do you know who your farmer is? quinn and i do. we attended our farm’s annual csa potluck. in case there is anyone left who hasn’t heard me rave about consumer supported agriculture, i spell out the acronym again. we are finishing up our second season of csa membership with gathering together farm, an amazing organic farm not too far from where we live. close enough to go and visit our farmers. (our sunday drive to the farm took a detour back through our secret apple picking spot- 71 more pounds of wild apple foraging! woot!)
csa is also commonly known as a “weekly veggie box.” i was first introduced to the concept nigh on a decade ago, when i had the chance to visit two farms who ran csa programs in washington (port townsend and vashon island). at the time, i was living out of a duffel bag, in between sailing jobs on tall ships, and had no way of subscribing to a csa program (buying local in that time of my life was more along the lines of haggling for naranjas in broken spanish in whatever port i happened to be in on a given day), but i was immediately impressed and planned on doing this as soon as i was settled “ashore”. csa incorporates many of my top priorities in the category of food consumption: organic, local, seasonal, fresh, fair trade, sustainable, the list goes on and on. one of the most awesome benefits i’ve found, is that quinn is so connected to where his food comes from- he calls this “our gathering farm.” he and i can walk up to our farmer- touch him, shake his hand. or her hand. i am showing a picture of quinn listening intently to farmer john eveland talk about equipment during the farm tour, but john’s partner in crime (wife/co-owner) sally brewer was quietly standing at the back of the group, with pertinent bits of her own expertise at the ready. real live people!
we have more than one farmer, it turns out. more than one farm, to be exact. we get our meat from an even closer-to-home farm, walker farms, owned by our friends randy and sarah. our eggs, and some of our firewood, come from pioneer mountain farms, owned by our friends ben and crystal. we also get raw goat milk from someplace nearby (though that is unfortunately under the radar and i won’t link that farm here in case it would bring them unwanted attention. the controversy over raw milk is one of the most mystifying i have ever caught wind of… we, as consumers, are qualified to make sure our raw store-bought-toxic chicken is cooked, but not to pasteurize (or choose not to) our own wonderful-free-range-organic milk! it’s unbelievable, yet it is the case.) some states permit the sale of raw milk, others not. some can do it through a share system (sort of like our trusty csa concept here- you invest in the “herd” and have a teeny tiny “share” of the farm, and reap the benefits in edible form.) by the way, some meat farms (including the walkers!) offer meat csa programs, some have combos involving dairy and eggs, others not. there’s a whole range of examples of how this concept can work!
but this post is about our veggie farm, our gathering farm… we love it there. we are loving our annual csa potluck tradition.
as soon as we arrived, we were greeted with fresh homemade donuts, and though i tried to interest quinn in the cinnamon sugar topped variety, he is a man who knows what he wants and is not afraid to walk up and grab it. he chose chocolate. luckily i brought an extra shirt, so i could change him post-tour but pre-potluck dinner. he was coated with chocolate AND a layer of dirt, from the digging he decided to do “for worms and snakes.” he got to touch a snake that was hidden in the strawberry patch, and was intrigued to dig for more. i was intrigued by his intrigue (bug phobia? what bug phobia? his brief one seems to have vanished, yay!) oh, and the cozy little yurt nestled in amongst the farmland…
this is our second year attending the annual csa potluck, and both years we were set loose in the strawberry patch, this year they plan on turning it under so we were free to eat on sight. quinn has changed a bit over the past year….
as csa members, we are treated like royalty on the farm. in spite of the fact that we get a reeeeeallly good deal on our produce, we are thanked profusely for getting our farm through harder months when we pay ahead for our upcoming veggie box season. apparently it’s a big enough deal, that they lavish donuts, mugs of hot apple cider, fresh sweet corn and potatoes and other fun goodies on us, in addition to showing us the ins and outs of the farm.
