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Friday, December 05, 2008

Eating, The Way it Was Meant to Be

The corn patch at Shepherd's Valley.


It's time to sign up for a 2009 share with our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and I wanted to share some details of our experience in case you are interested, too. If you live in my area, I will point you in the direction of a wonderful CSA. If you live elsewhere, I'll point you to a link where you can find your own CSA close to home.

2008 was our first year as CSA members and we purchased a half share from Shepherd's Valley, a truly beautiful little farm near Americus, Kansas. We probably could have managed a full share, especially if I were more on the ball about storing foods when the harvest is abundant. I'm not, however, and I am also really fond of the local farmer's market (it amounts to a large portion of my social life around here) so I continued to visit it twice a week throughout the season to fill in our menu with items purchased from other local farmers as much as possible.

The hubby and I have long had an interest in this model of farming. I come from a family of green thumbs and grew up with a father who gave up his "farm" farm career for a job in the city. He never gave up his garden, however. I remember summers full of meals that were brought straight from the garden to the table and our winter fare was always populated with canned beans and corn, pickled cucumbers and beets, homemade jams and jellies, and home grown tomato sauces and preserves. Hubby is a generation removed from the farm, but has been a "hobby reader" about alternative methods of agriculture and farming for as long as I've known him.

We had a few years together where our own work headed in this direction, and who knows... it would not be at all difficult on most days to talk me back to a more rural lifestyle though I've seen the attraction to living in a city in a whole new light since we've been here.

Rhubarb from the CSA -- we made rhubarb crisp, which is wonderful over ice cream.

Shard - a "green" with lots of color.

The CSA is the perfect answer for me. I get the good eats and avoid all the guilt I always suffer mid-season as my own garden (or those I've attempted) spirals into ruin. I am too easily distracted... or perhaps lazy... to grow a proper garden.

Things you should know if you are thinking of joining a CSA:

  1. Most CSAs sell their shares up front. You purchase a share for a portion of the harvest. This means there is a little bit of risk involved. Two years ago, for instance, we had a late freeze here and the fruit crops were for naught. In 2008, however, Farmer John supplied us with plenty of wonderful apples (different varieties) and some tasty pears, as well. We also got some blueberries and blackberries through the CSA.

  2. A CSA is not like the produce aisle of your local grocery store. In other words, not everything is available all the time. When you participate in a CSA, you go to a more seasonal method of eating. This means your menu consists of a lot of greens and lettuce varieties in the early spring, you won't see tomatoes year round, and you'll be munching on sweet corn in the summer time, but not in the fall and winter (unless you take the time to put some of it away).

  3. A CSA is also not like the produce aisle of your grocery store in that tomatoes aren't always perfectly round and red and shiny. In fact, they are rarely this way. Perfectly round, red and shiny just ain't natural for a tomato. Real tomatoes have character, bumps and knots where they rub up against the vine as they grow and possibly a few splits in the skin along the top depending on the moisture as they are growing and ripening off. The tomatoes we got from Shepherd's Valley were all heirloom varieties, so we weren't even limited to red. In fact, I would say we had more yellow, orange, and pink varieties than red. The biggest bonus, of course, is the flavor. Real tomatoes have it, those waxy looking things you buy at the store do not.

  4. And speaking of the way things naturally are, you are likely going to get a bug or two with your produce. This is a good sign. This means your CSA doesn't spray all kinds of chemicals and crap that kills living things all over your food before delivering it to you. Corn almost always has a little worm or two under the husk. Don't worry. They are harmless, and as my mother used to say, that worm is a good sign that the ear of corn you are getting ready to eat is an extra yummy one.

  5. Most CSAs are going to be able to hook you up with other yummy products, as well, such as meat (ours raises pastured chickens, turkeys and lambs), eggs, and honey.

If you didn't catch that link, you can find Shepherd's Valley online by clicking here. Or click here for the Local Harvest main page to find a CSA near you.

Blackberries at Shepherd's Valley.

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