Thursday, June 30, 2016

Our first CSA

Beet Greens
I bought a CSA for the first time this year. At $400 for 20 weeks, if we buy this CSA or another again then the cost of $20 per week needs to prove its worth. With my brain going in a million different directions these days I thought that keeping a record here will help a LOT when it comes time to evaluate the benefits of this CSA and decide whether to purchase it or another CSA next year.
In the first week's box we received carrots, garlic scapes, beets, asparagus, lettuce head, mint, thyme, oregano, sage, and mixed salad greens. I made a pound of compound butter with the thyme, oregano, sage, and a couple garlic cloves and froze most of it in an ice cube tray. I was concerned that the scapes would make an unpleasant texture in the butter, like the Egyptian onions did in the stew I used them in the first time, which is why I used minced garlic cloves instead of scapes. We diced the carrots, unpeeled, and roasted them and the asparagus seasoned with some of the compound butter, and served them with the mixed salad greens at dinner. There were enough salad greens for a second dinner's salad, and the head lettuce also lasted us as a side dish for two more dinners. I tried to roast the carrot greens but that was a complete bust. I put the leftover carrot greens in the next night's soup but when I pureed the soup, the greens wrapped around the stick blender. Next time I plan to cut the leaves up to garnish a soup and chop the stems into small pieces to add into a soup or roast. A couple of the beet greens, leaves and stems, went into the second night's soup and the rest were included with other non-box veggies cooked with a lamb roast. I peeled the beets with a vegetable peeler and sliced and boiled them. The older girls assured me that they tasted just like Grandma's (a good thing in their opinion) but not quite as tender. I think I'll increase the amount of water in the pot next time. The mint leaves I chopped into small pieces and covered with vodka. That mixture will steep in the cupboard all summer long, then I will strain it and bottle it for mint extract.
My first week's thoughts: The box is smaller than I hoped it would be, but not really smaller than I thought it would actually be. $20 seems like a lot for the quantity we received (compared to what we normally buy), but I also realize that each item went further than the same item from the grocery store would have stretched for us. The carrots, for instance, didn't need to be peeled, so we didn't pay for the peels to be put straight into the compost or trash. The asparagus were tender to the very end so I didn't need to snap the ends. The beets came with their greens and I was able to use everything except the peels. I wonder, if I boiled the peels for a natural dye whether I could freeze the dye water and expect it to work to dye Easter eggs next spring? We might experiment later this summer if we get a lot more beets. What actually went into the compost: beet peels, herb stems, carrot greens. Some of the items didn't really replace what we would have normally bought at the store, so they seem to be an extra cost, but might really save us money in the future. I never buy fresh herbs but I won't have to buy another bottle of peppermint extract for the foreseeable future and the compound butter will replace a small portion of the dried herbs that I would normally buy. That savings will disappear in future years if I start growing more of my own herbs again. The asparagus was an extra cost since we don't normally justify its expense to buy it outside of special occasions so the produce it displaced in our meal (cooked frozen broccoli, probably), which would have been cheaper serving-for-serving, made it a treat rather than a money savings. Of course, all the items in the box were higher quality than what we purchase at the store, so the quality justifies the expense, but whether we can afford that higher quality in future summers remains to be seen. I also need to remember when I evaluate whether to buy a CSA again that our grocery expenses increase during the summer on other types of food. I don't expect our weekly grocery bill to go down as much as we might actually be saving with our CSA items since during the summer we buy more expensive meat (to grill rather than roast) and more convenience food (vacations, vegetable trays, fruit trays, junk food).
Another benefit which could help us in the future and possibly save us money is in the items which will show up in our box which we aren't used to buying. Since they're in the box, I will use them. Since I've never used them before, I will be pushed to find ways to use them that we all like. Once I find ways to enjoy them, we'll all want to buy or grow them, so our normal diet will expand and include other healthy, possibly even cheaper food, such as cooking greens, turnips, radishes, and beets. We'll know how to use the carrot tops that we grow as well as the more familiar roots. We'll want to grow other cooking greens and become familiar with more unusual items such as garlic scapes. I'm motivated to use every single item we receive, since it did cost me more than I'm used to spending, so I'll learn how to preserve anything that we can't use immediately. And when the okra and rutabaga show up, we just might discover a new favorite vegetable. Of course, when the corn and peaches show up, no one will complain about those either!

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