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Grumpy Gardeners – CSA Pick Up #3

Here is the third installment of my CSA update…

The quick and dirty is that, as promised, the stash is getting meatier as the season wears on.  With the exception of some consistently sad-looking arugula and flowers that look like they were imported from the corner store, the wares continue generally to be top notch.  (Note: the goods need to be eaten fast.  I had some canteloupe with blueberries this a.m. that were from the pick up last Wednesday – so eight days in the fridge – and while they hadn’t gone bad, they didn’t have that oomph I’m used t0.)  That said, I find myself leaving the community garden each time feeling like I’ve just made a trip to the local soup kitchen, where I’m the one getting soup.

Here’s you in my shoes, at a typical CSA shares pick-up: You enter the community gardens, usually about 15 minutes after they’ve opened for pick-up (I believe scheduled pick-up time is 4-8 p.m.).  You’re probably one of only two groups of people picking up their shares.  You’ve come fully stocked and responsible, bags and cartons in tow, to save the farmers some much needed containers.  It’s off to a good start, as a fairly peppy lady ticks your name off a list and  sends you in the direction of the tables, arranged in a U-shape.  Your path is to circle around these tables, taking from each of the crates and bins.  On the other side of the table are several people.  From three to five people mill about, evidently on the provider (not purchaser) side, but it’s not clear who they are.  Out of curiosity I asked one day and found out that some of the people are from “CSA” (this is kind of confusing because I thought that “community supported agriculture” consisted just of the farmers and whoever agreed to provide the pick-up site, but there’s a larger organization behind it that I don’t know much about).  Some of the people, I believe, are from the garden that provides the site for the pick up.  It’s not clear who’s from where, and how many where’s there are.  The first visit I made at the beginning of the summer, I arrived several hours early by mistake and was fortunate enough to meet the farmer himself.  Since then, however, I haven’t seen any of the farmers, and haven’t gotten very good answers to the questions I’ve had about where the produce is from (while most of it is from the Garden of Eve, which is the farm associated with my CSA, usually they supplement with fruits/vegetables, etc. from other places).

Starting at the beginning of the u-shaped table, you have various vegetables, most of them green (e.g., lots of squash, usually several kinds of leafy greens such as arugula and kale), sometimes you’ll get lucky and they’ve thrown in some beets.  A piece of paper taped to the front of the bin tells you how much you’re entitled to take (for example, 2 lbs. of squash is typical, or it may specify 1 large or 2 small).  They have a scale there so you can weigh it yourself.  Strangely, they make sure to repeat what’s on the prominently displayed label in front of you, as if you might try to sneak an extra cuke or zuchinni past them.  Rounding the table, there are usually some herbs such as basil or dill.  Again, a piece of paper tells you how much you can take.  The last time I was there, a woman behind the table said that even though it said five stalks, most of them were pretty big and probably counted as two or three stalks each.  She said this as I was putting the first stalk of basil in my bag.  The eyes follow you as you round the corner and are allowed to pick from a selection of flowers (my CSA shares include eggs and flowers – not all do).  Each selection you make is carefully watched by the small crowd on the other side of the table.  They don’t talk.  They just watch.

Although it’s far from hostile, the whole experience is infused with a mildly unfriendly vibe that just isn’t what you expect of farmers and local eaters in general.  [Yes, I refuse to use the word “locavores.”  It makes me think of people eating their neighbors.  Not good eats.]  I think it’s a great alternative to the traditional grocery store, and I’m glad it’s there.  It’s closer than the nearest farmers markets, and so we’ve come to rely on it as a primary source of food this summer.  However, I have several gripes.  First, there seem to be way too many people than are needed to get the job done.  Second, they don’t have name tags and they don’t introduce themselves.  And, third, they are often unable to answer fairly basic questions about how the food was grown, and where it’s from (as mentioned above, this is with respect to the few foods that are not from the Garden of Eve and which appear to have been brought in when GoE’s supply is low or to add variety).  Every so often, there will be someone there who can help with a suggestion on how to cook the food, but they seem to have been instructed to keep the chit-chat to a minimum, and not to smile too much either, and definitely NOT to engage anyone else in conversation.  In truth, the people working the stand seem more like they’re doing community service in orange suits than helping people who paid good (yes, very good) money to get fresh fruits and vegetables that another person/s worked hard (yes, very hard) to grow.

