Sunday, August 29, 2010

Amy's Musings: Adventures in Food

It's time for another guest post from my friend and fellow master gardener, Amy Bruhn, who shares her experiences participating in a CSA. All photos copyright Hauk Farms, used with permission.

Ever since reading the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver two years ago, I have been paying more attention to where my food comes from. I am trying to eat fruits and vegetables when they are in season and at their peak flavor, and I try to buy locally where possible to support the local economy and because food tastes a lot better when it hasn’t travelled a thousand miles before arriving at my doorstep.

For the past two years I have bought all of my meat from Creswick Farms, located in Ravenna, Michigan (which is northwest of Grand Rapids). Once a month they go on the road and deliver meat to customers in Waverly, Okemos, Brighton, and Novi. You have to order a week in advance, so I’ve had to adjust my meal planning a bit, but it’s been worth it. Their prices are higher than the supermarket, but it is all organic, free range, and pasture fed, with no antibiotics or hormones. And when you buy from the grocery store you don’t get to know the farmer who raises your food, as well as his wife and kids. I’ve also learned how far removed we’ve become from the natural cycle of food in just two generations. Last year the farmer’s wife thought it was quite humorous that I wanted to buy chicken in the dead of winter. I’m so used to having chicken year-round that I never made the connection that there’s no pasture for those pasture-fed chickens when there’s a foot of snow on the ground. So I’ve been getting quite the education.

This year I decided to take it a step further and join a CSA. Through the Local Harvest web site I found a relatively new CSA, Hauk Farms, located in Canton, which was reasonably priced and also offered half shares for smaller households like mine. Bryan Hauk is a fifth-generation farmer and he is currently farming the farm his great-grandfather established in 1919.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with CSAs, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. With a CSA, a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” in the farm’s crops, with a share typically consisting of a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. The farmer benefits by getting some cash flow prior to the planting season and customers benefit by getting freshly-picked, locally-grown produce each week and by getting to know the farmer, and farming practices, of the person growing their food. With my work schedule I can’t always get to a farmers market, so this way it’s like having the farmers market come to me. The only difference is that I don’t get to pick and choose what I buy each week. It’s always a complete surprise! (I believe some CSAs allow you to pick from a list or pick your own.)

Every Friday I get a text message from Bryan letting me know that my produce has been dropped off. Fortunately he has a drop-off point in Dearborn, less than a mile from my home. It’s been interesting to see what is in my box each week and figuring out what to do with it. Some things have been easier to deal with than others. The head of cabbage the first week was easy — I made cole slaw. But then when I got two more heads of cabbage the next week, they became hostess gifts.

I have been approaching this as an adventure as I learn firsthand what is available through the season in Michigan. I also decided that I would give foods that I’m unfamiliar a try. Well, except for the eggplant and the jalapenos. When those show up in my crate I will be finding them new homes. (Monica refers to herself in third person and waves her hand frantically.) I’m keeping a list of what I get each week and what I’ve done with it, so next year I’ll be a bit more prepared and will perhaps find new recipes to try before next summer.

So far, other than the cabbage, we have gotten green beans, sweet corn, zucchini, radishes, cucumbers, summer squash, pickling cucumbers, beets, bell peppers, romaine lettuce, sweet peas, and cantaloupe. The green beans and corn are so yummy when you eat them just a few hours after they’ve been picked. I found my grandmother’s blanching pot in my basement, and I found out that freezing green beans is a lot easier than I thought it would be. I also dug out my canning supplies and made bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, and some refrigerator pickles. I will probably be eating pickles all winter long. I’ve never been a zucchini or summer squash fan, so I’ve been making and freezing zucchini bread too. (It was really, really good, thanks!) I wonder how the bread will go with pickles this winter.

Other produce we should be getting this season are broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, acorn squash, butternut squash, cherry tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, and two varieties of watermelons. I’m a bit worried about the tomatoes because Bryan told me the plants did better than expected and he estimates there will be two hundred pounds of tomatoes for each person. That is a lot of tomatoes! I can’t even begin to comprehend how many tomatoes that will be. I guess I’ll be learning how to make salsa and spaghetti sauce!

I’ll let you know whether I survived the onslaught of tomatoes at the end of the season. In the meantime, here are some pictures for you to enjoy.

The cantaloupes were blossoming in early June and the first ones were harvested the first week of August.

The first planting of sweet corn made it through several frosts, one freeze, and nearly 20” of rain and yet it was still ready for picking in mid July.

Here are some of the radishes from the first planting that survived being under water for some time.

