It Just Doesn’t Get Any Easier

Than this… Honey dappled applesauce using what is likely the last of the CSA apples (one more pick up of shares next week before the big turkey day). I do not understand, any longer, the concept of buying applesauce. This batch didn’t even go through the food processor – just slow cooked on the stove with a dash of freshly ground nutmeg and generous sprinklings of cinnamon. Normally I’d have cinnamon sticks on hand but they have been ghastly expensive when I’ve seen them in the store lately (at Foodtown anyway). Anyone else noticing this? I’m wondering if anyone in the grocery industry can tell us if certain foodstuffs increase just in time for Thanksgiving.

QUESTION: Do grocery stores raise the price of cinnamon sticks and other holiday specific items this time of year? Are there any rules against it (like treating it as a form of price gouging)? Go ahead, gimme the dirt!

Btw, just looked online and Foodtown is listing a .75 oz. container of cinnamon sticks at $6.99 (that’s two lattes!!!!). Spice Supreme comes in significantly less at $1.19 for a 1.5 oz. package, as does Badia with their price point at $1.99 for a 1.25 oz. container. Assuming someone’s at fault, maybe it’s not the grocery stores but the companies themselves involved in taking advantage of the holiday cheer?

20111114-113414.jpg

Hey. Hey. What’s up with the CSA?

Okay, I know. We got the memo. Still, it seemed mighty measly this week. As I mentioned, our farmers were good enough to give an update and let us know they were not unscathed by the climate changing related events this summer. Nor, as I’ve heard, was anyone else left untouched. The most popular topic of home growers I know is the rotten tomato season we’ve had. But, still, I never did hear, specifically, in the email from my CSA farmers that the inclement growing season/global warming would result in a smaller selection or fewer of each item or lower quality than normal. Maybe I do expect too much. I’d just like to know, since this is my first experience with a CSA, whether the significantly smaller quantity of goods is typical, whether the quality of that quantity of goods is typical, and what we might be expecting for the rest of the growing season. And , if all of that remains unknown, whether there is any acknowledgement at all that the CSA buy-in was not cheap but it was a leap of faith, and these are the lumps we take in exchange for knowing that no the produce was grown without the use of herbicides/pesticides, and that maybe the farmers would be there to answer questions, and that it’s only because people buy in to the CSA that small growers are able to provide the quantity and quality that they do, etc. In other words, sell me on this a little because right now there is no way for me to know whether next year I might expect to continue to pay what amounts to around $50.00 for the following (a break down of what I got today):

8 collard greens (my good partner, who went in my stead, came home magically and mysteriously with nine);
1 very small head of good-looking red leaf lettuce;
A slender but healthy-looking bok choy;
A small but pretty head of broccoli;
3 lbs. of pretty sorry looking sweet potatoes;
1 red onion (yes, one);
4 bruised apples;
3 pears (looking like they meant to look young);
1 pretty decent (by recent comparison) bouquet of flowers;
A half-dozen eggs (which, if consistent with prior, is worth its weight in yolk).

My partner was lovely to go get the goodies this week, interrupting dinner preparations (a very delicious lasagna that incorporated the very last of the last CSA, a lonely and odd eggplant in the back of the crisper that thought we’d never get there). My partner dutifully reported back to me on the friendliness factor, noting they were in their usual exclusionary mode.

I don’t mean to bite the hand that feeds me, here, in reporting my overall impressions of the produce and the people. I still am glad I’m doing it. But I’m also not so impressed with myself for being a member of a CSA that I’m unwilling to question when things (either product or delivery) doesn’t live up to some basic standards.

In the past, I have asked for feedback from others on their experiences with a CSA. I’ve gotten good feedback (thank you, fellow revelers). I’d like to hear more from others in a CSA now as we wind down the season, and particularly in light of the bad weather season we’ve had. Is it standard practice for farmers to send out an email toward the end of the season? Have you gotten any? How’s your season been, now that it’s almost over? Is it over?

Go ahead … Gimme the dirt!

20111012-105014.jpg

Keeping It Green

Maybe I was a little harsh.  My last report on my bi-weekly CSA pick up pointed out the meagerness of some of the offerings.  I’ve been noting all summer the harsh effects of climate change (f/k/a global warming) on home gardeners across the country.  According to an email that I received this week, re-posted below, we are not alone.  Larger local growers, as well, have felt the impact of unpredictable weather this season, which has run the gamut from drought to flooding, and has resulted in various pests brought in on the winds of Irene, blight, rot, increased sick days and low worker morale.  I just wanted to take a minute to say that I do try to give a fair and accurate picture of this – my first – CSA experience, but it doesn’t always capture the whole picture.  This is why I have invited others to tell me their stories, share their experiences, suggest additional alternasources, and, now, why I am forwarding the (very thoughtful) message I received a couple days ago from the organizers of my CSA and the farmers who grow some of the pretty awesome food I’ve been eating this summer.

