Two years ago, driving home from a visit to my husband’s family in South Dakota, we were in rural Nebraska when we passed by a lush, green, field. It was the kind of farmland typical of a postcard image, and it was beautiful, until we saw the sign “Presented by Monsanto” at the corner of the field, just outside the fence, and our hearts fell.
Nearly ten years ago, on another trip to South Dakota, we saw the number of family farms that had been bought by commercial soybean growers, and found an eerie response in the fact that the high school had been made smaller, and the population was going down.
Both of these images have haunted me for years, but even though I strive to buy vegetables in season, to buy locally-sourced or organic products whenever possible, when you live in Outer Suburbia doing so can be a challenge, and while my city does have a farmer’s market that operates throughout the year, its hours are far too early to be compatible with my extremely nocturnal tendencies.
Ironically, it was my friend Tabitha (she of Sunday Sensations) who gave me the key to making a difference in my own life, as well as in my community. She’d mentioned her recent delivery from a local-to-her CSA (community supported agriculture) organization, and it spurred me to find something similar in my own neighborhood.
Choosing a CSA was easy for me: of the several that exist in my region, only one delivers to my address. I spent the weekend of my birthday reading all their information, and made my first order that week. Thus began my relationship with FarmboxDelivery.com.
While many CSAs operate as co-ops – you buy shares and get a box that represents the number of shares you have – this one is a bit simpler. They have several ‘sizes’ of boxes ranging from wee (which is apparently their most popular option, and, they say, is ideal for a two-adult household) to boxes large enough for corporations to share out (or use in the company kitchen, maybe?), and we also have the option of choosing all fruit, all vegetables, or a mix.
Even better, there’s a way to ban certain items from ever showing up in my box. I’m one of those people for whom cilantro tastes like soap (this is genetic – it means I lack a specific enzyme), so I’ve asked that they never deliver cilantro. Similarly, I’m not a fan of kale (and as someone who is extremely hypothyroid, I’m not supposed to eat it, anyway) so I’ve asked them never to send me that.
My CSA allows me to customize my box, as well. Every Friday, I can access the list of the next week’s box, and if there’s something I have too much of, or isn’t included but is available, I can add or change a few items. As well, I can add some meats, dairy, and eggs, all from local farmers. We’ve become big fans of the cherry-smoked bacon and Mexican-style ground chicken sausage we can get, and I no longer buy milk in the grocery store unless I’m making something that requires a lot of it. The milk we get with our farm box isn’t raw, but it is low-temperature pasteurized, and it comes with the cream on top.
In addition to exploring many of the various add-on options, I’m having a blast discovering new-to-me vegetables, or learning new ways of preparing familiar ones.
This fall, I’ve received acorn squash three times, butternut squash once, and delicata squash twice, and the latter was previously unknown to me. Another week, I received Swiss chard, which I’d never cooked before, and really enjoyed trying.
Even though the farm box I receive is meant for two people, there are days when I’m just not in the mood to cook, or I’m not home. When we had to make an emergency trip to South Dakota over Labor Day weekend because my mother-in-law died, the friend who kindly took care of my dogs was invited to take home anything that wouldn’t keep, and when we get behind on using things, she isn’t offended if I beg her to take things off my hands, so they won’t go to waste.
My Wednesday night routine now involves setting the empty carton from the previous week’s farm box out on the front porch (along with any empty egg cartons or cold-bags) to be picked up when the new box is dropped on Thursday.
My new Thursday ritual is opening the new farm box.
Often, I am greeted by the earthy smell of potatoes – they leave them loose in the box – but equally frequently the first thing I encounter is the greens. (I confess, I often sing “The Witch’s Rap” from Into the Woods when I’m unboxing lettuces and other greens. My life is a musical, after all.)
As I write this, we’ve just finished a lovely dinner of broiled teriyaki salmon, Yukon gold potatoes sautéed with yellow onions and garlic, and a salad of green leaf lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and except for the garlic, every vegetable came from my farm box. This is a fairly usual occurrence now, and there are some nights when I try to make an entire meal solely from farm box products (so far, our favorite is quiche made with the afore-mentioned chicken sausage and mushrooms).
You might be asking me, is it worth the money? Well, I pay about $25/week for my box. $5 of that is a delivery fee but when I add milk and eggs, the total isn’t much different, because I’m over the minimum price for free delivery. It’s probably slightly more expensive doing this than it would be just buying veggies at the store, but not only does it mean I’m not heading to the grocery store as often, I’m also supporting local farmers, which is vitally important.
If only my CSA delivered coffee, I’d be completely happy.
About the author: Melissa A. Bartell
Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, listen to her podcast, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.