CSA

Making the Most of Your CSA Share

CSA season is around the corner and I am very excited to start receiving a share again.  We have a month (plus or minus) until asparagus comes on!!  I would ideally love to grow everything we eat ourselves, but we just don’t have enough space.  And our CSA grows such beautiful, delicious food, I can’t resist signing up year after year. They take good care of their members, using a blog, Yahoo group and Facebook to help foster community.  They’ve even put together a cookbook full of recipes submitted by CSA members over the years.

All CSA’s are as different as the members and farmers who run them.  Since we are heading into our fifth year with Monroe Organic Farms, our CSA, I thought I’d offer up some of my best tips on making the most of your share.

1.  Open the bag and figure out what you have.  Most people get their share home after a long day at work.  It might be tempting to leave the bag sit until tomorrow, but it’s best to open your bag right away.  You will want to store some things right off the bat, and if there is anything delicate in there like lettuce or basil, you’ll want to get it in cool water or the fridge right away.  There’s nothing worse than waiting a day or two to get to your share and finding you let your green beans wither and die in the summer heat.

2.  Wait to plan your weekly menu until you get your share.  I pick up my share on Tuesdays, so I wait until Wednesday to go to the grocery store or market.  I spend a lot less this way, and I can plan meals around what we received in our share.

3.  Wash and store everything the day you get it.  I do my washing outside.  The potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips and onions all have a lot of dirt on them.  I used to do it in the kitchen, but then I had to sweep, mop and clean the sink too.  Instead, I dump my share on the lawn, hose it off and then sort it into what I want to eat right away this week and what I’m going to freeze for later.  Freeze what you’re going to save right away so it’s frozen at it’s peak.  It’ll be just as fresh when you go to use it this winter.

4.  Read the newsletter!  Every week you’ll get a run down of everything included in the share, plus important updates on upcoming distributions and events with the farm.  If you read it you’ll know just what that odd looking vegetable is, and you might even get a recipe on how to use it!

5.  Use the cookbook.  Don’t know what to do with a celeriac?  How should you freeze your extra beans?  It’s in the cookbook.  What to do with all those potatoes?  Not sure you like beets?  Try a new recipe.  All the recipes in the Monroe cookbook are from farm members.  They’ve all been tested by real people here in your community.  You might just get a new favorite dish.

6.  Get involved.  Read the farm’s blog and Facebook page.  Contribute to the yahoo group or the calls for recipes.  Come to the Harvest Festival.  This is the community in community supported agriculture.

7.  Understand that some things are out of our hands.  Some years will be bountiful pepper years, some will be tomatoes, some will be melons.  Usually never all three at once.  You might have been dreaming all winter of your strawberries only to have them hailed out (please no!!), or you might feel like you can’t shuck one more ear of corn.  But such is life when you are relying on the weather to bring you the freshest local food.  Enjoy your melon now, for in November it will be gone.

8.  Visit the farm.  See where things grow.  Check out the chickens, help load the shares onto the truck.  Connect with what you’ve invested in on every level.  Take advantage of the U-pick crops and the harvest festival.  It’s fun, you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll go home with even more delicious fresh food.

9.  Be gracious:  Be on time, return your bags, call ahead if you can’t make it.  Remember that your farmers and the volunteers at your distribution center are people too.

Do you participate in a CSA?  What are your best tips for making the most of your share?  If you’ve arrived here from the Monroe blog, share with us your experiences, favorite part of the CSA and what you are looking forward to most this year!

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Categories: Community, CSA, Food, Sustainability | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

UH Boot Camp: Eating Well without Breaking the Bank

Yesterday I talked about the basics of making a budget.  For today’s urban homestead boot camp, I wanted to give you my best tips for saving money on your food bill while still eating well. Some things, to really save money, do take some investment up front, but the pay off in the long run is well worth it.  Other things are simpler, they can be started right away.  But first let me share what I think eating well means.

