Community Supported Agriculture Challenge

Photos uploaded to Flickr by jasonblaine and ted_major, some rights reserved.
by Marian Cooper Cairns

So you can say you know your local farmers market really well and you visit it pretty regularly. You know the best stand for tomatoes and corn and what booth has the best deal on farm eggs. Ready to turn that up a notch? Sign up for a CSA program. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. As a participant you commit at the beginning of each year, way-way before the seeds are planted, to a farmer and his potential crop. It’s a win for both parties. You pledge money and support to the farm and, in turn, they share the crop each week, with a varied selection all season. Knowing your food comes from down the road and not thousands of miles away is priceless.

My husband and I are on our third year with Snow’s Bend Farm just outside of Birmingham. We eat very seasonally and this stuff tastes amazing. I could wax poetic on the super sweet fruit and flavorful, beautiful veggies. I am not an accountant but I honestly think it’s much cheaper than buying organic vegetables at the conventional grocery store, as well. Another added bonus a lot of people don’t talk about… these veggies have an incredible shelf life! Once harvested, they are in my fridge within hours versus weeks.

Delivery schedules will vary across the country but in Alabama my box starts arriving mid-April and runs until the end of November. Our first few deliveries are packed with berries, colorful radishes, delicate peppery salad greens, and sugar snap peas abound. As the summer warms up, we are treated to the sweetest yellow and red tomatoes, crazy purple okra, cantaloupe and watermelon, too. As the weather turns cooler we are greeted with sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, butternut squash, and even pumpkins for Halloween.

Photo uploaded to Flickr by jasonblaine, some rights reserved.
No-Commitment CSA

If life is too unpredictable and your spring and summer is packed with lots of busy activities and fun vacations, look for a no-commitment CSA. You choose to buy a farmer’s box of produce each week depending on your families’ schedule. You’re still supporting local agriculture, but with less of a full-time commitment. Many farmers participate in both programs.

Ask on your next trip to the market or use these online guides to find out what’s available in your area:

Local HarvestRodale Institute Farm LocatorEat Well

It takes a bit more dedication and a couple curve balls in the kitchen but you will be rewarded. Last year I experimented with a new way to enjoy my absolute favorite vegetable, okra. Now, down south, okra is traditionally fried, boiled, or tossed into a pot of gumbo. (Yum! But not super healthy.) I entertain quite regularly, especially in the summer, so I was thinking, why not okra as a crudité? If you’re familiar with okra, you may be thinking, what a slimy mess! But it works. The trick is to just trim the end of the stem, don’t cut the whole thing off, exposing the seeds. Once prepped, blanch them for a quick 1 to 2 minutes in salted boiling water, shock in ice water until cold, and pat dry with paper towels. No slime here!

Enjoy them with this versatile Garlic Herb Dip.

I whip up batches of this creamy sauce all season. It’s a great dipper for sliced cucumbers or yellow squash, dollop onto a stack of beautiful sliced heirloom tomatoes or spoon into a simple roasted sweet potato.

Garlic Herb Dip

1 cup of full-fat Greek yogurt
2 tsp. lemon or orange zest
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup of assorted mild herds (such as parsley, basil, oregano, and dill)

Whirl it all up in a food processor and season to taste with salt and pepper. Red pepper flakes or ground cayenne can be added if you want to spice it up a bit.

Try 5 more of my personal favorite recipes to sample the best of the season:

Heirloom Tomatoes with Fresh Peaches, Goat Cheese, and Pecans
Simple Beet Salad
Marian’s Savory Vegetable Bread Pudding
Chunky Tomato-Fruit Gazpacho
Marian’s Apple-Fennel Salad


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