I am currently suffering from fresh produce withdrawal. This summer, I bought a share in a Community Shared (or Supported) Agriculture (CSA) vegetable garden and I’ve accumulated my thoughts for this post for months. I meant to have them jotted down in time for thanksgiving but then I realized, it’s NEVER too late to thank a farmer.
CSAs have been around for years but have gained popularity where I live in the past five years or so. I think it’s because the way we think about food is evolving and we’re constantly looking for more ways to eat healthier, more fresh and locally produced foods. That was my reason anyways.
I bought a share from Hnatiuk Gardens who I found through at this website. I liked them for two reasons: I had purchased vegetables from them at a farmer’s market previously and the are conveniently located close to me. I paid my fee in April and then we waited.
I picked up our first bag of veggies the last week in June and that became my weekly routine until last week, the week before thanksgiving. I loved this routine. We’d pack the kids in the car and drive to their farm located just 10 minutes from our house. I loved opening our bag and seeing what goodies were in it. I’d plan a week’s worth of meals based on its contents. Introducing new foods to my kids added to the excitement (beets, parsnips, and kale were a hit). When we got home I’d put everything on our deck and my kids gravitated to the veggies. Their curiosity made me so happy, even though they’re still very small I strongly believe it will positively influence their eating habits later in life. For example, they tried biting into carrots but not the chili peppers. Did they find the smell of the pepper off-putting or was it intuition? (Or do I have genius babies?)
I was thoroughly enjoying our veggies, but every week we drove to pick it up, my husband and I got increasingly curious. Do they rent land elsewhere? Where else do they sell their vegetables? How long have they been doing this? How many shares do they sell? Then, about halfway through the growing season, the Winnipeg Free Press wrote this article and not did it answer my questions, it gave me a whole new appreciation for our vegetable farmers. The article gave me a glimpse into their family market gardening history as well the history of market gardening in my area. Martin, the farmer who provided my family with food all summer from his third-generation farm, is one of the last ones in our area which was due to its location along the river, used to be abundant with market gardeners. In fact, a lot of the streets I drive on everyday are named after market gardens long gone. It (literally) brought my connection and appreciation to our farmer closer to home.
I am fortunate that I have a father-in-law who is a farmer and whose farm we can visit anytime we want. I have the best conversations about our food, agriculture and even food policies with him. I am also fortunate to have a job where I get to know a lot of farmers, and some very smart people who work in the agriculture industry, such as agronomists, who can explain things to me. For example, one of my favourite colleagues to speak to is an apariarist – I’ve learned so much about bees and the bee keeping from him!
Our CSA was truly an enlightening experience. I learned so much about market gardening, my area’s history in agriculture, food waste and most importantly, the story of our third-generation farmer and his family farm. They farm (presumably) with pride, hard work and dedication. Market gardens aren’t usually large enough to qualify for crop insurance so they are at the mercy of mother nature. We had plenty to eat every week, despite some weather issues that affected some of Martin’s crops. We’re lucky in North America to have access to fresh, healthy food. My friend Jenn explains this well in her post about her CSA experience here that I highly recommend reading.
Here are the three main things I learned this summer and will continue to be conscious of:
1.FRESH FOOD TAKES TIME
Dedicate time for prepping and meal planning.
On the nights I picked up our share, I would dedicate the whole evening to washing, cleaning, chopping, and prepping veggies. Unlike the vegetables you buy at the grocery store, our veggies came directly from the garden. There was no middle man to wash and package them nicely. Some of those radishes and beets took a lot of work to scrub, which I actually found to be a therapeutic activity. I also discovered that if I didn’t chop or separate them into portions, they might end up going to waste so as I did that, I thought about what I would make. I also blanched and froze some veggies I had a lot of or I knew wouldn’t be used that week so that it wouldn’t go to waste.
I have a whole new appreciation for the people who work in the fields, no matter the size of the farm.
2. USE MORE, WASTE LESS
There is nothing more I hate than wasting food. Especially fresh produce! This was ingrained into me during my childhood, my parents frowned upon wasting food. My dad was always replanting things and my mother would get creative in the kitchen.
This summer I realized how much leaves and other greenery that is conveniently removed for us when we buy our goods at the store. My favourite examples are radishes and carrots. The green tops are so bright, beautiful and green it seemed like a sin to throw out. My dad taught me to make omelettes with radish tops. I remember eating and enjoying them as a kid, so why not now? Another friend recently told me she makes pesto with carrot tops (so clever).
If you have any other suggestions for using the edible parts of produce that are usually discarded, please pass them on to me! This experience also encouraged me to start composting.
3. FOOD FOSTERS FAMILY CONNECTIONS
From farm to table, food brings us together. I thought of our farming family often as I put my family’s meals together. I also started noticing how much how much of a role food plays in our family. From picking up the vegetables from the farm together (or grocery shopping) to cooking and of course eating together, to going out to eat or taking the kids out for a treat – so much of our family activities revolve around food.
As a teenager, my family rarely ate together as my sisters and I got older because of our varied work/activities schedules. I don’t remember those meals, but what I do remember are the ones we did enjoy together. I’m trying to teach my kids good eating habits and it starts with us modelling that for them. For safety reasons, I used to scoot my kids out of the kitchen when I was cooking but now I let them watch and “help” (from the safety of their high chairs of course). I’ve always liked to pretend I’m on a cooking show when I cook, and now I have an audience! I believe this helps foster food and cooking skills at a young age.
Our CSA concluded with the most wonderful array of produce just in time for thanksgiving dinner this past weekend. I didn’t plan our thanksgiving feast until I picked up our package and planned it around that. It’s only been one week and I am going through CSA withdrawal. I had to buy frozen vegetables for my kids for the first time this week and after eating only locally grown tomatoes all summer, the store bought ones just seemed to lack flavour. One thing that remains is my deep appreciation for our farmer. For all farmers, no matter where in the world, what they grow, how they do it, or the size of the farm. At the end of the day, they are all contributing to feeding the world, and so much of that happens right here in this wonderful prairie province I call home. Thank you farmers.