Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My CSA Experience 2013 - A Year in Review

Regular readers will know that I have been a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) half-shareholder with Roots and Shoots Farm since they began their operation in the summer of 2010.  Much has changed over the past 4 years.  For them and for me.

They began with an acre of land and 60 CSA shareholders.  When I talked to Jesse Weatherhead at the Ottawa Farmers' Market this past Sunday, she said they are now using 10 acres and have 250 CSA shares representing approximately 280 families.

At the end of year two they acquired greenhouses.

They also put in an irrigation system - a saviour during the drought of 2012.

Robin and Jesse bought a house near by. No more trailer living for them.

They have a refrigerated truck and better storage for keeping the produce after harvest, both short term and longer term.  The produce coming to us is more consistently high quality and also well cleaned.

They implemented a swap box system a few years back to allow for trades.  Sometimes you just don't want another two quarts of zucchini. I used it once when it was first implemented when I was tempted by a beautiful red cabbage.  I take my basket 'as is' as a show of support for learning to use what the harvest provides.

This past season they introduced a vacation policy.  If you gave appropriate notice, you were allowed to forgo as many as three baskets without losing out.  The credit goes towards next years share.  In the past, if we were away we arranged for a friend to pick up the basket and enjoy it on our behalf.  We used the vacation feature for one of our weeks this summer. This was nothing short of a miracle with how our summer plans unfolded.  Getting to the CSA pickup location on our day is a constant challenge because of that active schedule.

There is now an online farm store for their shareholders.  This allows us access to other products all year round.  I have used it to buy extra garlic and to also purchase meat.  Roots and Shoots Farm raised chickens this year and they also have an arrangement with another farm for organic beef.  This feature is very handy when I am not able to meet up with them at the local farmers' market to augment my basket.  I like that I can still get staples like onions, potatoes, carrots, beets and squash even though the CSA shares have ended for the summer.

In year 4, Roots and Shoots Farm extended the season from 16 weeks to 18 weeks.

The farm has established a Fall share program.  We did not use it last year or this year.  Although we were very much interested, we wanted a break from 'pickup deadline' since we have another crazy fall schedule. Their fall share program runs for 8 weeks from the end of October to mid-December and means pickups every other week.

Robin and Jesse extended their growing season into the winter in their third year.  In fact they were recently recognized by the provincial government with the Premier's Award For Agri-Food Innovation Excellence for their innovative winter greens program.

Roots and Shoots Farm is now certified organic, a status not so common in the Ottawa area. Many say they use 'organic practices' in their farming.  It is not the same.  Roots and Shoots prices in the marketplace are also on par with their local non-certified organic competitors.  It is a premium to me to have certified organic produce.

Roots and Shoots Farm have set land aside since year one to grow food for the food bank.

Communication has improved year after year.  In year one, I knew what would be in my basket when I lifted the bin lids at my pickup location.  Now they send us a weekly newsletter a day or two ahead of my pickup where they list the upcoming share content, suggested recipes and the latest farm news.

This is the kind of farm we have hitched our wagon to and we feel so fortunate. As a CSA shareholder, how could I not be happier?  As a seasoned shareholder, I am definitely a lot more comfortable with the concept than when I first started.  But I still have woes.

When I sign up for my share in the winter, I have no idea what my summer plans might hold.  Who will be living here? How much will we be traveling? Can we expect a slew of visiting house guests?

Having a CSA basket coming in the house every other week needs people to eat it.  This continues to be a roller-coaster ride for us.  With the darling son away at university for the summer and the mister traveling constantly with work, there were many days when I was the only person at the dinner table.  I am not a 'tea and toast' eater when I am going solo but I don't always crave a full on, pull out the stops meal.  Many invitations out to with others for dinner meant that sometimes the count went from one to none! Often the volume was overwhelming and I was looking for ways to preserve what I had received or trying to create dishes that could be stored for later. For someone who likes to live in the moment, that created pressure to be organized.

If we were traveling for the weekend, getting the basket on Thursday evening had its challenges.  There was limited time to do anything with it before we headed out.  When visiting family or friends I brought my food with me and thankfully it was well received. This wasn't an option when we were hoteling.  Gah! The pressure.

The first baskets of the season contain the most tender of greens.  Ideally you want to eat them right away. At least in the first day or two.  That gets tricky if we were away or there was just me here.  Tender greens aren't the easiest thing to 'preserve'.

The food in the basket is preset.  If I had plans to make a dish that week that did not include anything provided in the basket, it likely wasn't going to happen.  Focus was always on how to use up the CSA share in a timely way.

Being a CSA shareholder is hard work to use it with care and try not to let any of it go to waste.  Sometimes it means I am cooking whether I want to or not.  I often felt 'behind' and that meant less exploring with new recipes than I would like and more reliance on the tried and true, just to 'get er done'. Recipes I knew that were already crowd pleasers. Despite that, there has been a lot of playing.

Over the 4 years I have become more relaxed with it all.  I do have a larger repertoire of recipes for using my veggies. Some borrowed. Some created. I have been more successful with my food storage to maximize how long my produce will last.  I have become better at preserving my extra food if I can't use it all in time.  And I have hosted more dinner guests (friends and neighbours) to help eat up the bounty.  I definitely know my neighbours better. Good food unites!

Some food highlights for me:

I loved how often we received herbs in our early baskets.  If I had a chance, I picked basil each and every time.  And I turned it into basil pesto just about each and every time.  Some might have considered the bunch too small to bother but pesto is easy to make and also easy to freeze.

I received some gorgeous eggplants.  I don't recall getting eggplants before. Wonderful for curries and also baba ghanoush.

I loved how often we received beets.  I can't get enough of roasted beets and enjoyed them constantly in salads, usually serving them up at dinner parties. In fact, I loved roasting them so much I didn't do any pickling this year. Yet.

I loved  how often we received cucumbers.  This was the summer of tzatziki for us.  We also had Danish cucumber salad often too.

Have I mentioned the garlic?  I received 8 heads of garlic.  They were all beautiful, big and perfect.  They are all gone. I still have 50 heads of garlic from other farmers stored away in my cool, dry basement to get me through the winter.

I don't mind radishes but I was fine that I only received them once.  They are not my favourite to eat in volume.

No cabbage.  The farm had a problem with their field of cabbage.  No napa. No green.  No red.  I missed not having cabbage.  But I get that being a shareholder means sharing in the risk as well as the glory.  I did buy red cabbage from them at the most recent Ottawa Farmers' Market at Brewer Park.  They just didn't have enough to give out in their shares.

The carrots were awesome! So were all the onions and potatoes.  I love getting plenty of the basics.

I received many tomatoes. Give me more tomatoes and I would be over the moon!

In closing, you might be wondering after all my angst, will I sign up for year 5.  Yes. Yes, I will. Take another look at my 8 CSA baskets and you will see why I find that such an easy decision.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

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