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I am tending a gigantic garden this year and anticipating the summer harvest! I have to say, though, that last year I was not in this same place.  I planted a handful of things in my garden, and most of these plants were a gift from a friend.  While I knew my garden would not be my source for summer produce, I had heard that a CSA could be.  CSA stands for community supported agriculture.  Here in the Northeastern Ohio area, we have a great one called Fresh Fork Market.  I loved it because it works with over 75 local growers, creameries, butchers, granaries and pasta makers.  Because of this, we were able to receive local meat, milk, butter, pasta, grains, cheese and produce.  The owner is passionate about chemical free produce, grass fed beef/milk/butter, pastured chicken and pork and the freshest, healthiest local ingredients.

The thing that has changed my palate and that of my family more than anything else has been joining a CSA.  Prior to this year, even if I was shopping at a local farmer’s market, I would choose things I recognize.  The surprise and challenge of a CSA is that you get whatever they give you!  I had never worked with garlic scapes, fennel, pea tendrils, beets, collard greens, or half of the greens I saw each week in my bag.  Because of that, I would never have chosen them at the market.  The challenge each week was to take what I didn’t know, or rarely used, and find delicious ways to use them before I picked up my bag the following week.  Pinterest got a huge workout, as I searched by “beet greens” or “kohlrabi” to find recipes that my family would enjoy.  Joining a CSA has to be entered into with a spirit of adventure in order to get the most out of the experience.  I love this quote from True Food.   Dr. Andrew Weil says,

“For Americans used to choosing from predictable (and uniformly mediocre) produce in supermarkets, the surprise element requires adjustment.  If you open your CSA box with dread, hoping it has this and not that, you have some distance to go.  If you attack it with roughly the same enthusiasm as a child opening presents on Christmas and are delighted by whatever you find, you are on the right track.”

Another thing I didn’t bargain for was the fact that meat would lose the spotlight that we, as a regular American family, placed on it.  It started to happen out of sheer necessity.  In order to cook through the amount of produce we received on a weekly basis, many of our dinners consisted of vast quantities of vegetables with a tiny amount of meat added.  It was a startling discovery that we could be full and happy with less and less meat each day.  While I am by no means a vegetarian, I love the idea of taking an ingredient that is hugely overused and making it take a back burner.

This is our CSA.  The pickups take place in parking lots and we pick up our bags from the back of a truck.  They sell products in addition to what is in your bag.  There are some yummy options!

That’s my take on CSAs.  I think my life is enriched because of it and I would heartily recommend it to anyone looking to eat locally within a budget, all while supporting the economy of your area.

The CSA we use is Fresh Fork and they have a ton of pickup locations on different days of the week throughout NE Ohio.  While they are well into their summer season, I know that last year they accepted people even in the middle of the year.  If you are looking into community supported agriculture in your area, sign up early.  I have heard that many CSAs fill up fast.  You can find a comprehensive, nationwide list at Local Harvest.

If a CSA is too much of an undertaking for you, I encourage you to do your weekly spring, summer and fall produce shopping at a local farmer’s market.  Leave your meal planning behind until you see what is in season and in abundance in your area that week.  Challenge yourself and buy things you’ve never seen before. Then roll up your sleeves and get to work finding great new recipes that I’m sure will surprise you!

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