What's in a CSA Share?

As CSA farmers, we will be the first to admit that CSAs are a bit weird. I mean, you are getting a box of veggies that you don't have a complete choice over, which in some ways is kind of the opposite of many modern shopping experiences! On the other hand, it's fun because it makes us all try new things (and who knows, maybe find our next favorite vegetable!).

As a CSA farmer, I can tell you that our number one winter planning priority is really trying to nail down the best mix of crops for those boxes to try and make the majority of our members happy and excited by the veggies each week. We spend at least two full weeks each winter just working on this, assessing feedback and how things meshed for the past seasons, and planning out better mixes for the upcoming season. Yup, we plan out every single item in every share for the whole season, though Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate on making those plans work out!

In general, we envision the shares as having a nice mix of certain "types" of crops each week: something salad that you can enjoy raw, something that's a cooking green for all our greens lovers, at least one fruiting or podded crop (for all but the first weeks, as these guys tend to need warm weather!), at least one root crop, and usually one unique or herb sort of crop. During the height of the season when we have more options, we add in more of the fan favorite veggies (broccoli, carrots, and tomatoes), and on weeks where we have some of the more interesting crops or things we know that a number of folks won't like--fennel haters, we are looking at you! ;), we make sure to stock those swap baskets extra well!

This year we made a handy dandy graphic to help share a better sense of what will be in the boxes and in the U-Pick fields each month... let us know if you have any questions, have veggies you want to request, or if you want to sign up for the CSA!

Are you stressed out? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Confession: sometimes so are we! (A farmer’s guide to building peacefulness on the farm and in the kitchen)

This winter I’ve worked part-time for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of NY, which plopped me down into an office a couple days a week (okay, it was my farm office so there was a cute puppy distraction hanging around) and sent me around to a number of food and farm conferences. Spending days in cars and windowless rooms gave me a HUGE refresher glug of appreciation about our farm and how special and beautiful it is being outside and surrounded by growing things!

Farms can be hectic and crazy places—we certainly know about stress between the weather, trying to cram a year’s worth of work into a six-month growing season, and the deep well of uncertainty and chance that lies at the root of farming… Will these seeds germinate? Will there be a hailstorm/drought/freeze/[fill in the blank with your disaster of choice]? Will folks want to eat the crops that we grow?

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But even amidst the chaos of farming, there are these amazing moments of peace that overwhelm you sometimes… like when you are pulling a late night to finish planting in the dark, with the deep blue sky perfectly highlighting the trees and then a shooting star flares down… or when you've been with the crew looking down all day weeding a field and then look up at the end of the day to the feeling that everything is perfect for a moment… or all the thousands of little daily unexpected gifts like the glimpse of an osprey catching a fish from the pond, a fifteen minute migration of hundreds of thousands of red wing blackbirds, or even just the peace of the crops waving in the wind.

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Things are crazy out there in the world now—we’ve talked with CSA members and market customers a lot about this in the past year. Things are so mean and toxic that many of us are tuning out social media and emails, which seems both understandable and healthy. We feel your stress, but at the same time as we join the crowd and tune out some things, we are also trying to figure out how to best share and spread the peacefulness and vitality of the farm.

We want our veggies to carry the sense of growing happy, out in nature, bringing some of their wildness into the kitchen so that every bite has a bit of that farming zen, of some calmness and sanity in the midst of nature’s or our human world's chaos. And even more, we want eating vegetables to be a fun and relaxing experience, and not cause folks any added stress about how to handle or cook them.

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So what can we do to make farming more peaceful for us and for you? Here’s our plans for 2018:

Make using vegetables less scary—we know some of you are kitchen pros, but other folks find using the veggies harder, especially when pinched on time. We know this first hand, because we too sometimes have weeks where it’s easier to eat a bowl of cereal or grilled cheese for dinner rather than making something from the amazing veggies we have piled all around us.

