Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Farm in a Box

For about four years now I have purchased an annual farm share, also called a CSA (community supported agriculture) from Brookfield Farm in Amherst, MA. This means that every Thursday between 3pm and 7pm from early June until Thanksgiving, I go and pick up my week's supply of vegetables. The pickup couldn't be easier-it's just a few short blocks away from both my office and my home.

Crazy enough, I often find that on Thursday I can't find time to get over there until 10pm when I wearily drag my sorry bottomski to the pickup spot where there are but a few scant boxes of veggies left. One time I arrived way too late only to find no boxes!

When I purchased the farm share that first year, in the dead of February when I was dreaming of eating better, I remember reading that one share was enough food for one vegetarian adult. I figured since there are two of us, maybe I should get two. But then I thought, nah, let's just try this out first. Wise choice. What was deemed enough for one vegetarian is was way more vegetables than either of us ever ate combined in one week.

Year One. The contents of this box is what one vegetarian adult eats in one week? I must be a very very bad vegetarian then. My usual routine the first year included cautiously opening the box each week (oh god what will I need to find recipes for this time?) to be met with surprise, delight and sometimes confusion (I still have troubles telling all those greens apart) on Thursday. Haul it all home and find some place to ram it into my fridge which is still packed with last week's uneaten veggies. On Saturday and Sunday, cook with some veggies. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, claim I am too tired-let's eat out. Wednesday night, clean out fridge to make room for the next shipment. Cycle begins again. Oh yeah-begin compost bin to put all veggies that get yucky after being in fridge for several weeks. Sometimes referred to as my earthly pile of guilt. Wonder how anybody eats this much produce.

Year Two-finding more recipes for some of those obscure veggies that ended up in the compost bin last year. The farm has been great with providing recipes but I'm on the hunt for new cookbooks to supplement. I look for ones that include a lot of veggies so I can maximize my cooking efforts. Figured out how to make great, fast slaws and learned many, many soup recipes. Found special green bags from the local organic market that keep veggies crisp and fresh way longer than those recycled plastic shopping bags I used last year. Greens are still a challenge!

Year Three-feeling like I'm starting to get this under control. I know to expect a month of lettuces in June and how to deal with it (yummy fresh salad dressings, homemade croutons). I also know to bring a sturdy backpack in August and late in the season to deal with melons and squashes. Starting to learn canning for tomatoes and such but am too chicken to leave the finished cans out on the counter. Refrigerate everything out of fear of food poisoning!! Maybe too paranoid but at least I won't die of botulisum from my own canning. Got a recipe from a friend to deal with some greens--sauteed in olive oil and add white beans and red sauce and put on top of pasta. Yummy! Oh yeah, my goldfish eat greens too if I clip them to the side of the tank. Thanks little buddies...

Year Four-less and less is finding its way to the compost bin. It's really just the greens left to tackle. Darn kale. I've been making a lot of soups and this time actually taking the time to make a real soup stock. Soup stock I have discovered is an excellent opportunity to use up those almost too ripe veggies that I don't want to eat. I've found people who want to take my share when I'm away on vacation. I found a way to tackle the carrot issue (shred 'em on salads, one per person!). Due to the humid summer, we had massive melons. If I cut them up and put them on a pretty plate and cover it with plastic wrap, we'll be more likely to eat them.

Why do I do this to myself people sometimes ask me? Why go through all the stress and labor of preparing and cooking so much produce? I'm not going to learn to eat any healthier if I don't challenge myself to do so. I owe it to myself to eat better. So I put up with the temporary guilt of throwing away the sad veggies that turned to mold in my fridge. I'm getting there. And someday I will use them all up in one week.

Besides there's more than just guilt that I get from this. After our first farm share season found us less sick than ever before. Neither of us had a cold the entire year-a first for me after 30 years of having 2-3 nasty colds each winter. I had more energy and a tough hormonal problem that I had struggled with for years seemed to be subsiding.

Another plus which I did predict was the joy of feeling more connected to the world and the seasons by sharing in the weekly harvest. After living in Nirvana for two weeks off of our farm's organic strawberries, I vowed to eat only in seasonal veggies and fruits whenever possible. California might grow some great produce but there is NOTHING like a freshly picked New England strawberry in June.

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