In response to a Nourishing Words post, I received the following press release about the amazing community support received by Pete’s Greens after the recent tragic fire that took the farm’s barn, equipment, storage crops and meats. Owner Pete Johnson says community support will inform and inspire their work for years to come. For those among us who might be cynical about the power of community, this story should inspire us and give us hope for the future.
Rising out of the ashes of a barn which was destroyed in a fire on January 12 at Pete’s Greens is an initiative to ensure that funding is available for other Vermont farmers in the future. Continue reading
Make no mistake, I’m committed to the CSA movement, both as a means to support local agriculture and as a way to keep myself supplied with healthy, organic produce.
I love the routine of paying months ahead of time, then picking up a “surprise” share every week. I love the challenge of toting that bag home and figuring out what the next week’s meals will be. I’ve gotten to know vegetables that I didn’t used to pay much attention to, and exchanged old, comfortable routines for new culinary adventures. I’ve learned to use collard greens, celeriac, parsnips and daikon radishes, and find myself wishing for ever stranger vegetables to appear in my share. Continue reading
At the beginning of the summer, high on the excitement of my newly invigorated little front yard kitchen garden, farmers markets exploding with local produce and another summer CSA share kicking off, I speculated about the need for grocery stores in my life. At least, during New Hampshire’s relatively short growing season.
What need, if any, would I have for my local grocery store and food coop? With plenty of vegetables and fruits available, what would be on my shopping list, and how often would I shop? Would I need to shop at all? Continue reading
Here’s a quick roundup of what I’ve been cooking with this week’s CSA veggies.
Before I begin, I must confess that I neglected to take my own advice to clean out my refrigerator before the first pickup of the summer CSA season. As a result, I was faced with the temptation of using those crispy-fresh new vegetables before the slightly older ones in the veggie drawers. (I didn’t cave.) I won’t be making that mistake again. Next time, I’ll make and freeze stock so I can dive right in!
Having caught up on my “old” vegetables, I set to work this weekend on the CSA veggies.
I’ve been dragging my feet on the big Vitamix purchase—the kitchen appliance that would allow me to eat “more greens in less time.” One day I want it. The next day I don’t. Until I can make it for two straight weeks, consistently thinking it’s a great idea, I won’t be taking the plunge.
Maybe some part of me just believes that I should be chewing my vegetables?
And, chewing is what I’ve been doing. I’ve been eating lots of salads.
A few months ago, I would have delighted in braising or stir-frying my greens and eating them with rice, another grain or a gluten-free pasta. But, it’s summer now, and eating crisp, cold greens seems like the most attractive (and easiest) option. With one exception, that’s what I’m doing this week.
This week’s CSA greens included spinach, beet greens, bok choi and romaine lettuce. All are fair game for salads, along with lots of things from my own garden, like sorrel, arugula, radishes, snow peas, edible flowers and herbs. I’m still using the chive-infused apple cider vinegar I made a few weeks back, in various combinations of delicious dressings.
Creating an easy salad routine with CSA veggies is no different than with grocery store veggies. I wash them and bag them all as soon as I get them home. Adding a few leafs of fresh lettuce from the garden, some interesting herbs, radishes, snow peas or other greens is quick and easy.
There’s no explaining why I was moved to make soup today, as hot as it was, but that’s what I did. I made a summer vegetable and yellow-eyed bean soup. I used spinach and tomatoes from the CSA, celery greens and fresh oregano from my garden, garlic scapes from the farmers market and brown rice pasta. The stock was from the freezer, thanks to my winter CSA vegetables.
Thick shavings of a nice Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese would be a perfect garnish.
I’ll freeze some for later. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder when it comes to soup cooked in batches for ten, but feeding only one.
Rather than stir-fry the bok choi, I used it raw in a bok choi and brown rice salad that I’ll be eating all week. Add greens, and dinner is done.
No recipe is needed.
Just cook up 2 or 3 cups of short grain brown rice and let cool. Chop the bok choi (easy, because it’s already washed) pretty finely. Chop lots of garlic, green onions and any other fresh vegetables on hand that seem right. I added a carrot for color and sweetness and lots of fresh Italian parsley. I look for a balance of about half vegetable, half rice.
Dress with olive oil and vinegar (I’m still using that chive-infused apple cider vinegar) and season with reckless abandon. Bring on the fresh herbs!
With a busy week ahead and meetings almost every night, it’ll be great to have a hearty salad and containers of soup ready to go, in the fridge.
I keep a small vegetable garden for so many reasons, many of which have to do with food. Many have nothing to do with food.
