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CSAs: Produce to your door 

Several years ago, a friend asked me if I wanted to join a CSA. I'd never heard of Community-Supported Agriculture, and this alphabetic shorthand for a prepaid investment of summer-long, local, farm-fresh produce did little to whet my interest. Nor did the notion of paying as much as $500 in advance for the weekly wave of fruits and veggies I would receive.

Then I heard from friends who had given the arrangement a try. While they munched on delectable greens and berries bursting with flavor, I was struggling to feed two kids with multiple food allergies.

It seemed the only foods Ty and Talia could consume safely were fruits and veggies. Suddenly, the CSA had a captive audience. I longed for the garden-fresh and naturally allergen-free choices that came bundled in my friends' CSA boxes each week.

I found that numerous CSAs had taken root in the Triangle. Some offered strictly organic produce, while others offered conventional fruits and veggies or threw in herbs, flowers, eggs and meat. Most offered a central location for weekly pickup.

For a few dollars more, some would deliver straight to my door. After an exhaustive search, I settled on The Produce Box. For $22 a week, I could have my choice of one of three boxed offerings delivered to my door each week. I could pay online weekly, and if I was going out of town or wanted to skip a week or three, I could do that, too.

Like tomatoes, CSAs come in different varieties. Some CSAs distribute directly from one local farm; others, like the Produce Box, pool fruits and vegetables from numerous local farms before passing them along to subscribers. The first box arrived last summer chock-full of vegetables and fruit. A newsletter in the box offered tips for storing the produce, and several recipes.

We had never tried kale, and that afternoon I destemmed the greens, sprinkled them with olive oil, apple cider vinegar and salt before baking. The thick greens crinkled, shrank, curled and browned into slightly crispy chips that were earthy and delicious. My kids literally begged for more.

That night, I served a beautiful crisp salad and roasted asparagus alongside grilled chicken, and we finished the meal with strawberries sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Over the next few weeks, we enjoyed weekly deliveries of fresh produce. I discovered new delights like beta sweet potatoes and sprite melons. We enjoyed vegetable stir-fries and sautés, fresh-baked muffins and homemade salsas. I rarely had to supplement my box with produce from the store.

When bread and cake recipes called for flour and eggs, I was usually able to substitute gluten-free all-purpose flour and applesauce with good results. The crumb-covered smiles on my daughter's face were worth the extra effort.

My initial hesitance about joining a CSA has turned into all-out anticipation, and we continued our subscription this summer. As I type, I can see my neighborhood coordinator making her way down the street with this week's deliveries. I've got to run. But before I do, let me share a couple recipes to make use of your produce, whether you participate in a CSA or not.

You can find other allergen-friendly recipes on the Indy's Big Bite blog.

Kale chips

6–8 cups chopped fresh kale, hard stems removed
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tbs. olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt or sea salt

Place rack on the lowest shelf of your oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread kale on a sturdy baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and apple cider vinegar. Transfer kale into a bowl and toss to coat.

Place on the lowest rack of the oven and bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and stir so the kale can get crispy throughout.

Bake another 8–12 minutes or until kale is crispy. It should be just lightly browned and crispy to touch. If kale still bends, rather than crackles, when you touch it, it isn't done yet. Return to oven. Turn down the heat if it is getting too brown. Continue cooking until crispy. Remove from oven, sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

Kale chips recipe is courtesy of The Produce Box.

Joyce Clark Hicks can be reached at joyce4indy@gmail.com.

Correction (June 8, 2011): The print version of this story had an incorrect link to The Produce Box's website.

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