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October 11, 2007

Turnips and Rhubarb and Kale, Oh My!

FoodMy kid's approach to vegetables is fairly typical:  skeptical about most, and flat-out oppositional about a few.  My husband and I love veggies, but we do get stuck in a rut (grilled zucchini again?).  So in an effort to eat varied, healthy produce and encourage our kiddos to do the same, we joined a CSA (short for Community Supported Agriculture) this past spring. 

What the heck is a CSA, you ask?

Briefly, a CSA is an arrangement between a cooperative of farms and the "shareholders" who pay in advance for a share of the collective crop throughout the growing season.  The shareholder gets a variety of often organic, locally grown produce on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.  In return, the farmers have a steady market for their crops.  Sounds like a good idea, right?

Our CSA is Homegrown Wisconsin, a cooperative of twenty-one organic, family farms that supply a variety of fruits and vegetables, which we are able to pick up at a location less than a mile from our house, all for about $28 a week (a bargain compared to a trip to Whole Foods).  We split our full share with my brother and his wife, which is an option I recommend for first-timers because the full share is A LOT of veggies.

We are totally hooked on "our box."  My little ones love to help unpack surprise after surprise and ask, "What this?"  Highlights from the summer included a truly perfect watermelon (our three-year-old accidentally dropped it and the whole family devoured the entire thing in less than three minutes), glorious Roma tomatoes, carrots that tasted and looked like real carrots.  We discovered that beets really are delicious (roasted in olive oil and served with a warm goat cheese round over mixed greens tossed in a sherry vinaigrette).  This fall we have been enjoying apples, pears, and squashes.

The biggest challenge was kale.  Lots and lots of kale, which I found difficult to incorporate into our cooking (Mommy's "kale pesto" was not a hit).  And more than one head of cabbage languished in the crisper until I finally put it out of its misery.  I have learned to use the information in the weekly e-mail newsletter to better plan how to store and use the food to avoid waste.

My kids definitely made some progress in terms of veggies that are willing to eat (or at least try).  The same is true for me because Brussels sprouts make me nervous too.  And, although my kids may not be eating the eggplant, at least they have the chance to touch it, talk about it, play catch with it, etc.

Our first CSA experience was also a reminder to me that food doesn't just appear on grocery store shelves.  Actual people work hard to grow this food and their livelihood is subject to all sorts of variables (i.e. devastating Midwest floods).  I am hopeful that my kids will grow up knowing this, rather than having it occur to them in their thirties, as it has for me.

Does a CSA sound like a good idea for you family?  The current CSA season is wrapping up at the end of October.  But, never fear, many CSAs offer a winter share (usually one box a month in November, December, and January) and now is the time to sign up.  Check out Local Harvest for tons of information about CSAs and sustainable agriculture.  Another local winter option I have been researching is Irv and Shelley's Fresh Picks, which seems like a hybrid between a CSA and Peapod.  You can either choose to have a "Fresh Picks" box of various sizes delivered to your house at whatever frequency you choose, or you can select individual produce items and have them delivered.  Sounds like a decent option to get us through the winter while we wait for spring's first baby arugula and new potatoes.

Any other ideas on how to get your CSA fix this winter?

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