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That’s why we finally dredged up the nerve to start doing videos, especially in the kitchen. Videos have been one of our goals now for three seasons, but were intimidating because it involves being on camera (my phobia) and having a kitchen that doesn’t horrify all of you (it’s good now, but just wait till August rolls around). But since not everyone can make it to the farm or the market, we realized that this might be the best way to bring the vegetables to you. Also, on our personal sanity front, it takes a LOT of writing and thinking to get things like recipes or cooking techniques into words, and it’s so much faster to just demonstrate and record it!

The challenge for us is that while we know our way around the kitchen, we aren’t really pros. But we hope you will be patient with us as we pick up where last year’s veggie charts left off to explore some of the delicious classic preparations of vegetables. We are looking forward to pushing our own culinary boundaries with you.

Let us know if you have anything you struggle with in the kitchen or that you’d most like to see demonstrated and we will work on it for a future video!

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Make the CSA as easy as possible for all of us—Besides focusing more on hands-on kitchen prep, we’ve started streamlining our CSA signup and management process and have it all on our website now. As the season gets nearer, we will also add a “Members” page on the website so everything is easy to find and access. We also really enjoyed getting out to our remote sites last year and plan to do that more regularly this summer, where we can bring more extras to each site and get to see everyone in person regularly.

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We also are making the U-Pick garden our top priority this year—okay, I know that we said this last year, but this year we are putting one of our employees in charge of it, and their sole job one day a week will be to keep things all ship shape and boss us around to get things done. The U-Pick honestly has been a challenge the past two years, because in rough weather, we have to push it aside to keep the main CSA share crops going.

What we really came to appreciate this past year is how the U-Pick garden has so much importance beyond picking a few flowers. It’s the chance for our community to come see the farm and experience some of both the vibrant chaos and amazing peacefulness that somehow peacefully coexist. And equally important to our own sanity, it gives us a chance to see the farm fresh through your eyes as you enjoy it at the end of your work week.

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And finally, we are hosting regular farm tours and three volunteer days this year for folks who have requested more time to get involved (thank you!). The regular monthly field tour will be one Friday every month during the U-Pick and CSA distribution, open to all who are able to come to pick some flowers and see what’s growing. We are also holding three volunteer days to help deadhead U-Pick flowers in July through September (the main task that overwhelms us that involves taking off the old flowers so that the plant keeps producing new ones, jam band music is optional).

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We would love to hear your feedback—we always love pictures and suggestions, because it’s so helpful to have a fresh set of eyes looking at things. Over the next few months you can also find us sharing all the peaceful moments we can around the farm on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, this blog, monthly emails, at the winter farmers markets, or come by and snowshoe if you want!

Until later, we hope you have a peaceful day!

Maryellen, Matt, and Beulah [okay, Beulah is the opposite of peaceful and likely wishes upon you have an amazingly crazy 18-hour day filled with five other puppies, twelve disemboweled squeaky toys, a rabbit or two, and seven 10-year-olds throwing sticks non-stop]

Flashback to 2016: May!

Top 10 Reasons to Join a CSA!

Previously we shared why we as farmers love growing for our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members, but this week we wanted to share why we think CSA is a great option to try as a customer. CSA has a lot of advantages for members, including some that overlap with the reasons we love CSA as farmers:

1. Freshness, Quality, and Flavor:

A typical week's share for early summer...

CSAs generally have some of the freshest food around! We grow a mix of different crops and varieties, often for their great flavors. Most vegetables are harvested the morning of the CSA pickup, and washed and chilled until it's time to pack and send the boxes of veggies out into the world. Because of this super-short supply chain, CSA farmers are able to grow varieties for things like taste rather than how they hold up through shipping out to stores.

2. Great Variety and Mix of Produce

One of our main focuses is to make sure each week's shares have a good mix of different standard crops (like  salad greens, cooking greens, root crops, and "fruit" vegetables) that are easy to handle and use. We also focus on adding some variety and a fun or particularly interesting item each week so folks can try new things, without it being overwhelming.

3. It's the next best thing to having a garden

If you can't have your own garden because of your space, work, or vicious deer assaults to defenseless backyard vegetables, CSA (especially if you get a chance to come visit the U-Pick garden) is the next best thing. We also welcome volunteers if you want to spend an hour or two in the fields!

