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What’s up at our CSA? June 27, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, pets, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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It’s time once again for our friend Ben and Silence Dogood to make a pitch for CSAs, those unfortunately named but wonderful operations known collectively, doubtless thanks to some bureaucrat, as “Consumer-Supported Agriculture.” If they couldn’t just call them subscription farms, which they are, at least they could have hired a spin doctor to give them a fun, catchy, or sexy name: Feed US Farms, Farm Fresh Direct, Farm to Family, Farm to Table. (Er, by now it should be obvious why our friend Ben and Silence aren’t in the marketing biz, but you get the idea.)

CSAs are, in fact, subscription farms, and as such, they’re win/win operations for the farmers and the lucky families who sign up for a season’s worth of farm-fresh produce. That’s because, by signing up and paying in advance, subscribers give the farmers the means to buy the seed and supplies they need for the year. And the farmers also know how much of each crop they’ll need to grow to meet subscribers’ needs.

Each CSA is different. Some deliver; some ask you to come pick up your produce; some ask you to pick the produce or do a few chores around the place. Our CSA, Quiet Creek Farm, is located at the Rodale Institute in Maxatawny, PA, just five minutes from our home, Hawk’s Haven. Though it is not a Rodale-related operation—farmers John and Aimee Good lease the land for the CSA from Rodale—as you’d expect, it’s completely organic. And it’s completely amazing.

Silence and I have subscribed to Quiet Creek Farm since it first opened three years ago, since our property is shaded and our sunny veggie beds can’t begin to give us all the veggies we want to eat. Quiet Creek rounds out our produce production, and then some. Seasonal harvests of veggies, greens, and melons delight us weekly from June into November. And there’s an extensive U-Pick truck garden of herbs, flowers, and seasonal produce like sugar and snap peas, beans, edamame, paste and cherry tomatoes, and hot peppers, as well as strawberries and raspberries. If you want them, you’re free to get them when they’re ready for harvest.

Quiet Creek also partners with a group of local organic farms to provide honey and beeswax, handmade herbal soaps, spelt and white spelt flour, raw-milk yogurts, cheeses, and cheese spreads, eggs, tree fruits, and a vast range of organic meats, from chorizo to wild-caught salmon. If you want these, you have to pay extra, but the prices are reasonable and the products exceptional. Just today, Silence (preparing to make one of her fantastic Caprese salads) compared the price of the cheapest fresh mozzarella at our local grocery to the price of fresh, artisanal raw-milk mozzarella at the CSA. Grocery: $4.99. CSA: $3.75. Wow.

The extras don’t stop there: In season, you can buy organic apples, pumpkins, and sweet corn from the Rodale Institute’s own farm and orchard at our CSA. All season, Aimee provides recipes for the produce as it comes into season. She even gives seminars on how to preserve the bounty. Silence took one of Aimee’s canning and drying classes a few years ago and loved it.

As for what’s up, yesterday, Friday, is our CSA pickup day. Silence, our black German shepherd puppy Shiloh, and our friend Ben headed over to the harvest barn to check out this week’s offerings. There were still plenty of greens—spring mix and Swiss chard, tatsoi (Asian spinach), baby mizuna (oriental mustard greens), and heads of lovely leaf lettuce. There were salad turnips and radishes, heads of broccoli, and yummy summer squash. There were bunches of scallions and one of our favorites, garlic scapes.

After we loaded up our weekly haul, Silence headed out to the U-Pick garden for strawberries, snap peas, some fennel fronds, and cilantro, while our friend Ben and Shiloh lolled on the grass basking in the admiration of all (er, actually, it was all directed at Shiloh). Silence could have also picked snow peas, but we’re getting such a heavy crop from our own golden-podded snow peas right now that she chose to leave them for the less fortunate, whereas our snap peas have been so slow to get going this year we’re beginning to think we won’t get a crop at all. She could also have taken dill, thyme, sage, oregano, chives, and garlic chives, but we grow all those except dill ourselves, and Silence won’t need dill weed until her next batch of potato salad. Anyway, it was a delightful picking session: Silence was glowing as she returned to the car, and the whole way back we enjoyed the scents of cilantro, strawberries, fennel, scallions, and garlic scapes. Yum!!!

Speaking of Silence, she wanted to share some tips from farmer Aimee on using the less-familiar greens that are coming in now, like mizuna and tatsoi. So take it away, Silence!

Silence Dogood here, and thanks, Ben. Actually, all I’m doing is giving you the gist of one of Aimee’s many handouts, in case you’re not too familiar with some of the later-season greens and might wonder what to do with them. Coming from the South as we do, our friend Ben and I love the hot, pungent mustard greens we grew up with and tear some raw in salads to give an extra bite. Mizuna is way milder than our Southern mustard greens, but it still adds a bit of spice to a recipe. Anyway, here are some of Aimee’s tips for making the most of mizuna, tatsoi, and baby red kale:

* Use fresh in salads with other greens or lettuce. Add dressing just before serving to prevent wilting.

* Pile high on sandwiches and in wraps and burritos.

* Lightly braise or saute these greens. They cook quickly! Season with garlic and olive oil and eat.

* Add cooked greens to omelets, quiche, lasagne, mashed potatoes, or casseroles.

* Wilt greens into hot pasta dishes, soups, or stir-fries.

* Substitute for spinach in recipes.

* Greens are great to freeze for use in winter. Simply wilt greens, cool, press dry, and pack in freezer bags.

Thanks, Aimee! Our trip to the CSA is one of the highlights of our week. We hope we’ve inspired you to check out the CSA options in your area!

         ‘Til next time,

                     Silence, our friend Ben, and Shiloh


1. fairegarden - June 27, 2009

Hi Both, and thanks for this pitch for your CSA. You are most fortunate to have this so close and such a good one too. Pennsylvania is quite organized with this sort of thing. Our local dairy, Mayfield has restored a barn and group of buildings for a permanent local produce outlet. It was just opened and when Christopher came to visit we went there to check it out. I was happy to see fresh and good looking produce and bought several things that were delicious, especially the sweet corn. Yum!

That’s great, Frances! It’s really wonderful to see so many farmers’ markets, CSAs, and the like coming into existence. Long may they wave!

2. Daphne Gould - June 27, 2009

Quiet Creek sounds like a wonderful place. I love the idea of a CSA but I grow too much myself to subscribe to one. We do have some really nice farmers markets though. There are three of them now within 10 minutes of me.At the farmers markets I buy eggs, meat/fish, honey and the few fruits or vegetables that I don’t grow.

We love our local farmers’ markets, too, Daphne! They add even more local diversity to our menu, and it always feels good to know that you’re supporting local business instead of agribusiness!

3. deb - June 27, 2009

I got cantelope, okra, and cream peas while visiting three local farm operations. It was a great day. The cream peas are cooking right now and smell amazing.

Good for you, Deb! Farm markets are such great adventures!

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