Zat is zee question!  Did you know that we cannot legally say that we are an organic farm?  We can’t write it on our advertising material or put it on our farm label.  There’s a pretty hefty fine if I get caught doing so too.  Last time I checked, it was somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000.  If you’re a farm that sells less that $5,000 annually in vegetables, you can use the word “organic”, but if you sell any more than that, you can forget about it. 

There is a network of farmer’s within a few hours driving distance of Madison, Wisconsin called the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition, better known as MACSAC.  Some of you who were with us last year may remember me sending you some information on MACSAC via e-mail.  There are over 40 CSA farms that belong to the coalition and deliver their CSA boxes to the Madison area.  One major benefit to you, the CSA member, is that if you belong to certain insurance companies you can get $100-200 of the cost of your share paid for.  Or if you are a low-income household, the coalition will pay for half of your share price.  There are a handful of benefits to me, the farmer, also to belonging to the coalition including advertising for our farm, increased CSA membership, and a wide variety of networking bonuses.  It’s a very neat coalition, in theory.  Yours truly does belong to MACSAC currently.

But just this year, all happening very quickly and at the busiest times of the farmer’s season, the coalition announced that starting January 1 of 2009, all the farms that belong to the coalition must be certified organic farms.  Well, as you can imagine, there is a large handful of us small family farmers who have consciously chosen not to get certified organic for very good reasons.  This contrast in beliefs among the farmers that belong to the coalition has been pretty heated this year.  It’s really got me thinking about why I’ve chosen not to get certified organic (although we could very easily), and why I don’t just do it like everyone else.

I’m not exactly the sort of person to just follow the herd, go with the grain, and obey every rule ever made.  I’ve gotten a lot better than I once was.  I certainly went thru various stages of defiance, rebellion and exploration.  I’ve found that if you're going to object to something, it’s best to be conscious about it and know both sides of the story, per say.  It wouldn’t kill me to just have the inspector come to farm, fill out a bunch of paperwork and pay the 500 bucks, big deal.  But what really does seem to slowly eat away at me is when I feel like I’m compromising myself and my morels and everything that I’m standing for.

I’m not sure if any one of you ever even asked if we were certified organic at all this spring before you wrote your checks out and sent them in.  I’m willing to bet that either you assumed we were certified, or it really wasn’t that important to you.  I may have offered that information to you, because you have every right to know.  But by simply asking us and trusting us in our responses is more important.  CSA’s are supposed to enrich trust and communication between the producer and the eater.  It feels to me that if a person who I’ve never met comes to the farm once a year to “inspect” for 15 min and then slaps the “certified organic” label on our product after I hand them a check, that it only desensitizes us more.

You will walk into a grocery store and look for certified organic produce, trusting that those farmers were good stewards of the land, used ‘sustainable’ farming practices and feeling like those vegetables were healthier for you than their conventional counterpart.  You will buy those vegetables feeling comforted that they are “certified organic”, although you’re really not sure what that means, exactly, other than that they didn’t spray chemicals on them.  This is what I mean by de-sensitizing you.  You’ve learned to put your trust into a system that you think is promising you health, but you’re not really sure anymore.  You don’t even know what state they came from (probably California).  You many not even know if they were in season when they were picked (probably not).  

What CSA aims to do is give you your feelings back.  The farm is open for you to come and see, sniff and feel.  You can actually call or e-mail the farmer and ask them questions about the vegetables.  You will get a sense of seasonality, and we will all feel the longing of tomato ripening season together, knowing for sure that there really are seasons for these vegetables that they come into and go away from.  A certifier can’t guarantee you fresh, nutrient dense, seasonality, responsible stewardship, flavor, or family and community strengthening.  A certifier can only guarantee you the very lowest degree of what quality really, truly is. 

A certified organic farm has the lowest levels covered, the no-brainers, like no synthetic insecticides, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.  A certified organic vegetable farm will guarantee you the farmer bought certified organic seeds, used organic potting soil, and kept records of what was harvested, when and how much.  Certification will make sure the farmer puts a thermometer in the compost pile to make sure it doesn’t get too hot, or not hot enough.  And it will make sure the farmer doesn’t spread raw manure within 90 of harvesting the crop or use treated wood in the fields.  One reason that many farms, if not most, choose to become certified is because of money, of course.  The farms will get a better wholesale price for their product if it’s labeled organic.   If it’s not certified organic, they will only get very low, conventional pricing.  

But the certification won’t make sure the farmer takes soil tests to see where the mineral balancing of the soil is, or that the farmer’s have a crop rotation plan, spread approved fertilizers or treat their worker’s humanely.  Certification definitely does not guarantee you the farm is small, sustainable or family based.   It does not mean that it helps the economy or the ecosystem.

Organic certification is a start.  It’s acceptable by most, and it’s the lesser of the two evils, but it’s not, quite frankly, good enough for me.  I feel that I would be undermining our standards if we became certified, and I’m definitely not prepared to be part of a coalition that requires that I obtain certification to belong.  Especially not a coalition of CSA farms.   What means to most to me is that there is you, 100 different families out there, telling me that you trust me, you understand 

So….WHAT’S in the BOX???

Garlic–  The real thing, freshly plucked out of the ground after nine months of growth and slumber.  The garlic will not have the papery skins around the cloves that you’re used to seeing because this garlic is freshly harvested like a new born!  The bulbs will have several cloves inside.  Around each clove is a thick membrane that is still alive, after curing, that membrane is what turns into the papery skins that you’re used to peeling away from the clove.  Fresh garlic is not quite as hot as cured garlic.   Do not refrigerate.  Store out of direct sunlight, hanging in a well ventilated area.

Lettuce– The lettuce just keeps on reeling in!  The hotter weather is making the lettuce a bit more bitter.  But I’m thankful that we still have it!

Basil– With this much basil, I leave you with no choice but to make PESTO!  See recipe above.  Remember that basil does NOT keep very well, so I would recommend that you use it promptly.  The long stems can be preserved if you put them in a vase or glass of water like you would flowers, not in the refrigerator.  Refrigerators will turn basil black.

Broccoli— This is the peak harvest for our garlic this summer.  There will be plenty more for a fall harvest.

Cauliflower-  I wouldn’t exactly call it a bumper crop, but it gets  better every year.

Green Onions-  Green onions to help hold you over until the real deal is ready for plucking.   You can cut off the tops that you’re not using to eat and stand the white end of the green onions up in a glass of water in your refrigerator to help keep them firm and crisp.

Kohlrabi-  Either a white or purple kohlrabi.  Kohlrabi is in the same family as broccoli, cabbage, kale and cauliflower.  The leaves are edible.  Peel kohlrabi and use for cooking or eating raw.  It’s getting a little hot now for this, but we probably have one more week of it left.

Fennel or Cucumber or Summer Squash-The cucumbers are taking FOREVER to come on this year.  They are picking up now, finally though.  There wasn’t enough of fennel or cucumber for everyone, so we split it up.  But don’t worry, there will be more of both later on.

Dill-  If you’re not planning on using it raw fairly soon, you can hang the bunch, just the way that it is in your kitchen to dry.  Once it’s completely dry, store it in a sealed jar.

Next week!  A short list of items that we may have next week, but will not promise to have.  Due to the unexpectedness of the season, anything could pop up or go down hill in no time.

Lettuce, broccoli, kohlrabi, parsley, cauliflower, green onions, garlic, beets, cabbage