First Impressions: A CSA Rookie’s Point of View

Author’s note: Hi everyone. This is Vinny Bove, Lacy’s husband.  She normally posts on this blog, but right now she is out of town visiting a friend who is seriously ill in the hospital.  If you’re of the praying inclination, our good pal Ryan could use every prayer you’ve got to spare. Thanks.

This summer has been the first CSA season for Lacy and me.  We had always talked in a vague sense about eating healthier, adding more organic foods to our diet, and balancing all of the pastas and meats in our meals with wholesome veggies.  But the farthest we got with this desire was to go to Trader Joe’s, buy a handful of vegetable items, and still feel like we weren’t doing enough.

For a while this was our only source for organic foodstuffs. (image credit: arlnow.com)

When a friend told us a year ago about FHCSA, Lacy was intrigued and excited.  However, I’m someone who you might call a “tightwad.”  I’m always reluctant to spend money (except when I get that impulsive urge for the latest electronic doodad), and in my bachelor days, my lackluster diet consisted of whatever generic supermarket brand happened to be on sale (it’s a wonder I didn’t malnourish myself to death years ago).  So I couldn’t help crunching the numbers on this one, breaking down the seasonal CSA price into weekly amounts, and comparing that to our normal grocery budget.  It turns out that each CSA pickup would take up almost half of our budget for food. After the initial shock, it occurred to me that this could actually be a good thing: to force the percentage of greens in our life from a sliver to a huge chunk.

We were happy to be accepted into the program, even more so when we discovered how many people were on the waiting list.  It was like we had won some sort of leafy lottery.  Then at the season orientation, we met all of the wonderfully friendly CSA staff volunteers, tried to keep up with the instructions on how to fold and unfold a vegetable box, listened intently to the visiting farmer, and walked out into the cool spring air feeling very encouraged about the six months to come.

Salad days are here again! (image credit: thebestsauces.com)

As that first pickup Tuesday approached, Lacy and I began to wonder just how big that share was going to be.  We were used to the prepackaged world of food, where you knew exactly what you were getting, what size, what quantity, what price, what condition.  This time were taking a blind leap of faith into a vegetable patch, and there were a lot more unknowns to deal with when we were used to.  So when I got home from work and saw the crisper drawer of our fridge overflowing with green plant life, as if someone had planted a rainforest in there, I feared we may have gotten in a little over our heads.

There were all kinds of things in there!  Some items I had never seen before and couldn’t identify (potential future FHCSA project: a “Get to Know Your Veggies” picture book), others looked nothing like what I was used to from the supermarket.  Cucumbers were still crisp, but not as artificially crisp as non-organic varieties.  Heads of lettuce had that freshly-dug-up look, instead of the polished-up-to-look-appealing-in-the-produce-section look. C arrots still had long green stems and the spindly rootlike pointy end (yes, that’s the technical term).  To Lacy, who grew up on a farm, this was no big deal, but to Vinny “Boy of the ‘Burbs” Bove, this was a revelation.

And I thought they only looked like this in Bugs Bunny cartoons. (image credit: ecoki.com)

The difference in taste was something that I can’t really describe in words.  Sure, they were fresher, but there was something else there, a distinctly natural flavor that, honestly, took some getting used to.  Still, the knowledge that I was consuming significantly healthier fare helped a lot in the adjustment process.  I don’t expect to become an organic snob that turns his nose up at “normal” produce, but I definitely like the idea of eating food that came directly from the fields.

It also helped to have such a creative cook at home…and I’m definitely not referring to myself.  Left to my own devices (which has been the case with Lacy having been on vacation the last week and a half), I’d be eating salads twice a day, because I don’t really have the culinary wherewithal to do much else.  But in my wife’s capable hands, we have feasted on stir fry and rhubarb pie, with much more interesting fare still to come.

As the first few weeks passed, though, we did struggle a bit to make use of the veggie overflow.  The crisper was so full that it could be overwhelming.  What could we construct with all this stuff?  What is this bulbous white thing?  That’s not garlic, is it?  What does a bok choy look like again?  What can we use it in?  Combine that with the fact that these preservative-free items tend to go bad more quickly than their chemically-modified brethren, and we found ourselves wasting a fair amount of the weekly stock.  But as we’re still adjusting and expanding our menu, we know we’ll naturally become more efficient with what we’re receiving.  An abundance of fresh produce is definitely a good problem to have.

While Lacy’s been on vacation, I’ve made do with a slightly improved version of my old bachelor menu, and the CSA helped a lot in that regard.  Aside from the aforementioned salads, I was also finally able to make use of my parent’s juicing machine, which they had kindly lent to us a month ago.  Friends had been telling us about the benefits of juicing, and I was equally eager and nervous to try it out.  After all, they would frequently say in the same breath how much they loved the energy-rejuvenating properties of vegetable juice, even as they tried to get used to the bizarre taste.  So, it was with a little trepidation that I sliced up a slew of cucumbers that I knew would spoil if I didn’t use them soon, and fed them into the whirling blades of the juice machine.

The juice is loose! (image credit: nutritionistics.com)

After creating a wonderfully pulpy mess (the machine produced a lot of pulp, which I had to re-feed into the machine-several times to turn it all into juice), I tasted my first glass of cucumber juice (which I had mixed with a good amount of filtered water first), and pronounced it…not bad. A little weird, but something that I could get used to.

It took some willpower to polish off the rest of the batch over the next few days, but I feel I was better off for it.  It’s an acquired taste for sure, but some that may be due to my complete lack of a recipe.  Perhaps you, dear reader, know of some good ingredients that may take the somewhat bitter edge off of various vegetable juices.  That being said, the other night I put the rest of those Bugs-Bunny-esque carrots into the juicer, and seeing that it didn’t produce a lot of juice, I rummaged around in the crisper and pulled out what looked like yellow cucumbers.  Google pretty much laughed at me when I tried to identify them online; can anyone help me out here?  I sliced one, tasted it, decided it was pretty good, then promptly fed it into the juicer where it joined the small reservoir of carrot juice.  A little afraid of the result, I left it in the fridge until…this very moment.  I just added some water to it, and now, live on this blog, you will get to read my first reactions to it.  Aren’t you excited???

Drum roll please…

And now presenting Vinny, the Juice-Tasting Daredevil. (image credit: wikimedia.org)

Drinking now…

And…

Not bad!  Still odd, still a shock to the system for a guy who was raised on Kool-Aid and soda and other mad-scientist concoctions, but this a good start.  Perhaps I need to add lemons, something to keep me from flinching whenever I take a sip, but we’re off to a good start.

Whatever happens, I know I’ll be experiencing a lot more food firsts until November brings the last share of our inaugural CSA season.  And by then, I’ll probably be eager to apply for the winter and become a veggie veteran.

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