CSA Today

Fresh and friendly. No tables due to some fortunate snafu. Seems lack of structure loosened strictures. I saw them tell one woman to take another bit of green beans and let one shopper with baby switch up the apples and plums even though the sign said one or the other. We’re getting there my fellow revelers! Could be close to end of season also means light at end of tunnel, and all the “volunteers” are realizing it wasn’t so bad after all (now that it’s almost over).

The haul, while getting slimmer in September, nonetheless is comprised of pretty healthy looking produce. Making collard greens for dinner tonight, along with roasted beets. Happy farming and feeding, all!


As Promised – Guest Post re CSA

Reflections on My C.S.A. Involvement

Observations from a New C.S.A. Member

Guest Post by Matthew Donoher

I joined a CSA this spring.  This has been my first involvement with any group of this sort.  It was briefly stated at my introduction/recruitment that I would be charged a fee, based on a sliding scale in accord with my income.  This could be paid initially in full or by placing a down payment (which would be used to acquire the start up costs that a Farmer might use for seeds etc.).  I then could make weekly payments, at the time of pickup to pay off the balance.  Each week a distribution of locally grown, organic vegetables and fruits would be made at a designated time and place.  Fruit is available at an additional cost, as are cheese, eggs, meat and wine (at the particular CSA of my membership).  A condition of membership is involvement with the distribution for two periods of 2-1/2 hours.  The distribution time is a four-hour period and it takes approximately ½ hour to set up and then break down the site.

At the time the program got under way this spring I was unemployed and I would come to the distributions at about 4:15, just as the site coordinator would be starting setup, and I would volunteer my services in doing the same.  From this practice I became acquainted with how the organization worked out in the practical applications.

The farmer drops of the shipment in the early afternoon (an act which I never witnessed),  the contents of which may or may not be known to the powers that be.  At sometime after 4:00,  the site coordinator and volunteer staff (members fulfilling their obligatory service) would begin setup.  The site coordinator ultimately delegates individuals to tasks to which they are suited (lifting or nonlifting).

Setup involves pulling out tables from storage and bringing them to position in the yard, if it is clear and if not, under the porch roof.  Then the produce is hauled, bushel and box and sorted by its type, taken from the pallets the farmer left earlier.  All of the necessary scales to measure are dealt out, along with the chalkboards which are scribed to identify the produce.  Let us not forget about the eggs & cheese, and whatever additional items.

It is at this time it seems that all of the distribution is evaluated and the quantities for each share are calculated and determined by count and or weight, because the delivery content can vary from the expected lot.  All of this occurs in about a half-hour with a staff that probably is inexperienced to the task at hand (you might include indifference to the demeanor of the individual delegated to the role, although it is not the general attitude).

Breakdown is different from Setup; although I never participated actively, I was present for part of one and I can elaborate on the actions.  Now there is all that was brought out of storage which requires to be put away. Although there are no full containers of produce, there is the residual share and left-over produce which has to be sold, donated or put away.  Trash has to be removed and a general cleanup of the grounds is required.  All of this with a staff that is anxious to leave as soon as possible having fulfilled their obligation, and all of this occurs — get ready — in the DARK.  Would you want to be a site coordinator?  Positions are available.

I believe this is why there are two coordinators at a site, one for each detail, Setup & Breakdown, at least to my observation.

It has been an interesting involvement, being a member in this organization, which began this spring. The location is easy enough for me to get to, I usually ride my bike there, its located just off Church and Flatbush avenues. All in total I feel it has been worth the while. I like this group, I meet people of interest with every visit, and I have developed some new friendships, (always worthwhile) and this will continue until some time in the fall.(at least). The food is a subject for another writing, I can say in all honesty that my refrigerator is stuffed with all sorts of leafy vegetation. With consideration I just may do it again next year.

Alternasourcing and Getting Back to the Garden

Hello fellow revelers,

I’ve been taking my time getting back up to speed on things in my garden and life since a much needed hiatus that involved throwing myself in heart, mind and soul in a writers’ workshop in the wilds of Vermont, with one phenomenal group of compadres, led by the magnanimous Crescent Dragonwagon, cookbook author extraordinaire (as well as children’s book author, poet, instructor, all around phenom, and etc.).

