Thursday, June 28, 2007

Salad days: CSA weeks 3 and 4

Summer is here.

I just pulled some pie dough that I mixed up yesterday from the fridge, and am getting this post started in the time it takes to soften enough to roll into the crusts for a couple of cherry pies. I did my annual shift on Tuesday at our CSA pickup site and came home with 2 quarts of cherries, about 10 lbs. of apples, and two bunches of flowers

(one of which I gave to a complete stranger on the train on the way home, an act that while not quite as selfless as it may seem--I did deliberately sign up for the final shift of the evening, after all, knowing that in doing so I'd boost my take--was really fun. God bless you too, honey. And while I'm confessing, I ought to mention that th'usband pitted all the cherries for me, and in return I'm heating up the house on him)

over and above our weekly share.

A few days before that, on Saturday, th'usband and I drove out to Water Mill at the very tip of Long Island (just barely in our 100 mile foodshed radius if you want to know the truth) to take advantage of the annual invitation to pick strawberries and visit the farm that supplies our CSA.

Now there's a happy story. Green Thumb farm has been in the Halsey family for over 300 years. The last of its 95 acres was certified organic about 20 years ago, though as Bill Halsey pointed out, all his generation did was to convert the farm back to the kinds of practices that had been used through the middle of the 20th century.

(For a great story connecting the dots between modern agricultural production, World War II, and Muscle Shoals, read this article by Michael Pollan, originally published in Smithsonian Magazine. When you feel sufficiently disgusted, click here to sign a petition to request that Farm Bill subsidies be extended to organic farmers. The goal is 30,000 signatures by July 15th, and as of this writing, they're about halfway there.)

In the mid-70s, around the time that Bill, his two sisters and one brother were in college and trying to figure out if they wanted to spend another generation on the farm, their father had an accident involving pesticides. He wound up in the hospital, and though he almost died then, thirty years later, he's still working the farm with his kids, and lately, his grandkids. In addition to a farm stand adjacent to their land, a favorite with personal chefs for the Hamptons crowd, the Halseys produce enough organic fruits and vegetables to feed 450 families participating in 7 CSAs.

Importantly, they also sustain themselves. In the 60s, like all of their farming neighbors, the Halseys grew nothing but potatoes, and were finding it harder and harder to get by. Before the organic conversion even began, they found that they could increase their revenues by planting tomatoes, corn, peppers, and eggplants to sell at the farm stand. Today there are about 400 different varieties of maybe 150 different types of crops. (We walked through just one patch of lettuce with Bill Halsey, who encouraged us to pick whatever looked tasty--and by the time we stopped with heads of iceberg, romaine, salad bowl, and a red-leafed something, it was only because we knew that there are physical limits to how much salad a person can eat.)

With limited yields, prices stay higher and the family is protected from catastrophic crop failure; though this wasn't the best year for strawberries, there's always the

bagesummersquashbasilpumpkinsbeetscollardgreensrosemary (etc)

to look forward to. It's a far cry and a far better life from that of farmers stuck growing nothing but corn and soybeans for the subsidy payments while moonlighting as truckers or what have you to get by. And it's just one more reason that we're enjoying what's on our plates this summer.

Caesar dressing
I keep meaning to pick up a tin of anchovies, but even without them, there's nothing like the rich, lemony decadence of homemade caesar. Per person, in a large bowl you'll later use to toss the lettuce, whisk together:
  • 1 egg yolk
  • a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • an equal amount of cider vinegar (balsamic is just fine too)
  • a dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • a pinch of salt (probably not necessary if you've got the anchovies)
  • minced garlic if you want it, or mix some with olive oil, coat cubes of stale bread, and bake them to make croutons
  • Grate in some fresh Parmesan cheese, and sprinkle some more with a good bit of pepper over the salad


Ben said...

In our parallel worlds, where your CSA is my farmers' market every Saturday morning, I have to say I'm getting fed up with "farmers" passing off trucked in produce from around the country as their own homegrown bounty.

This morning I was out to score some Colorado Bing cherries, as the wife and I have gone through ten pounds or so since the season started a few weeks ago. As I had been horribly disappointed with the neatly packaged, perfectly shiny and utterly flavorless cherries offered at Costco, I was looking forward to the sweet and tender ones grown locally.

When I found some decent looking ones this morning, I asked the (seemingly) rhetorical question to the "farmer" manning the booth, "Are these Colorado cherries?", to which he proudly proclaimed, "No, these are from Washington; Colorado season is over now."

Is it being too naive to think that farmers' markets - especially the largest and most populous one in Denver - should be, at their most basic, selling local produce? Granted, some vendors make no proclamations of locality, in favor of being organic. But still, aren't these markets supposed to reinstill ideas of seasonality and
peak flavor? Are we just using these transactions to temper yuppie guilt, meanwhile turning blind eyes to the deeper troubling issues?

The Huisvrouw said...

Your story is another great illustration of the local vs. organic conundrum. In Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan points out that the organic movement as originally conceived was also very much about local food production and distribution. My guess is that the disconnect happened when the word 'organic' took on value as a marketing term. With more and more people asking the kinds of questions that you posed at the cherry stand, it will be interesting to see if local emerges as the more critical of the two criteria.

You might want to check out the current issue of Eating Well, by the way, for its coverage of the top farmers' markets in the country. One of those receiving honorable mention is in Boulder. I actually wrote the sidebars for that article, and one interesting fact I learned that didn't make the cut concerned produce auctions.

Produce auctions tend to occur in areas where there are Amish or Mennonite farmers with minimal access to conventional markets and strong community values that keep individual farmers from competing with their neighbors for customers. The surprising part for me was that the typical produce auction buyer was a roadside stand operator--someone in effect functioning as a middleman in a context (a farmers' market analogue) where we don't expect there to be any.