What I learned from joining a CSA
Exploits in escarole: See what happens when a mom who's not exactly fond of green veggies forks over $900 for nine months of fresh produce.
Tue, Sep 29 2009 at 6:46 AM
EXOTIC EGGPLANT: Fairy tale eggplant is one of the many vegetables discovered through the CSA. (Photo: amy_b/Flickr)
It’s an understatement to say I’m the last person anyone would expect to jump on the community supported agriculture trend. Asparagus and baby spinach are pretty much the only green vegetables I like. I’m a Southerner who hates watermelon, a Georgian who scorns peaches. I do love fresh berries—with brown sugar dumped on top.
When it comes to my eating habits, I’m very, very bad.
I don’t want my 2-year-old daughter following me down the path of processed foods, high fructose corn syrup and meals void of color.
That’s why I subscribed to a CSA. I thought it would be fun to introduce my family to some new foods. I was also drawn to the green aspects of investing in a local farm. I wanted to focus on foods that hadn’t been shipped from South America or New Zealand. I wanted to support sustainable farming.
Joining a CSA sounded like an adventure.
I didn’t expect to learn so much about how hard it is to grow food. I didn’t expect to encounter so many foods I never heard of. Purple mizuna, anyone? I also didn’t expect the shift from buying produce at the grocery store to picking up a weekly box from my CSA to require such a lifestyle change.
First, I went to Local Harvest to find a CSA. I intended to consider only organic farms. Then I learned that some farms use no pesticides but can’t afford to jump through the hoops for organic certification.
I settled on TaylOrganic Farm, located south of Atlanta and operated by Farmer Neil. The drop-off site was close to my home. The cost was about $900, payable in two installments, for about nine months of produce.
My first boxes came stuffed with greens, greens and more greens. A blog offered photos to help me identify my greens. Bright lights swiss chard, tatsoi leaves, arugula, purple bok choy, Chinese cabbage, radiccio. I soon gave up worrying about what I had and just tried to cut everything up and get the produce in the steamer before it went limp.
My favorite items required the least preparation: blueberries, sugar snap peas and lettuce.
Every week was a race to see how much of our box we could eat. My husband, Jason, gobbled up everything I had time to prepare. Me and the kid, well, some weeks were better than others. She loved sweet potatoes. I ate a little wild spinach, stuffed inside a crepe.
I loved discovering something unfamiliar and yummy, such as Chinese red noodle beans. OK, I didn’t like them, but Jason did.
In addition to sugar snap peas and various types of lettuce, I added okra to my list of tolerable green vegetables. Yes, I fried it. Mmmmmm… I also enjoyed roasted beets. I didn’t develop a taste for bok choy, but I learned to appreciate the intense flavor and color of organic, locally grown produce.
Some things, like fairy tale eggplant, assorted funny-looking squash and unshelled pecans never got eaten. Too many slimy vegetables and wilted greens wound up in the compost barrel.
Meanwhile, Farmer Neil faced hurdles. He was giddy when he made the last payment on his backhoe, but the drought was cruel. He turned his swimming pool into some sort of irrigation system. One week, the harvest was so light we were asked to skip a week and get that week added on the end of our contract. Sometimes Farmer Neil traveled south for oranges and other bonus items for his members. I was humbled by his work ethic.
When my year was up, I didn’t renew. I couldn’t afford it. I needed to backpedal, learn to cook, acquire a sharp knife and find time to prepare healthy meals from scratch. I hope to rejoin later and teach my daughter to appreciate the work that goes into growing food.
Until then, I can still buy from Farmer Neil at my local farmer’s market. I won’t buy any of his red Russian kale, but I will buy blueberries. They’re so sweet, I’m not even tempted to douse them with brown sugar.
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