Wow... I'm shocked at all these responses. We belonged to two different CSAs in NJ and one here in IL (we're doing two different one this year because the drop-off point for last year's is sold out & I'm not going to travel 30mins/week to pick it up). In NJ, we also did a co-op where the co-op owner bought for 900 families bi-weekly, portioned it out into 15-family portions, delivered it to a drop-off point, and the coop members broke it down into individual portions. MAN, do I miss that. But it was the same thing as the CSA in that you didn't know what you were getting all the time. We have never lived near a farmer's market with enough ORGANIC produce to rival the coop or CSA (or even Whole Foods for that matter--which has woefully little organic produce )
Here are some points that have made this easier and more successful for us.
First, yeah--it's definitely a lifestyle adjustment to using up fresh produce; and furthermore, to use what you're not exactly expecting to get. But you get a rhythm for it. When I was the coordinator for the coop in NJ, I would give new members 3 of those "green bags" their first delivery so that they wouldn't have their stuff rot before they could use it. I meant to look up how that works to see if it was pretty much negating the purity of our food. I never got around to that. (anyone know?) They definitely saved us more than once when we had a family drop from the coop and wound up with two shares of food unexpectedly.
Second, have a good cookbook on-hand. I had no clue how to use kale, collards or chard. I do now. I think the only things they can now give me that I don't have a way to use are kohlrabi (which is rare) and fennel (which I just hate). But I found a recipe that I could use for all the greens that was easy, and one that I could use for all the squash that was easy. Beyond that, it was uncommon for me to not know how to use what remained. And if you don't get enough of an item to use it on it's own, that's when it becomes part of a frittata or some other dish. We had a few incidents of having to make an item on it's own as a tiny portion that we could sample for taste and texture so that we knew what we could throw it into the next time we didn't have enough of it. PITA? Yeah... but not common, either. It was the exception vs. the rule.
Third, find out when pickup is. If it's on a Friday (or even late-day Thursday) then you have a better chance of success as a newbie because you have time on the weekend to figure it all out if you're really stumped. But if it's on a Monday or Tuesday and you're someone that is very new to fresh produce in general and/or not familiar with a variety of produce, then that's a recipe for disaster.
Last, I see people talking about how they didn't know what half the stuff they got was. I have to be honest: 1) I haven't had the experience of not knowing what MOST of the stuff was in the 4 groups I've belonged to; and 2) wouldn't you WANT to find out and expand your horizons and health? Between the four groups we have belonged to over the last few years, we have grown to love ground cherries and kiwi berries, kale and collards (which CAN be cooked quick vs. the southern all-day method), and we have been forced to eat things we knew about, but were too lazy to deal with. Our mindset on how we eat has changed.
Many of the CSAs now give you a chart of what they're expecting to harvest in different months. Something like this:
(this is actually one of the more elaborate ones I've seen, but they all have some similar stuff nowadays)
If they don't have that, ask. Or ask former members or repeat members. No doubt you will wind up with lots of greens in the colder/early season and lots of squash at the end. This is how eating local works. That's just the way it grows (although in Southern CA, that may not be the case at all--but there is a season/cycle to the produce for sure).
It's an adjustment. But your choice is to try to make the adjustment and work through that phase of it until you're used to it; or find an alternative. Any diet adjustment can be hard. We've become a culture where meals are an aside and we don't actually devote a great deal of time to their planning and preparation. When I consult people on dietary interventions, this is by far the biggest problem we face: life as we know it today does NOT allocate time to the planning and preparing of meals. We don't give that whole process any priority. We don't regard it as paramount. When you have to adjust to making time for it, it seems overwhelming. But you learn; and just like the way you plan and prep your meals now--this, too, will become just "the way you do it". You've spent your whole life dealing with your meals the way you deal with them now.
If you can look at these changes and find value in them enough to make the changes, then you'll stick to it. Is saving money worth it enough? Is eating healthier worth it? Is learning about a diversity of different vegetables--either for health benefits or teaching your kids or even saving money because some of them are really cheap in the stores in the winter--worth it? Only you can answer that.
We have, in 3 years, grown to a point where we are now doing two CSA shares/week and then using a community garden plot to grow food to store for the winter. And actually, before we relocated were doing a weekly coop share instead of a bi-weekly. We have just grown to using THAT much fresh produce with two adults & only 1 7yo--which is remarkable IMO (we have a 2yo that really doesn't eat any solid food, but that's a rant for another day ). Meanwhile, when I was a drop-off point for our coop, I had three families splitting one biweekly share and stopped because they didn't use it all. Families that each had two adults plus at least one child eating only solid foods.
ETA: took me so long to write this post that I didn't see sunnysandiegan's post. I have to say that I have NEVER had the experience of my stuff lasting longer than store-bought--not with any of the CSAs or the coop. Just for comparison. And at least two of the CSAs I know picked literally within hours of our pickup.