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The CSA Took My Grumpy Away

January 18, 2011

(Note: To play the accompanying audio track to this post, click here)

There’s something different about me. Besides the obvious. There is something different about me recently. I’ve changed. 

It’s been gradual to be sure. But this is one of the nice things about having a daily diary of my food thoughts. The FLB is an indelible record of my opinions and attitudes about food and eating. Perhaps you have noticed that a year and a half ago, when this thing started, I was a lot grumpier.

Lately these days, I’ve been feeling like a booster for the region. And now I have to ask myself, where did my grumpy go?

Without a doubt there is a lot that has changed since I moved here over three years ago. A reasonable argument could be made that it takes a few years to really discover what is special about a place. It even took a few years to warm up to my beloved Berkeley, California.  But I can easily pick out one thing above all the others that has lifted my spirits and given me more warm and glowing thoughts about living in the region.

Completing my first season with a local CSA.

You saw that one coming a mile away. But it’s true. And here’s a funny story. When I first moved to Albany, I met up with a bunch of Yelpers at Elda’s on Lark. It was wonderful to get to talk with other people who really cared about food. One fellow who had deep roots in the region, but who had also lived abroad and traveled extensively, clued me into what he thought was the best CSA in the area.

Roxbury Farm, he said.  And I took note.

However, by that point I had already missed the enrollment deadline for the upcoming season.  So I would have to wait a year.  The next year came, and on the day new members were supposed to sign up, there was some kind of message that the forms weren’t quite ready and to check back soon.

Unfortunately, by the time I checked back in all the local openings had filled up. I’m a stubborn and headstrong bastard. And sometimes if I can’t get exactly what I want, I’ll choose to take nothing at all. So it was with with the CSA, and I went without for another season.

Last year, I made sure I got my paperwork done and my check sent out on the first day possible.  And it was the best decision I ever made.

Week after week, I was reminded that tasty things can grow here, without the use of artificial pesticides or genetically modified crops. Seriously, eating food that came from this area felt like it rooted me to the place. It was an experience that I longed for, but could not get from most local restaurants.

Shell peas grow here—beautiful, sweet, green shell peas.
Peppers grow here—unique varieties ranging from sweet to dreadfully hot.
Greens grow here—from dark leafy kale to delicate lettuces, and everything in between.

The food was full of dirt. Sometimes there was an errant bug that was happily munching on a delicious leaf or a worm on an ear of corn. And even that made me feel good. Nature’s lower creatures seem to have a much better intuitive sense of what qualifies as food than the Homo sapiens of today. And there wasn’t anything on (or in) the vegetables that was toxic to living creatures.

Truth be told, being a member of a CSA is a lot of work.

At least it was in 2010 when the harvest was bountiful. The vegetables keep on coming. And when they come in on Tuesdays, you have to perform some triage. The corn isn’t going to get any sweeter. The salad greens will start to wilt. Beets need to be separated from their greens, and the greens are best sautéed as soon as possible. But the beets themselves can wait, and so can the heartier kale.

Next Tuesday you start the process afresh, and your fridge had better be empty to accommodate the new haul from the farm.

But I cannot tell you how rewarding the work actually is.  When you belong to a CSA it forces you to eat at the height of the season.  In theory that’s possible by shopping at one of the many wonderful local farmer’s markets.  But in practice I found it never happened.  I’d stick to my tried and true vegetables, and not take risks. I’d be constrained by prices on individual items that I might want but couldn’t justify the expense.

The membership I found to be surprisingly affordable.  It breaks down to just a bit over $21 per week.  And if you’ve shopped a farmer’s market you know how quickly you can drop a Jackson there. I was at a bagel shop in Long Island and noticed a completely unremarkable beefsteak tomato being sold for $3. That same week, I got six of them in my share in addition to pounds of other produce. Depending on where you shop, membership can be seen as an absolute steal.

Anyhow, I mention this purely as a public service. I’ve signed up for the Roxbury 2011 season. Soon, you can too. Registration is open for new members starting February 1. Learn from my mistakes and mark your calendars now.

Maybe if more people were eating this well, the Capital Region would be a happier place.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2011 12:21 pm

    But what about us single people? That amount of produce every week, I would imagine I’d end up throwing half of it away.

