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The Pick-Up: CSA Challenge: Tips for keeping produce fresh

Being part of a CSA doesn't mean just picking up food every week, apparently. Farmer Emma at Moon Valley Farm is busy this July putting the "community" in Community Supported Agriculture. She's planned a member and volunteer potluck dinner with tours of the garden and Frisbee games. She's putting volunteer days on the calendar and providing lunch for those who help out. She's also organizing their first Farm-to-Table dinner on a Saturday night.

And, to my delight, she asked Tim Maschok, organic-produce buyer at MOM's Organic Market, to come out to the farm and give tips for keeping produce fresh.

Maschok says working in the produce section of a market is a little bit like working in an emergency room. The patients are dying, and his job is to keep them alive as long as possible. That's your job, too, at home, so you can reap the benefits of all the hard work that has gone into growing vegetables and herbs. Here are tips he's learned over the years for extending the life of various items.

Basil: This is very difficult to keep for very long. In general, if it came to you refrigerated, put it in the fridge. If it came at room temperature, keep it that way. The best thing, he says, is to make it into a pesto and keep that. In any case, avoid touching the leaves; the oil on hands will turn the leaves black.

Green beans, snow peas, snap peas: Keep them in the fridge sealed up tight in a plastic bag with a paper towel or two in the bag. (Herein after referred to as PBPT.) The towel should be open in the bag but not wrapped around the produce. It will soak up condensation and keep the beans dry; the plastic bag will keep them from getting too dried out.

Squash, zucchini, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers: PBPT in the fridge.

Carrots, beets, radishes, parsnips, turnips and other root vegetables: First, cut the tops off. You can use the greens for other purposes, but if you leave the greens on, the plants will keep growing, pulling nutrients and moisture from the roots. Then get a pot of water and put ice in it. Soak the roots in ice water for about an hour to rehydrate and bring the core temperature down. Then completely dry the vegetables. Then PBPT in the fridge. These can keep for up to a month. To revive them, rehydrate and give them a quick soak in cold water every few days.

Radishes: Again, cut off the greens. You can keep these in a bowl of water in the fridge; change the water every two to three days.

Kale, collards, Swiss chard, mustard greens, other stemmed greens: Hydrate them by soaking in water for 15-20 minutes if they look wilted. Keep these "like a flower in the fridge," says Maschok. Cut the bottoms off, then stick them in a cup with a little water in it. Don't put too much water in the cup; you want the stem to be wet but the leaves should not be soaking. Cover with a plastic bag to help them keep from dehydrating. Every two or three days, give the greens a bath in fresh water.

Lettuce: Soak in water. Put it in a plastic bag, and seal it up. Every 2-3 days give it a fresh bath to help fight mold and bacteria.

Spinach: Spinach leaves are delicate and can break down if they get wet. PBPT. At best, spinach will last about a week.

Dill, cilantro, parsley: Cut the bottoms off, wrap a paper towel around the leaves, then put them in a cup of water — such that just the bottoms are touching the water — and loosely cover with an unsealed plastic bag. It can last about 7 to 10 days this way.

Organic potatoes: Organic potatoes are not sprayed with root inhibitors, so the conventional "put them in a cool, dark place" method doesn't work as well. PBPT in the fridge.

Onions, garlic, shallots: A cool, dry place suffices for them. A paper bag will help keep them from drying out and lets them breathe.


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