4. It's a fun summer adventure/ritual

Belly Rubs!!!

Two things that we love to hear from members is how opening your weekly share becomes like a present of food, and how nice it is to visit the farm and relax in the U-Pick flower garden at the end of the week. Our farm is open Friday and Saturdays during the season to CSA members (and other times by appointment) and it's a nice chance to see how small scale farming works in the northeast, wander the fields, or visit the pigs and chickens. We want the CSA to be a fun place for you, with an interesting and fun mix of food to inspire your meals!

5. Kids have fun!

Along the same note, if you have kids or grand-kids (or nieces and nephews), CSA is a great way for them to learn about food and vegetables and farming. Most of the time, kids love getting to see (and help harvest if you visit the U-Pick) where their veggies come from, and hopefully it inspires them to eat more produce! We also notice that fresher, local vegetables taste a LOT sweeter, which is generally a selling point for to get kids to eat them. We have pigs and chickens hanging around the farm all summer, which is fun for children to get to see them grow.

6. Discover Eating with the Seasons

Farmer melon taste testing in the field!

One of the fun things with CSA is that you get the opportunity to explore and learn about what's best to eat when. Grocery stores are fine since you can find the same things all year long, but with a CSA you really get the chance to see how extra-amazing food tastes when it's the precisely prime season. Nothing is as good as sugar snap peas right off the vine (late June/early July), the intense flavor of a ripe heirloom tomato (August), or the unbelievably sweet post-frost carrots of fall (October)!

7. Get to Know Your Farm and Your Farmers

While we love the opportunity to meet our CSA members and learn what you want us to grow for you, we also hope that you feel free to take the opportunity to visit the farm if you like and get to know us! Like many CSAs, we have a weekly newsletter to share recipes and cooking ideas, as well as the ups and downs of the growing season. Our CSA members are the cornerstone of our farm--we really appreciate your support and enjoy sharing our working family farm with you. We have U-Pick hours on Fridays and Saturdays from July through October and welcome folks to walk around and check the fields out! 

It's also our members' CSA as well, so we really like to hear member feedback. We definitely add and subtract crops each year due to member input, and we hope that thinking about how your CSA can best serve your needs is fun for you!

8. Good Value for Farmers and Members

Yummy fall share...

CSAs are also a good value for members. When you join the CSA you become in a sense a shareholder in the farm for the growing season. We appreciate your support and strive to give you a good return on your investment. Typically (in good and average years), shareholders receive 10 to 15% more vegetables than you pay for over the course of the season. And shareholders also receive a 10% discount on your vegetable purchases at the farmers markets as well.

9. Eat Healthier and Learn about Preparing Vegetables

We got into farming because we like to eat, and we like to share our love of food with you. In the weekly newsletter we share ideas on how to prepare and enjoy that week's share, and we love when members share their favorite recipes with us. As farmers, our summertime can get pretty crazy, so we focus a lot on meals that are easy and quick to prepare and can be simple for folks and families also caught in the summertime rush.

Having all the fresh CSA vegetables around can also be a great inspiration to cook more and push a little outside your comfort zone. We have had a number of members over the years initially join because the commitment to a share would be a good impetus to cook more and eat healthier, and we love hearing feedback that it works! (The small share is a good size if you want to start challenging yourself to use more vegetables at home--at 5 to 7 items a week, it isn't too overwhelming to take on a veggie item a day!)

10. Good for the Community and Environment

CSAs by their nature are very tied with the local environment and community. We look at building our CSA and our farm as a long term commitment to the region. We want to grow and adapt with our members to provide the crops that you want, and we want to work with our land to improve it every season so that each year brings a better harvest and a healthier ecosystem. We do this by using a range of organic farming practices, including crop rotation, cover cropping, encouraging good bugs, and a whole lot more (please ask us anytime about how we farm!). We also are committed to the local community and want to make sure that everyone in our community can afford local, healthy food (ask us about our flexible payment plans). When you join a CSA as a shareholder, you help farms build their community and improve their ecosystems--thank you!

We hope you consider trying out a CSA this season! Learn more about Hartwood Farm CSA at the links above!