First, the good news. For the past couple of weeks, Iâ€™ve been really enjoying stir-fried Toraziroh and Maruba Santoh with garlic, soy sauce and pine nuts. No, I didnâ€™t know what they were either–until they showed up in my weekly shipment of vegetables from Good Fortune Farm, an 11-acre farm in Brandywine, Maryland, that has adopted a business model known as community supported agriculture.
Many of you probably know how a CSA works, but for those who donâ€™t: Itâ€™s basically a deal where customers sign up and pay, in advance, for weekly shares of a farmerâ€™s crops. Itâ€™s a bit of a crapshoot because in a good harvest year, your weekly shares are bountiful (if not overwhelming) and in a bad year they can be skimpy. This has been a pretty good year, despite the dry weather. At our house, weâ€™ve been getting are weekly deliveries of fresh, varied, unpredictable and frequently delicious organic food. We had fabulous strawberries and asparagus in the spring, and since then lettuce, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, green and purple beans, purple Peruvian potatoes, scapes, lots of sweet potatoes, garlic, zucchini, kale, turnips, radishes, eggplant and okraâ€”most everything youâ€™d find at the supermarket, and some (like the Toraziroh) that you will not. We also get a dozen fresh eggs most weeks, and they taste so much better than the ones from the Giant that it will be hard to go back to supermarket eggs after the CSA season comes to an end by Thanksgiving.
The whole deal is priceyâ€”about $20 a weekâ€”but Iâ€™m pleased that weâ€™ve done it. I havenâ€™t had a chance to visit the farm or talk much with the farmer, Mike Klein, but I see him many weeks when he delivers, and so weâ€™ve started to make what advocates of local food call the â€œfarm-to-forkâ€ connection. Mike obviously works very hard; he does almost all the farm work himself (he has a part-time helper for about six to 12 hours a week) as well as the delivery, a weekly email with occasional recipe suggestions, managing his 69 customers, etc. â€œSometimes I feel like the captain of a cruise ship,â€ he says. â€œI need to communicate with my clients and make sure they are aware of my (our) situation, and know what to expect.â€ Not everyone is forgiving when bad weather wipes out a crop. â€œItâ€™s very challenging to maintain steady production when there are a variety of environmental and biological factors we canâ€™t control.â€ I hope that Mike (below), whoâ€™s been farming since 1997, and others like him can make a go of it. Most of the farms around Washington were long ago turned into housing and commercial developments.
You have to be an adventurous eater (and cook) to enjoy a CSA. You end up trying new things and cooking whatâ€™s fresh and in season, the way, Iâ€™m guessing, our grandparents or great-grandparents did before we began to expecting strawberries in the winter and grapes year-round. You may not feel like sweet potatoes this week but once they arrive at the door, well, what are you going to do with them. You have to go with the flow. Which is fine. I bought an Alice Watersâ€™ cookbook on vegetables, and weâ€™ve eaten very well.
But hereâ€™s my problem. It may well be true, as they say, that you cannot be too rich or too thin but you can be too blessed with vegetables. Specifically, you have too many okraâ€”and eggplantâ€”and green peppersâ€”and radishes. (OK, one radish is too many for me.) Itâ€™s not that I havenâ€™t triedâ€”it turns out that okra is pretty tasty, if you bake it with a little oil and oreganoâ€”and eggplant parmesan is delicious, albeit labor intensive. Iâ€™ve had green peppers in omelets and stews and stir-fries. Itâ€™s been a big year for green papers, let me tell you. When my cup ranneth over with veggies earlier in the summer and fall, Iâ€™d take the extras and make a big batch of vegetable stock, but we are now well-stocked with stock.
Soâ€¦all of the above have been sitting in my refrigerator for a few weeks now, or maybe longer, and of course they are no longer â€œfarm freshâ€ and I am heading out of town for a two-week trip. I suspect that if I do nothing with them they will still be there when I return. Iâ€™ve tried to give them away but no luck. Iâ€™m afraid they are headed for the garbage. (I know, I should be composting. Maybe next year.)
Iâ€™d still enthusiastically recommend Good Fortune Farm. My hope is that all of us will learn to be more conscious about where our food comes from and try to eat local, whether from CSAs, farmers markets or the grocery store. Our local supermarkets now label fruits and vegetables that come from Maryland or Virginia, perhaps to spur sales. Internally, Wal-Mart is tracking and trying to reduce its â€œfood-miles.â€ In the UK, some products are arriving at grocery stores labeled not only with their ingredients but their carbon footprint, which depends on how far they are shipped. The issue’s getting lots of attention. Barbara Kingsolver has a book about eating local called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, and, you can read more at the “eat local challenge” website and at The Ethicurean (Chew the Right Thing), a favorite website of mine.
By the time you read this, I should be in New Delhi for next weekâ€™s FORTUNE Global Forum, a gathering of corporate executives, political leaders and others from around the world, to talk about global business. Iâ€™ll be moderating a panel on energy and environmental issues in India, and will report back soon.