For a couple years now, food-conscious friends and co-workers have been telling me about their farm shares. For those who are unfamiliar, various local farms are part of the Community Supported Agriculture system. They generally practice organic or biodynamic farming methods, and sell “shares” in their harvest that participants receive on a weekly basis.
While intrigued by the idea, Lenny and I were tentative about the commitment. Is the farm share really worth the money? Will we be able to use up what we get from the share or will we end up throwing a lot of it away? I like to make what I want to make when I want to make it, but if we get all this other stuff what will I do? Will I end up spending more money on top of the farm share to get the produce I need to make what I want? Will we have time or be in town to pick up our share each week?
Then I found out about the Community Farm Kitchen. The CFK is a new program (as of this year) started by Mary Wessel Walker, an intern at the Community Farm of Ann Arbor. Here is how it works (from the CFK website):
Members of the Community Farm Kitchen are members of the Community Farm itself. Farm members pay at the beginning of the season for a share of each week’s harvest at the farm. The Community Farm Kitchen Staff collect the Kitchen Members’ vegetables at the farm each week and prepare, (cook, can, freeze, and/or refrigerate) the vegetables to create dishes which can be finished and served with a minimum of preparation at your home. Thus, rather than receiving their share of the harvest in the form of raw vegetables, Farm Kitchen members come to our kitchen at the Anthroposophical Society house on Geddes Ave to collect their share in the form of preserved vegetables and delicious home-cooked meals and from the Community Farm Kitchen Staff.
The CFK requires that you pay an additional fee on top of your farm share, so it took some effort to convince my husband that the price was worth what we would be getting. But I think in the end he would concur that it was a worthy experiment. We found that we really liked having prepared foods in our refrigerator every week to take for lunches or make into dinner sides/entrees. And the harvest was so bountiful that our freezer and pantry are filled with tubs of tomato sauce and soups and other dishes that we couldn’t manage to fit into our weekly menus. Also, as much as weekly trips out to the farm to pick up our share of vegetables sounded idyllic, knowing us and our crazy schedules, it would have just ended up being another pressure. So the convenience of Friday night pickups at the Anthroposophical Society also worked out really well for us. While on the one hand we sometimes found the prepared food to be a bit bland, we could usually figure out how to doctor things up to suit our tastes by adding some cheese, salt, spices or maybe some fish or meat (we found we couldn’t go wrong with a drizzle of truffle oil in a vegetable soup). And in Mary’s defense – she was preparing dishes for over a dozen (or more?) families, many with children – so she sensibly kept her spices and salt to a minimum. We definitely had our favorites – including the dill hummus, zucchini fritters, walnut pesto, gazpacho, groundnut stew, and the asian greens. You can see the menu for each week on the CFK blog.
Participating in the CFK requires that you also be members of the CFAA, and while opportunities abound throughout the season to visit the farm, Lenny and I didn’t end up getting out there until the final harvest weekend (“Grand Finale”). As usual, Mary was picking up our shares for that week. But during the final weekend, after all the non-CFK farm members have picked up their shares, there was still a huge surplus of vegetables. So at the end of the day all members can come to the farm and receive a share of the surplus.
We decided we couldn’t miss out on this opportunity, so we drove out Scio Church Road to the farm. We brought plenty of bags to hold our booty, while others came with wagons or used the farm’s wheelbarrows. Lenny and I looked a little out of place among the other visitors – decked out in our typical urban wear (“what is appropriate farm apparel?” we asked each other. “Probably not in our wardrobes so let’s just not worry about it.”). As we wandered around the farm and into the barn with the giant, lounging bull, and adorable baby goats, my ‘city’ husband, asked me, “where do they put the animals in the winter?” When I asked what he meant, he said, “well, are there heaters? Won’t they be cold? Do they transfer them to another facility?” I think he thought the animals should be sent off to Florida for the winter.
The distribution of the surplus was a ceremony like I’ve never experienced. Different “stations” were set up – some with greens, some with pumpkins and squash, others with garlic and other roots such as turnips, rutabaga, daikon radish, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. The group would gather around each station and the ‘station master’ – either Farmer Paul, or Farmer Annie, or other farm workers would ask the group – “who wants acorn squash?” One representative from each share would raise their hand if they wanted some. The station master would count the hands and then, based on the amount of the vegetable available – decide – “ok, you can each come and take 3 acorn squash.” Then after everyone took their share, they would see what’s left, and those who wanted could come and take one more. We went through this for each surplus crop. Sometimes things would run slightly short, so for instance 2 people didn’t get their desired bunch of arugula. In each case, others in the group would rush to pull a few stalks from each of their bunches in order to come up with a proper share for the ones who missed out.
We were admittedly farm slackers this year. Everyone is encouraged to visit the farm throughout the season, and there is a discount if you commit to volunteer hours. At the beginning of the season I had fantasies of weeding and helping with the harvest, but in the end we satisfied our volunteer hours by working on the final CFAA newsletter. But while maybe too little too late, that experience plus the Grand Finale convinced us we want to join the CFAA again next year. We aren’t sure if we will do the CFK again, although we were thrilled with the bounty of what we received from Mary at our final pickup the following Friday. We like to think we can commit to getting the raw vegetables and cleaning and preparing them ourselves – but I suppose we will decide based on what is happening in our lives next year. Either way, we have become converts to the CSA model, and introducing ourselves through the Community Farm Kitchen was a great way for busy people like us to become acquainted with and committed to this concept.