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Why care about local food?

With so much going on in our world today, why-o-why would anyone choose to spend their time on and put so much energy toward ‘local, sustainable food’? With only so many hours in a day each of us have to choose where to direct our efforts and food, local-food in particular , is where I choose to spend the most of my effort.

Food is Fundamental

Food is important for a lot of reasons. Without food, you won’t have energy to put toward any cause. Food is absolutely fundamental to life and to the way our bodies perform. As I explain to our three year old, food is the fuel that our bodies use to grow, learn, play and work. Quite literally, we are what we eat. Our bodies break down our meals and use the bits and pieces to build and repair the cells in our body. Affordable, nutritious food is essential to our well-being.

The food we choose to buy influences the way our natural resources are used. Clean air and water and healthy soils are things that every living thing needs. What we put into our air, water and soils depend, in part, on how our food is grown.

For many, food also has a spiritual aspect. For me, connecting with the cycle of the seasons while growing fruit and vegetables and raising livestock is very satisfying and sometimes feels almost magical to watch. I think most can relate to the connection that we feel when preparing or enjoying a meal with friends and loved ones. Case in point, the need for certain foods at certain celebrations: what’s a birthday without cake or Thanksgiving without turkey and green bean casserole?

Fresh is best

There are so many aspects of eating local that are important.  According to a survey the Grafton Farmer’s Market conducted in 2013, the number one reason that customers of that market shopped for local food was because the freshness of the offerings!

CSA Week 10 | Square Peg Food Farm

A few of our farm’s fresh offerings during the market and CSA season.

The tomato is a pretty iconic fresh vegetable and a great example. When you eat a tomato from the store or many restaurants in our area it’s a pretty sure bet that it’s a variety that has been bred to ship well. These tomatoes need to be harvested by machine packed into tractor trailers shipped hundreds or thousands of miles and sit on grocery store shelves for days until we are ready to buy them.  On the other hand, when you grow your own tomatoes or buy those raised close-by, varieties can be chosen that taste great and have better nutrition like the Indigo Rose or Green Zebra. When you buy produce locally, it’s possible to get vegetables and fruit picked at peak ripeness. This is important for getting the best tasting and most nutritious produce.

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A colorful fresh salsa featuring red, yellow and green tomatoes.

In addition, local produce has fewer miles to travel and can get to customers sooner after being picked. A study out of the University of California-Davis showed that there are many factors that affect the amount of nutrients in produce including how plants are grown, how produce is harvested, temperature and duration of storage and how it is processed or not. In general, when produce is picked ripe and eaten as soon as possible in a raw state, we can obtain the most nutrients from our food.

Know your farmer, support your local economy.

Choosing local food is a great way to support local families and individuals in your community and in turn, build the local economy. When you are able to buy directly from the grower, the grower keeps a large percentage of the food dollar. According to the USDA only about 15 cents of each dollar we spend on food actually goes to the farmer or rancher, 80 cents of every dollar we spend on food goes to processing, marketing, shipping and retailing! National Farmers Union has some great info on this. The idea is that if you spend your money with a local business or individual, some or all of that money will get recirculated  in your community.

Choosing local food, especially food that you buy directly from the grower, also gives you a chance to get to know another member of your community. You can find out what some of their challenges are or the reasons that they farm the way they do. You’re able to ask questions about how the food was grown. Is the beef grass-fed? Do they use organic methods in the garden? Why or why not? This can be very eye opening if you are removed from the process. Many consumers know the buzz-words like ‘free-range’ when talking about chickens, but might be surprised to find out my poultry are not ‘free-range’ and why that method doesn’t work for us. We might also find out that this term means different things to the grower and the consumer. Buying direct from a grower can also introduce folks to new foods and how to use them. If I had a nickle for every time someone said they didn’t know what the eggplant on my farmers market table was, or said they didn’t know what to do with one of THOSE…

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Dave ready for the start of market.

