We are getting a ton of rain here in New England…it has rained every day since Saturday and we aren’t expecting to see the sun until maybe Sunday…sigh….On the plus side, everything is growing like crazy and it is really green here. Which got me to thinking about the vegetables that are undoubtably loving all the rain and are hopefully growing faster than the weeds the next town over at a small community farm.
I mentioned in one of my earliest blog posts, Food Myths, that my food re-education started when I read In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. While much of the book exposes our industrialized food for the crap that it is, the last 60 pages or so gives suggestions for ways to move away from a “Western” diet and improve the quality of the food we eat. One such suggestion is:
Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.
When you eat from the farmers’ market, you automatically eat food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious. Eating in season also tends to diversify your diet ~ because you can’t buy strawberries or broccoli or potatoes twelve months of the year, you’ll find yourself experimenting with other foods when they come into the market. The CSA box [community-supported agriculture, an increasingly popular scheme in which you subscribe to a farm and receive a weekly box of produce] does an even better job of forcing you out of your dietary rut because you’ll find things in your weekly allotment that you would never buy on your own. Whether it’s a rutabaga or an unfamiliar winter squash, the CSA box’s contents invariably send you to your cookbooks to figure out what in the world to do with them….
To shop at a farmers’ market or sign up with a CSA is to join a short food chain and that has several implications for your health. Local produce is typically picked ripe and is fresher than supermarket produce, and for those reasons it should be tastier and more nutritious….And while it’s true that the organic label guarantees that no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers have been used to produce the food, many, if not most, of the small farms that supply farmers’ markets are organic in everything but name.
While I knew there was a weekly farmers’ market in a nearby town, it’s Saturday morning hours conflicted with my often lengthy Saturday swim/bike workout. And I had no idea where I could find a local farm selling produce. So while I did not actively seek out a local source of produce, it seemed to find me. One day last spring I stopped by the ATM in town (I live in a small town…although we do actually have two ATM’s) and there happened to be a sign for available farm shares in the next town over. It was just a hand-made sign, with a phone number written on those little rip-off tabs at the bottom ~ kind of like I used to make when trying to sell my U of M vs. Ohio State football tickets when I was in college (in the early 80’s you could still get a good price for those tickets and I was a poor college student). I called the farm, talked to Joshua about the farm share, and decided to give it a try. The farm was not only a mere 6 miles away, I passed it often when out riding my bike. I had noticed the little roadside farm stand previously, but had no idea there was a little CSA farm offering shares a few hundred yards in from the road.
My experience last year getting a weekly allotment of vegetables proved to be quite interesting. Each week I would show up and look at the chalkboard. It would indicate what you were to take, e.g. 1 bunch of lacinato kale, 1 bunch of beets, 2 cucumbers, etc. The produce would be lined up left to right in accordance with the board. This helped, as on occasion there would be something on the board that you didn’t recognize (e.g garlic scapes), or maybe you didn’t exactly know which leafy green thing was lacinato kale. I would take each of the offerings and place them in my reusable bag. When I would get home I would unpack everything and look at all the amazing stuff. I even took a few pictures it was all so pretty!
I found having all of this wonderfully fresh produce every week forced me to not only eat more vegetables, but as Michael Pollan says above, it got me to try things I had never tried before…garlic scapes & kohlrabi to name a few (as a funny aside, the blog spellcheck doesn’t even recognize the words “scapes” and “kohlrabi”) . I also found myself looking for new ways to prepare things that I got in abundance, such as kale and beets. When strawberries and raspberries were in season we would be provided with a container and directed to the field to go pick our own…hadn’t done that since I was a kid.
This year I am splitting my farm share as a full share was just too much for me. Some farms offer a half-share…I just found some friends to share with. If you are interested in finding a CSA farm near you, or are wondering where the nearest farmers’ market is, go to Local Harvest. You can type in a city & state or a zip code and specify what exactly you are looking for ~ a CSA, famers’ market, etc. There might be something closer than you think.