How to Cope with “CSA Stress”

posted in: Ruminations | 32

Since so many of us have joined the frays of small farm supporting by becoming new members of CSAs, I’ve noticed a particular syndrome going around this summer. The symptoms? Staying in to eat lettuce heads that have piled up in the crisper over some weeks, extreme guilt about going out to eat when there’s tons of food at home; passing up plans to make the weekly pick-up day and time, or feeling the need to schedule vacations around your CSA calendar. And then the danger symptom, indicating the illness has reached its next, undesirable stage: deciding to forfeit a few items from your share on a particular week, leaving them behind at the pick-up location.

Basically, it’s being bogged down by the little commitments one makes when joining a CSA. I can relate. It took me three days past the official pick-up night last week when I finally took my half of a full share out of my share-splitter’s fridge. People, especially in urban areas, continue to have unpredictably busy schedules, even though their will to support local food has grown.

But, before you start tossing once-fresh vegetables to the compost, or dread another bag of spinach in the fridge, here are a few tips that have helped me, at least, figure out what to do with all this great food.

Don’t cook.

Put away the pots and pans. If your CSA produce looks anything like mine, it’s probably at its best potential raw. We’re not talking about pesticide-drenched, close to moldy, stuff from the supermarket. So beyond a little dirt and bugs, there’s nothing high heat needs to kill, besides some extra vitamins. Zucchini and summer squash? Chopped and sprinkled with sea salt, lemon and olive oil and they’re a refreshingly crisp, new breed.

Rinse before putting away.

If you spend a few extra minutes washing and patting down your produce with towels, you can grab and go from the fridge much easier through the week. Plus, the time taken will reinforce what you have that week in your mind, hopefully clearing up all, “What’s in here and how old is it?” confusion.

Appoint a back-up pick-up buddy.

It’s like the person who has your extra set of housekeys, for when you get locked out. Except instead of hanging onto a measly key, this neighbor gets to hang onto a big batch of food when you can’t pick up your CSA share. And the words, “Keep whatever you like!” should be a pretty good guarantee for his or her service.

Save the hardiest vegetables for later.

Beets last a really long time. Kohlrabi is not going to turn in a week, either. If you find that you simply have too much stuff to eat in a week (as I do often), go for the most delicate leafy greens first. Save the big heads of cabbage, potatoes, green beans and carrots for another week, and don’t worry about them.

Entertain more.

In times of stress, we can all lean on our friends. I don’t think I needed to sound half as desperate when I asked one, in a moment of high CSA stress, “I have too much food, can I make you dinner?!” Who doesn’t like local, fresh food, being served to them free? Plus, following guideline #1, there really is very little preparation that should be involved for this grub.

Can it, jam it, pickle it (and compost the scraps).

A few mason jars go a long way; you can make pickles, jam or sauces like chutney and pesto to snack on throughout the year by squashing a lot of fresh produce into its tightly-packed constraints. But if this weekend hobby is not quite your style, you can still salvage extra produce by simply bagging it and tossing it in the freezer. Broccoli and green beans work great for this.

Make a stress-relieving tea with dried herbs.

Overwhelmed by all the fresh herbs you’ve been getting? Grow your own already, and don’t really need ’em? Hang a bunch upside-down for a week, like you would with a rose bouquet, and crumble the flakes into a mason jar. Yep, I have cilantro “tea,” all ready to steep. So? (Hint: mix in those dried rose petals, too, if you’ve got them.)

Be a good member.

It’s easy to dash in and out of CSA pick-up in the middle of your busy day or night, but the folks volunteering there, or organizing the local chapter, can really help you out if you have a stress situation. Communicate if you’re going to be out of town and can’t pick up your stuff, they might appreciate the advance notice to gauge how much will be leftover at the end of that day. Or give it away to someone else in the group who might actually need it for a big bash they’re throwing. Volunteering, teamworking and spreading the good karma might win you favors in return, like being able to store your untaken stash another day somewhere convenient.

32 Responses

  1. Here’s an odd question: where do you get your mason jars?

    I’m new to canning and I’d like to find a place (preferably in South Brooklyn or in Midtown, where I work) where I can pick some up for not much cash.


  2. Aki


    Thank god other people are talking about this. I can’t stand it..NO MORE LETTUCE!!! 🙂

  3. Elisa Hough

    Hey, I think your ice cream is featured in this article: !