Recently at a farmers market in Fort Greene, I saw signs from GrowNYC calling for donations to help organic/local farmers whose crops were damaged or wiped out by Hurricane Irene.  Their efforts are still underway.  One of their suggestions for how to help, in addition to direct donations, is to commit to eat locally as much as possible in September (the “locavore challenge”).  I’m encouraging all of you/us to continue this commitment through the end of the year, since it will take more than a month’s effort to help the farmers recover losses from a season screwed up by the environmental mess that we’re in.  Please share your stories here and beyond about what you are doing to participate in an extended locavore challenge (if the Occupy Wall Street protesters aim to make it through the winter, so can we).  Updates ahead on ways I’ve been putting my CSA treats to work.  Please pass along your recipes, suggestions, etc., on where/what/how to advance the local-eating agenda.

Here’s the email….

Chris and Eve have sent an update about the difficulties they’ve experienced this growing season, which I’ve shared below. We’ll be sending everyone an end-of-season survey later on, but if you have any feedback to pass on to the farmer before then, feel free to email the core group at kwtcsa@gmail.com.

Stacy,

On behalf of the KWT CSA core group

From the farmers:


This has been a challenging last couple of months and although we were not wiped out by the hurricane the amount of rain has been a huge issue affecting the quality of many crops.  Not just with organic growers, as conventional farmers in the northeast are experiencing similar challenges and losses.

Under the circumstance we try to stay optimistic about the situation. All seasons are different and rarely are they void of conditions at some time that will have an impact on quality, quantity or diversity.    Farms in the northeast can be impacted by one or more problems like pests, drought, disease, flooding or other issues  outside of the farmers control.   Other farms even 100 miles away may have a totally different growing experience in a season.

I met with Cornell cooperative extension today to seek professional help (as I do throughout the season) regarding three different crop disease issues  and one pest issue tied directly to the wet weather.  They believed the steps that we had taken were sound and accurate given the tools we have under the national organic standards.  I also learned about the vast damage and loss of  crops in our region to conventional farmers who can use chemicals as a tool.  That didn’t make me feel better; I just wished conditions were better.

In conclusion, we are disappointed that we were struck with tomato blight this year,  that we have received almost double our annual rainfall total (most of which in the last month and a half),  that we were hit with damaging hurricane winds and pests and insects that were transported with winds.  What does this mean for crops:

Cracking and rotting of root crops like sweet potatoes, carrots, potatoes and carrots.  Tomato quality and loss due to blight which kills the plant and cracking and rotting due to excessive rain.  This means we have to throw out a lot of produce.  Heavy rain and pooling of water leads to leaf disease on all kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, head lettuce, beans beets and many more.  In extreme cases plant roots can suffocate leading to the plant wilting to the ground.  That has happened to broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts.  Seedlings that wilt off or get damaged by heavy winds and pounding rains.  Seeding schedules get thrown off because the ground is too wet to work.  Cultivation and weeding schedules are difficult to maintain.  Farm help doesn’t want to work and morale is affected and sick days increase.

These are some of the issues that are a result of the extreme weather we are experiencing.  We don’t like some of the challenges it has created and we feel grateful that it wasn’t worse for us and our csa members.

Thanks,

chris
QUESTION: And you?  What will you do to keep it green?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

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!

20110914-061006.jpg

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.

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.

Popcorn

Remember how good movie theater popcorn used to be? Is it as nasty as it is now because I’m older and have lost my taste for it, because of the offensive faux butter they slather on it, or because of genetically modified corn? I got a few ears of corn in my CSA pick up on Wednesday, and grilled it last night. It was delicious but the kernels were tiny. I felt like I was eating someone’s baby.

QUESTION: Can they genetically modify corn to make it like it used to be?

This Week My Honey”s Lavender

Ah, New York, my sweet.  What’s not to love?

My partner started making ice cream this summer (poor me, right?).  The first stash from the CSA had some lovely lavender that constituted the flowers portion of our pick up.  All I had to do was stick it in the fridge instead of a vase, and the next thing I knew, voila, dessert!  This last visit to the CSA landed me some gorgeous deep purple blueberries now in the icebox waiting for the fairy dairymother to whisk them away.  So many reason to love New York this week.

