It's forcing me be a more creative cook and waste less food. 

I love to cook. I love to eat healthy. And I love to experiment with new ingredients. But also I’m super-lazy. In the blitz of Sunday morning grocery shopping, I often just grab my go-to veggies—broccoli, boxed salad greens, maybe asparagus, if I’m feeling daring—and bolt for the checkout before the post-church crowd descends.

So after thinking about it for LITERALLY years, I finally joined a CSA to drag me out of my vegetable rut.

Short for Community-Supported Agriculture (which quite honestly, is the least-compelling name that the Farm Nerds could have come up with), it’s an arrangement with a local farmer wherein you pay for a subscription to their harvest. It’s basically Netflix for vegetables. Each week, I get a box delivered to my office full of vegetables. It’s super cool, and embarrassingly convenient. There’s just one catch—I have ZERO control over what’s inside.

There are some major pluses to this: For starters, it forces me to expand my palate. I normally wouldn’t choose to buy turnips—not because I hate them, but because I’m never forced to think about them. But here I am, with a HUGE bunch of turnips staring at me like a pound puppy, whimpering for attention. Hush, turnips—we’ll get back to you in minute.

Another plus? It encourages me to get creative so that I don’t waste my precious vegetables. There’s no way around it—fresh, local vegetables are more expensive than your average grocery store offerings. And letting that pricey produce wither into fridge-wrinkled uselessness is pretty much equivalent to throwing cash down your garbage disposal.

So creativity and ingenuity are a big plus for making a CSA work for you. My favorite discovery (thus far) during my CSA adventure came about in an effort to not waste some particularly gorgeous rainbow chard. I had a whole bunch left, and another bunch coming the next day…what to do?

A vision popped in my head—SWISS CHARD ENCHILITOS—a cross between enchiladas and burritos, with chard standing in for the tortillas. Crazy, right? Naturally. So I went to work.

I trimmed off the stems right where they joined the leaves, then I used my rolling pin to gently crush the leaves and the remaining stems, making the leaves rollable. Then I stirred together a filling from leftovers, fridge squatters, and pantry residents (cooked quinoa, canned black beans, jarred salsa, cheese, and cilantro), rolled them up burrito style, and packed them into a casserole dish. A few spoonfuls of salsa over the top, a sprinkle of cheese, and a quick trip through the oven later, I had a dish that I was sure was going to be a hot mess, but was hands down the best thing I’ve cooked in 6 months.

Sometimes your CSA box delivers a revelation and a headache in the same ingredient. Case in point: I got a big double handful of fava bean pods in my box last week. I’d heard of the plus-sized lima beans before, but never cooked them. After prying my way into the gigantic, Jack-in-the-Beanstalk pods with their fuzzy bunny slipper interiors, I wrested free my prize—a scant cup of beans that (after more Googling) required blanching, shocking, and more hull removal before I could even start to think about eating them. #exhausted

And after all that work, there weren’t even enough beans to yield a serving for two. Yes, they were tender, buttery, and incredibly delicious just blached. But SERIOUSLY, there were like 14 of them. #chagrined

So I went back the drawing board for a solution.  So I blanched some frozen lady peas, stirred them together with the favas and a gentle lemon vinaigrette, then served this Big & Small Bean-Pea Salad with a hunk of burrata, a drizzle of good olive oil, and a scattering of fresh mint. From the jaws of defeat, I ripped free yet another surprising dinner winner.

And then there are those damn turnips. Right now, they’re in my fridge, lounging in a bag of hastily-prepared Asian-themed marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, sliced ginger, and a squeeze of Sriracha. Will they soak it up? Am I going to grill them or roast them? Will they even be remotely edible?

I don’t know the answers—yet. But I will soon. Therein lies the agony and the ecstasy of living with a CSA and having a Google attention span that’s a soft 23 seconds at best. Some creations are awesome, some of them are just edible, and some are great reminders that a little research goes a long way.  

So I say go for it. Support your local farmers and expand your palate at the same time—just remember to have fun and always cook outside the box.