Week No. 20 – 2013 Season

Judging a CSA grower and subscribers by more than products that feed us

It’s only natural in the land of multiple choice. It’s our first impulse with any sort of food. We mentally push our shopping cart around the vast array of offerings. From the first two CSA farms organized on the East Coast in the 1980s, an estimated 7,000 Community Supported Agriculture growers have sprung up all over the United States. The numbers of CSAs from which to select in most regions of the nation is dizzying. When Dela and I responded 12 years ago to phone calls from Chicago neighborhoods seeking CSA growers, only 5 or 6 growers were serving the entire metro area. Now there are more than 100. The state-line Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training of which we were original steering committee members has been conducting Farm Beginnings classes for as many as 50 or 60 people. It’s as if CSA has become a sort of big box store. Huge CSAs with thousands of subscribers. Tiny CSAs with only a handful of consumer members. Non-profit CSAs, farmer-led CSAs, even CSAs run by housing subdivisions and municipalities. And of course, in our profit-driven culture, copy-cat CSA operations (sometimes in grocery stores) that are really simply food distributorships filling weekly boxes with purchased vegetables and fruits from dozens, scores, even hundreds of farmers’ crops. Fair comparisons of all these farm and garden operations are impossible. Some have 3, 4, 5, 6 different box size options. We have one size. Some charge $600 for a 20-week season. We heard of at least one in the Chicago area charging $1,000. Some have a well-organized army of weekly volunteers. Others have only a lean, paid, experienced staff and an impressive array of equipment and mechanization. Labor (as well as so many other variables) directly influences the quality, size, consistency and quantity of the vegetable products that actually end up in the box or bag a subscriber gets. Our CSA season together at Scotch Hill Farm, with the Tony and Dela Ends family, on this 45 acres of rented and purchased farmland in southern Wisconsin, is drawing to a close this week. Some of you have become intimate friends. Some of you we’ve never met or addressed briefly as part of a group. We don’t know what brought you all individually to us. Yet we’re grateful for your support. Those who’ve been with us for any length of time know that it wasn’t our best year in many ways. Yet we salute you for what we’ve accomplished together. We grew, harvested, packed and delivered more than 34,000 vegetable items for 190 households over 5½ months. We did not meet our budget, but we paid all our bills, met all our obligations. We maintained and added to a set of farm and garden equipment worth more than $130,000. We added two 50-foot cold frames for fall, winter and spring production. We hosted a workshop for 35 women growers, two farm tours for hundreds of people and a leg of the Bike-the-Barns fundraiser that raised more than $60,000 for the Fair Share CSA Coalition and Partner Shares program for low-income households. And we contributed in many, many other ways to the Earth’s desperate need for greater sustainability by following organic practices and cultivating local relationships over food.

This Week’s Vegetables include:

  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Assorted tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Greens Mix
  • Beets
  • Yellow Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Eggplant
  • Winter Squash
  • Arugula
  • Kale

Cooking Tips for the Week

We have a first-year subscriber in Brodhead who shared this week some tips I wish she’d sent us weeks (even years) ago. They’re the most remarkable strategies Dela and I’ve seen a household new to many types of fresh vegetables employ. In nearly 20 years of serving CSA subscribers, we’ve watched a lot of people struggle at first to learn to cook and preserve the fresh produce that has been disappearing from the American diet for more than 50 years. This subscriber remembered and employed, first of all, something she learned from her grandmother – rinsing vegetables in water and vinegar to prolong as well as wash them. She also looked through our past newsletters at our website for additional tips and recipes. She Googled the vegetables for additional photos when she had trouble identifying them or could not “friend” us for weekly photos via FaceBook. Each week, she chopped up greens and many other types of our vegetables into a casserole corning dish the size of a cake pan, seasoning with butter, salt, pepper and our herbs. Because she incorporated the unfamiliar vegetables into a quick dish universally familiar the nation-over, her husband and children ate and enjoyed those casseroles. Sometimes they lasted for several meals as leftovers. Yet nothing was ever thrown away, nothing went uneaten, even when vegetables seemed at first glance strange or unfamiliar. We salute her, as we salute all of you, for healthful eating, healthful living in community with us. Thank you all so much.