our food delivered? Who could I trust to pick out the most perfect head of lettuce if it wasn’t me? Where was the spontaneity? When would I rush up to Austin with “the most beautiful currants I’ve ever seen, and how are we going to use them?”
But Austin has shared with me animated stories of his time managing food buying for 40 people during his grad school years at Cornell, when he lived in and helped to run an international student co-op house. He talked about ordering whole cows from the farm, and how his hard-partying Spaniard housemates would skip out on group dinner to secretly grill all the best steaks in the night, as everyone else slept.
He regaled me with stories of industrial deliveries of bags of carrots and potatoes as big as my head, and vats of cream to go in 40-lb burlap sacks of Nicaraguan coffee they’d grind on site. And he spoke wistfully of Monday’s early morning delivery of hot bagels and croissant that he would always wake for at 6 AM, their scent wafting from the industrial kitchen. He made food delivery programs sound pretty wonderful.
This year, we did our research (a LOT of research) and bought into a 20-week summer fruit, vegetable, egg and meat share with Cooper’s Farm. We held our breath, not really knowing what to expect, but willing to take a risk. Half-way into the summer and our share, here are some learnings from our CSA, and why we’re already planning to do it again next summer:
It is like vegetable Christmas each Thursday — I’m a big advocate for planning surprises into the everyday. The CSA is one big surprise every Thursday morning. I carefully unpack our box as Austin cooks us breakfast, and we map out how we’ll use its contents over the coming week: what we’ll grill, what we’ll preserve or freeze, what needs to be used immediately versus later on. We figure out what we should buy from the grocery store to supplement the share (maybe some crème fraiche for mashed potatoes or cilantro to throw in a salad). We anxiously await this Thursday ritual.
It has stretched our creativity and utility as cooks — Austin and I are no slouches in the kitchen. Separately, we’re great cooks, but together it’s a lovely dance. The CSA has stretched what we default to into more interesting cooking by giving us ingredients we might overlook at the market stalls. For instance —
Bunches of kohlrabi, which we turn into buttery mash to eat with roast.
Fat spring onions, which we’ve taken to charring over coals and serving as a tender side dish.
Kirby cucumbers (my husband hates cucumbers), which we slice thin and transform into garlicky pickles.
Piles of garlic scapes — whizzed with chèvre to make a pasta sauce for the ages (or our next cookbook).
The list goes on…
The CSA has made us mindful of eating meat responsibly — our family are big meat eaters (relatively speaking, especially for two former long-time vegetarians), but we are also conscious about the meat we buy and from where. Still, it’s easy to slip into convenience and pick something up because it looks good at the grocer, without any knowledge of its provenance or how it was raised. We receive a monthly share of beef and pork from the CSA, which we incorporate into a few meals each week, supplementing with fish and vegetarian dinners.
It discourages wastefulness — Austin and I hate wasting food and we’ll concoct some pretty creative meals to avoid it. The CSA has us sauteeing kale into our eggs, dicing scapes into sauces and freezing pints of hulled strawberries to enjoy later, to ensure nothing goes to waste.
It rekindled our love for eggs — Oh, farm eggs. We eat so many eggs with a weekly dozen delivered: over easy and devilled and in omelettes and salads and sauces. The canary yolk of a fresh farm egg makes me never want to eat a grocery store egg again.
Steve and Lisa, the family who run the CSA, are plain wonderful. They send a weekly email about our share, detailing what’s in it, how the pigs and cows and chickens are doing (with photos!) and offer ways to use the vegetables in our meals. Lisa runs an online farm store to supplement the weekly share with canned goods, bakery items and other cuts of meat (like pork bones and chicken carcases, which we’ll buy up later this summer to make stock to carry us through the winter). This simple email makes us feel closer to our food and committed to the people who grow it.
All this said, I want to offer a healthy caveat that we eat in a way that is expensive and we do this by spending a good chunk of our disposable income on food. This is money and time we could spend somewhere else, but have chosen to spend on a shared pastime we hold dear, and something we must do three times daily as a family — eat. But a CSA, while a luxury, is one I’d heartily recommend if you enjoy cooking and becoming more aware of what you consume. It’s done more for our little kitchen in eight weeks than anything else I can call to mind.