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How to Use Your Produce Box

Getting a produce box each week throughout the summer is a great way to eat healthy and local. But, it can be challenge to use it all up. This new series is here to help.

produce box

A few years ago, I signed up for a local CSA. I had heard for years that participating in community-supported agriculture was a great way to eat better and vote with your dollars. By purchasing from a local farmer, preferably an organic one, I was feeding my family better as well as communicating to the world that eating healthier was important.

Like most things in my life that prove challenging, it sounded good at the time.

In reality, I was shocked and overwhelmed: What in the world am I going to do with all these weird vegetables, some I’ve never even heard of, let alone purchased?!

I let the idea of a weekly produce delivery fall by the wayside until a year later when a friend and reader told me about Abundant Harvest Organics. We gave it a shot, and now 20 months later, we are committed. I pay $36 each week for a huge box of produce that keeps us well fed for over a week. I can’t imagine not getting a produce box each month. It’s like Christmas every week.

Sort of. When the persimmons and turnips and collards are in abundance, it feels like your great-aunt Myrtle came to visit at Christmas with many macrame sweaters for you.

Anyway, if you’re new to that whole idea of using what produce is in season instead of what you feel like buying this week, know that you’re not alone. It’s hard to adjust to a wealth of fruits and vegetables, especially if they are new to you. And even if they aren’t new, it takes some getting used to using things that are in bulk.

With a CSA or produce subscription, what you receive will depend on how well the crops are doing. Often it can be feast or famine. But, this is what it is to partner with your local farmers.

Nowadays, my kids LOVE the arrival of the produce box. It’s a super big highlight of the week. The chard that was foreign to us years ago is now a welcome sight at the dinner table. I recently watched FishBoy12 pile on the chard. I was shocked. One small piece used to be his limit.

We’re eating more organic fruits and vegetables than ever before and learning more about the world of flavors God created.

produce box

Using your produce box.

Learning to use the bounty that arrives in your produce box can be challenging. I know. Been there, done that. I take a multi-step approach to using it all up before it spoils.

Sort and store.

The kids usually help me sort the items in the box, gathering those that are stored in the pantry or on the counter in baskets and placing other items in plastic bags or boxes for the refrigerator.

Use up the perishables.

I make a mental note to use up those things with a short shelf-life. If something is particularly ripe, I move it higher up the list. If it’s under ripe, it might sit lower. Since these foods are straight from the farm they have a longer shelf-life than things that you might buy at the grocery store, so you have a little time, unless it’s very, very ripe when it gets to you. Stone fruit seems to ripen before my very eyes, sometime.

Freeze it.

If I know we have more than we can use in the week, I blanch it for freezing. I’ve done this with corn, beans, broccoli, and cauliflower. Basically, I’m creating my own frozen vegetables to use when I want to, not when I have to. I make squash or apple purees or slice stonefruit for freezing so that I can stretch the season a little longer.

Can it.

My canning repertoire is fairly limited to pickles and jams. But, that’s good enough for me. If I have enough of something (or if I buy extra) I set up some preserves, just like my Gramma John once did.

Juice it.

Now that we own a juicer, I often make homemade juices, especially with the carrots, beets, and parsnips that I can’t quite keep up with. A friend tells me she juices whatever doesn’t get used up in the week so that they are ready for the next produce delivery. Brilliant!

Share it.

We have given almost every fruit and vegetable a fair hearing. A few did not pass go. We share our persimmons, turnips, collards, daikon, and fava beans with friends and neighbors. They are thrilled. We get to be generous. And nothing goes to waste.

using the produce box

A New Summer Series

This summer I’ll be sharing storage ideas and recipes for all the fruits and veg that might come your way this summer. Whether you get a weekly box or just grab what’s on sale at the store, I’ve got you covered for what to do with seasonal produce.

Look for great ways with the following:

Also, check out these whole box tips:

I’ll be sharing storage tips, preservation ideas, and a host of recipes, too. In the meantime, check out these past posts to help you use up your produce box:

Do you get a produce box?

Tell us about your challenges and solutions.

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Comments

  1. Excited to get our first CSA box of the season this week, even though it doesn’t feel like summer yet here in ND/MN.

  2. Jessica-
    Are there many differences between a CSA and this other program you’re using? Why did this second program work better for you? thanks-

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      I would say there are differences. AHO delivers to a larger area than one small community. They are more like a co-op of farmers united to cut out the middle man and deliver straight to the consumer. This is different that a traditional CSA which is usually a relationship between you and one other farmer or at least a small group of very local farmers.

      This worked better, in part, because I was getting more produce for my money. The CSA was about the same price with a much smaller yield. I could justify the price with AHO much more. For me that is always a big stumbling block.

      • Thanks, Jessica! I will have to see what additional options I can find in West Michigan…I’ve only seen CSAs I think. I so appreciate the great resources & ideas you always provide!

        • Jessica says:

          There is nothing wrong with the CSA model. I just found that this program was a better fit for me than the local single farmer. Most people I know use a CSA. In fact, there is such a fine line of distinction, some might say there is no difference. If you can find a share at a price you can afford, go for it!

    • HI Heidi,

      We live in central Minnesota and subscribe to a CSA. We are a family of 4 and get enough produce for the entire year with our 17 week CSA. I blanch and freeze the extra each week and we rarely have to buy produce during the winter and early spring, except for fresh salad items if that’s what we need that week. In our area there are several CSA’s, some of which are co-op style, that deliver more than enough produce for a family of 4 – in fact, we have several friends that share one box for 2 families (8 people) so that produce doesn’t get wasted.