The truth is, my CSA and local farmers markets could keep me supplied in beautiful produce, maybe even better quality than what I can produce myself. There are so many reasons, so many things I love about gardening, that it wouldn’t occur to me hang up my trowel and give it all up.
I love trying to grow things that I’d never find at the grocery store or even the farmers market. Like pink banana squash. Wow.
I love being able to stay mostly out of the grocery store for the summer.
I love clipping fresh herbs whenever I want them. Making fresh peppermint tea. I love nibbling a little sage while I’m working in the garden, knowing that generations of nibblers have done exactly the same in hopes of improving their memory.
But I love the process of gardening, too.
Even on yet another cloudy, cool, somewhat drizzly day like today, I enjoyed tending to my plants and laying down fresh straw mulch. Pulling a few weeds and generally tidying up.
It’s all so manageable in a small raised bed garden. While the perennial beds are becoming jungles with all the recent rain, I can turn my attention to my three small raised beds in my front yard, where weeding is completely easy. Even fun.
I love figuring out whether my tomatoes should be tied up with strips of an old sheet or twine. (I’m going to use strips of an old sheet—when the tomato plants are dry enough to touch.)
I even loved figuring out how to deal with my neighbor’s cat, who makes regular visits to my bean bed.
I love going out to the garden to pick greens, radishes and peas for a salad in the springtime. Dressing it with a little chive-infused apple cider vinegar, garlic and olive oil dressing and a few crumbles of fresh goat cheese from a local farm. Serving it to a friend or eating it alone.
Today, I harvested more bok choi, lettuce, radishes, herbs and peas (not all of which made it into the kitchen).
My ladybugs, or most of them, seem to have moved on to greener pastures. Some insect continues to eat the bok choi. Flea beetles, earwigs? Resisting the option of putting down row cover over the entire bed, I sprayed today with neem oil, hoping that will take care of the problem. With only a few bok choi plants left to harvest, the problem may disappear on its own. (I used the neem oil on a bit of powdery mildew beginning on the bee balm, as well.)
Other than a few little holes in leaves here and there, everything seems to be thriving in the garden. I love that.
I love the daily routine of checking on everything, noting progress and stopping to ponder problems. In the twenty minutes or so that I spend at that routine, my imagination runs into a future where everything in the garden is huge and perfect. I see six-foot tomatoes, heavy with perfect fruit. I see lemon cucumbers and little striped squashes tumbling out of the beds. I see deep purple eggplants and more green and purple bush beans than I know what to do with. I see a two-foot swiss chard plant (and imagine their six- to seven-foot roots bringing minerals up from deep in the subsoil) where there’s a little six-inch plant now.
And, then, into the house I go with my little harvest. Thankful for what the garden has given me today and what it might give me in a few weeks—if the bugs, the weather, my own skills and the neighbor’s cat allow. What’s not to love about all that?
What do you love about growing a vegetable garden?
I made the trek to Hardwick, Vermont on Tuesday night for the release of Ben Hewitt’s book, The Town That Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food. I’m glad I did.
I was conflicted about making the two-hour drive up and back on a weeknight but, in the end, I chose to go to hear Ben speak and read from his book in Hardwick because I wanted to see and understand firsthand how the book is being received in his own community. Being part of the discussion in Hardwick’s crowded Galaxy Bookstore (easily 100 people showed up) was the perfect way to understand the community’s response.
Hardwick’s story is, on the face, a simple one of a hard-hit Northeast Kingdom town that has evolved in recent years to become the center of a thriving local food economy. Through the efforts of several future-minded entrepreneurs (Hewitt calls them “agrepreneurs”), Hardwick has been called “the number one local food town in America” by the New York Times and Gourmet magazine. Through ongoing media attention, even a visit from Emeril Lagasse, businesses like the Cellars at Jasper Hill and Jasper Hill Creamery, Vermont Soy and High Mowing Seeds have all flourished on a national scale. The many simple, traditional farms (even the organic ones) in the area that do not produce high-end, value-added products that can be shipped to far away markets have gone relatively unnoticed by the media.
Therein lies the emerging tension in Hardwick. “This is a much more nuanced and complex story than I once believed,” said Hewitt, at the start of the gathering. He went on to describe a growing chasm in the community between the agrepreneurs who believe that their efforts, along with those of others like them and Hardwick’s nonprofit Center for an Agricultural Economy, will show the world what a healthy, functioning food system looks like.
Many of the key pieces are already in place. Except for one thing: Hardwick cannot feed its own people, who take home on average $300 per week. Thus, the perception among many in town that local food is a hobby for the wealthy. Through one lens, the numerous local food businesses constitute a welcome economic boost, in jobs, taxes and an influx of dollars to the local economy. Through another, until affordable, healthy food can be produced and sold right in town, to Hardwick residents, some would argue that the system is failing. One dairy farmer in the book even described picking up a load of $4 per quart Vermont Soy soymilk at the Hardwick Food Pantry (my soymilk of choice) for his pigs, because “they couldn’t give it away.”
