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First time CSA season in review: the good, the bad and the beets

As most of you know, this year Heather and I split a community-supported agriculture (CSA) share from Gathering Together Farm for the first time. In many ways, this share shaped our summer and the harvest season. Each and every Sunday since last June, we've been coordinating schedules to meet at the Hillsdale Farmers Market.

The first box was overwhelming. Heather was on vacation for that one, so I was on my own. I had no idea how big 10-gallons of produce would really be, and I was pretty clueless as to what some of the things were, and what to do with them. Our readers came to the rescue. Hours after I got home, I remembered that the box came with a newsletter. When I read it, I found there was an itemized list, which helped me identify some of the mystery veggies (pea tops?). And we certainly got to try a few new things, including roasted turnips (coated in a bit of olive oil) and tossed with Parmesan cheese. Who'd have guessed a turnip would taste so good? Prior to this box, turnips seemed like something you might only eat in a famine...

Then there was the discovery of the best. chicken. ever. Maybe we could have found this chicken if we weren't going to the Farmers Market every Sunday. Maybe not. Being in the CSA, we had to go to the market every week -- rain or shine -- and that turned out to be a great thing. Every week, we ran into friends and met new and interesting people. We learned things. We tried samples. We connected with our community. Full circle learning moment about how Farmers Markets build community in a way that shopping at a mega-super-grocery store does not (Bill McKibben talked about this at Powells earlier in the year: how we shop at the grocery store in a zombie-like state pushing our carts, avoiding eye-contact with other people, and pretty much buying the same old-same old stuff every week). So yes, the Farmers Market visits impacted the connectedness of our lives. It also helped me to just try things. Prior to this harvest season, I'd go to the Farmers Market, look at all the produce, then not really buy anything. It took me a while to get comfortable there and figure out that the prices of fresh, locally grown food was worth it.

There were highs like my produce-phobe child telling me she loved carrots and wanted to try watermelon for the first time since infancy; and very rewarding preserving sessions of peaches and apples. There were lows, like Heather being overwhelmed with potatoes and onions, which then led to finding a way to create a modern-day root cellar. Another low was sometimes feeling overwhelmed with veggies, and then, horror of horrors, letting some go to waste and having to pitch them into the compost before being able to eat them.

Then there were the beets. Beets were a gag-fest for me as a kid. Nothing would convince me to try one. I think Heather had some veggies she felt the same about. But then, that was the beauty of sharing. We got to foist some things off on each other, but we also got to exchange recipes and elevate one another to a higher level of culinary accomplishment.

The way the CSA worked is we "invested" in the farm in the spring, and picked our box size (full). We paid up front, and designated which market we'd pick our box up at. If you broke it down by week, it was about $20 per week (or $10 per family). But given what Farmers Market prices are usually like, being in the CSA, we went home with far more than you could buy with $10 or $20 worth on any given market day.

So will we do it again? I'd really like to. Heather -- she'll have to tell you herself. It's funny since this was Heather's idea, and I just "went along" at first. But believe you me, I'm a convert now. I think we ate better this summer than we ever have. And the CSA is to thank for it. It's changed my relationship to food.


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