Another bonus of buying local food, especially direct from the grower, is getting that connection to the land and the food. There might be a lot of reasons people feel disconnect from the land: no time to spend on a garden or lack of ability to take care of a yard or garden. Knowing the people that grow the food you eat is a great way to get connected and have a chance to hear the story of the food you eat and even see for yourself where and how it’s grown.

Local Food=Food Security

The University of Missouri-Columbia published a study  that found local food to be ‘key to providing long-term food security for communities.’ Community Supported Agriculture programs, farmers markets and local gardens are all great ways to provide fresh, nutrient dense food to people who may otherwise have limited access because of income or distance to grocery stores. Many farmers markets and some CSAs are now accepting SNAP benefits (formerly known as Food Stamps) making fresh, local produce more available to low-income households. The Hunger Free ND Garden Project is one way the Department of Agriculture here in ND is partnering with other groups and individuals to help supply fresh fruit and vegetables to food pantries in the state.

When I think of the words ‘food security’ I take this topic in a slightly different direction. It makes me a little bit nervous to think of the centralized control of our food system in America. We hear of food recalls that sometimes affect hundreds of people in many different areas of the country because one farm supplies produce to a dozen different states. Major droughts in California affect food prices for the entire country. And, as my mother likes to point out, if terrorists wanted to poison our food supply or if a major event took down shipping infrastructure, large areas of the country could easily be affected because so much of our food is produced in such small areas of the country. For example, the USDA states that 2% of farms raise 40% of all livestock in the US and 85% of hogs are raised on farms with more than 2,000 pigs. Contrast this with small farms located in every region of the country supplying food to families in their area, lots of backyard gardens filled with fresh produce and many pantries and root cellars and freezers full of locally grown food and locally raised meat for winter. It’s not realistic to say everyone will eat this way or that a change in this direction will happen quickly, but it could certainly mitigate some of the problems with this sort of centralization of the food supply. With more regional food systems many people would be close enough to see or even participate in the growing of their own food, ensuring it meets their safety standards. Additionally,  major crisis like floods, droughts and trouble with infrastructure would affect fewer consumers.

Eating seasonally, a challenge and triumph.

One of my favorite things about eating locally is also one of the things that can be hardest for consumers to get used to. Eating seasonally can be a real challenge if you are used to getting any food item any time you want it. If one chooses to eat locally, there will be no fresh tomatoes in February. There are, however, dried tomatoes and homemade canned or frozen tomato sauces and salsas. I find eating seasonally can be very interesting and anticipatory. We look forward to eating that first ripe summer tomato with fresh basil or just as it is while we stand right there in the garden! Fall means more pork in the freezer, just as our supply is dwindling. Spring means fresh greens, which we crave. I find it very rewarding to change what I eat with the seasons and go through the work of putting up food for the winter, be it canning tomatoes, jams and pickles or drying herbs or curing and storing spaghetti squash. Looking at our full pantry and freezer at the end of the growing season makes me feel accomplished and secure.

Eating locally and seasonally is a real challenge. Our family made the change over the course of 10 years or so. We went from growing none of our food and buying mostly processed junk from the store to shopping the local farmers market and cooking some meals from scratch. Later on we got a garden plot and started growing a bit on our own and now we grow a large percentage of our own meat and vegetables, I’d estimate 90% or more. We are by no means eating only local food. I shop our local grocery store for most of our dairy products and almost all of our staples like pasta and flour. I certainly see the merits of shipping some of our foodstuffs, especially spices and occasional treats like citrus, avocados and the like, but it seems to me the logistics of keeping our food systems more local and regional make the most sense.

Making a commitment to local food is all about small steps like resisting the grocery store tomato in January. That’s an easy place to start since they taste terrible anyway. Maybe you could grow a tomato or pepper plant in a big pot on your patio . Or make it your goal to shop the farmers market once a week while it’s open. You can even find some locally grown items in your grocery store. In our own supermarket, you can find seasonal produce like melons, tomatoes and squash and a few things that you may not have even thought of as locally grown like beet sugar, flour and flax seeds!

