May 12, 2013

B&P Does CSA

May frost delayed planting the garden this spring, Pigtails and I will sink tomatoes and peppers in the backyard soon.  Sure wish I had more room, I'd do spinach, squash, potatoes and sweet corn if we lived my dream and left the city to settle an acreage.  But the city is so dang convenient when you have kids, we'll stay put and round out zee cupboard by joining a CSA. 

What's a CSA?
Do you like the idea of receiving a box of organic, fresh plucked greens each week for 5 months?
Grown a few miles outside your town by a local small farm?
For less than you'll pay at Whole Foods, about $12.50 a week?

That all sounds swell to me, we took the plunge and purchased a half share from a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.  Rick and Donna run the Garden Destination CSA, we visited their farm 45 minutes outside of Des Moines to get the scoop on their voluptuous kale.

It was overcast, chilly and quiet when we stopped by last week, the city stress level fizzled out as we hung a left on the gravel lane towards their brick silo.  A black mare galloped in the back 40, a gang of chickens strutted and pecked at grain.

I sniffed a deep breath, wafts of pork manure and fresh air rode the breeze.

How it Works
Rick and Donna plant enough fruits and vegetables to feed 80 families.  I was surprised how small and efficient the operation is, picture a large yard with medium-sized beds of seedlings poking through.  No tractors or acres of crops, just hand tools, organic compost and elbow grease.

Several families gathered for orientation, a pitcher of sweet tea and baskets of homemade oatmeal cookies broke the ice.

The farmers explained how the program works, delivery details and risk/reward.  I grabbed a 3rd cookie.

The first harvest comes early June, you roll with the punches and eat seasonally with a CSA.  Radishes, lettuce, arugula and Swiss chard will be ready soon.  Strawberries, onions, broccoli, and potatoes will sprout later on.  The farm seeds everything from scratch, starting the grow inside in the winter so everything's ready to plant after the last frost lifts late April/early May.

Rick knows what he's doing, his Italian onions are 2 ft. tall and nearly ready to dice over a salad.  He explained the challenges that come with growing organic.  A ban on synthetic chemicals means compost, manure and a higher state of attentiveness to the health of his crops are necessary.

Donna sends out weekly e-mails giving us a heads up on what types of produce will be ready when, with recipes on how to cook the fresh picks.  A box of greens are delivered to drop-off points around Des Moines each week for 20 weeks.

Since Pigtails and I can only cram so much spinach before my leaves go limp, I'm splitting a share with co-worker Chris and his family.  He sits 2 feet from me at work, and lives a block away up the street.  The twins are hilarious.

What's my Booty?
Scraped this from the Garden Destination website, here's what's being planted this year.  I don't even know what senposai and kohlrabi are...I'll be asking for help from you cooks this summer so we don't have Japanese misome mayhem.
  • Arugula
  • Spinach
  • Senposai
  • Misome
  • Greens
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Strawberries
  • Garlic Scapes
  • Garlic
  • Snow Peas
  • Scallions
  • Onions/Leeks
  • Radishes
  • Turnips
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Kohlrabi
  • Green Beans
  • Beets
  • Zucchini
  • Summer Squash
  • Eggplant
  • Sweet Peppers
  • Hot Peppers
  • Cherry Tomato
  • Heirloom and Slicing Tomato
  • Paste Tomato
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Muskmelon
  • Watermelon
  • Pumpkin
  • Winter Squash
Culinary Herbs
  • Basil; Sweet Genovese, Thai, Lemon, Lime, Purple
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Majoram
  • Savory
  • Rosemary
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Chives
  • Mint

There are no guarantees with a CSA.  You plop the cash up front for your share, then hope Mother Nature cooperates and doesn't have her time of the month during the growing season.  A drought last year meant very little crop output.  I asked Rick if he had to stop at Hy-Vee last year to fill the boxes, he yelped a nervous chuckle.

I don't expect to get everything in the list above in my box, as some of the produce is part of the fall share, and other crops may struggle if insects or weather patterns get wonky.

