CSA Box: What are they and how can they help you eat healthier?

Nothing beats the taste and nutrition of farm-fresh products. And, with a CSA membership, you don’t even have to be around a farm to enjoy it.

What is a CSA and how does it work? A CSA (short for community-supported agriculture) is a system between farmers and consumers that finances farmers in advance and provides ultra-fresh produce to members in return. Each year, before planting begins, farmers sell “shares” of their upcoming crop. It provides seeds, supplies, labor and the like. Then, as the growing season begins, members receive a weekly box or bag of delicious, fresh-farm vegetables.

Here’s how to determine if a CSA is right for you.

CSA membership benefits

Improved nutrition. With 8 to 12 different vegetables in a typical summer basket, eating a rainbow may not be easy. “As items are cut at the top of ripening and travel directly from farmer to consumer, they are also at the top in terms of nutrition,” said Amry Defrats, RD, a nutritionist and owner of Amry’s Homegrown.

There is another opposite of all those delicious products. Research shows that people who sign up for a CSA membership report eating more fruits and vegetables, sharing a wider variety, less food and fewer take-outs, as well as more home-cooked meals as a family.

Advantage. No need to rush from store to store to find the best products You can expect to receive 5 to 7 pounds of vegetables per week. In most cases, you will pick them up in a central location, such as a school, church or even the farm itself. Some CSAs, however, will deliver directly to your door with an additional fee. And while most CSA shares focus on vegetables, many farms are increasingly offering additional options such as fruit, dairy, eggs, poultry, cheese and honey.

Enjoy more inspiration with meals and snacks. “A CSA can be a great way to expand your food supply and drive you towards food discovery, even pushing you out of your comfort zone,” said Leanne Ray, MS, RDN, a nutritionist and owner of Healthy Appetite. When you open your box, you can find vegetables that you have never tasted, seen, or cooked before, such as kohlrabi, celery, purple cauliflower, or garlic cloves. “It’s a great way to mix things up in the kitchen with a lot of new items,” Ray added.

Reduce your carbon footprint. Did you know that most vegetables travel thousands of miles from farm to table? That can gobble up a lot of fuel. Then there are the plastics used to wrap leafy greens or broccoli, corn and celery. CSA hauls, by comparison, are usually packed in recycled-ready cardboard boxes or paper bags.

Just don’t be surprised if the contents are a little dirty (after all, they come from a farm!) Once you get home, you may want to wash and dry them quickly. Then store them in cloth or mesh production bags or reusable airtight containers.

It’s good to know when to join a CSA

Diversity can sometimes be a problem. Often, you will enjoy tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, sweet peppers, and more. But sometimes, you will find mountains of Zucchini and not much else. No problem, Ray says, multitask them. “For example, use zucchini in both sweet and savory recipes, such as judal dishes for dinner and some muffins for breakfast,” he advises. “That way, you don’t get caught up in one thing.”

Planning helps reduce food wastage. Unboxing a bounty of vegetables can be exciting but polishing it can be challenging. Fortunately there is a solution. One is to find a CSA that offers a small half share. “Or if committing to a whole box seems too much, you might consider sharing it with a friend or neighbor,” Ray said. “That way you’ll still have the benefit of regular fresh, seasonal products without having to worry about waste.”

Be prepared to learn some new recipes. Baby bok choy and daikon radish delicious. But if you have never cooked with them before, it can be hard to know What? To do with them. “Start by making a list of the items in the box and work from it to create meals and snacks for the week,” Defrats said. “Then, put your list in a visible place for reference throughout the week.”

Pre-preparation can also be life-saving, he says. “For example, if the weekly dinner menu has steer-fries, chop the vegetables in advance before placing them in the refrigerator.”

If you travel frequently, choose flexibility in your subscription. If you are a frequent traveler, you may not be able to pick those fresh vegetables or have time to finish. In that case, DeFrates recommends finding a CSA that will allow you to suspend your subscription. If this is not an option, some CSA will gladly donate your unused box to needy community groups.

With over 2,500 CSAs in the United States, there’s one for you If you’re curious but don’t know where to start, local crops can help you find a CSA in your area.

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