About a month ago, I was reading an article in Best Food Writing 2017 — a book series I highly recommend to foodies — by Paul Graham entitled Wheat Exile. In the second to last paragraph of the article, I came across a term I had never encountered before, “farm shares.” Curious, I googled the term and primarily found references to community supported agriculture, or CSAs. It turns out there is an entire world of locally produced food I knew nothing about.
Community Supported Agriculture?
CSAs are essentially smaller community farms that allow consumers to purchase a share of the harvested crops. Each week, or in some cases bi-weekly, share owners receive an equal portion of the current harvest. The produce is most often picked up directly from the farm or a drop-off location. Some CSAs with deliver directly to your home. You typically pay for the season in advance, but I encountered a couple operations that allow monthly payments throughout the year.
As share owners, we also bear the ups and downs of nature. If a crop fails, we will get less produce. Likewise, a bumper crop means extra goodies. Purchasing a farm share is much like entering into a partnership with your local farmer. You provide the investment and the farmer supplies the hard work and expertise to grow fresh food for you. CSA is very much a win-win scenario. As a farm share owner, you benefit from hyper-fresh peak of season produce and the farmer doesn’t have to sell the fruits of their labor at ridiculous markdowns to wholesalers or middlemen. Farmers get to do what they love, make a reasonable living, and you get to enjoy fruits and vegetables in quality far beyond that which you can obtain at the store.
After gorging myself on CSA articles, I found it impossible to resist signing up for one. After all, I am in a weekend culinary school program and this would be the perfect way to build a skillset around cooking fresh vegetables at the height of their season. Being part of a CSA would also force more vegetables into my diet, certainly a boon to my health. Embarking on a feverish multi-day search for the best CSA operation in my area, I landed upon Working Hands Farm.
I chose Working Hands Farm (WHF) because they have been consistently yielding quality shares since 2010. I researched online reviews, browsed through photos of previous weekly shares, and even drove by the farm to get a good look for myself. Everything looked impeccable. When choosing your CSA, my best advice is to look for something local — that is the point after all — that has a good track record of producing a quality product.
My First Share
- Romaine Lettuce – 1 head
- Panisse Lettuce 1 head
- Toscano Kale – 1 bunch
- Spinach – 1 bag
- Pac Choi – 1 head
- Bright Lights Chard – 1 bunch
- Scallions – 1 bunch
- Garlic Scapes – 5 scapes
- Hakurei Turnips – 1 bunch
- Mixed Storage Onions – 4 onions
- Overwintered Carrots – 1.5 lbs
- Sweet Potatoes / Potatoes – 2 lbs
- Winter squash – 1 squash
Let’s just say that I am stunned at the quality of the produce in my first share. At the grocery store, I’m often forced to sort through vegetables looking for quality representations that are pest free and moderately free of damage. Here, everything is pristine. I could pick my share blindfolded and end up with higher quality produce than anything I can find in the store.
The quantity of the produce included in this share is bountiful as well. After stuffing my bags with my allotted portion, it dawned on me that I’m carting home more fresh vegetables than I usually do in 2-3 weeks time. My vegetable eating game needs to level up if I’m going to tackle all these greens. Of course, that is exactly what I am after here. Eating more vegetables is the primary reason for signing up for the CSA in the first place. I’ll get healthier while at the same time eating the freshest, most delicious, food I can obtain.
Perhaps even more exciting, I get to work with produce I have never seen before. Garlic scapes?…completely foreign to me. Farmer Jess informed me the scapes are a flowering stem rising up from the underground garlic bulb. The farmers periodically cut off the stems to encourage bulb growth. The scapes taste much like garlic, but a little subtler, and can be used just about anywhere you’d normally use garlic in your cooking. The white Hakurei turnips are new as well. I’m told they are great thinly sliced into salads. The variety of produce I’ll need to learn to work with is just one more reason to be a part of this CSA.
Overall, I am impressed and eagerly looking forward to this CSA season. I’ll learn to be a better cook while supporting my local farmers at Working Hands Farm. Along the way, I’ll do my best to impart any wisdom I gain to the readers of my blog. I expect there to be challenges — storing all these vegetables in a tiny refrigerator for example — but I’m ready to enjoy the ride.