Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant" - Robert Louis Stevenson

It's probably a little early, but I've started thinking about what to grow next year. The 2015 Seed Savers Catalogue came in the mail, and it is already bookmarked and dog-eared to death. This will be the year that I plan far enough ahead to order the unusual heirloom seeds in time for Spring.

Last summer I just planted a slew of things not knowing what would grow well or what we would actually need. Turned out that a lot of what was successful for us was also successful for our CSA farmers. Between our garden and the share there were things we got sick of or couldn't use up (cucumbers!).

There are certain crops, however, that I can never get enough of . . . so here are the things that we didn't see much of that Mike and I decided would be best to grow on our own.

Bell peppers

There are a couple things I miss which we won't grow, probably for the same reasons our farmers don't; asparagus and mushrooms. The process for both of these crops is long and complicated. I've been searching for local farmers, but it seems no one's up to the challenge.

If you know of a mushroom farmer in the Northern Mass/Southern NH area, would you please hook a girl up? My hubby's got a pesky vitamin D deficiency.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lessons in Locavorism

After taking a Food Activism course during my last semester of grad school at Tufts, I was motivated to start eating more ethically. One of the biggest take-aways from the course was that there are many strains of food activism and competing causes. Sometimes there isn't an option available that hits all the checkpoints on your list (local, organic, vegan, fair labor practices, etc.) so you have to decide what to prioritize. I'm better able to identify which causes mean most to me and ways of supporting them through my food choices.

For about 9 months now my husband and I (mostly me) have been making an effort to source as much of our weekly groceries locally as possible. We've identified which farms in our area use organic, environmentally conscious, growing practices. We've even found local ethically raised animal products such as milk, eggs, fish, and beef. (I grapple with the decision to eat beef repeatedly , but I figure until I decide not to I might as well choose the lesser evil)

I always sought out local produce at farmers markets before, but we went the next step by purchasing a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share. Small farms can have trouble making a profit and staying in business because most of the costs of growing are upfront, and the crop can be unpredictable due to weather. One bad season can mean a huge loss. By purchasing shares at the beginning of the season, CSA members help cover the costs of farming and in return receive an equal distribution of the crop, whatever it may be. This can be a gamble for the CSA members, but it safeguards the farm in the event of a poor crop.

We discovered our farmers by chance when we drove by one of their locations in Tewksbury, just a 5 minute drive from us (actually on the same road as our home). Farmer Dave's is comprised of a small group of farmers who provide shares all over Northeast Massachusetts, and contribute to hunger relief efforts.The initial share was 20 weeks of vegetables, enough to feed "1-2 people" per week. Their estimate was either way off or I don't eat as much as the average human. I could have fed a family of 3-4. I spent much of my summer freezing and preserving veggies. I even learned canning just because I didn't want to waste anything (more on this later). It didn't help at all that a couple weeks into the summer Mike left for the National Guard. For 10 weeks I was on my own with twice as much produce as I could eat. To anyone worried about getting ripped off paying ahead for your groceries, I'd say don't even think about it. It was a time-saver not having to go to the crowded supermarket every week, and it was much more cost effective. My grocery bill averaged out to around $20 a week.

In the fall we decided to extend our share through the end of the season. On December 10 we received our last share, and I was glad it was over only because I couldn't possibly fit another thing in my freezer. At this point, looking at what is there plus what is sitting in jars in my cabinet, I feel confident we have enough local produce to last through the winter.

Have you purchase a CSA share before, or are you considering it? Do you have any questions for me about my CSA experiences? Anyone have useful tips for dealing with vegetable overload?