The first couple visits I either didn’t notice the grumbly atmosphere or was too happy about getting a great variety of good, fresh food to pay it any mind.  This last time, however, I brought my partner and afterward was asked, sarcasm unbridled, “are they always that cheery?”  I finally had to admit that it was not just my imagination and that, at least when they’re standing there, these are not happy people, for whatever reason – time of day, punishing heat (granted, they all stand underneath a tent as we “shoppers” stand outside it in the sun to collect our goods), or some other unseen but definitely felt politics boiling beneath the surface.  It’s exhausting each time I go there to try to get a conversation going about gardening or food or any topic for that matter.  It’s a bit of a buzz kill on what should be a rather peppy experience.  I tend to get there early enough, usually within the first hour scheduled for pick up, so it shouldn’t be that they’ve been there too long.  Besides, this is all about gardening … from the food coming in from Garden of Eve to the pick up being hosted at the community gardens.  It’s about good food and perky plants, for pete’s sake.  Who brought in the dark cloud?

Bringing home my stash after visits like this (where my efforts to engage are met with little more than grunts and curious stares) reminds me of one of the better pieces of advice I gave my (now grown) daughter: don’t eat the food of a pissed-off cook.  People whose hands are on food should never transfer crappy energy.  The warning was solid advice, for more reasons than one.

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9 responses to “Grumpy Gardeners – CSA Pick Up #3

  1. Ralph ⋅

    In my experience, both in person and listening to podcasts, gardeners tend to like talking about gardening. People seem to like talking about their experiences and even failures in the garden. In a place that supplies fresh grown food as their only business it seems odd that you can’t strike up a conversation with someone. I have to admit that I don’t walk up to strangers and start talking about growing food, but if someone approached me on the subject the conversation would go on for a while (see old posts 🙂

    I wonder if the people milling around help unload the produce onto the stands before opening time. Maybe they’re overworked and under paid? Hard to say or guess without being there to ‘feel the vibes’. If you are interested in trying something, next time there ask one or two people about genetically modified food and pesticides. Ask if they use any in what they sell. I would expect a bit of a conversation as a response. Getting the silent treatment to either question would make me suspicious.

    I’ve noticed my garden seems to be growing better lately. It’s not where it should be for August, but things are progressing instead of being stalled. I’ve picked some string beans, swiss chard is big enough that it looks like a potential meal, and the bees are liking the sunflowers, borage flowers, and red clover flowers. Weeds aside, it won’t be a great year unless the fall garden does well. It does make you think about how hard it must be for farmers who make a living growing stuff.

    • Mine is perking up, too. At last! Surprisingly, this year my lettuce has done extremely well, and has become a staple on our table. I’m hoping you’ll have some swiss chard still later in August when I’m thinking about doing the revelbrunch. I am sold on doing red clover next year. What do you have planned for the fall garden?

  2. Ralph ⋅

    Is anyone out there using, or thinking of using some sort of automated irrigation? I’ve been thinking of trying something for my containers which seem most prone to drying out. I’ve heard there are battery operated timers that can control the water flow, and at least initially I would try a 5 gallon container as the water source. I would go with gravity feed for simplicity and to keep the cost down. Also, you can always count on gravity to work. Anyone out there with ideas or experience on this?

    • I’m not doing any automated watering system but I started thinking about it last week and, of course, it’s all I’m hearing about now. I have mixed feelings about watering … like weeding. It seems to me if you prepare the soil well enough and are growing plants that are likely to do well in your zone, you really shouldn’t have to do a lot of artificial watering. It may sound like an oddball idea but it feels weird when I look at my neighbor running his hose on his rosebush for umpteen minutes (or more) every day.

      I like to think of gardening as my little way of helping the earth (at least I try — I’m sure I’ve inadvertently punished it on occasion). To spray loads of water into the yard seems at cross purposes. It’s controversial for me to say this. I may get accused of being cruel to my plants. Don’t get me wrong – if the rain isn’t around, I water. But otherwise, I don’t water every day. Of course, I could change my mind about this entirely by next spring.

      I think if I were relying principally on my garden as my source of food, I’d feel okay about using up a lot of water for it. In the meantime, though, I don’t.

      I’d like to hear of cheap/homemade watering systems. Anyone?