By “eating well” what I mean is eating real food.  Food that doesn’t come out of a box, that was raised and prepared with care.  Top Ramen is not eating well.  To me, sustainability is important, as is cost.  Eating sustainably means different things to different people.  To some, it means eating all organic, even if your bananas came half way around the world.  To others, local is most important.  And I know what it’s like when you have really limited funds.  Sometimes whatever is cheapest starts to look appealing.  For me, the most sustainable means locally grown without chemicals and pesticides.  An organic certification is optional.

So, how to get those things while not breaking the bank?

Things that take some investment upfront:

A freezer.  This is a tool that can save your bacon.  And beans.  And everything else.  You can freeze most things.  If you find a really great deal on some chicken, it makes sense to buy a little extra and put what you’re not going to use right away into the deep freeze for another day.  Freezers are pretty inexpensive and run more efficiently than most refrigerators.  Check craigslist or freecycle.  You can get a great deal.  Even our chest freezer from the 80’s runs more efficiently than our fridge did.  We have two.  Both were given to us; hand me downs from relatives.

Joining a CSA.  Community Supported Agriculture, where you buy a “share” of a farm’s predicted crop before it is even planted.  You and the other CSA members front money for a farmer to plant and then, along with the farmer, share in the risks and rewards of the weather.  In my experience, this is an incredible investment.  The farm we’ve been with for the last five years has never had a bad year.  Of course you are betting on nature, a crop might be totally wrecked by hail.  But you are also sharing in the reward when things are good.  Some are bumper years for bell peppers or corn, while the beans didn’t make it.  But we always get WAY more than we paid for.  Local and organic.  Our CSA also sells optional shares of fruit, honey, eggs and meat.

Oh, and when you are getting way more than you can eat in a week, you can put the surplus in your freezer for the winter.  January is the time to call CSA farms.  Farms are filling memberships as I type this, so check around.  Some farmers will even work out a payment schedule with you if the fee is too much for you to pay all at once.

Hunting or buying meat in bulk.  Both of these methods do the same thing; receiving a whole animal at one time.  You better have a freezer first.  When we bought a hog a couple years ago we paid about $400 for the whole animal.  This worked out to about $1.33 a pound for bacon, hams, pork chops, shoulder roasts, pork loin, lard, everything.

Hunting requires a skill set, equipment, time and licenses.  It’s not complicated, but you will need to attend a hunter’s safety course and get access to land (and a gun) in the fall.  The cost is slightly harder to figure, but not counting the gun my husband already owns to hunt with, we spent about $360 on licenses and gasoline for various hunting trips.  We have an entire elk in the freezer to show for it.  Roughly $1.44 per pound of lean red meat, said and done.  Some years, it’s much less expensive, depending on success rates.  And some years, we’ve gotten nothing.

For either meat option, now is a good time to look into it.  Local farmers and ranchers are taking orders, and you need to buy hunting licenses in advance (April here in Colorado).

While I’m talking about buying in bulk, I’d also like to mention that once a year we drive to an orchard to pick peaches.  It’s a far drive, to the western slope, so we make it count.  We spend about $400 on 300 pounds of peaches, including gas.  We race home with the A/C blasting and then spend the next week slicing and preserving peaches.  The majority of them get frozen, though we jam and can some too.  But these peaches last us a whole year.  So investigate local U-Pick farms.  We do the same on a smaller scale for berries and cherries.

Things that everyone can do now:

Make a meal plan for the week.  I used to plan a month’s worth of meals at a time, but that can be daunting, and over time I’ve realized that weekly works better for us.

Plan meals that are in season.  This is easy with a CSA.  Apples are least expensive in the fall, strawberries are cheapest in the spring.  If you want asparagus in August, you’re going to pay a lot for it at the market (and it won’t taste all that great).   This puts us eating things that are in season the majority of the time.  In season means relatively inexpensive.  We pretty much don’t eat bananas.

