Thanksgiving means a lot of things to many families. To mine, it indicates (among other things) the end of CSA season and the strange, melancholy beginning of having to shop for produce again.
For the uninitiated, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Its a very cool system that started over 30 years ago in Japan and was introduced in the United States in 1985. Basically, it involves becoming a member of a small local farm, purchasing a share of their harvest before the growing season so farmers have cash to work their land. During growing time, CSA members welcome deliveries of whatever farmers have pulled from the earth. There are a zillion reasons its an excellent thing to take part in. And, if youre the sort of person who laments that organic and/or local produce is expensive, CSA is hands down the least expensive way of buying local (usually organic, though not always USDA-certified organic) I have found.
We have been members of the West Village CSA for 8 years. Our farm, Stoneledge Farm, in South Cairo, New York, delivers considerable goods to a local YMCA near me every Tuesday from mid-June to Thanksgiving. Aili, now 22 months, loves to get the farm she helps me load potatoes, collards, cabbages and the like into her strollers seat (theyre heavier than she is) and devours cherry tomatoes or other just-picked treats on the walk home. Recently, she literally howls for carrots. Members are also required to give a few hours of their time every year, either working at the distribution site or volunteering in some other way. I bet shell love this when shes a little older. (If youre a New York reader, Stoneledge and other farms also bring produce to other sites around the city, set up through the very excellent organization Just Food justfood.org. If you dont live in New York but are searching for a CSA to join near you, check out the Get Local Info tool on The Daily Green homepage.)
Originally West Village members received a solid variety of vegetables that ebb and flow with the weather from year to year. Some seasons there are bumper crops of heirloom lemon cucumbers (irresistible with a pinch of sea salt) and more eggplants than I can stomach. Other years, its all beets and kale until my vegetable bin is so overstuffed it breaks, and hardly any tomatoes or celeriac. One of the points of CSA is that consumers buy into this uncertainty and the farmer makes a living even if the weather isnt cooperating. They might lose income at farmers markets during the years when, say, the lettuce or the peppers arent doing well, but their CSA consumers are a constant. Also, CSA members happily gobble up less-than-gorgeous squash and carrots that might be too gnarled to sell at a market. And all leftovers or extras at my CSA anyway are donated to a soup kitchen. Over the years, my farmers have added to their delivery mix, offering their own delectable honey and perfect raspberries (I have to fight Aili to be able to taste even one of these), as well as maple syrup processed right near them, plus fruit from local orchards. This past season, the powers that be at West Village CSA also hooked us very lucky members up with a pastured meat/egg/cheese collective (I cannot say enough about the tender pork), a bread making collective, and something called Winter Sun Farms.
Which brings me back to why Im writing about CSA at the conclusion of its northeastern season. Every year, after so many months of cooking up whatever beauty comes to me, winter is a strange time of wandering into stores feeling orphaned by my farm, and trying to re-learn how to shop. (Funny I had a friend who joined a CSA for the first time last year who really, really disliked having someone else make the choice of what she was getting for her. I find it magical, especially as an urban-dweller. I have also learned to cook many vegetables over the years I wouldnt have dreamed of buying for my family including, most recently, an enormous black radish that looked Im not kidding like a moose head. Im clearly game for any veggie but even I was dubious. Still, I boiled it and pureed into a borsht-like soup, and we all loved it.) Since Im obviously interested in local, organic produce, winter fruit and vegetable shopping is truly a chore. Im lucky that some nearby farmers markets continue year round. But after several autumn months of all root vegetables all the time, markets become a virtuous but not always tempting option. I wander the stalls, wishing I had had the time and space to freeze and can in the middle of the summer. But I dont, and probably never will. Which is why when I heard about Winter Sun Farms, I jumped. Its premise is, basically, that someone else did the prepping and freezing for me and other members over the summer, and will deliver frozen local goodies to a site near us starting in December for the winter. Fabulous idea! Im hoping the execution will be similarly amazing. Im eager to see how it goes, how the food tastes, what the variety is like, what kind of packaging has been used (I personally store my food in glass, not plastic), and am extremely excited about the prospect of it.
Ive been seduced, in a February funk, by frozen organic raspberries flown in from New Zealand. As I mentioned, the kid cannot get enough berries. Im delighted to think weve hit upon a much closer alternative. And if Winter Sun Farms chose blueberries instead, my family will be thrilled to roll with their decision.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.