Beautiful, organic tomatoes; sliced and topped with a sprinkle of gently torn (not sliced!) basil; a skiff of sea-salt; fresh-ground pepper. A lovely mix of fresh organic green beans, slivered kalamata olives and feta cheese; firm, small organic zucchini sliced and grilled with extra virgin olive oil, a little fresh garlic, and a squeeze of lemon. Maybe a loaf of crusty bread, and fresh berries for dessert.
Sound like a food magazine fantasy? Not if you are a member of a CSA. That stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” And it is one of the most important connections you can make for the coming cycle.
It works like this: you buy a “share” for the season; that means you give the farmer a certain amount of money, and they will do their best to supply you with a certain amount of food. Some years, there are loads of tomatoes; other years, it’s fabulous for beets. They can offer up estimates, ideas, and concepts; but the blessed Mother Earth gives what she gives; and then there are the deer, the rain storms (or lack thereof) and the insect population to deal with.
Nothing will make you a better cook. You get a bag of whatever is fresh that week. You create what I call “once a year” meals. Combinations that no cookbook or magazine can replicate.
You’ll also realize how old and road-weary much of the food you get from the grocery store is. Seriously; something that composts in two days from the grocery is fresh for a month from your CSA farmer.
The CSA I’ve been working with for years is Seven Springs Farm in Floyd, Virginia. We are completely blessed with a fabulous, intuitive and patient farmer whose name is Polly. Her talents are many, though it is probably her optimism that serves her best. Even if your most ambitious garden involved a single pot and a petunia, you will have some idea of the challenges she faces.
No sun; all sun; cold weather; hot weather; wet weather; dry weather; hail! Deer; groundhogs; and insects (oh my!).
This time of year, the challenge is cash. The garden planning begins now; even as we’re still shoveling the latest snowstorm, and washing salt off our cars, the farmers are ordering their seeds; repairing their fences; preparing the irrigation ponds. Even the most wealthy organic farmer that I know is earning a below poverty wage in this country. The phrase “labor of love” comes to mind.
And if you want a piece of this fabulousness; if you want to help the environment, support hard-working people, and a less-chemical culture. If you want a bag of fresh, organic, local vegetables this Spring, this Summer, and well into the Fall; THIS is the time to plan, and the time to sign up is NOW.
Don’t wait; people are waking up; Seven Springs did not advertise last year, and sold out quickly. New CSA’s are springing up, and more in this case is better.
Ask around at the local cooperative grocery; check Google, ask around. It’s time to plan your Summer menu; oh, and save the world while you’re at it.
For two local (near Roanoke, Virginia) farms, see information below.
Tenley Weaver, Good Food Good People: firstname.lastname@example.org