Basket case

Great Basin Basket CSA coordinator Pauline Hamilton shows off a basket of local produce.

Great Basin Basket CSA coordinator Pauline Hamilton shows off a basket of local produce.

Photo By Heather Anderson

The economy: It’s No. 1 on many minds these days. Gas, food and entertainment are expensive. In fact, just getting through the day has gone up. For some, this means eating out less. For others, it means a near heart attack at the produce section in the grocery store. For my husband and me, it means both. So, this year we found an inexpensive way to eat in while eating out.

We ordered the Great Basin Basket CSA food basket for the first time. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and the movement is nationwide. Every week, we receive a box of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables picked by farmers from sustainable local farms. The quality is comparable to the farmers’ markets around town, except that we don’t have to go anywhere, make any hard decisions, or count our change. Last April, we wrote a check for $480, and for 15 weeks, starting in July, we receive whatever the harvest brings. This averages out to $32 a week. While this sounded like a lot at first, we’ve kept track and have discovered that we are actually spending less. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that because our refrigerator is always full, we tend to shop less, and the fewer runs I make to the store, the less I am tempted to buy things I don’t need. The second is that we are cooking what we have, instead of purchasing items to satisfy a recipe list. It has diverted us to a mindset of using what is available instead of acquiring what we think we need.

This has been a learning experience. I had no idea you could do so many things with squash, for example. We have stuffed them, baked them and fried them. We recently learned that some people even make chips out of them. Similarly, we have grown fonder of basil. At first, I admit I was in danger of growing basil-weary as bunch after bunch continued to arrive in our basket. But then I started making pesto and stockpiling it in my freezer for colder days.

The best thing about the CSA basket is the taste. Everything from the cantaloupe to the corn is mouth-watering. My dad grew up on a farm and delights in being able to say “I told you so” every time I speak of the quality we are getting. The other night we cooked our corn on the cob and looked like two typewriters as our teeth zipped along, freeing those sweet and crunchy yellow morsels from their skins.

We still go out and eat occasionally. But we also eat our food “out.” For example, last night we chopped up our peppers, carrots and cantaloupe and packed it off to Tahoe to watch Lake Tahoe Shakespeare’s Richard III. We ate our fill with some left over and hadn’t spent a dime on picnic foods from the grocery store.

Surviving a down economy is pretty basic, really: You use what you have and go from there. It also means rolling with some punches. The first few weeks, our basket was rather small due to peculiar weather patterns, such as hail in May. It was frustrating. I started to wonder if I was getting my money’s worth. But then the weather changed, and our baskets grew more bountiful. Sometimes we can hardly eat it all before the next one arrives. We are planning on ordering the Grateful Fall basket (eight weeks for $300) as well as the Light Green Spring (eight weeks for $230) starting next May. And come winter, we will enjoy our pesto, remembering just how full the summer was.