  4. Emily

    Hey Cathy – I’ve been following your blog here and there for almost a year now, and I’m actually a member of the same CSA. This post made me laugh. My bf and I are doing ok with our split share but I can imagine it would be hard to keep up w/ just by myself. Going out of town for the weekend also makes things tricky. Did you know your blog is featured on idealist’s blogroll? Just saw it on the idealistinnyc twitter page.

  5. nissa

    I can totally relate. Even for someone who loves veggies, it is easy to be overwhelmed with greens! Few other strategies I use:
    1. Coworkers – will eat anything if it is put out in the kitchen. I have fun introducing them to veggies they’ve never even tried!
    2. Soups – make a big batch with those straggling veggies at the end of the week and freeze some for later.
    3. Cook one night in larger quantities and try and use as many ingredients as possible – then enjoy portioned leftovers the rest of the week!

  6. Marsha

    I totally relate to this! I learned quickly to separate the fruits/veggies into “eat quickly” versus “will keep a while” groups.

    I do not wash everything immediately, though. Some fruits, in particular, will do poorly if they are washed and left to sit. Check the book “How to Pick a Peach” for storage and usage tips.

  7. Cantaloupe Alone

    A couple of things.

    You have garden of Eve csa veg, right? Of the 3 farms I have experienced they had the least variety. All lettuce all the time is actually close to cruelty for people (like us!) that make a majority of meals off csa shares. I’ve had weeks of only lettuce and greens, with no hard veggies. I suggest you allow yourself the pleasure of other farmers. Windflower farms is a great farm.

    Steam/braise your chard/bokchoy/winter greens, and freeze them in ziplock.

    Bake savory bread and chuck in all of your veggies, then eat it or give it away.

    I actually assign myself a certain amount to eat everyday, and eat vegetables for breakfast. I eat corn, tomatoes, or beets in the a.m. It helps out.

    The lettuce thing is troublesome…good luck!

  8. Matthew

    Let’s also remember that the NYC-area CSA farms have had an awful lot of rain this year, which is afffecting what we’re getting and not getting.

    I actually wish there was more to my Tuesday-pick-up Cobble Hill CSA share, because most of it is gone by the weekend and that’s when I usually have dinner guests. Otherwise, this is the kind of stress I welcome! Let me stress what others have mentioned above: do veggie triage: eat your lettuce first and your roots later. Freeze, can, pickle, bake, and give what you can’t eat to your friends and neighbors. If someone says no to your zuke bread, do you really want to know them?

    This week we got cabbage. I turned half into a simple slaw, the other half I braised with onion and vinegar. The braised will freeze fine and I’ll either eat it later on its own or throw some sausage on it. Let’s eat!

  9. dana


    this past week i think i was in kmart on 34th street and i actually saw like a box of mason jars. they have them online so i was certainly not dreaming….

  10. cathy

    Thanks everyone for the awesome tips!
    Hi Jen: Actually the last place I bought mason jars was at a stoop sale in my neighborhood! They’re also sold in many different sizes at The Brooklyn Kitchen!

  11. Thank you, Dana and Cathy! I am on a hunt now…

  12. mary

    hi – to those new to canning – lots to read out there. Be sure you buy NEW canning lids (you can often find them at dollar stores). DON’T RESUSE the ones on 2nd hand jars. Best to blanche/shock beans & veg before freezing – drop in boiling/salted water for 2 minutes, till they turn bright green, dunk in ice water, drain and bag). Put greens (wilted in garlic & olive oil+lemon) in yer mashed potatoes, soup, quiche, omelettes, on pizzas and pasta. Our new fave is Russian Kale, yumzy. If you aren’t vegan, buy some bbq pork in Chinatown, and cook collards in that lovely stuff. With apple cider vinegar & bwn sugar or maple sirup. Hello to my old Cobble Hill nabe.

