How to Make the Most of Your Farm Basket
Participating in a seasonal CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program is a great way to obtain fresh produce and make fruits and vegetables part of your healthy eating regime. However, it’s different from shopping at the grocery store. Farm food is inherently fresher, but also more perishable, than the produce that is distributed through large chain grocery stores. In order to reduce waste and make the most of your fresh food, you may need to change your mindset and incorporate some new strategies for food preparation. Certainly, you’ll enjoy the convenience of receiving a basket or box of fresh food, but you’ll also need to plan carefully to make the most of it.
Think before you order. Farm fresh produce will not last as long as the stuff you buy in the grocery store. It’s not waxed or treated with preservatives. It’s picked at the peak of ripeness, not harvested for travel. So only order what you can use within the right time frame.
Appreciate the quality. Farm food is grown in smaller batches than the food produced for mass distribution. Be prepared to pay a premium price for a premium product.
Make a plan. Using farm fresh produce takes a bit more planning than relying on packaged food from the store. Grocery stores make millions of dollars off us when we spontaneously buy boxes and bags of food, then squirrel it away on a shelf in the pantry or freezer for months. Eating fresh food requires a more intentional approach. Evaluate what you have, and then plan out some recipes and meals.
Finally, commit to properly prepping and storing your goodies. Don’t set the basket on the counter and admire it from afar for several days. (Although, I admit, it is a pretty sight, with all those colorful fruits and veggies. You know the old saying, “Take a picture, it will last longer…”? Well, that is definitely true of the farm basket.) Take the time and make it a habit to care for your farm food, and you’ll enjoy it much more.
Prep as soon as you bring your basket home. Do a little research about how to best store your items to keep them fresh. Some foods lose nutrient quality when they are refrigerated or cut into, so methods vary widely. Here are some strategies:
Berries: Fresh, ripe berries have a short shelf life. Plan to eat them right away, or prepare them properly for storage if you want to eat them later. Extend their shelf life with refrigeration. Don’t wash them until just before you’re ready to eat, and don’t soak them in water to wash. Rather, run them briefly under cold, running water. You can also flash freeze them by laying them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and placing them in the freezer until frozen solid. Then transfer to a zip top bag or other airtight container.
Tomatoes: Do not refrigerate. Store at room temperature away from sunlight or drafts. Tomatoes lose their flavor with refrigeration, and they don’t really freeze well in their raw state. Once cut, store leftover tomatoes in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator.
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes: Never refrigerate raw potatoes. They prefer a cool, dark place. Brush off any dirt, but don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them. Store away from other foods like onions and apples.
Greens: Greens like lettuce, kale and spinach will go a long way if you give them a little care when you get them home. Wash them by letting them soak in cold water. The leaves will float and the dirt and debris will fall to the bottom. Lift them out of the water and dry thoroughly. Then store them in an OPEN plastic bag or container in the refrigerator.
Radishes: Cut off the top to remove the greens. Store in the refrigerator, in a glass jar filled with water. They’ll stay crunchy and flavorful.
Cucumbers: Store in the refrigerator to extend their freshness and retain their texture. Store loose, or wrapped in a paper towel in an open plastic bag. Wash just before eating.
Peppers: Store, unwashed, in the refrigerator. Keep them dry. Green peppers last a little longer than red or yellow peppers. Once cut, wrap tightly and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Onions: Onions like to stay in a cool, dark place with ample ventilation. Store away from potatoes and fruit.