I've been very interested in CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for several years but never quite got around to doing the research to join one. I kept telling myself that it was ok. I was too busy. It didn't make me a bad human to buy produce wrapped in plastic and carted in from somewhere else. I seemed to always have a few too many things to take care of to get around to finding a source of local produce or connecting with a specific farmer. We did move, build a fence, organize a new house, have baby no. 2, etc so there was a lot going on. Last year we went to at least one farmer's market every weekend and grew a cherry tomato along with our usual mix of herbs. We shared our cherry tomatoes with the neighborhood when we became flooded and I was not a bad human. But, I was not the best human that I could be in my suburban paradise and I pined for more of a connection between garden and food.
This winter, I made it a priority to join a CSA. I paid my deposit and then waited for spring to arrive. Not very patiently but as patiently as my genetic make-up will allow. I checked my farm's website religously looking for the signs that the magic was beginning and told every person I spoke with (sometimes multiple times) about the CSA we joined. Our farmer's are Jason and Haruka from Edible Earthscapes . The produce listed on their site ranges from solidly normal to exotic and unknown. I was afraid for a while that I was annoying them to death with questions and just over the top exuberance. Fortunately, they still seem to like me-at least they don't visibly cringe when I show up on Saturday mornings to collect my box.
We're now on our third box of goodies from Edible Earthscapes and I've been remiss in not posting earlier. I am overwhelmed and overjoyed with the abundance that greets me each week in my box. This week we got butter lettuce, turnip greens, romaine, watermelon radish, daikon, basil, cilantro, and peas!! A lot of the ingredients we get from the farm are not items I would usually make so it's really forcing me outside of my comfort zone. I'm doing a lot of research online for recipes each week and have a renewed appreciation of bloggers and useful forms of technology in general.
While I will post recipes eventually, I would like to take a moment and reflect on the emotional and spiritual connection that seems to deepen each week between me and my, well...produce. When I was little, I lived with my maternal grandparents on-and-off and spent at least a few days each week with my paternal grandparents. My grandparents were avid gardeners and maintained a connection to food, a disdain for waste and a penchant for 'make-do' that seems indicative of their generation. Both sets of my grandparents ALWAYS planted a Victory garden and would still find a way to justify stopping by a pick-up truck piled with corn on the side of the road if the price was right and the corn was sweet. My grandfather could become downright verbose about peaches (and country ham) and there was always a strong debate between my grandfathers on the the merits of tomato varieties (German Johnson usually won).
I have vivid memories of 'putting up' plums, shucking corn, shelling peas-with my relatives all around laughing, chattering or singing. I can close my eyes and feel the breeze off the back yard coming through the screen doors in mid-July after a day spent romping through the pasture in search of blackberries for cobbler while my grandmother combed through my sunkissed hair looking for ticks. I remember how excited my grandmother was when the persimmons were ripe or when the pecans at the church fell. There always seemed to be some kind of produce that needed work and always people who were glad to take some of it. Jams or nuts or canned goods were my grandparents equivalent to giftcards-everyone likes them and no one will turn them down. So gardening, eating, and love have always been viscerally entwined for me in a way that our industrial lives lack.
I find myself regretting that my son won't ever be able to just ramble un-chaperoned until the fireflies come out or wind up in the creek face-to-face with a snake of unknown pedigree and have to figure out the best escape route. He's unlikely to walk under the apple tree for his sister because she's afraid of the yellow jackets and fish out the best apple for her or to climb the spry cherry trees to get the tart little pink balls before the birds can scavenge them away. I find myself finding ways to recreate those same langourous summer memories within the context of our suburban, year-round school, two parents who work, life-for myself as much as for my kids.
When we walk the greenway beside our house, I point out the blackberry vines with their green nubs just starting to show. I show them poison oak (the first and most important plant to learn to ID) and talk about how allergic my brother always was to it but how my dad and I never get it. I show them how to suck the juice out of honeysuckle and teach the oldest the names of trees that we walk by. But it's been more difficult to recreate the way working for and with your food translates into a further love and appreciation for our non-monetary wealth. That is, it was more difficult until the addition of the farm box to our lives.
Each Saturday morning we pile into the car as soon as we can to go and get the box before the sun is too hot. We eat breakfast surrounded by people who produce food locally and are genuinely enjoying the connection to the other folks at the market. We go around the market and pick out bread, eggs, cheese, seafood, and more produce (how can that be!!!). We talk to new friends we've met at the market and old friends we've convinced to come out. The kids dance a little bit to the live music and sometimes we engage in a little modern day retail shopping at the mall to keep from having to run around again afterwards burning more gas.
When we get home, I spend the next 3 hours engaging in the ritual of unloading and sorting and cleaning and bagging and sometimes just fidgeting with the produce. I go through what we'll make, I show my kids all the interesting things that come along with organic produce (slugs!) and talk about how things are grown. There is a change occuring that is slow but powerful within my house because of that white cardboard box. My son ate turnips last week. Granted, they were in a cherry sauce but still!
Mostly though, I'm reconnecting to the way food-the growing, the prepartion, the creativity-can translate into the expression of love and affection for each other. We linger over dinner more often now. We ate around our table (not our kitchen island) 5 times last week. We've had people over for meals more often lately. In general, we are expanding into better human beings-the ones that we know we should be but can never quite find the time to be.
We got peas this week in the box-fat, juicy, crisp little pods that are just begging to be crunched. While I took of the stiff bits on the ends I could almost feel my grandmother's tan, lined hands swiftly working beside me while she jabbered on about a funny joke she heard at church. I think I will be finding the time for a CSA from now on.