Too many tomatoes

Turning your CSA share into dinner

Becoming a member of a CSA (community-supported agriculture) models the very behavior many of us hope to cultivate in our children: environmental stewardship, civic responsibility and the value of healthy eating. Unfortunately, when the CSA box arrives with yet another mystery ingredient too often our best intentions inadvertently end up in the trashcan. 

There are myriad reasons why the art of home cooking with fresh ingredients has fallen by the wayside in modern day life, but with the growing number of CSAs, and other purveyors of locally-grown and raised produce and meat, we are a bit trapped by the desire to do right by our local farms and our family's nutritional health, but lack the knowledge of how to prepare some of the food that arrives in the weekly basket.

To help, many locally supported farms respond to the needs of their members by offering help on how to deliciously prepare the bounty of the Hudson Valley.

The concept of the CSA is an import of rural Europe that started to gain popularity in certain areas of the United States in the 1980s. It's an idea - really a culture - that is now facing increasing competition from organic supermarkets and big chains offering to deliver groceries to your doorstep.

READ MORE: How to make simple fresh meals

The newest threat to CSAs is the inception of the meal delivery kits that can be found online, i.e. Blue Apron, that come with specific ingredients and directions that seems to all but cook the food for you.

Capitalizing on hectic modern-day lifestyles, these companies recognize that people are clearly willing to pay more to worry less about what to cook and how to cook it. Small CSA farm blogging sites express worry that they are losing members who feel bad by the food they waste because they don't know how to prepare it and the farmers believe CSA cooking education is key to the future of local, small-scale farming.

Inspired by veggies
Great Song Farm in northern Dutchess County is one of those local CSAs that has decided to do something about our society's lack of kitchen skills and enthusiasm for fresh vegetables.

"My goal with cooking is that vegetarians and meat eaters, alike, eat a vegetable heavy meal and are so enthusiastic about the vegetables that veggies start to be understood as worthy of center-stage on our plates!" says Sarah Hearn, who co-owns Great Song with Anthony Mecca.

She's also very passionate about coming up with new creative ways to encourage children and young people to develop their palates to crave healthier foods.

"As a health practitioner and farmer I've collected a lot of anecdotal evidence that children are much more willing to try new vegetables if they have a hand in preparing them," Hearn says. "A simple tip for baby-stepping your kids toward new vegetables: try introducing just one new veggie at a time and lather them in their favorite something. So, maybe it's melted cheese or sour cream; maybe it's fried rice or pasta or pizza."

This year, Great Song Farm will be offering two cooking workshops titled "Cooking Veggies Your Kids Will Love," along with smaller canning and pickling workshops once the season begins. Hearn urges members to volunteer on the farm as a great way to connect and converse with the farmers about cooking tips and trying new things.

They also send out weekly recipes and check in with regulars to see how they are handling the produce. Hearn believes that "the improvement in taste and deep sense of nourishment and satisfaction that come from cooking with fresh ingredients from a source you know intimately... really takes experiencing it to know the difference."

Great Song Farm serves the areas of Red Hook, Rhinebeck, Tivoli, Germantown, Clinton, Clinton Corners, Pine Plains, and other surrounding communities in the Hudson Valley.

Confidence in the kitchen
Farmer Lydia Nebel of Second Wind CSA, which is part of Four Winds Farm in Ulster County, is eager to teach others how to incorporate vegetables and fruit into their daily diet.

"Many times consumers want to support local food, but if someone isn't set up and/or prepared for the amount of cooking that comes with it, it scares off potential members," Nebel said.

READ MORE: Moms agree on benefits of CSA

Unlike some CSAs, Second Wind isn't afraid to grow "specialty culinary delights" and offers monthly blogs packed with recipes, preparation tips, and new ways of cooking up classic dishes. 

Nebel says many of their members are "seasoned and participate in the CSA because they enjoy home cooking with fresh ingredients." But with an eye to the future and a need to cultivate new business, Second Wind is hoping to have some cooking-focused gatherings this year with members getting together to trade ideas and tips.

Four Winds grows produce using the "organic no-till" method. Committed to using only primarily heirloom and open-pollinated varieties for better flavor, seeds are planted directly into layered beds of compost that Second Wind believes produces "better-tasting vegetables that keep longer in the refrigerator."

Grow your own
Hudson Valley Backyard Farm
is a local business that teaches customers to create and maintain their own organic vegetable garden - including how to prepare and use the harvest.

"The ability to cook is an essential life skill. Learning to grow, cook, and preserve organic vegetables gives you control over what goes into your body, saves money, is a fun, creative process, and promotes social interaction," says owner Jay Levine.

Levine offers specific classes including "Food Preservation," "Introduction to Chinese, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese Cuisine," and "Vegetables Kids Will Eat." In addition, if there is a specific vegetable or group of vegetables someone wants to learn how to cook, Levine designs a class to do just that.

Classes are approximately two hours long, generally conducted at the home of the student. He also leads group classes, typically at a client's home if the kitchen can accommodate enough people, or at a community organization that has kitchen facilities, such as a local church.

Levine's website is also a jackpot of recipes featuring now locally grown vegetables that originated from all over the world.

Learn how to preserve food
When the largess of your garden's harvest, CSA share, or weekend haul from the local farm stand becomes too great, there's help at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service of Ulster County in Kingston that offers kitchen classes throughout the year.
On May 3, Janie Greenwald, who is a nutrition educator and master food preserver, offers a boiling water bath class, a research-based method for safe home food preservation.

"I love that when I can dehydrate or freeze foods I am part of a continuum that began thousands of years ago," Greenwald says.

When asked about the daunting task of facing a growing CSA basket, she offers an interesting explanation regarding unintentional food waste.

"We throw away tasty and delicious food because we were raised with certain ideas about how to eat. We can do our part with small changes, like eating the stems of broccoli," she says.

Future Cornell Cooperative classes in pressure canning, freezing and dehydrating can be found at

Even if the CSA of your choice doesn't offer cooking classes, don't be shy about striking up a conversation with the farmers to ask them for tips and tricks. To discover more local farms, visit

Kymberly Breckenridge is a Hudson Valley writer who teaches cooking and food preservation at Ramapo for Children.