But with some good news comes some bad.  Heard in the media-stream this week is that grocery stores are pushing back on consumers’ increased use of coupons with greater restrictions on coupon use.  The whole CSA experience, while a wonderful experience, may still not be the best value for folks looking to disrupt their regular food sourcing.  I’m still wanting to do a comparison of the options, from the traditional grocery store to home gardens to farmers markets and foraging.  While I can understand a company’s need to plug the bucket, so to speak, now might not be the best time to kick the consumer where it counts, considering that our flirtation with alternasourcing seems to be deepening into a more serious relationship.  Grocery stores may have even more competition ahead from innovations to their traditional model by store owners starting to think outside the box (Austin is expected to have the first packaging-free grocery store in the near future).

As for me, I will continue to report on my CSA experience, and hope that someone takes me up on my invitation to compare theirs (looking for someone signed up in the City with a different CSA, and someone from outside NY – maybe one of my Madison friends?).  (I am doing the full half-share, which means I pick up a full share – vegetables, fruit, eggs, flowers – every other week @ $550 for 24 weeks, which works out to be about $45.00 every pick-up, but would like to do a comparison with anyone doing a CSA this summer, regardless of what you’re signed up for).  I’m also looking to hear more on another …

QUESTION: how have your food collection and sourcing habits changed?  What percentage of your meals comes from sources other than the traditional grocery store?  Are you getting any staples from your garden?  Of the home gardeners, do many of you can to make your stash last after the season’s over?  How many of you are keeping the garden going indoors over the winter?  What have you got growing indoors after season?  Anyone else out there who’s getting their groceries outside the box?  Of those who forage, would you say that you’ve incorporated the wild edibles onto your every day plate?   With apologies to any skin-thinned freegans, have we got any garbage eaters out there?  Any other urban foraging?  Anything I’m leaving out?   Go ahead …  gimme the dirt!

CSA Update and Request for Proposals

Twas yummy.  I put the CSA goods to work tonight.  Flatbush Co-op provided the chicken (farm-raised, and all the other good stuff) and lemon but the other part of that dish, the rosemary came just a couple steps from my door, and my favorite farmers from Garden of Eve in Riverhead, NY, grew the zuchini, yellow squash, bok choy and sugar snap peas that created the side accompaniment.  They also harvested half the red leaf lettuce for the salad (the rest came from apple boxes in the backyard), as well as the radishes I sliced for the side.  And the thyme that peppered the honey mustard vinaigrette was plucked from a container out front.   My mom is visiting from Wisconsin.  She’s been coming to visit on and off for the twelve years I’ve been living here and now that I’m older, we tend to spend more time catching up here in my cozy corner of Brooklyn rather than running the city streets and getting ourselves kicked out of bars (yes, that really happened).  So tonight we opted for a late dinner topped off with a bottle of Gruner Veltliner from this strange little wine store I passed after leaving the co-op.

My mom has lupus, and I try to be especially mindful of what we’re eating when she’s here.  There’s a lupus diet I’m loosely familiar with, one that I think would boost the health of probably anyone, whether or not they suffer from a disease.  It recommends cutting out the whites: flour, sugar, wheat, rice.  So tonight we opted for brown rice (which is my usual fare anyway).  And when she asked me to pick up a loaf of bread, I chose spelt.  (I still haven’t pointed this out to her and, since I’ve not yet heard any complaint, I’m assuming the switch has gone unnoticed).  But back to gardening…

I’m not planning on introducing much new to my garden.  At the beginning of the season, my front yard was nearly unadorned, with just a few mature hostas forming a border to the side of the front yard.  It now boasts those same hostas, spread out so that the border outlines the front of the yard where it’s interspersed with day lilies from Wisconsin.  Just beyond that is my native plant garden (the black-eyed susan bloomed!!!), along with some pumpkins and wild ginger that are really beginning to feel at home.  I also have a couple container plants going – my own cucumbers in a homemade self-watering container are ecstatic – just had to build a trellis for them to scale, and a new hosta that was a birthday present from a dear friend is starting to settle in, and has her own perfect little spot in the partial sun.  And on and on.  All that said, I still have a little room and a teensy bit of energy left for maybe one more newbie.  I’m definitely more inclined at this point to add something that can join a party in my tummy later, and if it’s native and can keep working through the winter, all the better.  As for container or ground, I could do either but would probably lean more toward container.  There’s plenty of sun-estate left, so that’s not an issue.  Bet you can guess my

QUESTION: what should be the final addition to my garden this summer?  What are you growing right now that has made you the most happy?  The most full?  What have you got going that you might not grow again?  Who’s your superstar and who will be chopped?  It’s okay.  Not every plant is for every person , and I’m sure they know that or they wouldn’t ever wilt on us.  You won’t hurt their feelings.  You can tell me.  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!