Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Winter CSA Experiment

Our first pick up
Sometime earlier this year, I stumbled upon The Winter Harvest by Elliot Coleman. "The Winter Huh?", was my first thought, then, "kindle edition?" Sure enough, there is one. The first chapter left me intrigued and befuddled. In the middle of Maine, Elliot Coleman runs a winter CSA, a big one. And the book strives to share with the average ambitious gardener how they too can have fresh produce all Winter long.  I'm an average, slightly over-ambitious gardener.  But for all it's convenience and wonder, Kindle doesn't do photos justice. No library copy of the book was available. So within a few days of discovery, I found myself cracking the bind of The Winter Harvest in my early-Summer living room. Beautiful big pictures showed huge hoop houses full of green produce with snow all around. Coleman provides the reader with details of the equipment and, more importantly, the timing they need to have that kind of picture in their own yard. Ambition set in and I tried to get seeds in the ground, appropriately timed for the right light and heat necessary. At some point, reality also set in. I live in the woods and my greenhouse is a product of a years-ago over-ambitious idea of creating a Winter wonderland. But, well, I live in the woods.  The seeds I planted this August all sprouted, but struggling for light are weak, skinny stemmed shadows of the real thing.

In mid-September when I saw an ad on Local Harvest ( that send "Find a Winter CSA in your area", I didn't hesitate. But I also had low expectations. I had talked to any number of farmers during the summer about a Winter CSA. All had read and admired Elliot Coleman, but none had plans for a Winter harvest. It seems clear to me that there must be a great market to tap into in Central Maryland, but I can also see the risk looming over their shoulders. It does require more hoop houses and, to get good variety, cold storage of the Fall veggies. But Coleman harvests something like fourteen greens and root vegetables right through the dark of Winter in Maine. I'll say it again: Maine. My zip code search revealed two Winter CSA farms, one in Pennsylvania and one in Virginia. The Pennsylvania farm was outside of Gettysburg, about 75 minute drive from my house. The farm was listed as certified Naturally Grown, meaning organic practices certified by a farmer's organization.

This CSA was 20-weeks, covering the full expanse of the Winter, with pick up every other week. I'd have to drive to PA ten times during five months. Could I do it? I was close, but not quite there. My solution: convince others they wanted to drive to PA for produce during the Winter. In the end, six families are splitting four shares from Everblossom Farm in Carlisle, PA. This way each of us only makes the trek a few times and gets fresh produce through the season.

Andrea and I made the first drive up yesterday. Everblossom Farm is part of Elaine Lemmon's childhood home, where her dad still raises beef and other products conventionally. More about that another day.  She's been running the farm and CSA for 8+ years and it shows. The pick-up was very organized and bountiful, and moreover the handful of others picking up were obviously regular subscribers. One man said he was part of a group of twenty families form Gettysburg. She feeds over forty members using the 5-6 acres she rents from her father.

So using this produce through the Winter will be back to my last CSA challenge of a few years ago. It's local, and it's coming. You just gotta figure out what to do with it. No dilly-dallying. This week's pick up was large, but I had to keep in mind that it is two weeks of produce really. Still, it's a lot of food for a family of three. I figure sharing how we make do with the CSA over the coming months could be interesting to some folks, so we'll do that.  And, I'll make some future posts about what I learn about Elaine and the farm.

My real issue is that I am a "storer"; reference the Squirrel Family post earlier. So I've been busily buying extra produce over the last month to put up for the Winter. Only a few weeks ago, when I arrived home with three butternut squash and a bunch of potatoes, who knows what else, did it dawn on me that I might have too much food. We'll see, I guess.

Here is what was in  the first pick up. I wish I had an extra fridge or cold storage but I don't. I'm trying to use a basement window well, but that's iffy because while it probably wont' freeze, the temperature fluctuates from 42-55 degrees Fahrenheit and I can't control the humidity.  So some of this will have to be dealt with soon so as not to go to waste.

potatoes - 2 qts.
sweet potatoes - 3 large, 5 small
onions - 1 qt
leeks - 1 bunch
celery - 1 bunch
parsley - one large bunch
sage - 1 bunch
parsnips - 3 large (these store a long time and are awesome)
carrots - 1 medium bunch (ditto as parsnips)
squash - 2 acorn, 1 butternut, 1 large blue hubbard
garlic - 2 heads
brussel sprouts - 2 stems, about 4 cups
celeriac - several,  about 3 cups (i've never cooked, never ate; she sent a recipe)
chard - 1 large bunch (probably am going to blanch and freeze this soon)
beets, red - 1 large bunch with greens (will blanch and freeze the greens; roast and freeze the beets)
green peppers - 5 small

So we'll see how I make out over the  next few weeks....

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