Lots and lots of tomato plants…

The first planting of green beans went through it all: frost, freeze, hail, record rain, and then bugs.

(I'm glad to report that Amy gave me beets, corn, tomatoes, jalapenos, and three kinds of pickles she canned and several loaves of zucchini bread she baked. I'm still holding out for eggplants.)


  1. I haven't gotten any eggplant yet, Monica, but you'll get first dibs when I do! Hopefully you don't mind that I gave my latest batch of jalepenos to Rozann - I'm hoping they'll take her mind off her back pain. :-)

  2. This is wonderful, Amy! Having grown up on a farm where my mother tended a large vegetable garden, as a child I was used to eating fresh foods when they were in season. But over the years I'd gotten away from that, counting on the supermarket to stock strawberries in January (yuck! No comparison to locally grown ones!). Now that I'm growing vegetables myself once again, we're going back to more of the eating what is available. And in the winter I now have a lot of vegetables available in my freezer.

    I've been freezing tomato juice and spaghetti sauce the past week with my excess of tomatoes. Do try it, Amy; we found the homemade tomato juice makes the best chili!

    I sure hope Monica gets an eggplant:)

  3. Always a surprise awaiting you apparently. It must be fun not to know what is coming. Spontaneity rules.

  4. How great is that! Amy, I'd love to have such a farm close. Well, we've got farm shops, but none of them would directly deliver to us. And what a surprise you've got with every delivery. Great idea!
    Kind regards

  5. I really like the CSA idea. If we didn't have such great harvests from our tiny veggie beds, I'd definitely be on board. And having a local source for organic, pastured meats is really awesome. Kudos Amy, and how great that you're blanching, freezing, pickling, and sharing!

    I'm with Rose on freezing tomato juice. It's so easy. I made some fresh sauce last week, just added a small can of paste to thicken it so I wouldn't have to boil it forever. It was really delicious!

  6. Hello Amy and Monica I'm getting an education too" I have heard about CSA farms and may join one in the near future.. It's going to be the wave of the future and a learning experience for all of us....

    Amy I'm loving your sense of humor and admire that you are trying something out new to you by joining a CSA farm..

    Thanks for making me aware of those free range chickens, Not being available in the winter, That does make since..because these animals graze all summer.

    Great post..

  7. P.S Monica... Thanks for stopping by, Yeah it's always a good thing to keep things we collect to a minimum, I hate clutter too"

    My blog comment area is not working for me I have been trying to leave replies, but it goes right back to a blank page!...

    after asking me a trillion times to select my profile, than post.. But it still doesn't this happening to anyone else!

  8. I have enjoyed reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle this summer. It really makes you stop and think about what foods you are buying, and where it is coming from.

    Wow! 200 lbs of tomatoes! I can't wait to hear what you do with them. Wouldn't it be cool to sun dry some?

  9. A great, informative post. And... you are fortunate to have this friend! We do have a wonderful, local farmer's market. A good place to go when you have a shady yard. :-)

  10. PS Do you know any grandparents? Don't forget to stop by Sept. 1. :-)

  11. Liebe Monica,

    leider hattest Du geschrieben, daß Du nicht in den Lostopf möchtest und kein Stichwort angegeben. Ich habe eine andere Namensvetterin gezogen.
    Dabei hattest Du ein wirklich hübsches Stichwort für die Verlosung nachträglich. Bitte merke es Dir, für das nächste Jahr. Du weißt doch, neues Jahr, neues Glück und die Distanz stört nun wirklich nicht, ok?!

    LG Wurzerl

  12. I so love how you whisk your camera out for fine shots, dear Monica (I got to see this in person :) Great post ... so what are you cookin'!

  13. Can all the tomatoes, They can store for up to 2 years. Fresh sauces and stews all year long. I am from the south and grow my own and put them up for the winter. This way I never have to buy canned sauces or tomatoes that are full bad stuff.

  14. All those vegetable plants look great. I'm wondering how long the gardener weeded to have such a lovely weed free area! Rarely do I see that and it looks great. On the eggplant, I actually bought one the other day. I love mine sliced thin then layered with spagetti sauce and mozzarella. Very good-give it a try if you can't get rid of it.

  15. My Mom was telling me about a CSA she is thinking of joining. We don't have anything like that near by as far as I know.

  16. I'd make friends with anyone who would share their bountiful beets! Great post. I'm a big fan of CSAs. It's teaching me to try all sorts of veggies I wouldn't normally consider. :)

  17. Good job Amy. So any chance of you starting your own blog?