On the other hand, if the growing season's a beauty, we may get more than a box of booty each week, with some bonus sweets thrown in like blueberries and raspberries.

A CSA spreads the risk between farmer and supporters.  I'm willing to take on that risk in the name of vitamins A and K.

Farm Freedom
Countryside freedom is where it's at, the kids bolted and we heard giggling as they turned feral.

A pair of dogs looked like woolly sheep from a distance, gentle giants smiling.

Rick explained they indeed were bred to herd sheep, their white coat blends with the pack and are nocturnal in nature.  He said they'll kill any pest that attempts to boost a carrot:  raccoons, possum and wabbits.

Pigtails asked for the camera to capture the farm, I laughed when she returned and shared her photos.  A dozen cat shots.

I liked the house, Donna studied architecture design classes in school and helped sketch their home.  It's a bit of a mix between modern and farm style, with glass cathedral facing the sunrise, stacked porch with cupula on the sides, all planked in cedar.

300 gallon rain barrel wets the crops, a biggie:

I'm confident we'll have a good season, Rick and Donna have what it takes to tickle manure into muskmelon and leeks.

That evening, we dined at the Northside Cafe in Winterset.  The twins recited The Very Hungry Caterpillar while waiting for plates of fried catfish, ham ball specials and mac&cheese.  Tin ceilings with exposed pipes, digging these small town eats.  I'm a country boy trapped in the city.

Let me know if you're interested in joining a CSA.  It may not be too late to sign up for a share in your area, I can help track one down.  Those of you that have done a CSA, how did it go?



  1. This is such a great idea. My fear is that living alone, more food would go bad than be devoured. Mentally noting for the future!

    1. Agree, it will be difficult to eat as quickly as it grows. Helps to split a share, I plan to give Chris and family more than half, since Pigtails and I will be tapping out on some of the leafy greens that go bad in a few days.

  2. We did a CSA last year and LOVED it. We were able to try out many "new to us" greens and veggies, like salsify. For the record, we didn't like the salsify but never would have tried it unless it was in the box. Kohlrabi is delicious; I just slice it up thin and eat it plain with a bit of salt. Sadly, our farmers moved so we haven't found another CSA, but I am a farmer's market regular, so there will be plenty of seasonal bounty coming right up!

    1. Yeah, trying new greens was one of the main drivers for signing up for a share. It will let me sample new veg treats each week, and help me learn different ways of cooking greens.

      The Farmer's Market fired up in Des Moines last weekend, can't wait to head down there soon.

  3. Anonymous5/12/2013

    I've been a member of a CSA (in two states) since 2005. Sure beats supermarket produce. We have a little garden of our own, a "medium" share from the CSA which here runs from April through December (the farm supplements with greenhouses), and purchase other produce from farmer's markets--everything tastes so good, and it's fun to experiment in the kitchen with items new to us!

    1. Donna mentioned she picks produce the same day it's delivered, so grows to maturity for 10 on the flavor scale vs. supermarkets that harvest early and let it ripen during transit. I'm guessing it will be like the difference between farm raised beef and grocery meat.

  4. I've never heard of CSA,my guess is, if we do it here in Australia, it goes by another name. I am now going to find out, however. I love the sound of this. I'm an acreage dreamer, currently living limbo in suburbia as well. I like the idea of being involved in a community like CSA, to source reasonably locally and at optimum freshness. I imagine, as Erin W mentioned, it would be a great opportunity to expand your tastes and recipe combos. Also, I've never used it, but have heard of Kohlrabi. I think it's classified as a root vege. I vaguely remember it goes well in salad, treat like greens, slicing thinly. I'm on a Jamie Oliver kick at the moment, so I would suggest hitting up his recipe pages for any that might use it.

    1. How is the soil down under, I picture it dry, rocky and sandy, but that's just a guess? Black dirt 14 feet deep here in Iowa.

