Katherine Deumling is a native of Portland, Oregon, who grew up in Germany and has lived in Italy and Mexico; her culinary leanings have been shaped by these places and cultures. She runs the small cooking school Cook With What You Have and is passionate about helping people cook more often and have more fun in the kitchen. Katherine is a board member of Slow Food USA and the former chair of Slow Food Portland.

Farm food

Invest in a farmer with a CSA share

March 31, 2011

There is something magical or satisfying or comforting — and sometimes all three — about picking something you grew and eating it for dinner.

I don’t know if farmers, big and small, feel that way after years, maybe decades of doing it. (Maybe some wish someone else grew their food.) But last night we harvested our first batch of purple sprouting broccoli, a variety that does well here in the wet and mild Pacific Northwest. My four-year-old used a “grown-up” knife to cut a dozen stems off the bushy plant. We took them inside, rinsed them, and sautéed them with a little olive oil, garlic, and salt. Then we ate them for dinner 10 minutes later.

We can do that about three, if we’re lucky five, more times before our crop of purple sprouting broccoli will be gone. We likely would have gotten twice that many meals out of this crop if someone hadn’t yanked two of our four plants out of the ground a few months ago (this raised bed abuts the sidewalk, within easy reach of passers-by). Nevertheless, the percentage of our food that we grow ourselves is miniscule.

Still, I love growing a bit of the food we consume. This time of year, when it’s still cold and wet and I’m wishing for sun so that my peas will germinate and the transplanted greens will take root, I think about the farmers all around who are investing every penny they own into growing food for us.

For them, half the crop disappearing overnight would be no laughing matter. For them, the increasingly wild swings in weather keep them up night after night, thinking about which varieties might be the most adaptable, hardy, prolific, marketable, etc.

And that’s why I purchase a CSA share each spring. As many readers know, the acronym stands for community-supported agriculture, which in theory means that if it’s cooler and wetter than normal, you may not get any peppers this year, but twice as many peas. More generally, though, it means that you invest in this critical business of farming with the farmer.

It means you become, as Slow Food International founder and president Carlo Petrini would say, a co-producer. It means you take some responsibility for thinking about what it takes to put food on your plate. Which also means you get to be a little closer to that magic or satisfaction or comfort that growing something, or knowing the person who grew it, can provide.

Katherine’s purple broccoli.

Not everyone has the opportunity or time or inclination to become a member of a CSA, but if you’re curious about it, I urge you to seek out your local CSA farms. Try it for a year. Some weeks, it will seem like Christmas in a box, and some weeks, it might be overwhelming. You’ll likely spend less money than you would otherwise, even if the up-front cost can seem steep. And you’ll likely become a more creative cook. If you can’t use up all the produce, I’m sure a neighbor will help you out.

Here in Portland, there’s an organization called Portland Area CSA Coalition (PACSAC), which has an invaluable website that, with the help of Local Harvest, collects all of our regional CSA options in one place; other regions may have such sites as well. Also, local newspapers and magazines sometimes publish lists this time of year. So look around, ask around, and see what CSA options you can find.

Happy spring!

There are 7 comments on this item
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1. by nekobasu on Mar 31, 2011 at 10:06 AM PDT

Couldn’t agree more! I’ve been a CSA member for four years now, and I love the challenge of eating all the produce. The variety keeps me on my toes, and I eat far more greens than I probably would have on my own. You are more in touch with the impact of the weather on the farm -- the first crop of strawberries was ruined by the series of storms we just had, so now we must wait a couple of weeks to taste them.

2. by jillblevins on Mar 31, 2011 at 10:42 AM PDT

You want to do something dramatic for your life and your environment? Join a CSA. A few months’ into it and you’ll think of food, and your relationship with it, in an indescribably different way.

I’m in SF now, where there’s a CSA without that pesky, expensive up-front share hardship. For $33 a week, I get a box full of the most amazing puzzles.

Now, instead of shopping for what I want, I have to figure out what to do with what I get. It’s a mind-blowing experience, in the best way possible.

3. by Fasenfest on Mar 31, 2011 at 11:44 AM PDT

Dag nab them broccoli bandits. May they choke on those florets. Sad to say but that is one of the reasons I don’t plant in my front yard. The others are less sun than my vegies would need and dogs. Note to dog owners - I like to eat my dandelions greens but know better.

4. by kris on Mar 31, 2011 at 12:14 PM PDT

thanks for the link. it’s just the push i needed to get that ball rolling!

5. by Caroline Cummins on Mar 31, 2011 at 9:02 PM PDT

Yeah, we’ve never put out raised beds on our sidewalk strips for both the theft and dog reasons cited above. And oh, yeah, the expense and hassle of dragging hoses out there every summer. Sigh. Enjoy your broccoli!

6. by Dancing Roots Farm on Mar 31, 2011 at 11:28 PM PDT

Thanks for the timely article Katherine. There are several CSA farms that still have memberships available (like Dancing Roots Farm!) so if people have been thinking about doing it, this would be a good time to take the plunge and give it a try. @jill: Many of the Portland area farms also take payments; the whole up front cost thing might be a thing of the past, though it is still preferable for some households.

7. by Kathryn H on Apr 1, 2011 at 5:07 PM PDT

The CSA box always makes me feel like a kid on Christmas morning--what’s in it this week??!!

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