  13. Yvo

    Cathy, this is an excellent list!!! Some of it I figured out on my own but others, I would never have thought of, and the addition of other people’s comments/tips are great as well! I am a little bored to tears of the lettuces but the rest, thankfully, I’m having loads of fun with (as you can see on my blog, lol). 🙂 I never thought of the tea thing; I admit, the parsley is giving me agita because I have no idea what to do with it…

  14. Mélanie

    This is a really helpful and interesting post! We have kind of the same principle as CSA in France (except you get delivered… one less reason to stress!), and I’m thinking about joining one, but I was worried about the quantities. As I live alone, it’s difficult to manage and not to eat the same thing everyday (imagine how many dishes it takes to eat a cabbage by yourself!!!). I need to get more info about the system in Paris…

  15. Leah

    I’m in the CH CSA as well and tried to saute the two types of greens we got in our last pickup (one was water spinach, can’t remember what the other one was called). But one of them practically disintegrated in my pan. Any idea how I should’ve prepared it?

  16. andrea

    Hi Cathy! Just Wanted to reach out to you and all the other Brooklyn (and NYC) friends, and welcome you to come out and support the Malcolm X Blvd Farmers Market. It is located in Bed-Stuy, and for all of you that enjoy fresh, local, and healthy food, come on over! It is in danger of shutting down and needs you!

  17. Trish

    OH, my god…the blanching. When a storm knocked out my electricity this morning, all I could think about was the blanched, tossed-in=cornmeal okra and tray-frozen lemon basil in my fridge. I don’t even want to THINK about how mushy they got before the power came back on…

  18. melissa

    And by the by, Debbie Meyer Green Bags actually DO make the produce last longer.

  19. kim

    Hi Jen, you can also get mason jars in 99 cent stores! Like Jack 99 cents.

  20. […] is over. We’re about two-thirds of the way to The End, and even if picking it up every week has proved problematic, the fresh food surprises never fail to impress. For the past few weeks, members of the Crown […]

  21. […] had followed one of my tips for CSA stress last week: I threw a dinner party, for eight. It was great. We had a “succotash” with […]

  22. Brigid Rowan

    I love your CSA Stress entry. My sister and I have a comedy routine called “Slaves to the Farm Box” since our shares are now ruling our respective lives – and we often consult with each other for group support related to CSA Stress. I am forwarding thses tips to her.

  23. Kimberly

    One thing I didn’t see here was that hopefully the CSA is able to drop off the leftovers at the end of distribution to a food pantry or similar. If they do, then don’t feel bad about leaving some things behind when you pick up your share if you really think you won’t be able to eat it. And don’t be afraid to use the trade box at your CSA distribution because, c’mon, most of the food in our fridge that tends to not be eaten in time is the stuff we don’t love, right? I mean, I always manage to eat all the tomatoes we get, but somehow the radishes (especially the daikons) just don’t seem to make it to my plate as quickly, if at all…

    And I feel the need to add, what’s up with the Garden-of-Eve-hating from Cantaloupe Alone? I’ve been with two CSAs (with two different farms) and I’ve been as happy with GoE as the other farm.

  24. Andrew

    Thank you very much for providing this post.

  25. Angela

    Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anyone else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Thank You

  26. […] How to Cope with “CSA Stress” Enter the Soup Kitchen Sandwich Special » Saturday, August 1st, […]

  27. Naomi

    @ Kimberly I don’t hate Garden of Eve, but it was a bad experience. Little variety compared to other farms, and a higher price. I was delivered brown, rotten, fermented food and told that it was “ripe.” When the CSA memebers spoke up they were told that we didn’t know any better.

    It was a sad time, which was remedied by my new farmer who I love. I’m actually pretty happy it all happened, other wise I would never have found my current outstanding farmer.

    Glad you are helping out Garden of Eve. Just not right for me!

  28. […] Cathy started her blog Not Eating Out In New York in 2006 to chronicle an extended period of eating at home instead of eating at restaurants, from food carts, or take-out.  Her recipes tend to focus on local  sustainable, in season food with an eye towards cost effectiveness.  In fact, she wrote a fantastic article last summer with advice on coping with CSA stress. […]

  29. Food and Wine Maven

    If I’m not mistaken, rinsing fruits and veggies before putting them in the fridge makes them decay faster.

  30. […] Cathy, the author, is a member of the Crown Heights CSA, and she had a post last year about CSA Stress.  It’s what happens a few weeks into the season when your crisper drawer starts to fill up with […]

  31. […] Cathy Erway had a great post a couple years ago on her blog Not Eating Out in New York about CSA Stress.  She has some fantastic tips for overcoming the fatigue, […]

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