Monday, April 26, 2010

CSA Diary

By Kezia Bacon-Bernstein
originally published in edible South Shore magazine, April 2010

visit their website

Last winter I came across an index of local farms offering Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs for the 2009 growing season. I was delighted to discover that Rise and Shine Farm, a little over a mile from my house in Marshfield, still had a few shares available. A full share would be too much for my family of two adults and one preschooler – but my parents, who live nearby, agreed to share it with us. What follows is a record of our first CSA season.

February 11: I chat with Marta MacFarland of Rise & Shine Farm about her 16-week CSA program. Although not yet certified organic, the farm is committed to using sustainable and organic methods, with no chemical pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, or genetically modified seeds. Sign us up!

February 20: Mom and I go Dutch on the $200 deposit check (another $200 is due in April). Paying up-front puts a squeeze on my grocery budget, especially since we won’t be eating any of the food it buys until July, but we’ll make up for it when we get our produce “for free” all summer. In addition, we are asked to volunteer a total of 8 hours work.

April 14: The farm needs help spreading more than 40 tons of compost. My son Abel (age 3) and I arrive the following Saturday with our work gloves, my grandfather’s heavy iron pitchfork, and Abel’s long-handled plastic rake and shovel. We meet Doug and Jamie, Marta’s husband and son, and spend two hours loading wheelbarrows and spreading compost with other shareholders over the 1.5-acre field. Abel helps for the first hour, then spends the second one standing atop the 8-foot-high compost pile, watching the older boys work.

April 28: Rototilling and fertilizer -spreading are more than half done. The first plants, 3000+ onions and leeks, are in the ground. There are lots of seedlings to be planted. Marta is at the farm every day.

May 9: It is time to plant strawberries, but the ground is too wet. My mom spends an afternoon spreading fertilizer instead. The MacFarlands find a killdeer nest in the summer squash field and stake off the area. (Killdeer nest in shallow depressions in the ground.)

May 21: Progress report! We have raked and de-rocked 20,000 square feet of field; planted 1000 strawberries, 50 raspberries, 1800 feet of peas, and 1300 feet of other crops, including fava beans, carrots, radishes, beets, arugula, and turnips. We have transplanted lettuce, spinach, chard and scallion seedlings – plus mulching and watering.

May 25: The rain has cleared and it is a perfect time for planting. 300 tomato seedlings need to be put in the ground ASAP. (Up till now, they have been growing in the MacFarlands’ living room.)

May 29: 50 tomatoes were planted last weekend, which means there are another 250 to go. The killdeer eggs have hatched and the whole family is running around the farm.

June 25: Some shareholders have been helping almost every week. Lots of green tendrils poke up from the soil, but there is still much to do. Marta asks for a major group effort to complete planting, as well as to catch up on the weeds. The growing season has been tough – too cold, too wet. Plants are growing slower than expected. First harvest is pushed back to July 3. My dad spends a few hours tackling the weeds.

July 3: First harvest! We pick up our shares at the Marshfield Farmers’ Market on Fridays between 2 and 6 pm. This week we get broccoli raab, arugula, baby lettuce, tat soi, and radishes. We bring our own shopping bags, which are filled with fresh-picked, unwashed produce. In the weeks that follow, we also get turnips, snow peas, snap peas, turnip greens, shell peas, baby onions, and more turnips.

July 31: Everything is in the ground. The MacFarlands are taking a well-deserved week’s vacation. Volunteers will keep an eye on the farm. This week we get green beans, snap peas, fava beans, leeks, lettuce, baby carrots, and the first of what will become a landslide of zucchini.

August 7: It was the rainiest and coldest July ever recorded, but summer has finally arrived! I love this CSA because it brings into my kitchen foods I would not ordinarily buy, and compels me to make something with them. This week, in addition to the usual, we get tomatillos, shallots, koosa, cipollini onions, and komatsuna greens.

August 11: Marta puts the word out: if you want zucchini, come and get it. Abel and I stop by the farm just as the skies open up yet again, and pick five regular zukes and three of the globe variety. In the next month we will get 20 more. I’m getting creative with recipes. Zucchini-chocolate cookies, anyone?

August 20: Pickups henceforth are at the farm. Oh, the abundance! Our two large canvas bags are heavy and overflowing. New items include cucumbers, tomatoes, yellow squash, beets, bok choy, rainbow chard, and Napa cabbage. The Northeast Tomato Blight has struck, and today’s share will include the only red ones we get all season. All of those painstakingly grown, pampered, heirloom tomatoes that Marta started from seed had to be destroyed. So sad! But we can help ourselves to as many green ones as we like. Fellow CSA’er Mia Snow shares her recipe for green tomato chutney. Yum!

August 24: It has been hot and wet – with over 4 inches of rain. Marta asks: “Would anyone like some extra cucumbers?” Yes, please! I find a grocery bag-full on my porch. 17 cucumbers make a lot of pickles. I’ve got to learn how to can . . . and fast! Rise and Shine donates a total of 100 lb. of cukes to the Marshfield Food Pantry, the Marshfield Senior Center, and a local shelter.

August 28: This has been the worst growing season in generations -- except for the weeds, which have nearly engulfed the strawberry patch. Um, Dad? Ready for more weeding? Abel and I spend an hour harvesting almost an entire row of carrots. He doesn’t want to stop!

September 11:
I have never seen so many tomatillos. I make salsa, Mexican salsa verde, roasted tomatillos, and still more sit on my countertop for snacking. New crops include kohlrabi, corn, parsley, white shell beans, peppers, and lots of basil.

September 18: Carrots, greens, corn, herbs, beets, green beans, onions, and still more zucchini and cucumbers. I feel overwhelmed by the produce that fills my kitchen on Friday evenings. And this is only half a share!

September 25:
I have been buying tomatoes from other growers at the Farmers Market and making a simple tomato-basil sauce. I’ve got 4 quarts in the freezer, and wish I had room for more. Now, it’s pesto-making time. At the farm, we can pick as much basil as we like. Next week: new potatoes, with sweet potatoes to follow!

October 15: Our final share. A full compliment of root veggies, plus peppers, tomatillos, leeks, scallions and onions. It is rainy and cold, and so there’s little time to linger and express gratitude. I drag three bags home and make onion soup!

With a summer like this, I really “get” how much the fate of the farm rests on the weather. Marta sees the bright side. She says, “The benefit of planting diversified crops is that, whatever the weather, something will thrive.” It’s worth noting that we planted winter squash three separate times, to no avail. Other crops that didn’t make it include broccoli and cauliflower, spinach, and melons.

Winter is here. We have finished the last of our frozen turnips. Marta wants to know: Are we ready for another season? Yes! I love that this produce is grown within a mile of our home, and that we are consuming so many different kinds of fresh veggies. I love bringing my son to the farm, and teaching him where our food comes from. I love supporting a farmer directly, reducing my family’s impact on the earth, and being part of a community with similar values. By joining a CSA, we have made a commitment to our health, our community, and a better planet. It’s a good investment.

. . .

“This is about more than just providing fresher, tastier, more nutritious produce. To ensure a sustainable future, it is critical that we reestablish our local and regional food systems. The hidden costs of cheap food and industrial agriculture are becoming apparent. We need to 'vote with our forks' for the type of future we want to create for our children.” - Marta MacFarland