I’m wearing bell bottoms and riding in the rear-facing seat of my parents’ paneled station wagon. I’m growing up in suburbia in the 1970’s and in the middle of our development my mom has a huge garden running the perimeter of the house from the side door to the back patio, with an additional garden plot located on land beyond the creek bed.
The scrawny seedlings she started would rapidly become strong stalks dangling vegetables colored in hues mimicking a sixty-four pack of Crayola crayons. The bounty from her garden would feed me and my five siblings throughout the summer months and into fall. Chartreuse green lettuce, string beans, carrots, cucumbers, peas, inky-black eggplant, squash, potatoes and peppers would be on our plates in a variety of dishes. Best of all was taking a momentary break from running through the sprinkler or playing tag and being able to stuff a juicy cherry tomato into my mouth fresh off the vine.
In late summer, vats of tomatoes liquefied in the Osterizer would bubble on the stovetop ready to be made into sauce and ketchup, cucumbers would be submerged into a briny solution that in a few weeks time would emerge as pickles, and, toward the end of the growing season, green tomatoes would be preserved in canning jars ready to be savored during colder months.
Currently it’s the middle of winter in my twenty-first century suburbia and I’m jonesing for languid summer days.
Now with my own two children, and unable to commit the time and energy needed to turn my yard into a garden each spring, I want to offer them a tasty slice of childhood as I remember it: by being able to eat a variety of fresh, locally grown veggies.
I first learned about Community Supported Agriculture a few years back one springtime, and I realized that just like good summer camp programs, participating farms’ shares fill up quickly. Local Harvest, which bills its website as America’s number one source of local and organic food, says that “Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of ‘shares’ to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a ‘membership’ or a ‘subscription’) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.” To find out what farms near you participate in the CSA model visit www.localharvest.org/csa/ong.
We chose a farm close to our house and they put me on a list for the following growing season, sent me an application in December via email, and gave me the option of paying for my share in either one or two installments. We had to pay by early February in order to hold our spot in the farm’s CSA that began in May and ran through September.
Each week on our assigned pick-up day I eagerly drove to the farm to see what the garden yielded. In my own house I played out the rituals of my past, turning cucumbers into pickles, tomatoes into sauce and soup. My husband and I also tried out new recipes with some of the less familiar vegetables we received. This resulted in grilled fennel, sautéed Swiss chard, baked kale chips and potato and leek soup finding their way onto our dinner table.
My kids have been more willing to try new vegetables, and the farmer will walk with our kids in his garden, pointing out vegetables ready to harvest, stopping to pluck one off the vine for them to sample. The CSA we belong to also offers shares of jewel-colored eggs from free-roaming chickens, whereas some CSAs also offer shares of homemade bread, cheese, fruit and flowers.
If you’re not able to commit a large amount of money up front, don’t like having to pick up your food on a set day once a week with no control over what you’ll find in your bag, a good alternative is a farmer’s market.
If you’re craving fresh, locally grown greens now, some markets are open year round. The Northampton, Lehigh and Berks chapter of Buy Fresh, Buy Local is part of a national program, that according to their website, “connects consumers to fresh, locally grown foods” (www.buylocalgreaterlehighvalley.org). The site also has listings of farmers markets in the area, along with the days and times they’re open. Farmers Markets are also a great place to pick up a pair of alpaca socks, locally produced honey, handmade soaps, artisanal breads, meats, cheese, maple syrup, eggs, desserts, varietal wine and locally brewed beer.