      Take a look and see what’s in your area and the volume of produce that arrives – we get a box roughly the size of a banker’s box each week that is overstuffed. I’ll be posting photos of what we get on my blog page each week (we start in about 2 weeks or so) if you’d like to see what we get. Our CSA subscription comes with a cookbook so we don’t have to hunt for recipes for new-to-us produce as well – lovely perk! The cost comes to $300 per year or about $5/wk for the whole year. It’s roughly $15-$17 per box depending on the number of boxes we have that year.

      I’ve found here that subscriptions typically happen in February-ish for the following summer so that farmers can purchase their seeds or seedlings and get them in the ground in a timely fashion.

      Hope that’s helpful!
      Lea

      • Lea-
        Thank you! I will have to do some research and see what my options are….after reading Jessica’s post I realized that there may be something else besides CSAs…which we did try in Ohio years ago before kids……the box was a bit overwhelming each week!! But, I now have a little more experience in the kitchen and have a few extra bodies to feed. So I am interested in trying something again. Your cost sounds fabulous for eating healthy, local food!
        Blessings- Heidi

  3. I am so excited for this series! We bought a CSA share for the first time this year, and I am already having anxiety about wasting food on my “scared of anything green” children. We chose a farm that provides more “standard” fare, no turnips or daikon to fret over, for our first try.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Has your share started yet? How is it going?

      • We got our first share last week, and so far so good! I’m in Maine, so we’re still very early in the growing season, but I had a big box full of different greens – lettuce, spinach, spicy greens, and chard, along with some herbs, green garlic, and radishes. The only thing the kids refused was radishes, and I can’t totally disagree with them on that one. We pick up at our local farmer’s market, and involving the kids in that part of the experience really made a difference in how much they were willing to try.

        • Jessica Fisher says:

          The French often serve radishes with baguette and unsalted butter. I tried it recently and it was really yummy. Maybe try that?

  4. We don’t subscribe to a CSA, although I have looked into it. We’ve got a pretty large garden in our backyard, and my husband has a very green thumb! We don’t grow year-round unless something just happens to make it into the fall/winter. :) Right now, our greens are fading away (we’ve learned we love chard too!) and tomatoes are kicking into high gear. And I’ve got plenty of broccoli from the spring in the freezer when we want it!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      If you can grow it yourself, so much the better! My thumb has turned brown since baby #3. Someday it will turn green again.

  5. Great idea for a series! We get a CSA box as well (this is our fourth year!) and love it…but it has it’s challenges.

  6. I just got my first basket from Bountiful Baskets last week. It was a good mix and value. Got some swiss chard…I had never eaten, much less cooked it before…actually clicked over to good eats to find a recipe for that…ending up sauteing it in some butter and olive oil along w/ some green beans. It was great.

  7. Shelley says:

    Why is everyone afraid of turnip?? It’s really tasty simply boiled and mashed served with dinner (and it goes really well with bacon-yum!). Try it again people!! :-)

  8. Our local CSA actually is mostly animal products, cuts of meat and poultry, eggs, etc. I have not really been able to find one that will get me the produce I’m really looking for. We have weird laws here governing farm food sales so maybe that’s it. I can buy raw goats milk from the farm, but not cow’s milk, and same with the eggs. The farm I was getting them at was recently informed that he needed to discontinue selling them from his farm. But they can sell the eggs at the farmer’s market as well as vegetables, but I find they are a little more pricey there.

    However, I recently found a produce box option at my local health food store. Once every two weeks Tree of Life delivers to her store, and they will bring produce box orders from a nearby company in TX that I don’t remember the name of along for the ride. It is $53 for the 20+ pound box but it usually weighs a lot more. This is not as great an option as Jessica’s because the food is typically organic food that was designed for supermarkets but was surplus and they want to recover costs. So it is name brand stuff rather than local, and usually nothing too weird. It is usually in great condition though and I enjoy it. It is organic, and I can get it at a way cheaper price per pound than at my Kroger or Walmart.

    This week I had 5 oranges, 5 limes, 4 avocado, 4 peaches, small tub of raspberries, two garlics, one tub of rosemary, 3 large portobello mushroom caps, a pineapple, 1lb of carrots, 1lb celery, 3 huge cucumbers, 3 large onions, and two big bunches of kale (I traded my red potatoes for the second bunch with another customer). It weighed over 23lbs even after giving up the potatoes for the second batch of kale. I’m sure I’m forgetting something. It’s different each time. I’ve also had blueberries, honeydew, zucchini, cauliflower, regular mushrooms, …

    So if your local health food store purchases from Tree of Life in TX, you might see if they can get you a produce box attached to the order.

  9. Kim kramer says:

    We love Abundant Harvest! Been suscribing for about a year and a half, and most of the year I have it set to deliver every other week. For 25$ all organic produce on your doorstep, it just can’t be beat. The summer is the best because of the fruit, but I also love the turnips and such in the winter. It’s helped us eat more veggies, and the boys jump for joy when the box comes and love digging through it. We’ve tried new foods, and discovered a deep love for figs and pomegranates. You guys I can’t even tell you how much better things like potatoes, carrots, apples and tomatoes taste. My husband thinks organic is all hogwash, but he eats those apples up twice as fast as the costco ones :) in spinach and strawberries alone this box pays for itself. I had a csa before and it was a pain to pick up, and yes there were some strange things in there, so we are much happier with This.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Yep, the proof is in the produce. My husband was skeptical, too, but he loves the produce box.

  10. Yes! First year and even though I opted for the every other week delivery I have greens coming out my ears! Will look forward for advice on how to use more of the items in our box from you!

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