When Brandon and I first got married, we lived in this little rental house on top of one of Pittsburgh’s notoriously steep (and annoyingly difficult to get up) hills. We weren’t close to a great grocery store let alone any type of fresh farmers market type options that I could easily navigate being super pregnant or after having little baby Lilly in the middle of a Northeast Winter. As soon as we moved into our first house, we heard about something called a CSA box. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture (click here for some quick info if you are unfamiliar with this concept!). Our cousin and her family started picking one up and we thought we’d give that a try and see if it was something we enjoyed cooking with and using during the spring and summer months. We found that these CSA boxes coupled with some fun family gardening have been an amazing way to introduce our kids to delicious seasonal produce and help them to not be picky eaters. While Pittsburgh has a great many amazing farms that participate in CSA programs, the one we used when we first got into CSA’s was from Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance. Every week we picked up a mystery box of produce from a neighbors garage. It was really fun to see what was in the box each week. The produce always ranged from totally familiar (like tomatoes and cucumbers) to things we’d never seen before like garlic scapes, ramps, hakurei and kohlrabi. It’s funny looking back, how many unique items we were exposed to that we buy all the time now.
This year, 412 Food Rescue is partnering again with Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance to bring back the Ugly CSA! Each Ugly CSA box contains the same amount of delicious and fresh, farm-grown goodies as a regular share- the difference is that these boxes contain produce considered “typically unsellable” due to it’s appearance alone! All of this food would go to waste if it weren’t for volunteers working with these local farms and farmers to implement programs like this. I don’t know about you but I’m totally cook with some wonky tomatoes or misshapen cucumbers. I love this share because it’s super reasonably priced (just $240 for 12 weeks!) and helps to reduce food waste within our beautiful city of Pittsburgh. It’s less of a commitment than the larger shares that sometimes start in early spring and continue through November. But it’s a great way to get into the magic and fun of cooking fresh and seasonal if you haven’t started too meal plan or cook that way yet. If you are interested in signing up for an Ugly CSA share or know a family who might be, check out this information below:
Each year, 10 million pounds of food is wasted at farms. Food goes to waste at farms for many reasons, some are deemed unsellable because they do not meet consumers’ cosmetic standards, some are glut produce that the farmer cannot harvest or sell.
The 412 Food Rescue’s Ugly CSA program creates new markets for previously unsellable produce, benefiting farmers and preserving the resources that went into food production. The first Ugly CSA program was piloted in 2016 in partnership with Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance and has since expanded into it’s second year for the 2017 summer season.
How does it work?
- 12 weeks of “ugly” produce from Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, local bread, and special products each week from local vendors!
- Dates: Wednesdays, August 9 – October 25, 2017.
- Cost: $240/12 weeks, plus $10 processing fee.
- Pickup Neighborhoods: Northside, Sharpsburg, Greenfield, and East Liberty.
- Customers using SNAP/EBT must pickup their shares from our office in East Liberty (this option is not available for other customers at this time). If you are paying using SNAP, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for your coupon code that you can use at checkout.
Also important to note- these types of programs are available because people just like you and me volunteer their time, effort, and vehicle power to getting food from point A to point B. 412 Food Rescue volunteers make the work happen. Food rescue heroes transport food from donors to nonprofit partners. Pick ups happen daily and can be as quick as 30 minutes of your time.
You can volunteer as much or as little as you like. 412 Food Rescue alerts volunteers to available “rescues” and they respond to the ones that are right for them. Download the app (iOs or Android) to get alerts on rescues near you.
If you didn’t get a chance to read about the girls and my experience volunteering for 412 Food Rescue click here to check that out. Then click here to download the 412 Food Rescue APP designed to make volunteering super easy and convenient no matter where you are in the city and when you’re able to volunteer. (click here for android)
The organization has opportunities to leverage also any skill set, from hands-on activities such as food rescues and harvesting of produce to admin tasks and event planning. Email email@example.com to inquire about how you can work with the organization!
Opportunities for Students as They Head Back to School This Fall
As students head back to Pittsburgh, there are ample opportunities for them to get involved, as well! College students are encouraged to reach out to learn more about starting a 412 Food Rescue chapter on their campus OR they can join an existing organization on campus. If college students are going into a food related field (including nutrition/dietetics, public health, education, culinary arts, etc.), they could become Cooking Matters instructors.
I absolutely love this organization because it makes these kinds of give-back opportunities easy to fit into my life with our whole family without too much fuss, planning in advance, or over-commitment. Believe me- almost 6 months pregnant, taking care of 3 little girls, a crazy dog and 8 chickens- I know how hectic everyday life is without the pressures of any extra activities. But this is one we can manage and volunteer for together as a family any time we want.
So what can you do with an Ugly CSA share? What if you get unfamiliar items? What if you get a ton of something you or your family doesn’t care for? How do you grocery shop when you don’t know what will be in your weekly share yet?
- First and foremost- be flexible! If you are mentally prepared to have some fluidity in your weekly meals, you’ll feel better each week picking up a box of unknown produce. It’s actually really fun and exciting and honestly was a game changer for our girls in helping them get excited about trying new foods!
- Have some “flavorful staples” ready to pair with your Ugly CSA goodies. For my kitchen this means tons of garlic, red and white onions, shallots, lots of fresh herbs, and some flavorful cheeses like goat cheese and feta. I also like to have different cooking wines on hand (white, red and marsala) as well as balsamic vinegar, and all different kinds of dried pastas!
- Keep that grill handy! So much summer produce can be grilled to perfection with little more than olive oil and sea salt. You get as simple as fancy as you want- but when in doubt, throw it on the grill.
- Don’t give up on your taste buds! If you end up not caring for something raw, try it cooked, pureed into a fruit smoothie, baked into a sweet bread or cake (think avocado in muffins or zucchini bread) or even try things pickled! I’ve got all kinds of refrigerator pickles on my list for this summer.
- Head to Pinterest. (You can follow me there by clicking here.) There is a wealth of knowledge on pinterest that will help you create recipes out of anything you happen to get in your box. I always check for recipes that have the most pins and the most reviews to know I’m trying a good recipe that a lot of people like!
- Keep your grocery shopping minimal. Most CSA shares will come with a good variety of items. They won’t usually come with a protein of any kind so I like to have chicken, salmon and pork tenderloin on hand. I know I can prepare each of those a variety of different ways. The less “go-to” items you have in your fridge, the more likely you are to use what you get in your CSA box because it’s all you’ll have to use! Don’t tempt yourself to go the easy way out by cooking the same veggie your family eats all the time. Branch out and try to use everything you pick up in your box.
If you get an Ugly CSA share this year and share pics anywhere, tag me because I’m nosey and want to see what you get! You can also use the hashtags #412foodrescue and #foodrescuehero to help others see what you get and encourage friends and family to volunteer, too!
This sponsored post is brought to you in collaboration with 412 Food Rescue. All opinions, thoughts and images remain my own.