  3. Ralph ⋅

    This morning I found another surprise in the yard. My bamboo is growing another shoot. This one is about 6 inches long and already has a larger diameter than all the others. In all fairness, all the other shoots are only about 1/8 inch or so in diameter and I was wondering if they would ever get bigger. I want to split the bamboo into other pots, but from what I read that shouldn’t be done the first year after a transplant. One more thing to look forward to next year!

  4. Ralph ⋅

    I usually leave the garden unwatered unless it starts getting too dry and things are showing signs of thirst. I used to water daily, but since hearing podcasts about watering have seen the error of my ways. Aside from conserving water, water taxes have jumped by leaps and bounds in the past couple years (thank you Mr. Mayor). I do water my outside containers almost daily. The need it, and one watering can is usually more than they need.

    You’re right about choosing the correct plants, and weeds. Leaving weeds around helps keep sun off the soil so it stays cooler and holds more water longer. Although I haven’t done it yet, I keep hearing about putting down a good layer of mulch to hold in the moisture and keep the weeds at bay. On yet another podcast that doesn’t talk about gardening too much there was an interesting idea of covering the soil with plastic and planting through holes in the plastic. If interested I can find the podcast & episode. I believe the host was actually testing this method out.

    Speaking of weeds, I just moved some ‘herbs in the wrong place’ and relocated them to my pile ‘o weeds. I would compost the pile but I know it’s chock full of weed seeds. I started it by cutting down weeds going to seed and just never threw them out. I need to get that stuff out of there.

    • Glad I’m not alone on the H2O front. Your approach is my approach (did get to thinking about an automated system after the dry heatwave we had wreaked havoc on my hostas and wiped out my carrots). For now, I’ll just take Margaret Roach’s approach and stick my fingers down into the ground/soil to check moisture levels.

      Sent from my iPhone

  5. Ralph ⋅

    I gave some thought to a watering system. I wouldn’t want any watering system running non-stop. After a bit of research I found there are battery operated timers to turn the water flow on and off, much as a light timer. Depending on how you go about getting your water there are 2 general types of timer, low and high pressure. Low pressure is for things like a rain barrel, high pressure is for connecting to the house water supply. I still haven’t figured out the whole thing, but there are water filters so things don’t get clogged, and pressure regulators. Check out http://www.dripworksusa.com/ for lots of info.

    My though for simplicity and low cost is a gravity feed system. Basically it’s a water barrel up on some blocks. I’ve been giving some thought on how to collect rain water to fill the barrel instead of using ‘city’ water. Maybe having the roof guy run a down spout near where I would put the barrel and use the water off the roof to fill it. Putting something under my deck in the yard and collecting the run off into the barrel is another thought. The deck setup would also keep things under the deck dry without the currently used tarp. I am thinking that no matter what, a timer would be needed. They seem to be around $40 on that website, I haven’t checked prices anywhere else, or done research anywhere else so this is just preliminary planning. They did have complete kits, one of potential interest is about $50. If I start off doing this only for my containers I could see doing this with a timer, water container, and a series of small tubes. Unless I am missing something a timer is a must unless you use a manual on/ off valve or just water non-stop. I have to listen to the watering/ irrigation podcasts again.

  6. Ralph ⋅

    For fall, I was thinking of using seeds I already have that are supposed to do well in the cold. ‘Green leafy stuff’ as I call them, broccoli, broccoli rabe, lettuce, swiss chard, string beans- that’s all I can think of now. I went a bit overboard with seeds. A fall garden may help with my growing more of less variety. Instead of cramming everything in at once, planting two different crops at different times should help. All in all, I think my containers did better than in the ground planting this year. My zucchini/ squash which looked like it was doing well died. A last attempt in containers next year will determine if I give up on them. My niece has them growing up into trees needing a ladder to get at them, I can’t get a 1 inch fruit. Some things aren’t meant to be.

    I have a section in the ground I am going to rake up for the fall stuff. There’s some basil there but now I have more than enough of it elsewhere- same for the weeds. I may rake up a new square of ground for more space. I was thinking of expanding my growing space for next year anyway. When it dries up some (it finally rained 🙂 and cools down I will start that.

    One project for between growing seasons will be to level the ground in my growing area. I noticed water pools up when I water it, and probably does the same with rain.

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