Use up what you have.  Until you get into the habit, it’s easy to keep ignoring the beans in the back of the pantry or the sausage in the bottom of the freezer.  Get into the habit of planning meals the use what you’ve already purchased.  You’ll spend less at the grocery if you aren’t buying what you already have.

Plan to eat less meat.  Meat costs more than other forms of protein.  Use meat more like a side dish.  Try adding one more vegetarian meal to your menu per week than you normally make.  Try making chili with black beans or stir fry with eggs.  Over the last few years we went from eating meat at dinner every night to eating meat only three – four times a week.

From your meal plan, make a grocery list.  And stick to it. This keeps me from impulse buying.  Also, it cuts down on incidental/emergency trips to the store which end up costing a lot more over time.

If the store that I’m going to has a double ad day, I’ll go on that day, but I don’t usually plan my meals around the ads.  I just figure if I go on that day I double my chances of finding things on sale.

I don’t use coupons at all.  There are never any coupons for bulk rice or apples or pork loin.  I can’t recall seeing one for milk.  Coupons usually make me feel compelled to buy things that I would not normally put on my list.  They are always for things in boxes or bags, things with weird ingredients.  Things that are processed and full of chemicals…

Buy whole foods. Processed foods are expensive.  Potato chips cost more than potatoes.  Rice-a-Roni costs more than rice.  Pasta and milk is cheaper than a package of noodles with a powdered sauce.  Not to mention a billion times better for you.

Buy foods from the bulk bins.  When you buy a pound of rice or oatmeal in a box or bag, guess what.  You care paying for that box.  And for the marketing of that box.  It’s much less expensive to buy oats from the bulk bin.  There is no packaging to pay for.  No labels, no marketing, and no weird ingredients.  And if you buy or make your own reusable bags, there is no waste either.

There you have it.  Those are my big tips for saving money on food.  Between the meat in the freezer, the vegetables from the garden and the CSA, and eggs from the chickens, there are times I can spend $30 at the store for the week.  All I’m buying at that point is dairy and grains.  But it takes time to get to that point.  And I’ve already invested money up front.

What does your family do?

Categories: CSA, Food, Hunting, Menu Planning, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

UH Budgeting Boot Camp: Building a (Food) Budget

Seeds, plants and soil all cost money, building a coop does too and those canning jars don’t come cheap.  But we urban homesteaders feel it’s worth it.  We are in it for the food.  So we have to find a way to make it work.  How do we eat well without breaking the bank?

This week we’re going to talk about budgeting, particularly budgeting for food and how to eat sustainably.  It’s not the funnest skill for me, but it is an essential one.  We could not do the things we do around our urban homestead without it.

When Rick and I started this journey, we had just had a baby and I decided to stay home with him, cutting our income in half.  We thought we’d be ok financially, but I had to get my appendix removed three weeks after H was born and medical bills ate through our savings.  Soon we were using a credit card to make ends meet.  And then one month we couldn’t pay off the balance.  And the debt racked up faster than we could have imagined.

Eventually, we cancelled the credit cards and started trying to get it under control.  But there were months where we were looking at choosing between gas and groceries.  Now, when I hear people talk about being “broke,” I think about those times.  The only way we made it through, all the while feeding ourselves, was budgeting.

Budget is a four letter word for many people (often those four letters are D-E-B-T).  But I have really come to understand that a workable budget is the only way to survive.  I’m not a natural budgeter.  I’m much more of an instant gratification person.  And people like me often have a hard time sticking to a budget.  I have a really hard time keeping the willpower up for an entire month (or few months), and tend to want to reward myself for being so good all month long by blowing my money on something silly.  I know I’m not alone.  It really helps me to trick my brain into doing some sort of project or challenge that is a budget in disguise.

