CSA & the Bad Parts of Trying to be Good

Hippy-crunchy-granola feel-good choices

My partner and I decided to be “good people” this year. We wanted to eat better, pay a fair price for our food, buy local, and support our farming community all in one go. So, we signed up for a CSA.

If you’re not familiar, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It’s a great concept—we paid up front for 26 weeks of variety boxes of several pounds of organic fruits and vegetables each week. It’s advertised as good for you, the farmer, the earth and feels like such a great choice.

The best tasting rotten vegetables you’ve ever had. I swear!

It is a great choice until you’re arms deep in Romano pole beans that you have to throw away because they went bad. The produce from the farm is a lot less shelf stable than what you would buy from the grocery store. Three days for carrots. Maybe two days for strawberries. There’s no waiting. Use it or lose it.

Sometimes, we just weren’t in the mood. Pole beans are great, but I can’t eat them three nights in a row (and he won’t eat them at all!).

It’s true that I got to try a bunch of great food. The best produce I’ve ever had, actually. But for two people, the quantities of some items were overwhelming. I ended up neglecting a fair amount of some items. Into the trash they went! It makes me think:

“Does liking chianti and fava beans make me Hannibal Lecter?”

“No, but the amount of garbage you throw away makes you at least a monster.”

At least, that’s what my conscience keeps telling me. I’ve always wasted food. I don’t think I’m really that abnormal, I just never thought about food waste this way. Before we got together, I was a horrible eater. I bought convenience foods, stuff that didn’t really expire for too long (except that I shopped at Grocery Outlet, and they were likely already expired), and frozen food.

I would throw stuff away because it was garbage. It was never, “awh man! Why didn’t I ever eat this!” But I do feel that way when I’m throwing away the items from my CSA. “What a shame,” I think to myself every time I toss it into the trash.

Saving for the wrong reasons

I promise this won’t turn into an article about dumpster diving. More power to those who make the most of the massive amount of food waste that permeates our culture, but I’m not going to go that far. I’m more concerned with why it goes in the garbage in the first place.

I think it has more to do with:

  • Saving things “for the right moment”
    • This could be the right guest, meal, time, event–whatever. I would always avoid using my best ingredients thinking I would come back to them.
  • The randomness of the box makes meal planning difficult
    • Having to wait until the middle of the week to know what to buy at the grocery store is really challenging.
    • The items in the box don’t necessarily complement each other.
  • Not having cooking skills
    • I’m learning to cook, but it’s hard to figure out complex instructions just to use the food you get in the box.

Next year

I’m starting my own garden (for real this time) next spring. It’s a greater time investment, but I have a feeling it will be less wasteful if I only grow what we know how to cook and love to eat. I enjoyed the variety, but it often led to waste, which spoils the whole experience. In between, I’m going to visit a farmer’s market and get the rest. I can still support the farmer, just less directly.

Community Supported Agriculture Key Learnings

I learned a few things in the process of participating in a CSA.

  1. The produce at the grocery store is hardly worth the money. Even the organic (or perhaps, especially the organic) produce can be purchased for about the same price. (Farm) fresh really is that much better. It’s a much better value.
  2. I never thought about my food waste until it was delicious.
  3. I’m going to use food when I have it. Live in the now.
  4. Grow your own! I’m going to put a lot of thought into the process this year.