CSA Box #1

My central intention in the Eat Local Challenge, given that I have for years been trying to eat seasonally and limit food miles, was to put my support more directly to the grower by using the farmers’ market and a CSA subscription with T&D Willey Farms.

I’ve known about CSAs for a long time – I heard about them all the way back into my time working at Fresh Fields/Whole Foods in Virginia. Bear Foot Farms, from whom we bought organic vegetables at the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market, had a loosely-arranged one.

When we moved from Kalamazoo to Fresno in 2003, we very sadly said goodbye to the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market, and Bear Foot Farms especially. After arriving in California, we fell away from going to the market every Saturday, as we had in Michigan.

Part of that was that I had Whole Foods available to me again after three years without, and I could go buy quite good vegetables whenever I wanted. Part of it was that I went to the farmers’ market not long after we arrived, at the height of summer, and found it much smaller and less varied (incredibly) than the Kalamazoo market had been. That wasn’t what I was expecting in moving to California, and Fresno especially, given that so much of the nation’s produce is grown near here. I was disappointed.

But I figured out that the local focus on agriculture is generally on a larger scale. There are those farmers producing for the market, but there are many, many more producing stone fruit or citrus on a world-feeding level. We pretty much have the nectarine market cornered here in the San Joaquin Valley.

So I didn’t get into the farmers’ market habit. Then, about eight months after we moved here, I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and that was the end of it as a possibility. I literally could not get out of bed most Saturday mornings – often there is no negotiation with CFS – as I was suffering the toll the workweek had taken on me. I knew about T&D Willey’s CSA as well – I think I heard about it sometime in 2004 – but at that point I was already very, very ill, and I didn’t have the energy to drive somewhere I didn’t absolutely have to go to pick up a box of vegetables, let alone carry it to my car. I couldn’t stand up long enough to chop an onion, and grating a carrot was absolutely impossible. Chimp was entirely responsible for keeping me fed.

I am in a slightly better place now, though I’m still significantly weakened, and I’ve been able to get to the market for the last two weeks since I started the Eat Local Challenge. But I had also signed up for that CSA box, having been moved to action by seeing denesse Willey at the Fresno Filmworks screening of The Real Dirt on Farmer John earlier this month.

The first day of my subscription was last night. Work was crazy – at 5:52, in the middle of a conference call after a long meeting, I suddenly remembered I had until 6 to pick up my box. I thought for a minute “Do I stay here on this call or go get it?” and justified to myself that I hadn’t had a moment since 3:30 (the start time for pick-up) when I would have been able to get away. I bolted, grabbed the box, the pick-up point for which is about a half-mile from my office, and the brief call was still going on when I got back.

“How do the vegetables look?” a curious co-worker asked as we were finally leaving around 6:30.

“I don’t know – I just threw them in the car. I haven’t looked yet.”

And I didn’t get the chance to for several more hours. After dinner with a colleague visiting from out-of-town, I headed home and dragged the box out of the car and into the kitchen about 9 p.m. I opened it, folded back the paper, and this was what I found: (Apologies for the flash photograph, it was late and I was exhausted.)

Standing alone in my kitchen, I yelled “Escarole! Hooray!”

I love escarole.

So we have:

Nantes Carrots
Red Leaf Lettuce
Red Spring Onions
Camarosa Strawberries
English Peas
Yellow Crookneck Squash
The Aforementioned Escarole
Mediterranean Cucumbers
Beets
Pink Lady Apples

Everything looks amazing, and the level of freshness is insane – the lettuce has a really strong lettuce smell, and I never thought of lettuce having a strong smell. I can’t wait to tear into it. When I ripped the tops off the carrots, the smell from them was much stronger than I’ve ever experienced doing that.

I need to shell the peas, too, and I can’t wait to dig in to the strawberries – if they’re really good, I might order extra for next week.

I can’t wait to use this stuff – and I promise to show where a good deal of it ends up.

If you’d like to read more – direct from the farm – about what I found in my box, check out the What’s Growin’ On archives for May 16, 17, 18 2006.

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