We Dig Vegetables
Week 4, 2008
I want to talk briefly about Community Supported Agriculture and what it means to us. CSA farms are becoming a more main-stream way of buying produce, and the past decade has seen the number of CSA farms that exist grow exponentially. There are so many different kinds of CSA farms and the products they offer vary greatly. When a movement catches on and gains popularity, the very spirit from which it was founded can sometimes be left behind and in the dust. I became very interested in CSA farming because of the spiritual aspects connected to it; and it feels important to express what this means to me and re-define it occasionally so that we don’t lose sight of what this was all really supposed to be about in the first place. Although this is a business that we run, where you could be considered one of our ‘customers’, I really would rather think of us all as community members working together and sharing the risks of farming together towards a healthy food-producing system.
To the best of my knowledge, the first CSA (although it was not exactly called this) started in Japan in 1965. A group of women were concerned about pesticides used in food grown for consumption, the increase in processed and imported foods, and the corresponding decrease in the local farm populations. The concerned women approached a local farmer and worked out the terms of the cooperative agreement. This first CSA was called “teikei”, which literally translates to “partnership” or “cooperation”; or in more philosophical terms, “food with the farmer’s face on it”.
Aside from actually getting the food directly from the farmers, this idea was also intended to bring communities of people together and strengthen the economy of the farm and the surrounding urban areas by keeping local dollars local. This shows how even where you choose to spend your money for food has a political impact. How so? Because you’re not supporting farms in California, New Zealand or Mexico...nor the oil companies (indirectly) to have that food shipped here. You're supporting a neighboring farm. The community strengthening aspect is one that I fear is losing it’s potency.
Farming is risky business. Period. You’ve got to have faith and trust and patience to be a good CSA member and simply enjoy your season. You’ve got to have faith that the seasons will unfold and bring plenty of rain and sunshine when it’s needed most. You’ve got to have trust in your farmer that they will provide you with the best of what they have and will work hard towards making a wide variety of vegetables available for you. So when the seasons and the weather patterns take their course, they will produce the vegetables in their respective seasons. All vegetables have a season, and we are meant to eat them when they come into season when they are fresh, full of flavor and are most nutritional. Indulge while it lasts, because good strawberries only come around once a year.
There is an interdependence between the farmers and the members also. The local members have food because the farmer grows it, and the farmer grows the food because they know there are guaranteed customers that will take it. Together we share a mighty risk. You’ve taken a risk and a chance by signing up with us this year that we will be able to provide a bounty of fruitful harvest, and I’ve taken a risk as the farmer attempting to grow so many different kinds of food and hoping and praying they grow and reach maturity. This season has been slow to start, and we’re not the only ones feeling this impact of such a late spring, many other CSA farmer friends of ours have similarly small boxes to start their season off with. It’s hard to remember those cold Spring days now that the average temperature is in the 80’s, but we can’t go back and undo what has been done.
As the farmer and one of the risk takers in this agreement, I’m asking you to please be understanding with me as this season begins. We have a mighty field filled with rows upon rows upon beds filled with beautiful plants that are growing and will start to set fruit very soon. The bulk of your share will be made up in the latter part of this season. All the plants that we have in the ground look better in some areas than we’ve ever seen in our field. There are even flowers on the tomato plants! Our potatoes look amazing and the carrots surprised me today when I was walking alongside them. Their foliage is so green and getting bigger every day. With a nice rain here and a good drink, the plants should be taking off.
Now you understand a little of what CSA is for us. Please believe, we have put our backs, sweat, hearts and souls (and a big fatty of a mortgage) into our Small Family CSA Farm, because we believe. We believe in small farms, we believe in community, and we believe in good, wholesome, delicious food in season. So hang with us. We’ll make believers out of you, too.
I would also be interested in hearing what CSA means to each of you, no matter if you are a newbie, or a veteran CSA-er.
So….WHAT’S in the BOX???
Strawberries– They’re here! Eat promptly! Berries that are harvested when they are red-ripe do not keep as well as berries harvested before they are ripe, like what you may find in the grocery store. Fresh berries are extremely perishable! Refrigeration does not stop the process of deteriorating, in fact is may worsen the problem if the condensation from the container adds more moisture and they begin to rot. Eat promptly, enjoy the sweet-sour!
French Breakfast– It’s about time! The leaves on these babies are a little chewed, but are edible. Best stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Garlic Scapes– These are shoots off of the garlic growing in the field. A scape is actually the garlic plant making an effort to put out seed for re-production. But garlic growers snap them off so the plant knows to put it’s energy into making a larger garlic bulb, rather than putting it’s energy into making seeds. These yummy scapes are perfectly edible. Use like you would use garlic in any, your eggs, soups or stir fries.
Kale- Kale is in the same family as broccoli, cabbage, collards, kohlrabi, cauliflower and so on. A huge pile of these leaves will wilt down into hardly anything, so use them generously, and don’t be shy if this leafy green is new to you. It’s LOADED with nutritional value. I like it fried in butter or coconut oil with some nuts or bacon and tamari. Remember, the stems are “as tough as rope” (Deborah Madison) so just use the leaves either sliced or pulled off. Also great chopped in soup (add it before serving). I really do love kale!
Lettuce– YES, more lettuce. I wish I had an endless supply. It’s just trickling in now.
Beet Greens– You often find baby beet greens mixed in the pre-made salad mixes that you buy at the store. These are slightly more mature and perfect for salads or wilting down into almost any dish. Beet greens are in the same family as spinach and Swiss chard. Use like you would for one of them.
