How to make the most of your CSA with Crabtree Farms

There’s never been a better time to try a CSA. Community-supported agriculture is booming in Tennessee, with farms and restaurants offering fresh produce for pick-up or delivery all over the state.

But what do you do when you come home with fruits and veggies you’ve never used before? WellTuned talked to Rachel Gray, Education and Volunteer Coordinator at Chattanooga’s Crabtree Farms, about how it’s done.

“CSAs are a great way to get fresh produce, help the environment and support local economies, farmers and foodways,” says Gray. “They’re also a great way for people who are spending more time at home to have a little kitchen adventure.”

11 tips from Gray to make the most of your CSA

Be willing to try new foods

You’re going to get things in your CSA that you’d never pick out in a store. That’s great! Be willing to try them. When you get what you get, it challenges you to get creative.

Try things raw

Start by identifying what you’ve got — Google is your friend here if your box doesn’t come with details — then try a little piece of each thing raw so you get a sense of the new flavors you’re working with. That will also let you know whether the strawberries you’ve got are perfectly ripe, for example, or if you need to give them a day or two to reach their peak.

Make a plan

When you get home with your CSA, don’t let things sit around and get wilty! Tackle your box ASAP. That doesn’t mean cooking everything — it simply means seeing what you’ve got and figuring out what you need to cook first and what can wait. Then consider planning your menus for the week.

Don’t refrigerate everything

Not everything wants to be in your fridge. Tomatoes get mealy, so leave those on the counter, along with potatoes and onions (but not green onions). The USDA has great guidelines, and you can also Google the answer. Just make sure you’re looking at reputable sources.

Wait to wash berries

Keep berries unwashed until you’re about to eat them. Washing them early encourages spoilage.

Wash and store greens

Greens, on the other hand, can be washed immediately. Store them in a salad spinner to keep them from wilting.

Extend your herb life

Snip the ends off of fresh herbs and put the stems in a glass of water. Tent a plastic bag on top (which you can wash and reuse later) to create your own little greenhouse.

Don’t throw out tops

I was in my 30s before I knew you could eat the tops of beets! You can actually eat the tops of lots of vegetables — carrots, celery, radishes, fennel. But steer clear of potato tops — the green parts are poisonous.

Preserve and pickle

When you’re trying to use up a CSA share, freezing, dehydrating, canning, fermenting and pickling are all great techniques. The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture website is a great source of information for safely preserving foods, and “Wild Fermentation” is a great resource for those who want to learn more about preserving food while adding probiotics to your diet. Homemade sauerkraut, for example, is totally doable for beginners and is a great way to use up a few pounds of cabbage.

Get kids involved

Did you know that if kids have a hand in preparing something they’re 10 times more likely to eat and like it? It’s so important to get kids involved in the kitchen, and in meal planning and shopping. Giving children ownership makes food less intimidating, builds new skills and teaches them about science, biology and seasonality. Letting kids cook is powerful.

Make time for gratitude

When you’re cooking or talking with your family in the kitchen, think about all the love and time that went into growing that produce, or the animal that gave it’s life for that meal. It gives you a greater appreciation of food if you look at all the helping hands it took to get it into your kitchen.

Find a CSA near you

Pick Tennessee Products is the go-to resource for CSAs all across Tennessee. If you live on the border of another state, check out the USDA’s local food directory website, which can tell you where to find the closest CSA.

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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