Like most urban moms, I often analyze the benefits and drawbacks of city life for my children. The benefits of being close to museums, festivals, and a variety of cultures comes with drawbacks like not knowing what it’s like to run through wide open fields or grow your own vegetables. Blame my small-town Texas roots, but the latter has really bothered me the last few years. Some of my fondest memories are working in my grandparent’s garden and reaping the tasty rewards, even if it came with an aching back and pricked fingers! For a while, I held onto dreams of starting my own urban/backyard garden. The first year we got so far as one potted cherry tomato plant. We grew. We harvested. Life got hectic. It died. Yet somehow I was convinced this would be the year I planted a full-blown urban garden. I was even gifted a beautiful wooden raised garden bed! At least, I assume it’s beautiful. It is still sitting, in the box, in a corner of my house.
While I would LOVE to pass on the skills of gardening to my children, if I can’t find the time to put together a garden bed, how I am going to find the time to cultivate a garden?
While I haven’t found the working solution for teaching my kids those gardening skills, I have found a way to teach them an appreciation for fresh vegetables and farm life. Inspired by a friend at work, I purchased a share in a CSA – Community Supported Agriculture. That means that for a prearranged monthly fee, I pick up a box of fresh vegetables for my family and I to share each week. CSAs have been a growing topic for a while, but while there is now a label and system, the idea of a community supporting farm life is not entirely new. Many farmers of old, and new, have earned their living by selling their bounty to neighbors and communities, whether by trucks and stands on the side of the road or at a Farmer’s Market. The only slight risk in this method is that if the farmer has a tight year with their crops, your box might be a little tight as well. But I know most farmers do their best to accommodate their boxes in other ways. It’s important to do your research and find a farmer you are comfortable with and can trust.
When I picked up our first CSA I couldn’t believe how much was in the box! It was literally filled to the brim of fresh, fragrant, beautiful veggies. I will admit that some of the vegetables I had never even seen before! I had to take pictures and text them to my agricultural family members to even figure out a name. Once I had the name I then headed straight to Pinterest to find out what on earth to do with them! Kohlrabi, for example. I never heard of this strange looking little veggie, or even laid eyes on it. I did find out we both have origins in Germany, so there was that, but otherwise we were strangers to each other. Turns out, it’s super healthy and versatile! I shredded it and put it in quiches, made coleslaw, and just sprinkled it on salads. The box also had some of my traditional garden favorites like the most beautiful heirloom tomatoes I have ever laid my eyes on. I mean, so beautiful I displayed them on my dining table prior to eating them! For our family of five the box had more than enough veggies to last a week. Sometimes I even had enough to share with neighbors and coworkers.
Speaking of enough to share…that is something important to keep in mind with the CSA. You will get an abundance of veggies during their harvest season. For a few weeks you might get a TON of the same vegetable in a row. That Kohlrabi I mentioned….after a while I was ready for him to take a hike. However, an abundance of veggies meant I started a new hobby of pickling, canning and preserving. I know it sounds crazy, but it was so much fun. I knew I was stocking away organic, fresh veggies for my family to have in the cooler months when fresh produce would be limited. Plus I preserved them in ways I knew I would use them. I shredded some carrots for muffins, cakes, and breads, but also chopped some for soups and stews. Same with zucchini, squash, and onions. Also, during a bumper crop of tomatoes, I canned my own marinara and spaghetti sauce! It was so much better than the store bought, and CHEAPER too! To do all the preserving each week took anywhere from 3-4 hours a week total. Just little chunks here and there, but I definitely saved the time back this winter with all my veggies being prepped!
A few things to keep in mind before signing up for your CSA: these are grown by a local farmer, so size, shape, and colors will vary from what you see in the store. The good news is the taste will too – it will be SO much better than what we can buy at the store. Also, consider which size box your family will need. Most farmers will offer at least two sizes: full share or half share. If you are unsure, try starting with a half share. Lastly, this is NOT like going to the store in that you can’t request more of what you like or less of what you don’t. I did come up with a barter system between some coworkers and neighbors for things my family and I did not enjoy. Beets. I keep thinking I want to like them, but my taste buds just don’t agree! I even tried to make beet brownies this year I was so desperate/dead set on using them! Beet. Brownies. Luckily a coworker who makes homemade challah bread loves them so we traded beets for bread! Much better than…gulp….beet brownies.
I just signed up for my next year for the CSA I like in my area, and I can’t wait! Even my kids have asked when the “veggie box” is coming again!