What are your reasons for choosing local food?

 

 

Last CSA drop of the year. Week 15

Hogs in the Garden | Square Peg Food Farm

The pigs are in the garden. That’s a pretty good indicator of the growing season being over. The last thing to be picked was our dry beans, on Saturday. Sunday was just breezy enough to make winnowing the beans possible without a fan. I’ve been plenty busy in the kitchen getting the last of the canning done, green tomatoes and jellies. I’ll do my best to get some of the really yummy recipes that I’ve been using up on the blog as things continue to slow down into fall and winter.

Enjoying some of the immature pumpkins that didn't make it out of the garden before frost.

Enjoying some of the immature pumpkins that didn’t make it out of the garden before frost.

This was the ‘last hurrah’ CSA drop. Each share took home two spaghetti squash and 2 pumpkins. This year’s varieties were ‘Crown‘ which is the smaller grey-green pumpkin. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks quite good!  It’s supposed to be a great eating squash and a great keeper too. A friend has compared one of her favorites, the Hubbard squash with our other pick the ‘Cinderella’  or ‘Rouge vif d’Etampespumpkin and said that the Cinderella is a winner.

Crown Pumpkin, Spaghetti Squash, Cinderella Pumpkin

Crown Pumpkin, Spaghetti Squash, Cinderella Pumpkin

Both pumpkin varieties should be quite good roasted and seasoned just as you’d use an acorn or buttercup squash. Of course with the large Cinderella you could probably make several pies, breads and batches of cookies as well!

Calypso beans | Square Peg Food Farm

Dry beans were also in the share, this year we grew ‘Calypso‘. Also, two onions, carrots, green tomatoes and herbs (rosemary, parsley and thyme.) To finish the season with a bang, we also sent some really tasty canned goods: Green Tomato Salsa Verde, Lavender Chardonnay (or Pinot Grigio) Jelly and either a Rosemary Orange or Rosemary Cranberry Glaze/Sauce that is great on meat. I tried the Rosemary Orange on toast, but it was a bit of a stretch for me.

Canning jars, especially full of garden bounty, fill my heart with joy!

Canning jars, especially full of garden bounty, fill my heart with joy!

 That does it for this season. Though it was a somewhat challenging year in the garden, I think we sent some pretty good things home with our shareholders. I even have a new favorite green bean variety! There are always lessons, thanks for hanging on with us this season.

 

CSA week 14

This has been an interesting growing season. A late, wet spring and a dry summer. Our garden didn’t produce as well as last year and I’ll have to (sort 0f) cut CSA short this year. Really, we’ll still get our 15 weeks in, but this will be the last consecutive week and I’ll get one last, big drop ready in a few weeks with pumpkins, dry beans, brussels sprouts, hopefully more tomatoes and some other nice surprises!

Shares were not as full as I would have liked this year, but that’s farming. I am lucky that my mom does a market garden too, and that hers fared better than ours did. All the tomatoes, save a few pounds, came from her garden. So did many of the cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, some onions and all the eggplant! On the brighter side: corn, green beans, carrots and spaghetti squash did very well this year on the farm.

This week, each share contains rosemary, thyme,  mint, cabbage, carrots, a large onion, potatoes and a summer squash. If the herbs are too many to use now, chop them up and freeze in ice cube containers with olive oil. They’ll be ready for a recipe when you are. Freeze the mint with lime juice for a nice late winter mojito! The cabbage would be great in this Creole Cabbage Soup. I better not forget about the green tomatoes. You can let them sit on the counter to ripen, but if they don’t, I suggest fried green tomatoes, a nice treat!

CSA Week 13

There is a chill in the air! I love the fall weather, but I am hoping to have a nice long autumn this year. Many of our plants got a blanket to cuddle with last night with freeze advisory in effect. I don’t think we had a frost at our location, though I did hear that many areas had lows in the 30-33 range. Brrr!