    2. I'm not sure where in Australia you live, is this an option?

    3. Yep, I was just about to write that it is usually called 'farm share' in Australia.

  5. I love love love CSA's. My parents always had one (or at least since 2007 or so) and my mom and I are splitting a share this year. I love how it forces you to eat new healthy things and I love our farmers. My mom has tried 4 or so CSA's in the area ranging from strictly organic heirloom veggies (a little odd) to fall/winter CSA's with root veggies. We're in a good one now that is not organic (due to blights/certification) but works hard to be just as good.

  6. I live in the Twin Cities in Minnesota and I would be very interested in a CSA share! I will have to do some research and see if I can still sign up for one.

  7. I signed up for the first time this year here in Cambridge, MA. The farm out in Western MA trucks it in for pick-up. By virtue of the day I prefer my pick up, I had to sign up for a full share but I suspect my adventurous chef roommate will make good use of much and will share the rest with friends. My pick up point (Clover) is offering pickling / canning classes later in the season so I plan to take advantage of that as well! Can't wait!

  8. Debbie5/13/2013

    we have a huge raised garden at one of our lake places, but when you split your times between four residences in three states, things like watering, weeding & shoo-ing the deer away sometimes falls between the cracs. so we do a CSA w/ the local hutterite colony also to supplement. they deliver the boxes right to my place of work. the hutterites are meticulous. its always top notch & its normally all cleaned w/in an inch of its life. literally farm to table. my family & i also do a split on beef, pork & lamb. as in, we go in on a whole animal butchered. everyone gets a little of everything. my brother raises chickens so we are covered there.

  9. After sitting on the sidelines for the last few years, I'm doing my first CSA this year. Splitting with a co-worker as well. Our agreement included her taking all the beets. (I just can't do it.) Kohlrabi is my favorite summer veg. Reminds me of the Wisconsin summers of my childhood, all day long on the boat, swimming, skiing, and sunning until you are too tired to move. You gotta skin it, but Erin W is right, slice it up and sprinkle some salt on it. Best. Ever. Can't wait to see some of your recipes!

  10. We are doing one here in the DMV (that is the annoying name for DC, Maryland, & Virginia area) that drops off at our local Old Town Alexandria Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. We went out to visit the farm a week ago Sunday and it was great. The Lamb's Quarter is the name and they do veggies, eggs, chicken, beef, pork, and lamb ... all on less than 150 acres! Our share starts here in a couple of weeks and we can't wait to have great, fresh food (and we have had a great spring so far and the crops were coming along when we visited)!

    It is great advice for people to find a local farm and put their money where their mouth is, literally!


  11. My mouth watered at your list of veggies. Yum.

    My neighbor does a beautiful produce garden each year, and we are already planning the tomatoes plus fresh basil and mozzarella feast.

    In my neck of the woods, we have something called Washington's Green Grocer - similar to a CSA. You get a box of yum veggies on demand or a preset schedule.

  12. Anonymous5/13/2013

    Were actually signed up for 3 CSAs this year, 2 from the same place..:)

    Were part of a Goats cheese CSA which just started this year. For less than $100 we get 10 installments (every fortnight) of locally made goats cheese. I'm a cheese fanatic so when I read about a young couple who are just starting out and had won several awards already we had to sign up.

    We also joined a local CSA for the 1st time this year and I am looking forward to seeing what we get. They actually had an option where you can get a full share fortnightly which I think will work out better for us and we won’t be bombarded with too much produce. In addition to the produce CSA they had an egg CSA which we also joined as farm fresh eggs are way tastier than the store bought ones.

    And I love seeing the pictures of the Great Pyrenees! Sadly we lost our Pyr a few years ago (he was 12 which is ancient for a Pyrenees) so I love seeing people who also own them. There gentle giants and ours used to sleep outside our sons door when he was a baby… They only have one down side.. they shed like crazy and you have to break out the hoover 2-3 times a week.

  13. Anonymous5/13/2013

    my best luck with polishing off CSA boxes is to juice...a lot.


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