One things that really helped me during that dark time of choosing between food and fuel was Crunchy Chicken’s Sustainable Food Budget Challenge in 2009.  The idea was to see if it was possible to eat sustainably on a food stamp budget.  I was successful at the challenge, but at the end of it I noted that,

I don’t know if this would actually be possible on food stamps because the majority of our savings came from food saved from the CSA last summer, the hog we bought whole last fall, things we saved our money up for so that we could have a year of sustainable eating on our tight budget. That and two years of practice at cutting the grocery bill each week a bit more, while still making fresh meals for my family.  Things like eating out, coffee shops, and convenience foods have not been in the budget for a long time.

That’s right I had already been at it for two years, and I had some secret weapons up my sleeve; a whole hog and a CSA membership.  So in talking about budgets, I’m also going to tout the benefits of joining a community supported agriculture farm.  I am not exaggerating when I say that this one thing saved us.  Seriously.

More on that in soon, but first, how do you make a budget?  There’s a lot of places online you can learn to do this.  Just find something that works for you without too much brain damage.

I am NOT an expert, this is just what we do.  I start by writing down on a piece of paper our income and all of our expenses.  My husband gets paid weekly, so I do the math and figure his income for the month.  Then I list out each bill we have.  I know financial experty people tell you to save money and pay yourself first.  That’s all good and fine, if you can do it;  if you can, you should, but for about five years, we couldn’t.  Anyway, I deduct the expenses from the income.  The rest of the money that is not going to a bill is what we have left to split between food, gas and whatever else you like to spend your money on.  Hopefully, you can save a bit too.

I try to be realistic about what we need to spend for each category.  Using a computer program for this really helps (like Quicken or Quick Books or whatever) that allows you to see how you’ve been spending in the past.  I might try to trim down certain things, like eating out, but I’ve learned that I need to leave us a little wiggle room.  A budget is not a diet.  You can’t go into it thinking about what you are depriving yourself from or you surely won’t stick to it.  Also, it is not permanent.  It can change month-to-month until you figure out what works for you and your family.  Lately, I’ve been using Erica’s Budget Fun Cards, because I like checking boxes.

The savings is key for us.  We don’t have much cushion built up yet as we’re fresh off of paying off those rotten credit cards and still are working on knocking out Rick’s student loans.  But we try to set aside a little every month to pay for some seemingly big-ticket items, which in reality save us lots of money.  Once we have a number for what we want to spend on food every month, we have a starting point.  I don’t follow all the experts that say your food should only be 5% of your budget.  Honestly, that is ridiculous.

Our food is easily our largest expenditure after our mortgage.  But we have ways of keeping the month-to-month food bill manageable.  Things like buying meat in bulk, the CSA membership and buying 300 pounds of peaches are financially tough to swallow all at once, but saves big time in the long run.  Those bulk items pay off in spades, particularly in lean financial times.

Tomorrow, I’m talking money savings in the food budget department.  In the mean time, do you budget?  Do you buy in bulk or have tips for saving on the food bill?  What questions do you have about eating well on a budget?

Categories: CSA, Food, Simple Living, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Getting Kids to Eat Their Veggies

This weekend our boys, once again, amazed friends by eating vegetables.  And it wasn’t even pizza. They ate winter squash, green beans, salad (with garlic, cilantro and cabbage), sliced kolhrabi, beets…

We always get comments on this, apparent, oddity.  Our five-year old and two-year old beg us for carrots and green beans.  I’ve been known to complain to my sister that H ate all  the carrots and now I don’t have enough for tonight’s dinner.  And I’ve had to hide tomatoes from them.

