I do not have a green thumb. For as much as I wish I were an avid gardener – or even just a dabbler – it has never happened. I just would rather be baking or reading or doing something that doesn’t involve bugs and mud. After seeing a neighbour’s beautiful raised beds and lovely stonework patio a few weeks ago, I vowed that next summer we would do better, we would do something with our yard and plant at least a few things. But this year, like every other, has been a total wash. What can I say?
However, in one life’s annoying clashes of values and action, I did want to eat locally-grown fruits and veggies this summer. I’m the daughter of a soil scientist who had a sticker on his guitar case that read, “If you don’t support agriculture, quit eating.” Increasingly, this idea has been weighing on my mind, especially so after reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” My good friend Courtney in Calgary bought a CSA farm share* last year, and that gave me the idea that we could do the same. When Dine Out Winnipeg posted a note that ROC and The Fern Orchard and Gardens was selling shares for the 2011 growing season, we did the math and decided it was a good fit. We sent in our deposit to the farmers, Eric and Jodi, in May and then we waited for the bounty to roll in.
We didn’t wait long. One afternoon in mid-June, Eric arrived with our first delivery: a large bag full of spinach and a smaller one with radishes, which we marvelled at, knowing they’d been in the ground not 24 hours ago.
Since then, we’ve been receiving weekly boxes (which are ever-increasing in size) of wonderful, fresh, organically-grown veggies and berries, and it’s been an adventure. Getting things I’d never bought before – like Swiss chard and tomatillos – meant finding creative (and usually delicious) ways to use them. I developed an appreciation for every part of a plant -for instance, roasting beets, blanching and freezing the stems for throwing into soups or sauteing down the line, and using the leaves to make one of my all-time favourite Manitoba dishes: beetniks.
Since we only have one fridge, and we get more than our family of three can possibly eat in a week, I quickly learned that I needed to set aside Thursday nights to “deal with” our produce – cleaning, sorting, storing, freezing, etc., so that nothing was wasted by letting it go bad. I’m still figuring out a rhythm in this regard, but I have learned that scrubbing potaotes and beets and listening to podcasts is a surprisingly relaxing way to spend an evening!
When we signed up for our farm share, I was expecting to get delicious, organically-grown veggies, straight from the farmer, and just as expected, I felt great about that. What I wasn’t expecting was the sense of closeness to the land that I have developed. I follow a number of food blogs, but many of them are based in the US, where a) there’s a much bigger variety of produce grown, and b) the stuff that also grows here is in season much earlier in the year. So the constant refrain of “eat local, eat in season” seemed cruel and taunting to someone living smack in the middle of the Canadian prairies. I really had no idea of what eating in season looked like in practice. I’m no expert now, but I’ve found the progression and order of crops to be a graceful, fascinating thing.
Many of us are so far removed from our agricultural roots that we don’t even know where to begin. Growing up, my family always had a vegetable garden, but it wasn’t something that I continued into my adulthood – years of apartment rentals and a natural inclination to indoor activities will do that to you, I guess. I still bought some produce at the grocery store this summer — fruit mostly, and salad greens once the spinach and lettuce stopped coming in our farm share. But most of the veggies we ate either came from our farm share or the farmer’s market, and that was a great feeling. If you’re interested in seeing what we got in our farm share over the last couple months, I’ve been keeping track here, along with a few notes on what we ate fresh and what we froze. All in all, getting a local farm share was a great experience and I think we’ll probably do it again next year.
Have you ever bought a farm share? What was your experience like?
*CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and in this model, people buy shares in a farm and share both the profit, in the form of produce, and the risk (if crops aren’t great due to weather, you’ll only get what the farmers are able to harvest).