I’m only halfway through the book. (I’d be done, except for having to recover from the long, late night drive!) And, I know from hearing Ben Hewitt speak that he ends up coming down personally in favor of Hardwick’s growing local food economy, and believes it will survive and thrive in spite of the media attention it continues to receive.
This all does have me thinking a lot about the privilege issue, however, and my own role in the local food movement. I came to this quest, if you could call it that, for health reasons. As I moved more and more solidly to a plant-based diet over the last few years, choosing organic food whenever possible made sense. Finding CSAs, farmers markets and growing a little of my own food was all part of that evolution. Doing all of that to support a healthier lifestyle was my goal. (The environmental goal was secondary, honestly.) But, I’ve been able to do every one of those things because I could afford them.
Reflecting on my how my own choices could potentially open up these benefits to other people less fortunate would be a good thing. Whether it’s through donating my time or money, or by speaking up on important issues about food access, surely I can make a difference.
Food stamps still aren’t welcome at all but three of New Hampshire’s many farmers markets. And if they were, is the food really affordable? (In Boston, food stamps are worth double their value at the city’s farmers markets.) A parent feeding a family on food stamps surely will shop where a dollar is going to buy the most food, right? There’s so much work to be done in this area, and so much to be said, that I’ll leave it at that. Yes, I believe dabbling in local food is largely a privilege. (It occurs to me now that here is exactly where the power of gardening comes in, especially community gardening for those in cities who don’t have yards to till.)
I’m uncomfortable with this. Yet, I continue to believe that the goal is still worth working toward. Ben Hewitt cautioned us on Tuesday night that the book does not offer answers, that it really offers more questions. The book is structured around the fundamental question “How do you build a system that’s both viable for producers and good for the locals?” Reading their stories, understanding their perspectives and recalling some of their comments Tuesday night in Hardwick is at once thought-provoking and deeply moving. Being made uncomfortable is, after all, a sign of a good piece of writing.
According to farmer Pete Johnson (Pete’s Greens), speaking from the back of the crowd in the Galaxy Bookstore, “All the people helping each other, all the learning from each other, is much greater than the tensions.” Most of the faces in the audiences shone with pride–whether it was pride in Ben Hewitt so eloquently telling the story of their town, or the pride of being part of the story itself, I don’t know. But, I do know it was pride. There may be a chasm in Hardwick, but Ben Hewitt treated his neighbors–in the book, and in the room–with the utmost respect. His book did not try to provide answers. He instead sought to learn from the farmers and food producers of Hardwick and to expose the questions raised by his own journey.
Ben Hewitt will be at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, New Hampshire on Thursday, March 25, at 7 p.m. I’ll be there, and I hope we can pack the room for him here, too.
As promised, I looked into the suggestion I overheard at a recent winter CSA pickup that the rather intimidating daikon radish might be useful in the bath, as a skin softening agent.
I’ve found various references to medicinal use of the daikon radish in bathwater, primarily for various female maladies. It seems to be the leaves of the plant that are useful medicinally, dried or fresh. Daikon radish leaves are believed to:
- restore balance to female reproductive organs,
- relieve skin problems,
- be generally “warming,”
- extract unpleasant body odors, and
- draw out excess oils and fats from the body.
Turnip leaves may be substituted, if daikon leaves are not available.
Although it’s entirely possible that the root of the plant also has medicinal value, and my research was by no means exhaustive, eating the root for flavor appears to be a more common use.
Sadly, some CSA shareholders at this time of year are receiving daikon radishes, sans leaves, and aren’t too thrilled about eating them. A couple of readers of my previous post were excited at the prospect of grating the scary vegetable into their evening bath, and emerging with radish-fresh skin.
Ladies, eat your daikon radishes!
Roast them, stir-fry them with other veggies, slice them up and serve with spicy peanut dip. If you do try grating one into your bathwater, do let us know how it works out.
Let’s remember next year to ask our CSA farmers to harvest those leaves for us!
It’s time to think about signing up for summer CSAs, and I’ve had a few conversations lately with both experienced shareholders and people considering signing up. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares require shareholders to pre-pay for an entire season of vegetables (sometimes other produce, meat, eggs or bread, too), providing farmers advance funding and confidence that their products have already been sold. Growing in popularity, the CSA offers a unique partnership between farmer and consumer.
