Eating Well: Community-Supported Agriculture

Last year after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, I searched for a local farm that supported community-supported agriculture (CSA), which he explained in the book.  I wanted to find a local farm which grew organic produce and, possibly, raised pastured animals.  My family would pay a fee upfront, and in return we would share in the risks and rewards of the farm, receiving a certain amount of farm products each week or so.

After finding several local CSA programs on the Internet, in July I chose Three Rivers Community Farm in Elsah, Illinois, and sent an email requesting the farm put me on the waiting list for 2010.  The farm appealed to me for various reasons: the price, the products, the 8 to 12 pounds of produce each week, the location, the very informative archived newsletters (which let me see the types of information and products the farm produced), and the information about the husband and wife who are farming the land.

In November, my family joined the CSA, and in March, Amy Cloud, who farms with her husband, Segue Lara, sent out the farm’s first newsletter of the year.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading her 2010 outlook and the crops that were started along with the adorable photos of her baby son, Diego.  Amy also had a “Meet the Farmers of Live Springs Farm, Carrolton, IL” section, introducing Alex, Bobbi, and baby Rowan from Live Springs Farm.  Alex and Bobbi have been raising pigs and had some pork for sale before the next few pigs were taken to market.  I contacted Bobbi, and my husband and I had the pleasure of driving up to Live Springs Farm to pick up the pastured pork.  The drive was beautiful, and I enjoyed meeting Bobbi.

The pork was delicious.

Three weeks ago, the CSA opened to pick up the produce on either Tuesday or Friday afternoons/evenings or at various times at local farmers markets during the rest of the week.  Since I had no idea what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised after I arrived on the farm to find a whole array of vegetables set up to choose from.  There were various bushels, each with something different: spinach, curly kale, dinosaur kale, Swiss chard, salad mix (mizuna, arugula, red mustard, and kale), butter lettuce, and romaine lettuce (purple and green).  We could choose what we wanted, as long as it fit in two produce bags, the type you get at the grocery store.  Then, they had other veggies where you could pick one of each bunch of turnips, radishes, and broccoli, and two bok choy cabbages.  That’s not all!  I could go pick a quart of snow peas, so I did.  I also got a pint of strawberries.

Two weeks ago, there were more of all the vegetables listed above, plus scallions and broccoli.  Additionally, Alex and Bobbi were there selling their delicious pork. I ordered some more pork ahead of time, so Bobbi had my bag ready for me when I got there.

This past week at Three Rivers Community Farm, there were the same vegetables listed above, except no snow peas.  Instead, there were shelling and snap peas to pick.  Also, new vegetables included zucchini, cucumber, and garlic scapes, as well as an unlimited pick-your-own dill and cilantro.

The garlic scapes, which I’ve never seen before, were the curly stalks of the garlic bulbs.  Because I can easily go through about three heads of garlic a week or more, I took a few scapes.  They aren’t as pungent as garlic cloves, but they have a great subtle garlic flavor.  I’ve used them in several recipes so far.  If I want a strong garlic flavor, I use the cloves; otherwise, I use the scapes.

Having the chance to get garlic stems and some of the other vegetables is giving me a great opportunity to try new produce that I wouldn’t normally get.  Also, it’s made me look for new recipes to accommodate some of them, like kale.  It’s going to take me a few weeks to figure out exactly how to best process all this seasonal produce.  It requires a different mindset than what I’ve been used to: going to the grocery store and buying what I want to make for the recipes.  (We bulk up our food with lots of different vegetables, but not as many as I can get at the farm.)  Because Amy sends out a newsletter ahead of time, I know what is available, but how much to get when I’ve never used some of the produce before is a good question.  (I normally eat lots of salads and can get a great amount of lettuce at the farm; however, I want to expand my horizons and cook with more greens.  Spinach and Swiss chard were the previous cooked greens I used.)

Right now on the stove, I’m making zucchini vegetable soup with some of the various types of produce I got at the farm, including the pork I bought from Alex and Bobbi.  It would be nice to possibly get a canning system to store some of the soup for the winter.  As a kid, my mother used to can, and I used to help her; therefore, I feel like I’m taking a step back in time, in some ways.  However, that’s a great step because my family and I are looking to eat mostly from local products, whether they be produce or pastured animal products, which are raised ethically and humanely, without the use of nasty chemicals.  We are attempting, too, to reduce our carbon footprint and ease our consumption of the Earth’s resources.

I really love the idea of supporting local, organic farms and sharing the risks and rewards.  This brings us closer to our food supply while helping the farmers.  I have great respect for these hard-working people since farming is a tough life, dependent on so many factors, especially the weather.

Thanks, Amy, Segue, Bobbi, and Alex for all you are doing to be stewards of the land!