People always ask how we got them to be this way.  My number one rule is that I’m not a short order cook.  What I make for dinner is what we all eat together.  No exceptions.  Besides that, here are my tips on how to get your kids to eat their vegetables:

  1. Grow Veggies.  It is cool to see something go from seed to plant to fruit to table.  Let them plant.  Let them water.  Let them harvest.  I betcha they’ll eat it.  If I ask H which vegetables taste the best, the ones from the garden or those from the store, his answer is not surprising… the garden!
  2. Let Them Shop.  After the garden, H likes vegetables in this order:  “The Farm” (our CSA), the farmer’s market, then the store.  He loves knowing where his food comes from.  Our dinner conversation typically involves some, “where is this from” Q & A.  He is more invested in the farm vegetables, because he has seen the ground it was grown in.  The farm is fun.  He like the farmers market because we talk it up, and because he usually gets to pick something out to take home.  But even at the grocery store, he gets to weigh in on choices.  “Would you rather have kale or broccoli for dinner this week?”  Making a choice, gives them an investment in eating the vegetable later.
  3. Let them cook. Even little kids can pull up a step stool and wash carrots and potatoes.  Older kids can stir the onions as they sauté.  If they’ve helped make it, they are more likely to want to help eat it.  Putting work into it makes it more appealing.
  4. Eat YOUR Veggies.  Kids don’t buy the “do as I say, not as I do” garbage.  They will do what you do.  If I hear my kids saying something I don’t like, chances are they heard it from me first.  Same goes for food.  If you don’t like something, only eat a bite or two.  But eat some, and eat it with a happy face.  This applies to your partner too.  If Dad doesn’t want to eat the green stuff, you kids probably won’t either.
  5. Offer Veggies.  I know that I’ve already grown tired of hearing “Can we have a snack?”  But I know I can grab the bag of green beans from the ice box and they can go to town.  This is because I say, “Sure, would you guys like green beans or carrots?”  They usually say yes to both.  If I offered green beans or bunny crackers, they’re going to pick the crackers.  So I don’t offer the crackers.
  6. Remember, Tastes Change. Remind them of that too.  Just because they didn’t like it last time, doesn’t mean they won’t like it this time.  Babies and children need to try foods several times before they really know if they like them or not.  At every meal, they have to at least try every thing that is served.  This is good practice as adults too, and it’s great for teaching good manners as a dinner guest – just because you don’t like Mom’s potato salad, doesn’t mean you won’t like Mrs. Dickinson’s.  You need to at least try a bite.  It’s polite, and you might be surprised.
  7. Don’t Buy Junk.  Just don’t.  If potato chips aren’t available, they’ll eat an apple instead.  You will too.  ;)

The recurring theme here is investment.  The more work they put into their food, the more they will want to get out of it.  And you can’t argue with delicious results.  We don’t draw battle lines with food, but we do negotiate.  This summer, the only vegetable H really didn’t like was zucchini.  That was tough at first.  I still made lots of zucchini.  But at every meal, I told him, he didn’t have to eat all of it, but he had to try it.  By the end of the summer, he had no problem with it.  It still wasn’t his favorite.  I put one into a late ratatouille, and when he asked for seconds, he said, “but no zucchini, please.”  I’m ok with him picking it out, especially on seconds.   Especially because he ate some with his first serving.

It’s not automatic.  We still have to remind them to try things.  Sometimes although I offer two veggies, they ask for crackers.  But generally, it works.  You too can amaze your friends!  ;)

Moms, what are your tips for getting the greens into your kids?

Categories: CSA, Food, Garden, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Lazy Tasty Salsa

Yum yum!  We’ve been getting wonderful tomatoes and jalapenos from the CSA lately.  Here’s an easy, tasty salsa using all local ingredients (unless you need a little lime juice thrown in).

1 large white onion (or two smaller ones)
2-3 jalapenos
6-8 cloves garlic
4 ripe red tomatoes

Remove the peels from the onions and garlic, and the tops from the jalapenos.  Cut onion into fourths and place into a food processor with the garlic and jalapenos.  Pulse a few times to get the onion pieces roughly chopped.  Quarter your tomatoes and add to the food processor.  Pulse until tomatoes are chopped and thoroughly combined.  Be careful not to over-process.  Stir in salt to taste (you can add the juice of one lime too at his point if you like).  Generally, this is good with cilantro in it as well, if you like that sort of thing.  Just add it, leaves not stems, with the tomatoes.

