Years ago, while feeling a little nostalgic and looking for a change for dinner, I pulled an old cookbook off the shelf. “Covington Kitchens”, Grandma’s church cookbook printed in 1983, is chock full of family favorites from the 80+ individuals that contributed recipes. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that these recipes are from a bygone era. Its contributions, like the Broccoli Cheese Casserole from the Vegetables section of the cookbook, will no longer make our dinner rotation. I can both taste it and envision it on the long table at the church pot luck dinner –made special for the occasion with the addition of canned chicken. It’s certainly not an acceptable vegetable side dish at dinner these days. It can, however, be understood. A couple of generations ago the produce aisle in the little town grocery wasn’t stocked with every vegetable all year round. If it wasn’t late summer or early fall, the only broccoli available would be found in the frozen foods section. Fast forward to 2016. The need to rely on frozen veggies and canned soups is gone. Every fruit and vegetable one can imagine is available fresh in one of the many area 24 hour food outlets. If it can be grown on the planet, it can make its way to our table any day of the week, every month of the year. The Chilean blueberries don’t actually taste very good, neither do the Guatemalan snap peas, but they are available nonetheless.
It’s spring and soon local produce will be available for all to enjoy before we know it. The environment, your health and taste buds are all better served by food less traveled. The 24 hour grocer and all of its mass distribution can be put on hiatus.
Probably the best option for local produce is to grow your own. This is certainly easier in the more suburban and rural areas but don’t write off a garden in the city, where creativity counts. Container gardens, raised beds, and community gardens are all the rage and good solutions for urban farming. We’d love to have a nice garden at our house and we’ve tried over the years with varying success. The giant sycamores out front have always made the front yard less than ideal. For a few years we grew some peas, beans, cherry tomatoes, basil etc. That was twenty years ago when the trees in the backyard were significantly smaller. Today our 40’x 100’ lot on Crawford Street is shrouded by shade most of the day as made evident by the abundance of moss. There is a very short growing season in a corner of the yard from the time the soil warms until the trees leaf out. If there were a way to live on radishes alone, we’d have it made. If growing your own is as challenging for you as it is for our family, but you still want fresh local veggies and access to some time in the dirt, community supported agriculture (CSA) is for you. A CSA is a partnership with farmers and consumers sharing the risks and benefits of food production, and the perfect way to receive a weekly basket of produce.
There are over 30 CSAs in the Rochester area. Visit localharvest.org for more information and on how to sign up. We’ve been members of Peacework Organic CSA for over 10 years now. For 26 weeks members are provided certified organically grown vegetables. The member shareholders in turn provide a reliable income and also take on some harvesting and distribution tasks. There are lots of reasons we sign up for Peacework Organic CSA year after year.
I feel that everyone should have a chance to work in the dirt. We have three kids that are growing up in a much more urban environment than I did. It’s important to me that they know where their food comes from. Our kids help on the farm when we do. Every kid should have the opportunity to dig potatoes, eat fresh picked peas from the pod and cherry tomatoes from the vine. Spending a morning at the farm is both educational for them and therapeutic for me. While the farm work commitment is just one 4 hour shift over the 26 week season, it’s a great idea to do more if you can.
With the community pitching in working on the farm and helping with distribution, CSAs can keep prices low, making it the absolute cheapest way to eat organic. Members save an average of $15 a week from average market price. And sometimes much more. Also members have access to the CSA’s bulk buying program, which offers low prices for extra produce, so you can stock up for the winter. When we first joined the CSA we were overwhelmed with greens that weren’t in our regular mealtime rotation. I’m embarrassed to say that I actually composted scallions that first year because we just didn’t know what to do with them. We quickly became good at using everything that came our way. A new member won’t have to experience the challenges we did. The CSA now has weekly “how to cook your share” recipes. That’s 26 new recipes over the course of the season.
Weekly vegetable pick up at Abundance will soon become more convenient with their move to our very own South Avenue this year. Not only do we get to pick up some of the best local organic veggies every week, we also get to connect with new and old friends during distribution. The CSA connects us to the seasons, the farmers, the farms that feed us, and to a community of people who really care about the future of the land, air and water. With the bounty of the season just around the corner, the “Covington Kitchens” will be of limited value in our home. Instead of trying to find yourself a copy, consider checking out Peacework Organic CSA. But if you’re looking for “Grandma Carmichael’s” banana bread recipe I’ve got you covered!