Members have another spaghetti squash this week. If you’d like to save this for later eating, wipe down with a 1:10, bleach:water solution and it will keep for several months. This is a good practice for any of the winter squash or pumpkin varieties you’d like to keep rather than eat now. Try something different than the usual spaghetti sauce topping, maybe with parmasean and herbs or in a Spiced Squash Pancake!

Beets and green beans also made it into this weeks share. I will admit that I am not a fan of beets, though I will try them if they are one someone else’s table. That said this recipe for roasted beets over beet greens looks interesting, and would be a great way to use it all. Green bean casserole will always be my favorite way to eat these lovelies, but it’s good to mix it up a bit with Balsamic Green Beans.

The last few items will go together quite nicely in a Ratatouille: onion, green pepper, eggplant and summer squash.

Enjoy this lovely cool weather!

CSA Week 12

Embarrassing, but I am just getting this up, 4 days after our drop. I got so busy with canning lots of good things to eat, that I forgot! Now that I’ve got the apples turned into preserves and apples for crisps, peaches jammed with basil and another batch of cucumbers pickled, I’ve remembered to post what our members took home on Friday.

CSA Week 12

With our strange growing year, I’m lucky to be able to supplement shares with produce from my mother’s market garden from time to time. This week, there were quite a few additions: kohlrabi, cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions and green peppers. The summer squash, carrots, shallots, green beans and spaghetti squash are from the farm.

A few notes on the produce that you might not be very familiar with: the kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family. My sister likes to peel and slice it and eat it with ranch dressing. They are supposed to be quite a tasty addition to soups and can be roasted or steamed and served most any way you like: butter or cream and salt and pepper might be nice. You can also shred them and turn them into coleslaw.

Spaghetti squash is a winter squash and one of the toughest veggies to get into. You’ll need a sharp, strong knife and a little patience. To prepare, cut in half lengthwise, scoop the seeds out and roast in the oven, flesh side down at 350 degrees. Check for done-ness after about 20 minutes. When it’s cooked carefully turn it cut-side up and let cool a bit – it will be steamy. Then just scrape out the insides with a fork and top with your favorite pasta sauce. It has a stringy flesh, like spaghetti and has a nice sweetness that balances out a tomato based sauce.

CSA Week 11

The green beans have finally started producing a good amount after some watering and just over an inch of rain this past week! Each share has a pound. The zucchini is shaping up as well, each share took home one large or two small summer squash.

I’ve started picking our last patch of corn, we may have one more week of it, but shareholders can use their farmer’s market credit this coming week if they would like to get in on our last batch.

Two large red tomatoes are included this week and several cucumbers. These are additions from my mother’s market garden, since my tomatoes are at a bit of a stand-still.

We also have about 3 pounds of potatoes in the shares and a bunch of carrots. I just saw a friend had made Carrot Top Pesto, so here’s a great opportunity to use those beautiful green bunches!

A reminder to members that if you still have a credit to use at the market, there may only be a week or two left!  We can always use it toward extras as the last weeks of CSA dwindle.

CSA Week 9

Despite our best efforts our peas and green beans have really slowed down their progress. One week each of our four rows of green beans put out a grocery bag full of beans, last night I filled less than a grocery bag, maybe a pound. We did start watering the plants early in the week and there are now lots of flowers and tiny beans. We hope to send some with the shares in the near future.

CSA Week 9 | Square Peg Food Farm

Today, shareholders will take home as much corn as they would like! I will have 4 totes with me and I have yet to pick almost half of the section that is ripe. I will be doing some canning this weekend, me-thinks. Corn will keep well for a few days in the fridge. I love it cooked up on the grill. You could also blanch and freeze it for this winter, or make corn salsa or creamed corn, yum!

