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May 30, 2015
Happy Birthday to the Farmer!
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
The Farmer's Dad always tells a story about the Farmer's birth at a Memorial Day swim party...well not exactly at it, but dramatically almost at it. Now, a little grey speckles the Farmer's beard and swim parties remain a distant memory. His mind is focused on things like dirt, what's growing, including weeds and what needs to be done. With the CSA main season beginning this week, we are all distracted from thinking much about celebrations. Still, I want to take a moment to celebrate this hard-working guy in front of anyone who cares to listen.
It takes a special kind of guy to farm vegetables sustainably. He needs endurance, perseverance and vision. He must like the outdoors extremely muchly. Blazing heat, pouring rain, chilly mornings and long days cannot deter him. Dirt must be one of his best friends, since he has little time for socializing. Working 7 days a week during the growing season, from dawn to dusk, must seem like a great idea. Multi-tasking is essential as is managing a crew of 20 people simultaneously performing a variety of chores. And then we he is finished the farm work, he must be a cheerful, available Dad for his kids and a patient, kind ear for his Wife. That's me.
This is my Farmer, honest as the sky is big and hard-working as the ocean is deep. I am proud to stand by him on this journey we have chosen. And happy to make him a big, sloppy, strawberry cake in his honor! Happy birthday my love!
May 21, 2015
3 Big Reasons CSA's Don't Work
...and what we are doing about it!
I recently spoke with a CSA member at our Ambler location and she mentioned that she had to drive a little further to our pick up location than she used to. In fact, she used to host for a previous site. Why did she make the switch? She and her fellow members were tired of endless, second-rate greens. She would love to bring our CSA back to her area, but she feared the reputation of CSA's had been damaged by this previous experience.
This conversation strikes me as the core of what has gone awry with the CSA model. The Farmer and I talk of this often, and our CSA has evolved from the following concerns:
- Poor Quality: Since the consumer cannot sort through and pick out what she wants in her box, the CSA system allows the farmer to slough off "seconds" or even "thirds" while saving the premium produce for wholesale and markets. How does this make the customer feel? Second-rate!
- Small Portions: Vegetable size can be a matter of preference, so it can be challenging to guess what each CSA member might prefer. Take zucchini for example. Some like the vegetable picked young, small and tender. Others use the big daddy's to make zucchini bread...or zucchini chocolate cake (see recipes). But one little cucumber to feed a family of four? Undersized bunches and boxes can leave the CSA member feeling neglected once again.
- Lack of Choice: Most of you know this issue represents our biggest beef with most CSA models. The idea that you, as the devoted farm-share holder, should suck it up and eat whatever comes across your plate seems antiquated and even ridiculous. True, it exposes you to new and unusual vegetables that you might not have tried before, but it takes no account for people who join a CSA who also garden. Someone growing bushels of tomatoes in their back yard may have little need for yet another box of farm tomatoes. And people who don't like kale, still don't like kale ten bunches later.
At Red Earth, CSA is our primary focus. The majority of our growing fields are dedicated to the membership. Filling member boxes with quality, fresh produce remains top priority for us. Hot summer days, boxes left outside at pickup sites, or pack crew error still give rise to issues. In this event we stand behind our produce and offer replacements or refund for anything that arrives in unsatisfactory condition. In June we pride ourselves in glorious heads of lettuce, unlike any found in the typical grocery store. Later, when the summer heat stunts the lettuce growth, we double up those heads to make up for it. Every year we strive to implement systems to improve the consistency of what arrives in your box.
Providing the opportunity for our members to choose weekly items stands as the keystone of what makes our CSA work. For us, this means extra labor. The Farmer has to predict a week in advance what might be ready for harvest (no easy task, I assure you!), orders must be printed and placed in the correct boxes, and then the crew has to pack each box correctly. Easier said than done, but definitely worth it. Weekly online ordering remains the number one reason our members choose our CSA again and again. That, and the great tasting vegetables...and maybe the occasional cheery note from the Farmer's Wife!
May 10, 2015
Does Mom Still Tell You to Eat Your Vegetables?
A Note from the Farmer's Wife
Once upon a time there was a little girl who didn't really like peas. Or cooked carrots. Or lima beans. Or most vegetables. Then she grew up and planted a garden, the one with the groundhog in it.
And now she is the Farmer's Wife and she could consume a partial share or more by herself. How on earth do we get our kids to eat more vegetables? Or at least grow up and start eating vegetables.
Maybe I was lucky. Or maybe my early childhood radish growing experience with my Dad, infused a love of vegetables that blossomed when I graduated from college. When I started my first garden, I was obsessed with peppers and broccoli. Not obsessed with how they tasted. Just how they looked and how pretty and awesome they would be in my garden. I actually hated peppers and was on the fence about broccoli, when it came to actually eating them. I grew them anyway. My first head of broccoli was GIANT and I was so thrilled! The massive plant that gave birth to this miniature tree was a sight to behold. I had never seen anything like it. Something about this miraculous plant inspired me to eat it. The depth of flavor, the unexpected sweetness and the connection to its short life cycle directly affected my palate. Delicious! Inspired by this success I forced myself to eat the peppers from my garden until my pscyhe realized, "These are amazingly delicious!"
The Farmer's daughter won't touch a green thing on her plate. But take her into the greenhouse and she will graze like a horse. I have witnessed her eat five whole peppers at once. This Spring she discovered the sweet apple flavor of the Hakuri salad turnips. I think she ate two dozen, yanking them up and shaking off the dirt.
We all have tricky tricks in our back pockets to disguise vegetables and bribery of yummy desserts to convince our sweet cherubs to consume ample quantities or leafy greens. But I am guessing that the most potent trick of all is to connect with the magic of nature. "Come see the vegetables growing. Pick them. Taste them as soon as they come from the ground. Get your hands dirty. Sit on the sweet brown earth and eat to your hearts content." This is my modern replacement to the Mother's chiding words, "Eat your vegetables!"