I made two batches like this and froze in 2-cup packages.  That way we can enjoy the taste of a summer fiesta in February, when mealy tomatoes rule the grocery store shelves.  Do you have a simple salsa recipe you love?

Categories: CSA, Food, Recipes | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Pan Roasted Cauliflower with Cannellini Beans and Kale

Last week we made a tasty side dish with our garden and CSA goodies.  Rick thought it was good enough for me to share.

Pan Roasted Cauliflower with Cannellini Beans and Kale

2 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
1 head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into bite size florets
coarse salt and red pepper flakes
1/4 water
1 bunch of kale leaves from the garden, tough stems trimmed, washed, dried, and cut or torn into pieces
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
parmesan cheese

In a 12 inch skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add cauliflower to pan and season with red pepper flakes and salt to taste.  Let the cauliflower brown well before turning and continuing to “toast” on all sides.  When the cauliflower is getting nicely browned, add water to the pan and scrape up any browned bits.  Add kale, cover the pan with a lid and let cauliflower steam until most of the water is absorbed or evaporated, about 5 minutes.  Remove cover and stir in garlic and beans.  Stir until beans are heated through and the rest garlic is fragrant.  Serve topped with grated parmesan cheese.

I wish I had gotten a picture, but it was so good that we ate it before I could grab the camera.  Let me know if you give it a try and you like it.

Categories: CSA, Food, Recipes | Tags: , | Leave a comment

The Impact of Eating Organic

A sustainable dinner - organic beans and squash, bakery made bread with organic butter, organic meat raised on pasture and wild brush - all local within 100 miles.

This past Tuesday, I came across a video interview of Michael Pollan with MSNBC, talking about eating organically as an investment (you can watch the video here).  He included some great tips for getting affordable sustainable meat, keeping hormones out of your diet and reasons to eat organically/sustainably.  Additionally he talked about the difference between animal products from grass-fed or pastured animals, and ones that are fed on a feed lot, even an organic feed lot.

Then, this morning, I noticed on the side of my Organic Valley half and half a note stating that by “using a quart of organic half and half [in lieu of conventional], every week for a year, you help to keep 6.2 lbs. of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and 1.3 oz. of toxic pesticides from being used.”  They said they offered a calculator on their website so you could see the impact you are having by consuming their organic dairy products.

I don’t eat strictly from this brand, but I wanted to see what impact my dairy dollars are having on the environment each year.  In a typical week our family consumes two gallons of milk, one quart of half and half, one and a half pounds of butter and one pound of cheese.  They calculate that buying these items organically instead of conventionally saves the environment from 65.9 lbs. of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and 14.3 ounces toxic pesticides and herbicides per year. That’s just our family’s dairy purchases, let alone meat and produce!

Additionally, the Organic Valley site states that  “public health costs associated with pesticide-related acute poisonings and cancer alone add up to an estimated $1.1 billion dollars per year.*”  Below are listed some of the other impacts of pesticides on children.

“Impacts on Children

Pesticide exposure poses special concerns for children because of their high metabolisms and low body weights.

  • More than 1 million children between the ages of 1 and 5 ingest at least 15 pesticides every day from fruits and vegetables.
  • More than 600,000 of these children eat a dose of organophosphate insecticides that the federal government considers unsafe.
  • 61,000 eat doses that exceed “unsafe” levels by a factor of 10 or more.5

“Prenatal Exposure

Most babies today are born with persistent pesticides and other chemicals already in their bodies, passed from mother to child during fetal development. 21 different pesticides have been found in umbilical cord blood, suggesting tremendous potential damage at a critical developmental time. Since a baby’s organs and systems are rapidly developing, they are often more vulnerable to damage from chemical exposure.  The immature, porous blood-brain barrier allows greater chemical exposures to the developing brain.6″

Wow – that’s pretty huge motivation to eat organic foods!  But they can be a bit more expensive.  Which brings me back to the Michael Pollan interview.

