Let’s start with this: we here at My First Apartment strongly suggest making a habit of cooking at home. Why? First, it saves you a ton of money. Second, you learn a valuable skill (cooking). Third, usually when you eat at home, what you eat is healthier than what you’d have eating out (since you’re using fresh food and you’re unlikely to have a deep-fat-fryer, for example). And, fourth, eating at home can be a great bonding experience between roommates.
And, joining a CSA might be just the kick in the pants you need to get started eating at home and eating healthy. The acronym CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and right now is the time to join for this season. When you join a CSA, you buy a “share” in a farmer’s annual output. You pay for your share up front, and usually receive about 20 weeks worth of produce. In other words, if the farm from which you bought a share grows beets, collard greens, strawberries, apples and peaches, you’ll get a percentage of what’s grown. And you’ll get it fresh weekly or bi-weekly – usually it will be delivered to a local farmer’s market, available for pick up, or, in some cases, it will be delivered directly to your door.
So let me reiterate this: all through the summer and early fall, you’ll get boxes –literally boxes – full of healthy, fresh, nutrient-rich, delicious produce. This is a jackpot, particularly if you feel like you could start cooking at home, but you never quite get around to it. With a CSA, you have no excuse: you’ll have pounds of fruits and vegetables sitting in your refrigerator, ready to use.
In fact, the number one complaint people have about CSAs is that it provides too much produce – which is why it’s a great solution for a house full of roommates. Say you and three friends live together. For an initial investment of, say, $600 (which may seem like a lot, but split it four ways, and remember that you’re getting 20 weeks worth of produce, and you realize you’re each only paying $7.50 a week), you’ll get not only food delivered to your door, but dinner possibilities as well.
Thought experiment: you’ve only ever had kale in a restaurant. You like it, but you’ve never been quite adventurous enough to try cooking it on your own. But then you get a nice big bunch of it from your CSA. So, you might as well get up the gumption and cook it. (Look online for great recipes.) Similarly, if you like eating fruit, but rarely get around to actually buying it, be prepared for peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, raspberries, nectarines and plums to be delivered to your door. You’ll be eating fruit daily.
New York, Chicago, L.A., and San Francisco have tons of CSA options, and even smaller places like Lincoln, Nebraska have a few options. If you live alone, or only have one roommate, you can usually order a “half-share,” meaning that you pay half as much and get half as many fruits and veggies. Also, certain boutique CSAs provide meat and cheese as well – check your local listings.
However, there are some drawbacks to CSAs, so let me outline them here: if you’re traveling regularly, you’re going to miss out – the fruits and veggies are still going to come. And you’re going to have to give them away, or let them go to waste – and since most CSAs require that you commit for the whole season, you’ll lose out on a portion of your investment.
Also, you often can’t choose what fruits and vegetables you get – you just get what’s in season, and what the farm grows. So if you’re a picky eater, or have lots of allergies, you might find you’re getting bunches of stuff you won’t or can’t eat.
And, finally, there’s the aforementioned complaint: you’ll be getting (potentially) too much produce. Some people love it and try to change their eating habits to incorporate as much produce as possible. Other people are more stubborn and less adaptable – they end up being overwhelmed by the produce, and don’t eat even half of it.
So here’s my recommendation: if you’re a curious cooker and an adventurous eater, try out a CSA, particularly if you live in a house of like-minded roommates. It’s the sort of project you’ll make work, especially if the mere thought of joining a CSA gets your heart thumping!