Friday, January 7, 2011

River Dog Farm Box: Week 1

For the month of January, I've signed up to get a weekly CSA box from River Dog Farm. For those not in the know, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Basically, small farms sell "shares" in the farm and when you buy one, it entitles you to a large box of produce from the farm each week.

Most places I've lived, this has been a sign-up-by-the season deal. For example, when I lived in Chicago, my roommates and I paid a few hundred bucks in advance for a share in a farm for the whole season. We got a box each week from the start of the season (May, if I'm remembering correctly) through mid-October or so. Here in the Bay Area, however, we are lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing family-run farms, so the options are much more varied and flexible. I found that most CSAs here run year-round and offer much shorter-term options -- anywhere from just needing to request a box the week you want one to committing to a few months at a go. I signed up just for the month of January to give it a test run, and it cost me $20 a week.

Every Wednesday, a box of delicious farm goodies gets delivered to a house in my neighborhood along with boxes for several other people. I just have to pick it up by 7pm on that day each week -- easy as pie. What you get in each box depends entirely on what's in season and ready to be picked, which is perfect for a non-fussy eater like me. That's pretty much what I eat, anyway, although I do give in to the occasional all-the-way-from-Chile indulgence at the Berkeley Bowl.

I picked up my first box a couple of days ago, and it was really lovely. Here it is.

It contained:
1 bunch rapini
2 big leeks
2 lb gold finn potatoes
1 bunch carrots (SO sweet, thanks to the chilly weather lately!)
4 small heads romaine lettuce
2 small heads cauliflower
1 large grey Kabocha squash
3 lbs satsuma mandarins (which is AWESOME, as I am utterly addicted to those babies right now)

I haven't added it up precisely, but that's certainly at least $20 worth of food at the grocery store or farmer's market. Especially since it's all organic. So far, here's what I've done with my produce:

Wednesday dinner: We made pasta with Rapini and white beans. Although the recipe doesn't call for it, I also sauteed one of the leeks and added that. Also, I used my own homemade veggie stock, which I make from various veggie scraps (mushroom stems, the green parts of leeks, parsley stems, etc) that I save in the freezer till I have enough for broth.

Thursday: Mandarins, mandarins, mandarins as snacks. Plus a couple of the carrots and for dinner the leftovers from Wednesday, supplemented with some roasted brussels sprouts that I already had in the fridge . Yum!

Friday: More snacking on the mandarins and carrots, a salad with the romaine for lunch, and roasted squash soup for dinner (I also used the other leek in the soup).

Saturday: Leftover squash soup for lunch and . . . ?

The potatoes will get used, no problem, as Josh and I usually eat potatoes at least once a week with roast pork, chicken, or sausages. Potatoes are also part of one of my key "emergency meals" -- poached eggs over pan-sauteed potatoes and greens with lots of salsa.

As for the cauliflower, my inclination is to use it for an indian-style curry, with chickpeas and carrots. Josh isn't a huge indian curry fan, though, so it may also end up in some kind of soup or just roasted with some spices as a side dish for some meal.

EDT to add:

pork chops with my own homemade apple-thyme jam and mashed CSA box potatoes.

Sunday: Chickpea, cauliflower, and carrot curry from this recipe. The original recipe doesn't call for any veg other than onions and chickpeas, but I've discovered that you can pretty easily add other sturdy veggies to the mix. Also, it's way better if you make it with ground cumin and coriander rather than whole.

Monday: Lunch was left-over curry and the last of the romaine from the farm box. Lunch tomorrow will be the same.

Will I use it all? For those of you keeping track, as of midday Monday, I have left 1 small head cauliflower, a couple potatoes, a couple carrots, and some mandarins. I'll eat the potatoes with eggs for dinner tonight, finish the mandarins in the next couple of days, and probably blanch and freeze the cauliflower if I don't eat it tomorrow as a snack (cauliflower and blue cheese onion dip is delicious!). A pretty good use of all those lovely veggies! I supplemented with a $3.00 bag of salad greens from the farmer's market and also gave into the temptation to buy some kale there, which I'll eat tonight with my potatoes and eggs. Can't wait to see what I get in this week's box!

So why did I sign up? Well, I already eat plenty of produce, for the most part. But I tend to WAY over-buy in the produce department at the grocery store, and a lot of what I purchase ends up going to waste. I am hoping that having my veggies delivered to me each week will mostly keep me out of the grocery store. I figure that if I only need to buy staples like eggs, milk, and dried goods, I can probably get away with only going every other week.

Also, I like the challenge of coming up with something to do with the wonderful produce I get. For some people, this might be stressful. But, as I said, I have pretty much never met a vegetable I didn't like if it was cooked properly (other than lima beans and their awful chalky texture - gross!) And I feel like getting surprise veggies each week is sort of like a creative writing prompt -- the parameters make me feel MORE creative rather than less. Like that rapini. I can't remember the last time I bought rapini, but it ended up being the first thing I used from the box. It just looked so vibrant and delicious, and I found a great new recipe that will definitely be added to my regular rotation.

Finally, I really love the idea of supporting a small, relatively local farmer really directly (these guys are in the Capay Valley, maybe 80 miles or so from where I live). I'm lucky enough to get to do most of my shopping already at farm markets and Berkeley Bowl, where many of their suppliers are small and local, anyway, but it's nice to know that my money goes directly to the farmer, no middle man.

Right now, I'm looking at this as an experiment. Some things I'm trying to figure out:

-- Will I be able to use all the produce each week before it goes bad? I suspect that this will be more an issue in the summer, when produce is more perishable, than now. Potatoes and squash and that sort of stuff stores very well. Tomatoes, herbs, lettuce, and that ilk, not so much.

-- Will I still have to supplement with the grocery store or farmer's market? (I'm almost positive that the answer to this is yes -- I'm going to want more salad greens than I'll get most weeks, and lots of extra fruit in the summer especially.) If so, how much? And am I ultimately saving money on groceries by doing this?

-- Is River Dog the right CSA for me? I also looked at several other farms, including Full Belly Farm, Terra Firma (appealing because I actually used to live within a few miles of this farm), and Farm Fresh to You (which is mostly Capay Organic). I chose River Dog because the price was right, they get good reviews on Yelp, and they also raise pigs and chickens. I'd love to also start purchasing sustainably raised meat direct from the rancher at some point, so that seemed like a good reason to start with River Dog for my CSA.

Anyway, I'll keep y'all updated on how it goes, but I think week 1 was a sure success.

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