Eating from the CSA

Let’s put it out there. I’m not a farmer.

So I have been told during the course of my reporting, as I have made my way around the county interviewing various farmers that participate in the beach area’s farmers’ markets. I ask crazy questions, I meet crazier people and I learn something new every day.

In my defense, I never said I was a farmer. I am a reporter, which simply means I talk to other people about what they do. I mull that information around a bit in my head, squish it around, gargle it like mouthwash and spit it back out in the form of your weekly reading material.

The “Go Green” section of the Coastal Point, now in its eighth month, has taught me a lot about where things come from, what is in them, what is needed and what is not. It has taught me the term “locavore” and that antibacterial soap isn’t all its cracked up to be.

It has taught me about hybrids and solar panels and AC converters and windmills and underwater turbines and more than I ever wanted to know about how DNREC works. It has taught me what a kilowatt hour is and why I should care. It has taught me about structurally insulated panels, geothermal heating and cooling systems and what an impervious surface is. It has taught me the importance of what type of plastic goes into baby bottles, that almost anything can be recycled, what is in my old light bulbs and why I should get new ones.

In short, it has opened my eyes and taught me to question everything.

Is the way it’s always been done still working? Or is there something better out there? Are we better off because of our technology or are we really taking one step forward and two steps back? Is having everything at our fingertips beneficial to us as a people, or does waiting for something or knowing you can’t have it pump up your character?

One of my first stories was about how eating local can be “clean and green.” It’s s pretty simple concept. With the average ingredient we eat making a hefty 1,500-mile trek from farm to plate, taking a step back and really looking at what we eat can make a difference — not only for our environment but for our health.

Enter a CSA farm — or community supported agriculture.

“CSA’s are a farming model that seeks to restore the relationship between people and their food supply. CSA farms are a cooperative effort by farmers and shareholders to build a sustainable food system based on a socially and environmentally responsible business model. The relationship between farmer and shareholder becomes one of mutual commitment. The shareholder assumes a portion of the financial risk of the farm, sustaining the farmer while the farmer does his or her best to supply the shareholder with a bountiful supply of organically grown, freshly harvested vegetables and fruits each week through the growing season.”

It’s not for everybody, but for me the idea was interesting enough to give it a shot.

In the spring, my parents and I split a share in the Provident Organic Farm CSA out of Bivalve, Md., west of Salisbury. For $575, plus a one-time membership fee of $25, we were officially part of something great.

In return for sustaining the farmer with that money while things get going in the spring, you get a weekly assortment of fresh, locally grown organic vegetables from June to mid-November at one of the area farmer’s markets — the closest for this CSA being in Berlin. We actually get our veggies (and sometimes fruit) in the South Bethany area, as we found out about some members there and one of them works in Berlin on Fridays, so, luckily, our commute is even shorter.

From spring through summer and into fall, there’s a bevy of produce being grown for CSA members: asparagus, beans (yellow wax, green, flat and lima), beets, broccoli, cabbage (red, green, chinese, savoy and napa), cantaloupe, carrots, corn, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, greens (seasonal assortment), leeks, lettuce (red, green, leaf and butterheads), onions (red and white) peas (sugar snaps), peppers (selection of sweet and hot), potatoes (red, gold and fingerlings), pumpkins (decorative and pie) radishes and salad turnips, scallions, summer squash, strawberries, sweet potatoes (red and whate haymans), tomatoes (red slicer, cherry, Roma and heirloom), watermelon and winter squash.

Some of the vegetables I had heard of, and some were completely new.

In the beginning, the share was admittedly sparse: some potatoes, some kale or lettuce. Every week, my dad said, “This is what we paid all that money for — six carrots and a beet?”

Now that we are in the dead heat of summer, we get our money’s worth: squash, zucchini, tomatoes, basil, potatoes, beans and turnip and beets, and I am eagerly anticipating watermelon and cantaloupes. Truth be told, if we hadn’t split it, it would be too much for a family of four.

Some of the things I have no intention of eating. Others I told myself I would try. I have yet to try to bake a zucchini bread, although I know I like it and the recipe seems fairly easy.

Part of joining the CSA was to expose myself and my family to things we have never tried before, which has worked, to an extent. I did try kale, a dark, leafier cousin to spinach — I think. I have yet to try the “white” green beans, which are some sort of wax bean; and some things I merely pass on to my mom, because I don’t like the looks of them. Like I said — I’m not a farmer. Not a “foodie” as it turns out, either. But, like I said, I’m trying.

Provident Farm is not a certified organic farm, but if you ask farmer Jay Martin for his reasoning on not becoming certified, he’ll tell you outright it has to do with the cost, as well as his personal and philosophical beliefs about how the current subsidized certification system is a detriment to innovation and the farms themselves. And no offense to anybody, but you just can’t get that kind of conversation from the Sysco guy or the woman stacking the soda aisle at the supermarket.

There is a lot to be said for meeting the person who grows your food — for visiting with them, for talking with them, for asking them questions. And Martin encourages that, saying the farm runs under “face certification,” with members welcome to inspect the farm and ask questions. While organic is Martin’s area of expertise, his focus is one step higher — on sustainability.

And there is a lot to be said for the patience you learn being a member of a CSA. Want strawberries but it’s July? Sorry — not until next year. Want pumpkins, but it is only May? Nope. No can do. The “me, me, me — now, now, now” attitude certainly takes a back seat to “whatever’s in season” and with it comes a reverence for the farmer, and the labor it takes to actually get the food that ends up on your plate.

It was very surreal to meet Ted Wycall of Greenbranch Farm in Salisbury, one of the growers for the Provident Farm CSA. He once worked for Jay Martin at Provident Organic Farm and now grows for him. To know that he is an actual human being, and that he and other actual human beings are out there planting and harvesting your food, puts it all in perspective.

Have a question about genetically modified organisms? Ask him. Want to know if they use pesticides or fertilizers (no). Just ask. Need a recipe for the 17 zucchinis you got this week? You guessed it — just ask.

As I have said, I am not a farmer. I’m all about someone else growing my food, getting it ready and me just picking it up. But, as I have learned, that doesn’t always have to mean the bright lights and freezing temperatures of the supermarket. Sometimes, it just means driving down Route 1, picking up your already-packed bag of veggies, reading this week’s newsletter and guessing what recipes you’ll try next.

And for the people who are wondering what we’ll be eating come November, Martin has started a less labor-intensive, more meaty project for the winter — free-range chickens!

For more information on the Provident Farm CSA, including a membership application and table of planned harvests, visit www.providenorganicfarm.
com online.

Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
1 c brown sugar
1 c white sugar
1 c veg. oil (could use olive oil)
2 c grated zucchini
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat eggs until frothy, stir into other ingredients.

3 c flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Mix those dry ingredients and combine with zucchini mixture
Can add 1 c strawberries, nuts, raisins, or pineapple for added punch!

Put into two well-greased pans 9x5x3
Bake at 325 degrees for one hour