Ever Wonder, “What’s in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Box?”
By Mike Snow (Originally published in CSA Newsletter Week 4, 2014)
Defining a CSA box is tricky for any farm. Before I started doing CSA, I remember hearing about the “eggplant CSA,” a farm that one season went heavy on the eggplant. God, I’m afraid of that. As it is, last year, we really shared the beet love. Some of you still have some in your fridge (they were beautiful beets, though, sweet and tender, and I’ve really taken a liking to growing them). I’ve come to think of a CSA share as a meal toolbox for a week. What do we eat, what’s useful to our diet, what makes a good meal?
Admittedly, this is an evolving concept, and one that Bonnie and all of us farmers are trying to crack. Here’s what I’ve got so far: leaves (greens), roots, salad fixings, spice, fruits (botanically speaking), and a little something interesting. You’ll notice that how much of each category is in a box is seasonal by nature, but it is out goal to add something of each for you to cook with every week.
Leaves. We eat the leaves of many plants—hundreds, if not thousands, are edible to us—and right we should. Vegetables (botanically speaking, distinct from fruits, nuts, roots or grains) are uber-nutritious. The leafy vegetation on a plant is where the photosynthesis occurs, so they’re high in minerals, vitamins and other phytochemicals like antioxidants, as well as fiber. We call these greens but the more color, the better (so eat those red and yellow Swiss chard stems). They’re usually savory and sometimes bitter.
Leaves are easy to add to meals: chopped up raw on top of a dish, steamed by themselves, layered into a dish or added to sauce or soup, or make into salad. Remember, plants grow leaves first before they make flowers and fruits, so we have lots of these in spring and early summer; they do well again come fall. Leafy greens include: spinach, kale Swiss chard, collards, beet greens, lettuce, Malabar spinach, sweet potato leaves, Amaranth greens, and others.
Salad Fixings. I like to think of these as distinct from leafy greens even though they’re made up of the same. Salads fill a different role on my plate; sometimes I get home and just need something easy to eat, easy to make, and something easy on which to put some balsamic vinegar and grilled chicken. Know what I mean? Salad fixings might be a head of lettuce, a bag of baby lettuce, young spinach or arugula, or other tender young leaves that you can eat without cooking.
Roots. Roots add starch and calories (energy) to our diet; they give dishes texture and meals a hearty base. Many also have distinct flavors. We’re talking anything from beets and carrots to radishes and turnips to, later in the season, potatoes and sweet potatoes. I add kohlrabi to this group; botanically it is an enlarged stem but treat it like a root in the kitchen. If we think of roots as that starchy base to a meal, we can even consider things like pumpkin and winter squash (botanically fruit) to fit into this category.
Fruits (vegetables). By fruit I do not necessarily mean sweet fruits, though we do try to grow more of these each year (for now, annuals like cantaloupe, watermelon, and strawberries). Botanically, fruit are the part of flowering plants that contain seeds, usually in a fleshy package. The plant leafs out, converts sunlight to energy, grows, then flowers, is pollinated, and forms the fruit. These are many of our standard “veggies:” tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, eggplant, winter squash…and even tomatillos and Cape Gooseberries. I think of these as the meat of a CSA box, and I include flowering parts like broccoli and cauliflower (these are flower buds!). Some are sweet, some are savory, some are hot or bitter. We eat them raw or cooked.
Spice. Here, we’re talking about the most distinguishing flavors, which give depth to our dishes. The strong flavors of leafy herbs, of herbaceous perennials, and onions, garlic, and leeks, these flavors are given by phytochemicals specific to each crop. They are particularly high in antioxidants, and these compounds mean herbs and spices can be considered medicinal, even in small quantities. Adding them to our meals makes eating enjoyable and healthy, too. Spices include: cilantro, fennel, dill and parsley; oregano, rosemary, thyme and other common herbs; ginger, turmeric, and lemongrass; and onions, garlic, leeks and scallions.
Inspiration. Finally, we like to add a little something interesting to a share, something you might now have seen before. Maybe it’s a new vegetable, a potted plant or a luffa gourd.
CSA Registration is Open!
Veggie, chicken, egg, milk and flower shares available (pick up locations, frequency and duration options available). To sign up for the Willowsford Farm CSA please visit Willowsfordfarmcsa.com.
Willowsford Ramblings is a blog by Willowsford, a community of new single-family homes in Loudoun County, Northern Virginia.