Wednesday, January 19, 2011

CSA Traverse

Today I was reminded why I don't need to fret too much about my meager composting and gardening skills. The Meadowlark Farm 2011 CSA signup arrived in the mail. I may once again plant the peppers in the wrong spot and forget to water the lettuce, but my family will still enjoy a bounty of fresh, seasonal, local veggies from spring through fall, just as if I were able to successfully nurture a garden.

Community Supported Agriculture is an economic model that allows small producers to share the financial risks and rewards with their consumers. Prior to the growing season, when many of the costs of farming (such as seed purchase) are incurred, the farmer raises needed funds by selling shares of the coming harvest. All season, the purchaser receives a portion of the harvest, usually in weekly installments. In a good year, the share holder will get a bounty beyond what could've been purchased at the farmer's market or grocery store for the same cost. If the season is bad, the farmer still has a guaranteed income that enables him/her to continue farming without resorting to additional debt to compensate for crop failure.

We have been shareholders at Meadowlark for the entire 15 years (I think!) that Jon and Jenny have run this CSA and every season has been a bounty. Occasionally some crops fail; the great tomato blight of 2009 was heartbreaking to all. But if one crop disappoints, another will delight. Some years we have received so many beets that we were all peeing red for a month!

The benefits of obtaining food through a CSA are many, but perhaps my favorite is the creative challenge of boundaries. Here in the 21st century United States, generally the only evidence of seasonality at the grocery store is in prices. We tend to plan our menus around our desires, with little thought to availability. Most things that we want to eat are in stock most of the time. We plan a dinner menu and then head to the grocery with our list of needed ingredients. Participating in the CSA turns that around; eating seasonally and locally means I start with the list and create the menu from that.

This creative challenge, admittedly, has lessened over the years as I've become familiar with the rhythms of the farm and now know what is likely to be in the weekly box before I open it. I find myself mentally saving recipes throughout the year for the time when the main ingredients will arrive. Some family favorites, such as Mediterranean Roasted Veggies (eggplant, garlic, tomatoes, zucchini tossed liberally with feta and olive oil), are all the more anticipated for appearing on the dinner table just once a year.

Still, some of the creative challenge remains, such as the spring and early summer dilemma of figuring out how to serve pounds and pounds of beautiful spinach and other greens without making my family beg for mercy (the quick answer: cook most of them down and blend them into soups and casseroles). Right now, I'm saving my current craving for saag paneer for April, when I know it will be easily satisfied.

I'm also excited to see a new optional extra this year called "Herbal Adventures", which will include tea and medicinal herbs as well as "some funky and unusual culinary herbs of the world." Sign me up! I'll be planting herbs in my own garden, as usual, but it's nice to know that thanks to Meadowlark, I'll be able to rely on something other than oregano actually appearing in my kitchen.

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