Guest Post Written by Nicole Bennett
My first experience with swiss chard was about a year and a half ago. That Martha Stewart, I thought, she always has the strangest ingredients in her recipes. Shortly after that, however, I subscribed our family to a local farm's CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and little did I know how broad my vegetable horizons were about to get. Soon, I would be cooking swiss chard as though it were as familiar as spinach.
It turns out that although I wasn't a picky eater, nor one to shy away from vegetables, I had a pretty narrow repertoire when it came to buying and preparing produce. The standards in our house were salads and common frozen veggies like peas and corn.
Now I often find myself whipping of side dishes with once-seemingly-wacky ingredients like mizuna, kale, and arugula, not to mention amazing heirloom versions of the usuals, like orange colored grape tomatoes, yellow string beans and purple carrots.
Looking back over the last year and half, I can see that our CSA membership has thoroughly revolutionized our way of eating, requiring us to enjoy whatever the season (and the farm) brings.
It's easy to get caught in a rut with the same ol' same ol' when you just buy whatever you want from the produce department, regardless of the season. Since about 90% of our produce comes from our bi-weekly CSA box, we've by default, begun eating more seasonally.
Living in Southern California affords our CSA membership to be year-round and I was amazed at the bounty, and variety, that comes in during the winter. Summer is of course the best season though, in my opinion. Our last box contained the first tomatoes of the season. Having basically refrained from buying them at the store over the winter, that first bite tasted the way it was designed to be, like summer candy.
I love knowing that we can look forward to certain staples at certain times of the year, like the abundance of blood oranges and strawberries we've had over the last couple of months and the squash to come in the fall. I find myself appreciating food more as I wait for its time to be harvested. The produce tastes better, too, because it's being grown and picked on the timetable it was designed for in my local region.
Sticking with the CSA has been challenging at times (kohlrabi? not a favorite of mine), but there are so many resources out there to find new recipes. Our farm keeps an archive of recipes (searchable by ingredient) on their website, and we all know the wealth of cooking resources available elsewhere online.
The variety seems to be beneficial to my daughter (three years old) as well. Not only is she learning to eat a wide range of produce, but she's exposed to many things that are outside of the mainstream western diet, which is definitely a food goal for my family.
Being a part of a CSA has brought another wonderful aspect to our family's food culture, too, and that's knowing where our food comes from. Last weekend, we got to go to our CSA's annual farm day and see first-hand where our veggie box comes from. My daughter even got to meet Farmer Joe and thank him for growing us such yummy veggies. Seeing her three-year old mind take it all in at the farm was a priceless bonus to being a member of the CSA.
While our family still splurges on some long-distance foods (bananas, for example), I love not only receiving the most amazing produce but also supporting the local economy. And I'm thankful for the once-unfamiliar items that have now become seasonal standards in our kitchen.
If you haven't joined a CSA yet, you can search for a local one near you on localharvest.org.