Aaron & I subscribed to our first CSA program this summer, and we've had a great time with all the mystery baskets of vegetables we wouldn't be likely to buy. We've found a whole bunch of ways to prepare greens (like the kale growing here); we've tried turnips and beets; and we're about to be nearly overwhelmed with tomatoes.
So we were pretty excited when we had the chance to visit the Cooley Family Farm and see where our food comes from. The Cooleys do an open house every year for their subscribers, so we got to taste all sorts of delicious things made with their produce, and see what's coming next.
(My apologies here to those of you who are from actual rural areas and aren't that fascinated by growing vegetables. Apologies also for the lousy cell phone photos - some idiot left the memory card out of the camera when she brought it to the farm.)
The Cooleys do a lot of their growing in these "high tunnels" - essentially plastic greenhouses. This is how they're able to offer strawberries in May (one of the best reasons to get a harvest basket!) and lettuce in February.
Right now, one tunnel is home to a whole bunch of tomatoes. I think most buyers will be canning these somehow, so it looks like we'll need to find a good tomato sauce recipe.
This is another tunnel, just waiting to be set up. It's amazing that something so small-looking can produce so much yummy stuff. But that's true of the farm in general; it's not that big, but a lot of people in town are eating very well from the fruits of their labor.
And it's a lot of labor. They're constantly planting new crops, and since they don't use pesticides or herbicides there's a lot of work to be done by hand. There are strawberry plants hiding in this row of weeds, and sooner or later one of the Cooleys (and there only four of them, if you count the infant!) will go through and pull all the weeds by hand, so we can have fresh strawberries again next spring. The farmers' market food is such a good deal!
Some of the work goes on all the time, but sometimes it has to be all done at once, and then they just hope it's enough. This is part of a year's supply of onions - they're drying now so they can be sold all through the winter.
The tour was both educational and delicious. We were able to walk along the rows of just-ripened raspberries, picking and eating our fill! We did the same thing with the cherry tomatoes. If there's anything that tastes better than sun-ripened and -warmed fruit, I don't know what it is.
(There was something of a downside here. I'd heard of people getting sick from eating too much fruit, but we'd never actually experienced it. Until now. But that kind of good is well worth the cost of a box of Alka-Seltzer.)
I don't like to use the phrase "too pretty to eat," but that almost applied here. Although we were invited to take what we wanted, I just couldn't bring myself to pick this tomato.
There's also the funky - these are tomatoes, not peppers.
And the fun - pumpkins for fall are just starting to grow.
A CSA program is sort of a gamble - you pay for everything upfront in winter/early spring, and then hope it's worth it. So you're sharing the risk with the farmer - although I know the Cooleys work awfully hard to make sure everyone gets their money's worth.
So now I have a reason to worry about the weather, because only if the rain levels are just right will they be able to cut a last crop of rhubarb. Rhubarb in fall is such a treat that I really hope we get the rain it needs!
And here's one more treat to look forward to - they've just started growing grapes. I tried local grapes last fall and they were nothing like the ones from the grocery store - very flavorful, but without being overwhelmed by the concord foxiness. We'll be resubscribing next year, so I'll be excited to see the grapes, and the strawberries, and everything else that's already growing for us. But for now, does anyone know what to do with a whole bunch of squash and Swiss chard?