    • January 18, 2011 12:43 pm

      @StanfordSteph What about talking a friend into splitting a share? I’m currently splitting a bread share from All Good Bakers (too much bread for me to eat alone in one week) and I did that with my own CSA from a different farm–I was actually one of a couple splitting a share with another couple that time so it was very manageable, financially and in terms of volume.

  2. January 18, 2011 12:47 pm

    Great post. I’ve never done a CSA, but growing my own stuff every years puts such an appreciation into the food for me. I have yet to have the same appreciation for bugs though, but that’s usually because they’re eating my hard work.

    @Steph – Sometimes CSAs have half shares. Also, there’s nothing like learning how to can or dry or freeze to enjoy the bounty later on in the year!

  3. Ewan permalink
    January 18, 2011 2:21 pm

    I’ve gone the other way. We had a CSA membership for the past two years, but decided not to renew this year. Two main reasons: lack of flexibility in the veg received (and a mix that didn’t suit us – far too much mesclun and beets in particular) and the sense that I could get more for less $$ at the much more local Delmar Farmers’ Market – also avoiding issues about weeks when we’re away and so on. I’m interested to see how it goes.

    [We do have two CSB shares – bread and croissants – and hope that continues for a long time; they’re great and we’ll likely add a third next year.]

  4. Ellen Whitby permalink
    January 19, 2011 12:53 am

    I agree with Ewan. The vegetables you get (and the amount) isn’t negotiable. And though I am willing to try new things, there’s stuff that I wouldn’t eat (nor would my family) and it takes a lot of time and effort to make sure to use all the vegetables you get. It is less expensive than if you go to a farmer’s market to pick out your produce but you only buy what you want/like and you buy amounts that you will use. There’s a lot less potential waste.

    And like Chelle, I really prefer to grow my own. My garden this year was a lot bigger than it was in past years and I still have a small bowl of cherry tomatoes that I harvested before the first frost. I’m already planning next year’s garden, which will be even bigger because I’ll be having a “community garden” with a neighbor. With my sunlight and her shade, we’ll both have a huge variety of crops (that may or may not include beets.

  5. Diana permalink
    January 19, 2011 4:14 pm

    I’m a single gal who is lucky to be able to share a CSA with a pair of friends who are a married couple. I had no issue (well some) with my 1/2 CSA share plus the bounty from my community garden plot. In 2009 we were members with Jus-Lin Farms who offered 1/2 shares (which we started with, to test the CSA waters).

    In 2010 we were members with Red Oak Farm from Stuyvesant, NY . They were a perfect fit for us. They send out weekly emails with what is available and you are able to choose (within reason) what you’ll receive that week. With a bounty of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant from my own garden, we were able to pick something else to receive from our CSA.

    Love CSAs! Can’t wait for 2011.

  6. January 19, 2011 4:53 pm

    Agreed on all counts, especially it being a lot of (satisfying) work. I’ve been forced to plan ahead in so many ways, which is a skill I never really had before. Now I’m thinking about meals days, sometimes weeks in advance. Plus there’s the added psychological trickery of having to pay for the share in advance of actually receiving the veggies, which makes you feel like you’re getting it for free when it’s time to pick up.

    Steph, I can only speak to the way Roxbury operates, but they’re more than happy to match you up with someone to be your co-shareholder. It is definitely more produce than one person can handle. Last year, our share was split between four people in two households. This year, we’re splitting it between five people in three households.

    Looking forward to another year of yummy deliciousness! I vow to eat all the kale I let wilt this year. :)

  7. January 22, 2011 4:41 pm

    Awesome post. We’re headed into our 6th season with Roxbury and are equally devoted. I just blogged about it a few days ago, also with the idea of letting people know February 1 is coming up fast.

  8. March 17, 2011 10:54 am

    Would you consider doing a little seminar/info session on how to manage the stuff you get from a CSA? Or maybe there are some good references for newbies?

  9. April 12, 2011 9:38 pm

    Farmer Jon’s in Selkirk (organic practices) has a new kind of CSA, you buy in for $400 a year and receive 4 “Produce Club” punch cards worth $448 – you purchase as much or as little as you need each week from 3 local farmers markets (Delmar, Whitehall Rd. & Vorheesville). Check it out at http://www.farmerjonsny.blogspot.ny. He’s still signing people up! The cards make it easy to split the share among 2-4 people if you need to.

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