August 2, 2010

Maine Voices: Supporting local agriculture can be fun as well as tasty and nutritious

Participating in a 'farm share' project produces a surprise package of veggies every week.

PORTLAND - Think globally, act locally! Get real, get Maine! Reduce your carbon footprint! Eat more vegetables!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Miller is a resident of Portland.

The admonitions all pointed us in one direction: time to get a "CSA." No, not the Confederate States of America, but a "community share of agriculture" -- a farm share.

We did our homework and attended an open house in March at which farmers from York and Cumberland counties displayed posters, brochures and even laptop Power Points about their farm-share programs.

Arrangements were as varied as the farms themselves.

Cash up front, debit card to use at the farmers' markets. Go out to the farm and pick a set amount each week. Carpool with other share holders and retrieve a bag each week.

Somehow the idea of driving out to a farm weekly -- while certainly educational -- seemed to defeat the intent of "reducing our carbon footprint."

And pick your own? Each week? I don't think so. We didn't want to be farmers, we wanted to support farmers. We're city folk.

My husband and I quickly settled on Cultivating Community.

It had all the elements we sought: an affordable price promising enough vegetables for one or two people, a box to be delivered each Friday to a conveniently nearby location, and a sense of serendipity/potluck about the box.

You don't select only what you like and what you're familiar with; you take what is delivered. You pay your money and you take your chances.

Finally, certain to bring a warm glow to the hearts of left-leaning liberals such as my spouse and myself, Cultivating Community's farms employ immigrants, many from Somalia and Central America, helping them gain a foothold in their new homeland.

Experienced farmers from very different landscapes, here they must adapt their skills to new growing conditions, become familiar with different crops and develop more competitive marketing strategies.

Language barriers prevent us from trading stories about whether to trust signs of an early spring or how to deter woodchucks and deer. I'd like to learn their tricks.

The program also trains young people in community-based agriculture at its farms, including the raised bed gardens adjacent to Kennedy Park. Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish well, you get the point.

The box is following Maine's growing season, this year a gift of abundant sun and warmth.

The first weeks brought an abundance of greens: lettuces, chard, mustard, basil, coriander, garlic tops. Peas passed by quickly with the early arrival of summer's heat. Beets have waned temporarily and carrots have moved in. An occasional cabbage. New potatoes. Shapely onions. Ubiquitous squash. Crisp beans, green and yellow.

And slowly we are coming to know the women who present the box to us each week. Since we are business partners, I'm proud when I see them set up their stands on the edge of the farmers' markets in Portland's Monument Square and Deering Oaks.

Although they position themselves to the side of the main "lineup" at the twice-weekly outdoor markets, they stand out for other reasons.

First, their appearance: darker skin, colorful dresses and head coverings, reserved demeanor.

Second, their gender. In their homeland villages, women dominate agriculture. I have yet to see any men joining in their sales efforts in spite of the preponderance of men at the other market stands.

These women offer a valuable reminder of how Maine is changing for the better. I want to brag to one and all -- we are helping to grow that!

The women's hard work is paying off and we risk having more than we can easily enjoy in a week, despite the fact that one of us is adamantly vegetarian.

We just manage to consume all the contents and it's Friday again with a newly filled box.

I'm learning to quell the sense of panic at opening a mystery box full to the brim of beautiful vegetables. All in good time, my pretties.

And don't forget, there's always the freezer.

Winter is just around the corner.


 

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