A rapid fire survey of the grounds this morning reminded me that a garden needs tending well past the browning of the last cuke on the vine.  I’m not much of a fall gardener, but I still have the steadies going: my hot peppers upstairs, the various herbs, the last of my heirloom tomatoes, and that mysterious bush out back that I never did determine conclusively was dogwood or elderberry (the issue became less pressing when the local herbivores devoured the few fruit it produced this year).  The pumpkins that I got after a friend’s show at a restaurant in New Haven last year gave the scene bountiful color with its vibrant squash blossoms springing from every vine wound relentlessly up, down, over and under every spare inch in my yard.  Alas, I don’t think they’re going to give me a single jack-o-lantern by Halloween.  My neighbor from Bangladesh watched as I cut back the wild rose bush that likes to keep sticking its neck over into her territory where her kids like to play.  As we were talking, she saw me cut off one of the many pumpkin stems squirreling around the yard.  She asked me why I cut it, since it had a small blossom that looked ready to bloom.  I didn’t really know.  I guess it was because we were in conversation, and as I said before, I don’t really like to talk as I’m gardening.  It’s not the kind of multi-tasking that makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something.  If anything, when I’m persuaded to talk while I’m gardening it robs me of that little bit of time I get away from the rest of the world.  But this is a good neighbor, and I like her company, so I didn’t mind much this morning.  But the point is that the talk made me absent-minded, and I plucked a perfectly good vine I likely wouldn’t have otherwise.  She asked me for it, and said she’d like to cook it.  I thought she meant the squash blossoms but she was talking about the leaves.  I remembered a few years ago she gave me a plate of food she had made for Ramadan, and it had fish cooked with leaves from the squash she had growing out back.  It was tasty and I’d meant to ask for the recipe then, but never did.  This morning, after a few more minutes commiserating over a sad season for fruit trees (she has plum, peach, apple, and cherry in the back to my peach and cherry), she decided she wasn’t going to have time to cook today and handed me back my needlessly interrupted vine.  I tossed it in with the other clippings to be put to the compost out back.  We agreed that in the next couple weeks, we’ll make a day of picking and cooking the leaves that are now so overly abundant in the yard.

Something I heard several times last weekend at the workshop/retreat was one of Crescent’s sayings, inherited, I believe, from her father, Maurice Zolotow: “nothing is wasted on the writer.”  The same, it seems, is true of the gardener.

As I mentioned before, the extent of tending my front yard last year was to toss whatever seeds I had aging in my basement to see if any would take root.  As you likely know by now, my approach this year is slightly more steady, measured, and, hopefully, responsible, since that is a goal I’ve set for myself.  I am moving toward living a more responsible life overall, one where little to nothing is wasted.  Toward that end, I am supplanting my gardening with the exploration of additional paths to self-sufficiency since self-sufficiency is, in and of itself, responsible.  Of course we don’t all have the means to “Thoreau” it all away and Walden our days away.  For those of us who are revelers of the brick and mortar set (though not limited to this demographic), I am exploring, in various arenas, a practice I have coined “alternasourcing.”  As I use the term (and invite others to collude), alternasourcing is the obtaining of goods and services from non-traditional sources, which, in its optimal functioning, provide sometimes less expensive and frequently more environmentally and socially friendly products.  Alternasourcing is not just about where you get your goods.  It is also about the how you obtain the things you need to live (as well as the things you want, hopefully with an eye to questioning needs/wants in a new way).

Alternasourcing may include, for example, minimizing the groceries you buy from the corner megastore, and supplanting it with regular visits to your local farmers’ markets, using your own space for herbs or whatever you have space for, learning how to forage for naturally grown wild edibles, or getting a plot in a community garden.  (An aside: my uber-awesome neighbor/friend/co-gardener I mention frequently, and her partner, were on a three-year wait list in our not-super-hip ‘hood just to get a small triangular not-so-enviable plot in the local community garden.)   So, while you’re waiting in line for a patch of dirt down the street, consider new ways to tick those items off your grocery list.  It may include participation in a CSA, a venture I undertook this summer for the first time.  For those of you who have been following, the journey has had its ups and downs, but summer’s not over, nor are the remainder of my bi-weekly shares.  I’ve been chronicling it here, but thought it was time to bring in another voice (of reason, I believe) who has had a more hands-on CSA experience, and whose insight has helped answer nagging questions I’m left with after bagging up my produce (at that same community garden, btw).  Long after I’ve bagged up my goodies and have unloaded them on my table to shoot, the questions linger.  They usually concern the demeanor of the volunteers (disabusing me of the Pollyannaish notion that all gardeners are revelers).   For the answer to this, and an inside peek at what goes on behind the other side of the table….read on my friends in the next post, for a spiffy piece comped by our friend, former neighbor and fellow reveler, Matthew Donoher, who, btw, I ran into on Church Ave. right before Irene hit, as I was vying with the other stragglers to get the last of the should-have-had-a-long-time-ago items, such as flashlights and batteries and radios.  Matthew, to his credit, was cool as a cucumber, in search merely of a new baking sheet to try out an oatmeal cookie recipe.  I have been blessed in my life with good neighbors.

