Looking back on my rookie CSA season

Today marked the final outdoor edition of the Dane County Farmers' Market on the Square, and it reminds me that the standard vegetable CSA season -- my first as a subscriber -- ended a few weeks ago. It's the kind of thing my wife and I had always wanted to do, but had never gotten our shit together enough to actually make happen.

This year, we went to the Fair Share CSA Coalition open house at the Monona Terrace with our friend Alex, and came to the conclusion that with her son and our various health insurance provider reimbursements, we could pull off a pretty inexpensive three-household split. We signed up for full shares of vegetables, eggs (Christensen Farm) and fruit (Vermont Valley).

CSA soup and salad: salad of shaved Brussels sprouts, broccoli, radishes, tomato, and butternut squash soup.

It's an excuse, but this summer just felt a little off. Both Kristine and I agreed that it seemed like we never really got into a good groove, and as a result, we definitely didn't put our CSA goodies to their fullest use. Sometimes it was a result of the three-way division leaving each household with a decent but sort of awkward amount of certain veggies. Other times, I will cop to chickening out, not feeling confident about how to handle some items. (I'm no cook, despite my intense relationship with food.) 

One thing we'll definitely do again in 2014: the egg share. These were delicious, fun eggs, with rich, golden yolks and multicolored shells.  (Green! Blue!) None of these babies went to waste. And those cute shells are going to go toward enriching the soil of our own vegetable garden later this weekend. This is the feel-good, taste-good CSA proposition at its most well-defined.

CSA dessert: rhubarb custard pie, with CSA rhubarb (plus a little from Mom)

I've got no complaints about how Christensen Farm handled the veggie portion of its CSA.  At the open house, farm representatives promised bounty, and they delivered. (It was, of course, a much better growing season than the hot-and-dry bummer that was summer 2012.) Greens, tomatoes, lots of radishes, potatoes, asparagus, peppers, plus the occasional fruits: currants, plums, apples, pears, raspberries, strawberries, melons. Christensen turned out the agricultural goods.

The fruit CSA -- now there's an interesting beast. Vermont Valley definitely provided a pleasant enough variety, including peaches, cherries, and citrus (in the coming weeks) in addition to more apples, pears, and various stonefruit. But this is a national fruit CSA distribution system, to which Vermont Valley belongs. The farming community being supported is usually hundred of miles away; I'm just not totally convinced this is a net gain over the traditional distribution system for fruit. (It's also not cheap!)

CSA booze: blueberry bounce on the left, with CSA blueberries

One thing we noticed this year: we went to the farmers' market significantly less than last year. Sure, this could be another manifestation of the same "it was a weird summer" excuse, but I think we were penned into the house on Saturday mornings by the knowledge that we had a crisper drawer full of Tuesday's veggies that still needed to be used. Whatever the reason, this is not how we like our summers to go. The farmers' market is as much a social gathering as it is a grocery run, and we felt like we missed out on a lot of warm welcomes and conversations.

Whether we choose to renew the three-way split next year, strike out on our own, or skip everything but the eggs and devote more capital to our market runs, it's been a pleasure helping out a couple local farms. The CSA share-sharing has also ensured a lot of face time with one good friend at least, and there's nothing wrong with that. Agriculture supports community as much as the other way 'round.