I’d like to believe a CSA can work for everyone, but I believe it must be approached in the right way. It’s not that it’s difficult to enjoy being a CSA shareholder. Beautiful, organic vegetables, week after week? What’s so tough about that? But, like anything else in life, our expectations can get us into trouble. We’re choosing a CSA not because it offers us total predictability and control, but for countless other reasons that enrich our lives and relationship with our food and our farms–not much of that has to do with control and predictability.
With that in mind, whether you’re signing up again for a CSA that you love, or trying one out for the first time, my tips for success:
- Be willing to stretch your culinary horizons. Embrace the experience of learning about new vegetables. Maybe you’ve been a romaine lettuce person for the last ten years, and haven’t considered another salad green; you may be presented with greens you can’t even recognize (don’t worry, you’ll be told what they are). You might be introduced to kohlrabi or blue potatoes for the first time. Try them. Share them. Talk about them. Form a relationship with a new vegetable. But, give them all a chance, at least once. Let food be the beautiful adventure that it should be.
- Buy a cookbook about cooking with seasonal vegetables. My latest favorite is Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables, but there are many others, and many good websites as well. If you’re like me, reading recipes will inspire you to try new cooking techniques, spices and combinations of ingredients. Last summer, just when I thought I couldn’t eat another zucchini or summer squash, I learned how to grill very thin, long slices of each, roll them up with a tiny dollop of goat cheese and fresh basil, drizzle them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and spear them with toothpicks for a light, healthy lunch or platter of appetizers. I found myself scouring the farmers market for the last of the summer squashes, just to keep that recipe alive into the fall. Inspiration does not always come from within. (In fact, this inspiration may have come from the Food Channel.)
- Learn about what’s in season, when, in your area. Why is it that we’re always wishing for what we can’t have? We seem to want tomatoes in May, corn in June, peas in September and asparagus in November. Appreciate that the beauty of a CSA is having fresh vegetables grown at the farm down the road, not 1,200 miles to the south. My CSA publishes a handy chart that gives shareholders a general idea of what crops to expect when, and understanding each vegetable’s season–some very short–makes it that much more special when it finally arrives. Try making that moment even more special by holding off on the grocery store counterpart until your local crop is in. Have you ever tried waiting all spring for the first local strawberry, passing all those grocery store strawberries by? Mmmm…
- Arrive early or, at least, not late to pick up your share. This is important if there’s any element of choice with your CSA’s pickup process. My summer and winter CSAs both allow us to choose our vegetables from clearly labeled categories on long tables and we often are asked to choose between options. Obviously, the more there is to choose from, the better. Latecomers don’t leave unhappy; they might just occasionally miss out on their first choice in those situations. I also enjoy the visual feast of tables heaped with fresh vegetables, so arriving early gets me the “best view” of the feast.
- Take a few minutes to get ready the night before picking up your share. Clean out the fridge at least enough to know what you have already and to make space for what’s coming. Get into a good routine of pulling forward what’s already in there, and making space for the new, fresh vegetables coming in. It’s going to be really tempting to eat the fresh ones soon after you bring them home, so don’t bury any that you should be using up first. If you really have too much, which can happen occasionally, this might be a good time to…
- Make vegetable stock, or learn to make it if you don’t already know how. It’s so easy! Just wash those not-quite-perfect (but not rotting) vegetables, rough chop them, simmer them in a few quarts of water (a cup or two of veggies to one quart of water) for 30 – 40 minutes, and you have stock. Strain it, freeze it, and you’ll be so happy you have it when it’s time to make soup or stew, or just to add a rich dimension to a cooked grain. Flavorful, rich in vitamins and minerals, and reliably MSG-free, you’ll never want to use canned or boxed stock again.
- Think about how your CSA share will fit into the rest of your weekly shopping and cooking routines. For example, if your local farmers market is the evening before your CSA pickup, you’ll need to restrain yourself or find out ahead of time what’s going to be in each week’s share. (My summer CSA does a weekly newsletter that gives us some information in advance.) If your pickup is late in the week, and you tend to make special meals on the weekend, learn to utilize the bounty of your share for those meals, only relying on the grocery store or food coop to fill in obvious last-minute gaps.
- Get your veggies home safely and protect them by storing them right. Some of us dash out from work to pick up our CSA shares, then either hurry back to the office or on to do other errands. Remember that your farmer just took great care to harvest those vegetables for you, probably early that morning, and they’re bursting with vitality. Don’t subject them to a hot car if you’re not heading straight home. Remembering to put a cooler in your car in the morning will go a long way to keeping your veggies in top condition until you get them home. When you do get them home, take a few minutes to wash and wrap them appropriately before tucking them away into the refrigerator. As much as I’m a fan of reusing plastic grocery store bags, I look for clear bags for vegetable storage. (What I can’t see in the refrigerator doesn’t stand a chance.)
