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Why I Broke My Vow to Never Join a CSA Again

My husband refuses to talk about the CSA of 2009. It left him unable to face kale or cabbage—he still gives beets the side eye. We were CSA novices, and our ignorance was boundless. These are the lessons we took away from the experience:

  • Don’t join a CSA in the winter if it’s your first time out. You’ll have root vegetable nightmares for years.
  • Don’t join a CSA that requires you to drive 90 minutes for pick-up, thereby negating any environmental benefits you might have accrued.
  • Don’t join a CSA without a personal recommendation from someone you trust and who is unlikely to be getting a kickback.

Since we are people who learn from our mistakes, we decided the best way to handle this was to accept the message the universe was clearly sending us: Don’t join a CSA.

We stayed with it until about a month ago, when seeing my friend Laura’s pictures of her most recent delivery finally got the better of me. It looked fantastic, so I figured it must be ruinously expensive. Secretly, I’d been investigating CSA options for a while, but the price tag ended the inquiry every time. Not this time—the price was entirely manageable. So, what was the catch?

You know the Island of Misfit Toys? This was delivery from the Island of Misfit Produce. The company that Laura buys from sells the produce that stores reject produce as too small, too blemished, too whatever. “Rescued” might not sound like a selling point, but it was for me. Food waste is a big challenge for us, especially produce, which seems to enter our house with the sole purpose of withering and rotting.

I’ve gotten better at spotting when bananas are about to give up and collapse into disgusting goo, but for every bunch I use for banana bread, there’s a head of lettuce or a cucumber that turned moldy, or a forgotten knob of ginger that fossilized in the back of the drawer.

It’s a waste of money and a waste of sustenance—and it’s not just my family’s problem. The USDA estimated that, in 2010, 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food went to waste. That’s about 30 percent of the food supply, affecting availability for those in need and creating landfill and consequent environmental impact for everyone.

Ugh, right?

I felt noble “saving” unloved produce, but I was still plagued with doubt. Food waste isn’t any better if it’s on me rather than the grocery store, and uneaten carrots are uneaten carrots. What if we didn’t like what they sent? What if my kids refused to eat any of it and I felt obligated to consume an entire box of artichokes and bok choy? What if I don’t even know what the hell to do with artichokes and bok choy?