How about you?  What are ways that your life has changed in response to global climate changes, or economic turbulence, or just your own desire to live more efficiently/responsibly?

Go ahead… gimme the dirt!

Plants: Feline or Canine?

I just took a rare 20-30 minutes alone and sat on my upstairs terrace, sitting with nothing to eat or drink or read or write or distract me.  I just sat, breathing in the late summer night.  There used to be a big pine tree I loved that kept me hidden from view on the terrace.  I didn’t mind that my view was obstructed.  I usually went there looking for privacy, not to street or people watch.  Tonight the night hid me.  And I thought about plants.  Some of them I baby more than others.  The zinnias out front, the lettuce out back which has loved me back tenfold, and the tomatoes who have been showering me with their appreciation this past month.

And then there are the ones that just always seem to get pushed to the end of the list, which I often don’t reach.  I’m usually remembering these guys as I’m racing down the block to the F train, or after I’m snuggled in bed.  So tonight I spent a little time with them, observing but not really doing anything other than turning them around to give them a good sunward stretch.  Surprisingly, they all seem to be loving my neglect.  There’s a jalapeno plant in a large container that just gave me a couple bowlfuls of fruit.  There’s also a cayenne pepper plant that wintered inside and I set on the terrace just to give a final good-bye.  There’s a couple nice plump peppers waiting to be picked on the plant I formerly left for dead.  There’s also a habanero out there because I hadn’t yet decided where to reuse the soil.  It gave me a weird little – I’m guessing cross pollinated – bell/habanero-like thing earlier this summer.  I’m keeping it going just cuz it keeps me guessing .  Everyone out on the terrace is having a grand old time, whether I’m paying attention or not.  They’re felines.

My front yard, however, is full of canines.  At least that’s the way they’re behaving this year.  All they want is all of my attention all the time.  The hostas, who usually can withstand any near death experience or slow torture, spent half the summer telling me they couldn’t take the heat.  Their leaves went into shock (and back again eventually).  They’re sturdy, and they seemed to have weathered it okay in the end.  I did spend several weeks this summer in a spin of shame.  I mean, it’s bad when you can’t get a hosta to look good.  It was painful.  The roses, I am finding out, are definitely dogs.  It was a drama queen for the last few weeks, looking at me accusingly whenever the zinnias got a little extra attention.  So it got a nice long bath, replete with vegetable/flower spikes, some sweet nothings whispered to its stems, its leaves lovingly caressed till I must have got too intimate and it halted me with a thorn.  But lo and behold, whenever it gets this one on one time, as if out of nowhere the most beautiful sweetly scented buds appear.  Ah, she’s a revel gardener’s best friend (hope my dog isn’t reading this .. she’ll be pissed!).

As I feel autumn inch its way into the evening air, I know very soon I’m going to be missing my leafy friends.  Each one, of the feline or canine persuasion, has given back more than I dreamed in life lessons and, in many instances, literal sustenance this summer.  I can only hope I honor them sufficiently by taking their lessons to friends and progeny in the seasons ahead.


almost forgot my point about the tomatoes.  They’re no shrinking violets either.  So I didn’t stir them.  So?  They didn’t care.  Sometimes I think people put steps in directions just to make it seem more involved than it actually is.  All we’re really doing with growing the mold is mimicking what happens when a tomato drops from the vine, rots on the ground and spills out her juice and seeds, except we have the extra step of planting in the spring.  Until then, put on your big kid apron on (or don’t), go get those seeds, plug your nose, and get crackalackin!

I Have to Admit

Several sources suggest lifting the lid (whatever it may be — some sources say to put plastic poked with holes, others are silent – I put paper towel over the jars) to stir the mixture once a day and let it sit for several days to a week.  I did not stir mine but, rather, let it sit for longer than a week.  I am pretty happy with how they turned out, especially the Oregon Springs, which all had plenty of water and not too much pulp/flesh.  They separated very easily from the rest of the goo, which washed right off.  Even though I’m having fun, it really is not the most pleasant experience.  You have to not mind the smell of mold, and the sight of it.  I’d like to feign the sensibilities of a more delicate being but, truth is, I’m just not.  There’s almost something satisfying about the putrid pungence of the murky mixture that’s been lurking beneath the paper towel for weeks.  I did stash them in the basement sink so as not to offend other members of the household.  I may be masochistic but I’m far from sadistic.  Anyway, thanks for joining this journey with me.  It was my first time saving heirloom tomato seeds.  If you want some, check out the info above on how to sign up for the Big BK Seed Etc. Exchange to take place Saturday, Sept. 17 I think … check above.  I have some stinky tomato gunk I have to tend to…