- Understand what your CSA promises and the terms of its policies. Do you expect your share to feed your family of five for the whole week? Is that important to you? Ask about quantities before you sign up. You should find out (or read in your materials) what to do if you can’t pick up your share one week, or how to find out if bulk items are going to be available for canning and freezing. One excellent way to understand how a CSA works is to talk to someone who is already a member about their experience, so you’ll have the clearest possible picture in your mind of what the experience will be like. And, after all that, leave your expectations at home and…
- Go with the flow. Every week is different and not every week will be a dream come true. A good CSA works hard to provide level quality and quantity from week to week, but farming is a risky business, and there will be rain, droughts, pests and blights. Understanding all of this, and not being protected from it by the supermarket infrastructure, is at the heart of the CSA movement. The closer we as consumers are to the farmers who produce our food, the more invested we will be in creating and maintaining a vibrant, healthy food system.
That’s it. Join your CSA. Recruit a friend or two to do the same. Please comment on this post and tell me your tips for a successful CSA experience; if I can expand it to a “top 20″ list a little later in the season, I’ll repost it with appropriate credit to all involved.
What a gift my winter CSA is to me. Every two weeks, with great anticipation, I hurry to pick up my share, always eager to find out what’s in store. Yes, I paid for it–months ago. But, it still feels like a gift each time to be able to fill my bag with gorgeous, organic vegetables, chat for a few minutes and then walk away, just like that.
As I filled my bag today, I imagined what I might cook later. Really, the vegetables seemed to make suggestions to me as I moved along, and the possibilities were way too many for one person, one Thursday night.
Today, we got a variety of apples. No cooking needed.
The beets, turnips, carrots, onions, shallots and parsnips all spoke to me of soups, stews and savory roasted combinations. Wintry things.
The beautiful tatsoi was asking to meet up with shallots, garlic and spices in a quick stir-fry, and to be served over rice or some other hearty grain.
The salad greens, a mixture of tatsoi and a variety of sprouts, wanted nothing more than thinly sliced carrots, making a crisp and fresh winter salad.
My freezer also gives me gifts these days, because cooking for one often means that I put a few containers in the freezer for a rainy (snowy) day. If I take that step when I’m still excited about whatever it is that I’ve cooked (and not sick of it yet, because I made six quarts), then I’m excited about it all over again when I eventually thaw it out.
I was therefore excited to thaw out the thick, roasted root vegetable soup, which I made late in the fall of last year. In this case, excited as I was, I was not entirely able to remember the combination of spices that made it so delicious. (That’s one of the hazards of my free-wheeling style of cooking.) With a crumbling of herbed chevre goat cheese from Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, it was a perfect and warming first course.
The great luxury of living alone is that I don’t need to please anyone with my cooking, so I’m free to experiment. It can also be a great loss, when I cook something good enough to share. I was able to share tonight’s meal–tonight’s gifts–with a friend who is going through a time of needing nurturing food in her life, and I realized again the extra dimension that sharing food brings to a meal. She’s a curious person, the sort that notices every detail, like the drizzle of olive oil on the soup, and asks why. The conversation around all aspects of this not very gourmet meal transformed it into something special for both of us.
She’s taken to calling my food “restaurant food,” a compliment (probably undeserved) which is ironic, given that there’s no restaurant in our area that serves simple, whole food. I guess it’s more about the restaurant we’re wishing for. I wonder how many other people wish for the same kind of restaurant.
I’m obviously sold on the CSA experience, and grateful to have this year-round opportunity along with a hundred or so other lucky neighbors. It’s about so much more than beautiful, organic, locally produced vegetables. It truly is an experience unto itself.
I love the element of surprise and the experience of “shopping” with no money changing hands. I love the flexibility that the CSA requires of me. Without it, I might cook Brussels sprouts from California several times a week, all winter long–a healthy rut, but a rut.
I love having a regular connection with “my farmer,” Larry Pletcher from The Vegetable Ranch, and hearing little updates about his crops, experiments and plans. Or, that he relies on a Maine vegetable cooperative to fill in the gaps when his storage crops run short.
I love learning crazy facts like daikon radish being good for the skin when used in your bath.
Especially with this winter CSA, I have a deeper than ever appreciation of what it takes to bring food to my table. The planning, caring and hard work that goes into putting those shares together every two weeks is a big commitment for one farmer, all so that I (we) can enjoy the gift of this wonderful experience every two weeks until May.
Do you get any of that at the grocery store, or the food coop?
I want this for everyone.