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.