About our CSA – why we love it

Ask just about anyone, and they’ll agree that they want to eat better. It can be very hard, though, to overcome habits of shopping and cooking. Two years ago, we made a change in our lives to force us to change our habits: we joined the Rocky Gardens CSA.Rocky Gardens Sign

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Think of it as a subscription farm, or perhaps in our case, an organic farm coop. We pay a fee at the beginning of the growing year, and we also contribute labor throughout the season. In return, every week, we get lovely organic produce: our fair share of what the farm produces. It’s way way bigger than a garden, and the variety produces is much more than we could manage. We love it.

In that first year, we had very little idea of what to expect. Oh, sure, we knew that lettuce grows best in cool weather, and tomatoes like it hot and sunny. But what would be in our box every week? What would we -do- with it?  It was like one of those chef tests: here’s a box of ingredients. Now make something! Every week, what was in our box changed. My focus as the household cook changed from making a list and shopping for things, to getting a surprise bunch of stuff, and deciding what I could make from it. It became almost a game: let’s use this up before the next box comes in!

As the weather warmed up, this became harder to do. The first week’s healthy greens and a few radishes became an abundance of vegetables of all kinds, bursting with flavor. By August we were practically drowning in produce: we’d have 5 lbs of cucumbers, 5 lbs zucchini, 5-6 lbs tomatoes, 2 to 4 melons, 2 lbs green beans, 2 lbs chard, all the herbs we could use and then some. The harvest would fill the kitchen. By the end of the season, we were astonished: our share included 20 lbs freshly dug potatoes,  60-70 softball-sized onions, 13 lbs rutabaga, 34 lbs winter squash. This year, we scaled back: we hold a HALF share, which we think will be just about perfect.

Our meals have become increasingly focused around the best vegetables we’d ever eaten. I started canning and freezing just to keep up with the glut. I learned that pesto freezes very well in round puck-like shapes, and in ice cube trays, and that a cube or three of frozen pesto is a wonderful addition to a wintertime soup. This last year, my canned marinara sauce disappeared quickly – by mid December it was all gone! – so I’m planning to make even more of the stuff this summer. I learned that making pickles is much, much easier than I ever thought it was. I learned to look for canning jars at garage sales: if they’re not cracked or nicked, they’re good to go! Love those 10 cent jars.

Hubby and I have learned from our farm work. Usually one Saturday in the month, we’ll work at the farm. The jobs vary, of course. We helped build a ‘hoop house’ – a greenhouse built of metal hoops and a long, long length of plastic. (Side note: that resulted in the first tomato harvest a full month earlier, in the next season!) We bought good work gloves – farm work is messy, dirty stuff. We learned to keep grubby old shoes in the trunk of the car. We learned about the importance of a good hat and sunscreen. We learned that deer can jump a 6 foot fence but they hate the smell of Irish Spring soap. We learned to live with the seasons: pea plants die in hot weather. We discovered new-to-us vegetables: kohlrabi that looks like a sputnik, Italian kale (Cavolo Nero) among them.

Every Friday, from now until the middle of October, I’ll be driving to the farm. I’ll work for an hour or two, doing whatever chores are assigned to me that day. I’ll harvest my own share of some crops, while others will be ready for me on long tables in the barn. I’ll pack it all up in a box – 2 boxes or even 3 by August – and bring it home. I’ll wash and sort it out, all the time thinking about how I’ll use this week’s haul. By the time Hubby is home from work, the plan will be ready, and chances are I’ll be canning something just about every week from June til October. In October, when the farm’s harvest is complete, we’ll bring home potatoes, onions, and squash to store and eat through the winter.

I’m looking forward to sharing it here.