This weeks share also includes a cucumber, one bunch of carrots, zucchini and/or yellow squash, tomatoes, 3 lbs of potatoes and an eggplant. My favorite way to enjoy carrots is steamed or boiled, served with butter and dill. The eggplant always seems a little daunting to people. Here’s a nice recipe for Eggplant Parmesan. I like to slice them thin and use in a vegetable lasagna with tomato based sauce.

CSA Week 8

Why yes we are missing a post for week 7!  How astute of you to notice.  We decided to leave the farm in some capable hands and take a quick vacation. We spent 5 days in Bozeman, MT where Dave and I lived for 8 years. I hadn’t been back since we moved back to North Dakota and we thought it was a great time to take Eva.

It took some planning to make it work. We wanted to be in Bozeman for Sweet Pea Festival the first weekend in August, not a super time to be away for any farmer, large or small. We carefully planned out arrival dates and butcher dates for the broilers so that they would all be gone by the time the farm sitters were in charge (the broilers are the most involved stop on the chore round.) All the planning and hand-wringing while getting things ready to leave were so worth it!

Hyalite Reservoir | Square Peg Food Farm

Square Peg Food Farm

Kids woodworking area at Sweet Pea Festival

 

Square Peg Food Farm

Making musical instruments at Sweet Pea Festival

We were able to take in many beautiful sights and hikes and lots of great music and art at the Festival! Sweet Pea does a great job organizing many different kids activities and we ended up coming home with a chair and sistrum that Eva helped to put together.

I suppose most of you are here to see about some vegetables, though. As sometimes happens, in my last minute rush, I didn’t get a chance to photograph today’s share. The tomatoes have just started ripening, the green beans are slowing down for a few moments and the zucchini are still a bit elusive so it was a choice between those three items and my one purple sweet pepper (Iko Iko is the variety.)

The corn is just starting to ripen, each share has a half dozen with more to come! This is the ‘early’ variety that I chose, it is not as sweet as some that are still waiting to ripen. I tend to like the less sweet varieties, hopefully some of you do too. It was great with a little salt, pepper and butter.

The beets were looking quite nice and the green onions are lovely, each share contains 1 bunch of each. Three cucumbers and one green bell pepper round it out. We finally hit the moment in summer when some of the more exciting produce is ready to eat. The peas have also slowed down, but I do expect to have more soon.

As always, thanks to each and every one of you reading, for your support of and interest in local foods. We could not be here, doing what we love, without your support.

CSA Week 6

For the record, I try to debut a vegetable in our CSA box rather than at farmers’ market, whenever possible. So, when you stop at our table and we have only peas, green beans and a few herbs, it’s because we fill CSA shares and our own pantry first. Anything above that goes to market!

CSA Week 6 | Square Peg Food Farm

Today is the season debut of carrots! My favorite way to eat them is simple, steamed then served with butter and dill. This may be the last time peas will be in the box till later in the year, here’s a pound. Again, we have a pound and a half of green beans, for which, there is no end in sight! Still just one small zucchini per share. Also, one cabbage and some red onions. That will be the last cabbage till later in the season, but carrots and onions are still coming.

If you are looking for some new ways to use some of your produce, check us out on Pinterest. We’ve got lots for you to look through!

CSA Week 5

Shares are starting to fill out a bit better! I tried watering the beets to give them a boost before picking today, but only came up with enough for half the shares, so the other half will have some chard. Each share contains a small summer squash. When you aren’t expecting the little zucchinis they creep right up on you, but when you are patiently awaiting their growth, they seem to be at a stand-still. There are plenty of flowers, so I hope we can get more in the boxes soon!

CSA Week 5 | Square Peg Food Farm

The green beans are going strong after a first picking  just before market this week This week includes 1 and 1/2 pounds. If anyone is interested in getting some extra to can or freeze, let me know soon, this will be the time! Try this recipe for Crispy Green Bean Fries. Peas are looking good too, but our snow peas are just not producing like last year. Also in the share, some pretty little green onions. The red onions are bulb-ing nicely and I hope to include those soon, as well.

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