CSAs are Community Supported Agriculture - that is, a kind vegetable coop you buy set shares in. So every week, you get a set amount of vegetables (and some fruits) depending on the produce grown on the farm you associate with.
They are wonderful in many ways, but the biggest challenge, and the second most powerful lesson I learned from mine, is the burden of abundance. It is almost embarrassing, and certainly guilt-inducing, to even have to admit it.
But, after all, how much watermelon can one eat, some of our members uncomfortably mumbled? How many squash can you prepare before exhausting both your ideas, and your appetite?
After a while, your friends begin to run when they see you coming with a bulging canvas bag. You may be able to dump your excess on them once, but after that, they get wise to you.
I am particularly happy scheduling meetings at my home now - in part just so that I can entice my visitors to take some of the excess produce home!
I give some to the women who clean my house; to the guys who came to repair my oven. I'd give it to my mailman, if I ever saw him. I am thinking of leaving some outside for the oil man to find when he hangs the delivery receipt on the front door handle! Or maybe I'll just wrap them in bunting and leave them on my neighbors' doorsteps with a note pinned to them that says: Eat me!
Inevitably, we cannot eat all of it fast enough, and so sometimes some of it goes into the compost heap.
This brush with abundance, and the waste it causes, makes me appreciate the necessity of two elements of food 'technology':
-- the art of preserving food
-- the creation of a successful transportation and distribution system.
In days gone by, preserving, or "putting up" foods, was a time-honored tradition. It was an all-consuming household ritual that is all but lost to us today. Late in the season, households would prepare for the intense, concentrated cooking, jarring, baking, sealing that would go on possibly for days. All available hands were recruited. Water-hauling, pot-stirring, fuel-tending, who knows what else; the tasks were endless. But it was necessary if the "excess" harvest, the harvest that could not be eaten before it went bad, was not to be wasted. It was this food that would get the families through the winter.
In the face of such excess, I began to appreciate the physical and spiritual elements of preserving.
With almost a dozen squash - acorn and butternut and another one that looks like baby, striped footballs with flattened ends - I had to figure out how to use them all. There was just so much ratatouille and casseroles that I could make. And truth be told, they don't freeze particularly well.
I was lucky enough to find a squash yeast bread in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest - a trusted cookbook if ever there was one.
So while I had my doubts, I followed Molly Katzen's lead and discovered that I could use up three acorn squash making three loaves of delicious squash bread. And these freeze beautifully.
But the amount of time I devoted to mixing and kneading and waiting for the bread to rise reinforced in me a great appreciation for the work, wisdom, talents and dedication of our mothers, who were taught by their mothers how to take the 'excess' of the season and store it away for the lean days of winter.
And say what we will about the benefits of local foods, it is essential to create a distribution system that gets the local foods to the local mouths.
I know that ours is not the only household in our CSA that 'complains' about too much food. I know that ours is not the only household that has thrown away food on occasion. This waste - small though it be - reinforces the awareness that producer and consumer do not always live in close proximity, or in related orbits. Growing the food is the first challenge; getting it to the ones who need it is the second. Even as we laud eating locally, we still need to work on proper distribution.
So it makes me wonder if farms have excess food too that they are unable to sell and distribute - and does that food go to waste when nearby families go to bed hungry?
Is there a way our community can arrange to buy that excess food and distribute it, with accompanying cooking classes and recipes and potluck dinners, to those in need?
I heard a stunning comment on a report of fresh foods, or the lack thereof, in an inner city. A woman who just started a community garden said: It is easier to get guns and drugs in this neighorhood than to get a tomato.
CSAs are wonderful. I gained so much more than the healthy, local food I ate.
What do I now do with these insights, blessings and guilt?
Labels: Astronomy, Consumerism, Ethics