Organic foods are more expensive because there is a greater demand for them than there is supply.  In America, we vote with our dollars.  The more we demand organically grown and produced foods, the more farmers and companies out there will be motivated to switch to using organic practices, adding more organic foods to the supply chain.  the more food suppliers producing organic products, the more competition.  The more competition, the lower the prices.  the way we demand products is to buy them.  So, if you want organic food at competitive prices, start buying it and watch the price drop.

There are a lot of options out there.  Buying locally will be the least expensive and have the biggest impact on protecting the environment and the local economy.  Check out http://www.localharvest.org/ for local farmers, markets and CSAs near you.  There you can find not only produce, but local meat processors and restaurants who use local and organic products (you are still effecting the supply and demand of how food is produced when you eat out).

To read more about the impacts of synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMOs, hormones and antibiotics, check out Organic Valley’s website.

* “Promoting Sustainable Food Systems through Organic Agriculture: Past, Present and Future,” Christine McCullum-Gomez, C., and Riddle, J. HEN Post: Hunger and Environmental Nutrition Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association, Spring 2009. www.hendpg.org

Categories: CSA, Food, Sustainability | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

So You Want to be a Farmer

hoeing the fields closeupOf course it’s no secret that I want to be a farmer.  Rick and I joke about it almost daily, and, very un-jokingly, we work hard putting up produce from the CSA, growing our own in the garden, raising the chickens and generally learning all we can about living on the land.

Getting chickens was a baby step.  We started with four and moved up to seven.  They eat a lot.  And they poop a lot.  And for the first year, we didn’t get a lot of eggs, but spent a lot of money on building them a coop.  Now we know more, and we’re getting lots of eggs, and though they’re messy and dig holes, we are glad to have them, and thinking of better ways to do things with them.

Part of the reason why we decided to be working members on Monroe’s farm, was so that I could get a taste of what went into this pipe dream.  Every week last year, Rick sent me off to Kersey with the admonition to pay close attention to what Jerry said, and to ask him about ______.  He wanted me to pick Jerry’s brain weekly.  Did he grow Brussels sprouts?  When did he plant potatoes?  How do you know corn is ready to harvest?

A week or so ago, a working member friend, Tracy, posted an article about taking A Farm Vacation on her Facebook page.  At the moment I first saw it, I was tired from processing food and working, and thought, “Vacation!  What?  Farming’s hard work!”  And it is.  But after the trip to Palisade last weekend, I’ve changed my mind.  I want to take this vacation myself.

Palisade was so beautiful.  The Western slope of Colorado is sunny and warm and the towns charming.  Rick and I saw an orchard for sale and picked up a flyer.  Ah – we could live here, and we could grow this.  If only we had more [money, and] time to sit here and pick Buck’s (the owner of the orchard where we harvested peaches) brain on how to do it all.  If only we could stay here and give it a try for a while before investing in property.

Monroe piggies by Rachel Carlson PhotographyI really love having H (and now E too) out there on the CSA farm every week.  While his biggest thrill is playing with the other kids, catching toads and feeding the pigs, I have the opportunity to remind him that those pigs will become pork chops, and those toads eat the bugs that destroy crops.  He gets excited when we move from the barn to the fields, and he plays behind us in the rows, eating melons, catching “buggies” and pulling weeds.  He is gaining an understanding of where food comes from.  And this means so much to me.

A few months ago, I read a blog post called This Place We Know by Sharon Astyk.  Sharon is a beautiful writer, and the post is quite long, but it really captures something. I want my children to understand where their food comes from and what happens on a farm.  That a farm is more then a cutesy place where cows say moo and pigs say oink.

And I know, now days, I’m not the only one who feels this way.  Here are a couple of articles that have appeared recently on people dreaming of the simple life: one from Utne Reader: The Organic Farm Fantasy Meets Reality and on Mother Earth News: Skills for Farming.

