CSA Box Breakdown: Week 1

I live in a pretty great town for food-related endeavors. There’s an excellent cooperative grocery store about half a mile away, a strong local food movement in the area, and two great farmer’s markets within easily accessible distance. This last point means that I had my choice of CSA subscriptions to purchase for the summer.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a CSA — for “community supported agriculture” — it’s a business model whereby a farmer sells “subscriptions” to the produce from his or her farm for a season. Every week, the purchaser of the CSA share picks up a box of produce at a designated spot (often a booth at a farmer’s market) and gets a smorgasbord of groceries for the week. (CSA boxes are usually “farmer’s choice,” that is, the producer picks what goes into them each week — the farmer wants all the boxes to have the same contents and value, and needs to choose produce where there’s enough to go around.) The typical CSA runs 20 or 25 weeks and runs from mid-spring until autumn.

The adventure of the CSA is that you more or less don’t know what you’re going to get every week. You need to be curious, flexible, and willing to roll with what comes. You also need to be a little more tolerant of things like bug damage, bugs, and “imperfect” looking produce, since most CSA farmers practice organic, eco-friendly techniques that happen to produce food that is more like real food and less like perfect, bland, grocery-store plastic produce.

Last summer, Sous-Chef G and I bought a CSA subscription from a local farm, and over the winter we were lucky enough to find a winter CSA subscription (which are a bit rarer than the standard “summer” CSA) from another nearby farm. We enjoyed our winter box so much that we decided to purchase from the same farm for this summer. And when we learned that they had a special deal on a “triple threat” CSA for the summer — produce, meat, and eggs for 20 weeks at a significant discount — we jumped on the offer. We picked up our first dose this weekend, and we had a lot of fun discovering what our boxes contained.

First, the veggie box. The veggie box comes weekly, and the amount of contents contained therein varies with the time of the season, but the value per box is supposed to average out to something like $20 or $25. The beginning of the season always tends to be greens-heavy, but as the summer waxes on, the components get more exciting.

Veggie CSA contents

Top row, left-to-right: Mesclun greens, Swiss chard, Bibb lettuce;
Bottom row, left-to-right: Tiny radishes, radishes and baby turnips, bok choy

Notes: The chard and mesclun greens looked particularly crisp. The lettuce was a bit damaged on the outside, but this might be due to the fact that we walked three miles home from the farmer’s market with the lettuce unprotected in a canvas bag. The bok-choy was a little limp, but it perked up when we soaked it. The radishes were covered with the trademark red clay of our CSA provender’s farm. One of the things that astonishes me is how our farmer produces such delicious produce in such clay-filled soil, but that’s part of the magic. The same night we picked up the box, we made a delicious stir fry from the bok choy, the chard, and some of the radishes.

Next, the meat box. The meat box is a monthly box, each month’s box valued at something like $80 of assorted organically-raised butchery. The meat box is a new adventure for us and we’re really excited to try it out. All the meat comes frozen and cryo-vac’ed.

Meat CSA contents

Top row: bone-in pork chops, boneless pork chops
Middle row: Whole chicken, Andouille sausage, ground beef, Boston butt pork roast
Bottom row: Bacon, hot Italian sausage.

Notes: The first thing we noticed was how red the pork was. I imagine this is because our farmer uses heritage breeds that actually get exercise on an open field–this also suggests that the meat will be more flavorful and complex. Second: the whole chicken is huge–something like seven or eight pounds! And its body shape is very different from your typical butterball–another consequence of pasture-raised heritage breeds? Finally: that sure is a lot of pork! Memo to those who keep kosher or halal: a meat CSA may not be for you.

Lastly, the eggs. The egg CSA is basically an “add-on” to the other CSA packages, where you get a dozen eggs a week on top of your other CSA components. This week, however, they were short on dozen-sized cartons, so they just gave us an 18. Bonus!

18 free-range, pasture-raised, heritage-breed eggs

Notes: If I were to size these eggs, I’d put them at the big end of “medium”. The eggs are various shades of brown, except for one random blue one, which our farmer thought was the product of an Americauna bird. The subtle blue hue did not really come out in the photo, unfortunately. I am not sure if it’ll be the first one or the last one that I cook–it’s got charm to it! I can’t wait to try these eggs out and compare them in flavor to our favorite brand of locally produced grocery-store eggs.

Americauna egg?

For those of you playing along in our home game, you’ll recall that we recently got chickens, and are maybe wondering what the deal is with an egg CSA. Well, the chickens are still coming along fine, but they are only seven or eight weeks right now, meaning there’s still a good 15 or 20 weeks left until they start laying. The timing works out pretty well with our egg CSA, which is a 20-week subscription.

We also picked up a couple of things from other booths at the farmer’s market. A loaf of whole-wheat bread, some barley cereal, and some “sweet ash” ripened cheese from our favorite cheese dude. Not pictured here: a delicious tomato foccacia that ended up in our tummies as brunch after we were done browsing the market.

Other farmer's market finds

So that’s the spoils of our first CSA box of the season. I’m planning to post some recipes based on the meat that we received this month–first up (maybe): I’ve got an angle on that Boston butt… Puerco Pibil, anyone?


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