For the past seven summers, Angela Kellner, my public radio colleague in Eugene, Ore., bought a weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box for her family of four, thanks to a discount offered to those with low incomes by nearby organic Winter Green Farm. Her kids Sadie, 9, and Alexander, almost 7, loved the farm’s spring tractor ride to visit the new calves, and the family liked to return in the fall to pick pumpkins, press apple cider and share a delicious potluck meal with fellow members.
Kellner blended her CSA’s greens – kale, spinach, Swiss chard, even bok choy – into a big batch of frozen-fruit smoothies every Sunday – for her and the kids to drink throughout the busy workweek. She freezes leftover smoothies into kid-friendly popsicles, soothing to sore throats in winter, and refreshing as treats to beat the summer heat. Even though her family’s backyard garden now meets their summer veggie needs, Kellner maintains her green smoothie habit, with a new Vitamix blender her tax return afforded this spring.
As much as we love our trips to the farmers market, like Kellner we realized upon becoming parents that a CSA share is the most affordable, efficient and at once eagerly anticipated yet routine way to procure a weekly family-size dose of fresh vegetables. And this reliable method isn’t limited to vegetables: there’s the Out on a Limb heritage apple CSA that John Bunker runs here in Palermo; cheese shares from Appleton Creamery and Winter Hill in Freeport; mushroom, grass-fed meat and sustainable seafood shares, and even beer shares through community-supported breweries such as Strong Brewing Co. in Sedgwick. For the farmer and artisanal producer, CSAs provide cash in the off-season to buy seeds and equipment long before there is any harvest to sell.
Sure, as a CSA customer, you forgo last-minute choice and flexibility, but in return receive a diverse array of leafy greens, especially when summer shares launch this month. Yet that mound of soon-to-wilt greens, not to mention ever-befuddling celeriac and kohlrabi, tend to overwhelm new CSA customers. What to do? Join Kellner and me, and many others on the (en vogue for a reason) green smoothie train. You’ll keep that green tide at bay and give even the pickiest eaters a regular, raw serving of vegetables they might otherwise shun. Any CSA greens – even arugula, mustards, pea shoots; the green tops of beets, radishes and turnips; kohlrabi or broccoli stems; blanched nettles or sorrel – can be pulverized (with a high-horsepower blender) into satisfying juices.
Take it from milk-and-bread-guzzling Theo, who has never met a green smoothie he didn’t love. My dust-gathering Vitamix blender overnight became the kitchen workhorse when my efficiency-obsessed husband, Dan, suggested the smoothie habit almost two years ago. Since then it’s become a daily routine, like brewing coffee, grounding our otherwise chaotic mornings with toddler. Here’s why a weekly CSA pickup is an equally welcome, joyful ritual for Maine families, especially come summer:
The farm is your playground.
Over the past decade, our Crystal Spring CSA Farm in Brunswick (we’re splitting a share with another family this year) installed several features near the pickup barn encouraging all to linger: a swing-set bordered by a rustic stone wall kids love to climb, a sandbox, shade trees and a picnic table for a snack as you exhale a busy week. It’s not unusual for folks to hang out for two-plus hours on pickup days, says Crystal Spring’s Seth Kroeck. “It’s not a market where if you’re not buying anything, you’re loitering,” he says.
It’s your garden and petting zoo, too.
Not many CSAs have weekly on-farm pickups, but Crystal Spring does, a generous 2 to 7 p.m. window Tuesdays and Fridays for its 275 members in Brunswick (150 more get a half-size share delivered to locations around Portland). In end-of-season surveys, Brunswick members praise the farm’s u-pick field of flowers and herbs, peas, beans and cherry tomatoes to cut after you pick and choose from the week’s featured veggies in stacked bins, if time allows (u-pick is open to members all day Sunday, too). The animals, of course, are the big draw for kids: Theo watched the squealing pigs laze in the mud as I picked, and the sheep grazing verdant pastures with lambs we first met as newborns at the annual Lambing Day open house in March. Theo also greeted the scratching chickens and he ran from the farm cats and dog. For one day a week, it felt like our farm.
Local food dollars stretched.
The $525 you cough up for a CSA the previous fall or winter feels like a lot (often payment plans are available), but that’s about $25 a share over 20 weeks, less than $1.50 per pound, Crystal Spring says, for organic produce that costs twice as much at the farmers market or even grocery store. If you’re among the 20 percent of Mainers who rely on food stamps, many CSAs now accept monthly deductions off a member’s SNAP card in lieu of advance cash. Fresh Start Farms near Lewiston, where nonprofit Cultivating Community helps new immigrants (primarily Somali Bantus) farm, has accepted SNAP since 2010, for half the $550 cost of its full-season family share. A matching incentive from the Wholesome Wave Foundation covers the rest. If you work at Geiger or Bates College in Lewiston, you can conveniently have the CSA money deducted from your paycheck and the produce delivered to your office (Fresh Start Farms hopes to expand this service to other workplaces.)
Volunteer your front porch as a CSA drop-off location, and you’ll usually get a discount, plus extra vegetables from anyone who forgets a pickup. Our friend Sandra Zucker enjoyed extra spinach and carrots when the former Small Wonder Organics of Bowdoinham delivered Thanksgiving-time shares to her Brunswick apartment. Girl Gone Raw Elizabeth Fraser, who is Fresh Start Farms’s Munjoy Hill host, usually benefits from extra greens to whip into vegan smoothies (see her tips in recipe box).
CSAs foster community.
We love to greet our neighbors, friends and colleagues at farmers markets, but for many, Saturdays are packed with travel, hiking and water recreation, soccer games. Such spontaneous fellowship abounds at a more convenient weekday, after-work CSA pickup, too. Crystal Spring in Brunswick has member orientations and workdays, such as the annual Labor Day potato harvest, making you feel a part of a team (though Theo spent more time foraging for cracked watermelons than digging potatoes last year.) Cultivating Community is instituting more monthly farm tours, allowing Portland area members to get their hands dirty on the Libson farm. CSA work parties, and just those regular pickups, may bond your kids to their farmers. With luck, the kids will learn to appreciate broccoli and beets, not just coveted cantaloupes and strawberries, as the sweet rewards of constant labor.
ABOUT THE WRITER
LAURA MCCANDLISH is a Brunswick-based food writer and radio producer. You can reach her through her blog baltimoregon.com, or follow her on Twitter