It was 1 a.m. and my refrigerator door wouldn’t close. I’d tried just about everything: playing a makeshift game of Tetris, blanching my spare veggies, having people over for dinner, packing lunches for co-workers and friends without their permission. But the deed was already done — I’d broken the very first rule of my unofficial Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) handbook.

CSA Rule 1: Don’t go food shopping until you pick up your share.

My issue was quantity, not delicious quality. It was the fact that I’d underestimated the size of my share based on the incredible price. For about $17 each week, I receive a gigantic grocery bag full of fresh veggies. The only catch is that I never get to pick what I get. The basic advantages and disadvantages of joining a farm share program are pretty up front.

Pros:

  • You receive all organic produce.
  • There are always new veggies to try.
  • Meal planning focuses on what is in season.
  • For a low price, you get an absurd amount of fresh food.

Cons:

  • What is this weird red celery?
  • I don’t know how to cook a black radish.
  • So much kale.

All said, joining this program was one of my best decisions of the year. It was a fairly simple process: With four installments over a six-month period (which each add up to my produce budget for just one month), I receive six full months of food. The payment plans also happen to be extremely flexible. Here are a few different options for both the small and large shares:

CSA Pricing

I’ve never considered myself a fan of food shopping. Selecting the food is always time-consuming, costly, and typically frustrating if I’ve planned my meals ahead and can’t find the ingredients I need. In addition to the perk of not spending an hour each week at the grocery store, picking up my box is also extraordinarily convenient. I live in Pittsburgh’s Highland Park neighborhood and the Bryant Street Market is a pickup stop for Clarion River Organics, my CSA of choice. This local market is located a few blocks up from my home, but they have other locations all around the city. They also offer small shares and large shares, which contain different amounts of produce.

As a single vegetarian, the small share is perfect for me. This is organic produce coming from local farms, so the vegetables typically stay fresh for at least two weeks — a very large difference from produce you would find at the grocery store. There are often veggies I don’t enjoy included each week, so I give those to friends who promise to eat them. I am able to use most of my share each week.

CSA Rule 2: Don’t knock it ‘til ya try it.

"Weird Potato"The first Tuesday in June was a warm evening. I sat on the couch in my apartment alongside two of my friends, staring curiously at an indistinguishable greenish-white vegetable.

“It’s definitely a radish of some kind.”

“But radishes aren’t that big!”

“My vote is still on ‘weird potato.’”

Sometimes supporting local agriculture means eating weird radish-potatoes for dinner. There are obviously plenty of reasons to support local farms and eat local produce, but cooking outside of your comfort zone can be a challenge for anyone. Still, don’t knock it ‘til ya try it.

Watermelon RadishThe radish-potato was actually a watermelon radish, as determined by my veggie-loving Facebook friends. Watermelon radishes turn out to be both beautiful and delicious, once prepared. Never judge a book by its cover (or a vegetable by its weird roots and lumpy texture).

CSA Rule 3: Embrace variety.

For the first few years after I learned to cook, I probably only had five recipes I could make, which I repeated every single week. Now that I’ve forced myself to embrace the unknown by diving into my share each week, I realize just how boring that is.

I always make up nicknames for my unknown vegetables. “Radish-potato” is still one of my favorites; “red celery” is another.

"Red Celery"

If you didn’t know, that “red celery” is actually called rhubarb. This isn’t something I would think to buy on my own at a farmers market, but when combined with fresh strawberries, you can bake it into a delicious dessert: strawberry-rhubarb cobbler! This was one of my very first experiences cooking with my share and the result was quite good, if I do say so myself.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler

Watermelon radish salad, zucchini lasagna, collard wraps, haluski, kale pesto, kale salad and kale smoothies; without joining a CSA, I never would have been exposed to so many new dishes! This program has forced me to experiment with new foods, embrace seasonal varieties, and even eat healthier this summer. While a farm share may not be for everyone, joining has been a fantastic experience for me, so far. In fact, I’m going to pick up my next mystery box right now. No matter what it holds (my money is on at least one head of kale), I know I’ll be delighted with the new ingredients I can incorporate into my diet this week.