Week 3, 2008
It’s hard to believe that it’s already week three and I haven’t gotten around to introducing myself and the other members of our Small Family Farm.
I’m Jillian, the youngest member of the farm. I’m the full-time, over-timer here that works every-day-all-day long , devoting my every waking hour to the gardens and the success of the CSA as a business. I’ve been alive for 25 ripe years, going on 45. I’m part of the 1% of Americans that still claim farming as my primary occupation. I’m also part of the 6% of that 1% that is under the age of 35. I’ve been the intern, the apprentice and the mule on 7 other farms (before we made the leap to purchase our own farm) gaining experience, knowledge and skill while watching all kinds of other farmers make somewhat foolish and expensive mistakes; mistakes that I have learned from for the last 6 years. I did not grow up on a farm, nor did my family keep anything much of a garden while I was growing up that was intended to sustain or feed our family. I’m the guilty one with the crazy calling to become a farmer —than happened to drag a few of my loved ones in along with me. I tried college, getting a degree in massage therapy, and traveled to parts of the world, gaining knowledge, experience and, satisfaction in both, yet I seem to feel most at home or more ‘in my element’ when I’m out in the middle of a field all by myself in the Midwestern part of the USA, working my butt off growing real, quality food. This is me in a nutshell (of a paragraph).
Adam is the bearded man at my side. He’s the Silent Bob of this circus. And, that makes him the wise man that keeps the balance on this farm. He’s the yin to counter the yang, he’s the water that puts out fires, and he’s something like my knight and shining armor. But he also does the majority of the cultivating (a glorified term for weeding) on this farm, making sure I get the direct seeding done on time. He’s responsible for doing frequent field walks and paying closer attention to the plants than even I am able to do in my frenzy to get all the transplanting, seeding and harvesting done. Adam is also the ‘research analyst’ on planting, growing, pests—you name it; and he also knows when the first of something happens in the gardens, like when the first pea flower has bloomed, when the first carrot is ready to dig, when the first tomato is ready and when the garlic has first begun to scape. His close examinations keep us all updated and on our toes. He’s the weather guru/geek and usually has not one but two weather webs up at all times. These may sound like a minor tasks, but they’re all actually quite helpful to know when your mind is so wrapped around the projects your focused on completing, you hardly even notice the rest of the world around you. On one farm I worked on, this was an every-other-day job for three people on the farm to do, to walk around and take “field walks”. Adam also works off the farm at a job he has in town. Did I mention he’s also superman?
Momma Jane is my beloved mother. She wouldn't want me to tell all of you this because she’s been working on hiding it for most of her life, but her real, given first name is actually Mary Jane. She doesn’t like to be called Mary for reasons I don’t really understand, so you might just want to keep it at Momma Jane. But she’s a lot like a Mary too. She’s the most giving and helpful person you’ll ever meet. She has her moods, as mothers and daughters have moods with one another from time to time, but to the rest of the world, she’s as merry as cherry pie. Momma Jane is like the mother Mary on our farm, watching over us with her compassionate and unconditional love. She’s also the full-time chef, keeping all of us nourished and our bellies full. Momma Jane does the deliveries to the Dubuque and Galena drop-sites. She helps with a lot of the harvesting, washing and packing of the veggies on the harvest and delivery days for the CSA. Adam and I sometimes call her the “farmer’s wife”, but she’s really my mother, and she’s wonderful. She always edits my newsletters after I’m finished typing, so I better not say anything terrible about her, or else she’ll just re-write whatever she wants you to know about her. * She’s not always the most punctual, so the Iowa and Illinois members may have to exercise some patience with her. She may have stopped along the way to give someone in need a ride or some food.
*Editor’s Note: OK. I’m a little ‘ADD’ and therefore do have some ‘time management’ issues, trying to cram too much into one day. But trust me...it’s hard to keep up with Jillian who believes in the 36-hour-workday!! (Adam will back me up on this)
This is us. Just the three, with two mixed-breed dogs, one domestic spoiled cat, (plus a few barn/ feral cats). All of us making this whole ship sail. We have a small handful of volunteers and CSA members that are working in exchange for their season’s share, but we do not have any hired labor at all. We’re just young and ambitious—and in love with what we do.
WHAT’S in the BOX??
Pickins are still quite slim, but some of our summer favorites are turning a corner with all this sunshine!
Strawberries– They’re here! Eat promptly! Berries that are harvested when they are red-ripe do not keep as well as berries harvested before they are ripe, like what you may find in the grocery store. Fresh berries are extremely perishable! Refrigeration does not stop the process of deteriorating, in fact is may worsen the problem if the condensation from the container adds more moisture and they begin to rot. Eat promptly, enjoy the sweet-sour.
Cherry Bell Radish or French Breakfast– It’s about time! The leaves on these babies are a little chewed, but are edible. Best stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Garlic Scapes– These are shoots off of the garlic growing in the field. A scape is actually the garlic plant making an effort to put out seed for re-production. But garlic growers snap them off so the plant knows to put it’s energy into making a larger garlic bulb, rather than putting it’s energy into making seeds. These yummy scapes are perfectly edible. Use like you would use garlic, the whole thing!
Asparagus- The last giving of this spring treat. Say good-by until next year. Keeps best standing upright in a bowl with water in your refrigerator. We did have some problems with some of this freezing in our coolers, we tried to get all of it out, but I’m sorry if you got a frozen/thawed asparagus that slipped in.
Lettuce- Finally it’s here! We can all have green salads! Keeps best in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.