Not only do Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) provide you with local produce, meat and dairy, but they also back local farmers through the growing season—by paying farms up front, the farmers can better plan their income.

Are you currently a CSA member, or thinking about becoming one? Here’s how to get the most out of your haul.

Share it.

News flash: CSA boxes can be big, and if you live alone or with just one other person, it’s a lot of food to cook and store all at once. Try splitting a CSA with a friend or coworker; divide ingredients as equally as possible—trade recipes or cook together for added fun. Alternatively, see if any farms in your area provide half shares.

Cook it.

Because produce in your CSA box is harvested at the peak of freshness (no methane-ripened tomatoes, here), produce may not last as long as store-bought veggies. When you pick up your CSA, set aside time that night to cook. Our favorite: Make a stew in your slow cooker, transfer to individual containers and freeze. Reheat for quick, healthy lunches during the week.

Tip: Find a CSA that offers a pickup location at a natural grocery store, so you can buy a baguette to pair with that local cheese in one easy trip.

Embrace it.

CSAs are a wild card: You may get unique ingredients you’ve never cooked with, such as stinging nettles, watermelon radishes or squash blossoms, along with the more common spinach. Embrace these lesser-known ingredients by searching online for cooking tips. Go to for healthy recipes using common CSA foods to guide your meal prep.

Harvest it.

If you can’t afford a CSA membership, contact a farm in your area that runs a CSA program. Some operations rely on volunteers to harvest fruits and vegetables—and offer a free weekly CSA in return. (Bonus: You’ll likely have first choice of the best produce, too!) Plus, it’s a great way to meet like-minded people who care about where their food comes from and how it’s grown.