March 4, 2010

SUNDAY OPINIONReal 'Comfort food' comes from local farms

Dealing Directly

— WATERVILLE — I have always associated the term comfort food with food prepared at home: creamy mashed potatoes and a savory pot roast, baked macaroni and cheese, a warm slice of apple pie. But this summer I have developed a new definition: comfort food is food that is grown close to home.

Although many of our Maine neighbors enjoy growing their own fresh vegetables, my personal gardening experiences have been less than successful. After a brief attempt at a back yard garden when our children were young, I gave up when I couldn't keep up. I couldn't keep up with the weeds, with the bugs and with the uneven bounty.

Over the years, I satisfied the desire to have fresh produce with occasional trips to the farmer's market or the local farm stand. It wasn't until this year, however, that I discovered Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). In May, I contacted Grassland Organic Farm, one of the farms listed on the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Web site. For $200 up front, my husband and I would be able to pick up a bag of fresh produce every week at the Waterville Farmer's Market. It seemed like a good deal but I did not anticipate that I would enjoy the experience as much as the food.

Each Thursday afternoon, I arrive at the tent-covered table in the Waterville Concourse to collect our bounty. At first I had to sign in, but within a few weeks I no longer needed to identify myself. Johanna places each item into my bag with a brief explanation: ''These are salad turnips,'' or ''We were thinning this week so you have baby carrots.'' Sometimes there is a newsletter with recipe suggestions to accompany the vegetables. As the Maine growing season has progressed, the weekly allotment has varied according to what is in season. Spring was marked by an abundance of salad greens and radishes; summer brought us green beans and red beets; early fall potatoes, cabbage and leeks. I eagerly anticipate each week's share and build my menus around what I receive.

By dealing directly with the people who produce the food, I have found a connection that doesn't exist when I shop at the supermarket. Although I have never visited Grassland Farm, I have come to refer to it somewhat proprietarily as ''my farm.'' When the newsletter noted one week that there would be few tomatoes this year because of the blight, I was saddened for their loss and mine.

I know that this food is grown within twenty miles of my home, in the same place that Sarah and Garin Smith are also raising their children. I know that because the farm is certified as organic, my food is exposed to fewer chemicals. I know that my husband and I are enjoying more vegetables than we have in summers past. I know where this food comes from, and I take comfort from that.

— Special to the Telegram

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