i find it so invigorating to live through the ebbs and flows of the different crops and be more in tune with what EXACTLY is in season any given week (in our boxes each week, we end up with a mix of whatever is most plentiful at the time, so that the veggies get used while they’re in their prime, and we avoid waste. this mama cannot abide waste!) it takes adjusting at first- i had to learn how to deal with a whole head of lettuce between my son and i in a week- and he doesn’t care to consume lettuce. now i smoothie it, and have been keeping up. everything else in our box (which in reality is always twice as much as we need) either gets eaten fresh as fresh can be (when it hasn’t had to travel the world in a cargo container, you discover how truly vital your food can really be- and what a long fridge life! not that i ever get behind on things in my fridge… ;)). what we can’t manage to eat fresh, we put away for the 6 months of the year when we don’t get weekly boxes.
which leads me to my chest freezer, and my cupboard full of canned goodies. we literally do not have to buy any out-of-season produce. i noted to myself on april 1 of this year that we were “STILL living off the bounty of that box”. i pull out packages of carrots, green beans, greens, zucchini, etc, a jar of tomatoes, a tub of homemade chicken stock (care of the walkers amazingly tasty chickens), and dump it all in a pot with some grains and legumes and we have soup. i am always pulling out bits of chopped cilantro or bell pepper to spice up the burritos…. some of these items i bought from the farm in extra quantities- tomatoes for instance, and potatoes, onions… but really, the box gets us a LONG way through our year.
along with the flow of abundance and freshness… is the ebb. you don’t get the freshest of the fresh in december here. we hope our little backyard garden and our community garden plot will winter over nicely, and give us a few peas, greens, and fava beans now and then to boost our vitamins over the colder months! but there is also something exciting about biding our time, anticipating the first green fresh things to eat in springtime- good things come to those who wait! it doesn’t feel like deprivation. i will probably never again eat a “fresh” tomato in the winter time. it just feels all wrong to me anymore.
i wasn’t sure i could afford a csa membership as a single mom, but then i did the price comparisons. what did it, was i saw how much i would get in one box- i would be buying virtually NO other veggies. we buy some fruit that we are unable to forage freely (our CSA was primarily veggies with maybe a box of berries thrown in, some farms have arrangements that are more evenly split fruit/veggies.) my grocery costs went way down (and in the winter they go way way down.) the cost for this year on my CSA is $500, one box a week from june through the end of october. so $100 a month. i used to spend at least $40 a week just on produce, and that was year round! i’m fortunate that my farm also offers a payment plan. you just send one check for $100, plus four more checks dated for the first of july, aug, sept, oct. it works out really really well for us. i wonder what the different arrangements might be, and i know that some might not have fine tuned the set up quite as wonderfully as our gathering farm.
i like to think of csa as a great alternative for people who rent or otherwise can’t garden as much as they’d like (don’t have space, land, time, green thumbs etc.) while the csa is a time commitment (putting up all that food is intense! and coming up with meals is definitely a stretch some weeks, though i ultimately found it to be inspiring….) it is such a great way to go local and seasonal and fresh.
our csa includes a weekly newsletter with recipes that were appropriate for whatever was in the box for the week. we got it on saturday morning, so i’d peruse the recipes, do my grocery shopping (for other than produce items) later that day, so i’d know i needed, say, coconut milk because i’d use x,y and z in a curry, etc. it helped me become much more organized about food. and they’d always give recipes for the oddball veggies, and really expanded our horizons. we had never actually tasted radicchio, parsley root, or celeriac before, so having some recipes to use them with was really key for first-timers! (parsley root soup was divine, and i hope we get another parsley root this fall! parsley root is like a cross between a parsnip and a potato: i’m assuming i’m not the only one who didn’t know.) i appreciate the way i have been encouraged to eat a broader range, even of the veggies i am familiar with- i forget to buy turnips or beets or parsnips, but this way, the season doesn’t get by me without at least a taste of each wonderful veggie.
some food for thought for the winter… then in march, you can go find your own local farm to support!!!