I envision my boys growing up in an agrarian life style.  Being connected to the earth and to our food connects us with God.  The Maker made this and made us.  The grocery store has broken the connection for most of us.

Seeing my boy pick a peach or nectarine and delighting in that sweet first bite before he’s even taken a step away from the tree is amazing.  There’s no lesson about fruit coming from tree needed when he picks it himself.

In our home, we don’t have many conversations about limiting candy.  You’re more likely to hear, “No, you’ve had enough carrots,” or “Ok, but this is the last tomato before dinner.”  And these statements don’t make me sad.  Last night as Rick prepped green beans for going into the freezer, we worried about Henry eating so many beans that he’d spoil his dinner cooking in the oven.  And he did!  This is a good problem to have, we’ve decided. For Henry, going to the garden to pick (and graze) tomatoes brings joy.  The fruit of  spring’s labor is wonderful.

Henry in the orchard 2When he sees us tilling the garden, he knows it’s to get it ready for the plants.  When he plants a seed, and then gets to see it grow into a plant and then the plant grows a flower, and the flower grows a zucchini, he gets it.  There’s not a lot of explaining to do.  And compost is an opportunity to show him how we give back to the ground to keep the circle going.  The eggs are a reason to be kind to the chickens.  Sharing scraps with pigs makes the pigs happy and helps them get ready to be a delicious meal in the fall.  Happy animals make better food.  Happy chickens lay tastier eggs.

It’s funny to think that just a few years ago, I had never gardened before.  Rick was the one who wanted a place for a garden when we bought our home.  He had grown up with it.  I think he may have thought twice about that first garden if he had know what it would spiral into.  :)

I’ve always wanted to be in the country, to be on land.  I grew up doing 4-H, wishing I had a horse.  I even made Rick promise that I could have a horse after we got married.  But I had never thought about farming or growing things until that first garden.  Now I’ve gotten carried away.  I want my own beehive, my own milking cow.  Steers for beef, chickens and ducks for meat and eggs, a turkey to raise for Thanksgiving.  And fields full of veggies and fruit, melons and squash.  Fruit trees.  Grain. I want it all!

I don’t think Rick was prepared for the fallout of that first little veggie patch.  Certainly not for the chickens.  Sharon Astyk wrote another post to this effect.  Rick and I could relate to her guide, “So You (Don’t Particularly) Want to be a Farmer” on more than one account.  It’s a guide for the spouse/partner/family member of a person who has been bit (hard) by the farming bug.  The post had us both laughing out loud, for it was so very true.  Despite planting the seed with that first little garden patch, Rick got dragged into this wanna-be farming thing against his better judgement.

For example, the chicken thing was all my idea.  I used phrases like “think of all the money we’ll save on eggs!” to convince him.  Our very first egg from our very first chicken had to be (ever so gently) pried from the vent of that hen… she was egg bound.  And who did it?  Not me… HIM!  I was afraid of hurting her.  He saved the day.  And I’m sure he resentfully thought me a madwoman!

But most especially one line at the end of Sharon’s post hit home for Rick and I and this crazy pipe-dream of owning a farm together:

Sweet FruitSometimes there’s nothing more to dream of than being yoked together in the same harness, on the same land and doing the same good work for all the days of your life.”

Rick and I continue to be members of the CSA because we are still learning things, and because we have become addicted to the beautiful food that comes from Jerry’s land.  We still ask questions, pick brains, read book after book.

We’ve so much to learn, although I feel we’ve also learned so much.  Winter squash is harvested after the vines fall,  melons are sweeter if you limit their water.  This is how you store potatoes and canning isn’t quite as hard if you’re doing it with a friend.

But the best thing we’ve learned from growing things together: Seeds sown in love produce sweeter fruit.

 

Excerpts cross posted at BlogHer.com and monroefarms.blogspot.com

Categories: Chickens, CSA, Food, Garden, Recommended Reading, Urban Homesteading | 6 Comments

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