At the threat of the first frost last week, I felt especially noble as I dragged our tomato plants into the garage, under the impression that it might be just warm enough in there to keep them from perishing at the peak of their yield. My nobility turned to humility the next day, though, when I received the letter that comes with our CSA share.
Our friendly farmer, David Van Eeckhout, is a former neighbor of mine. He used to live across the hall in an apartment building at a busy intersection near downtown Minneapolis. Back then he grew a wicked chili pepper in his window boxes, but his profession was graphic designer. In the 14 or so intervening years, he has apprenticed with several organic farms, bought land with his wife Melinda about an hour and a half east of the Twin Cities, and started a successful community shared agriculture farm that grows a huge range of mouthwateringly perfect vegetables– ones that get delivered to us in a box each week all summer long, like it’s nothing.
Meanwhile, the letter that comes with each box serves to remind us that if anything is not nothing, it’s the labor and dedication that it takes to bring a single squash to the table. Consider the following:
I checked the squash at 3 am and they were still a snug 34°, but by 5 am they were down to 32.5° so I turned on some sprinklers we had set up just in case. It may seem odd to use sprinklers to keep things from freezing, but water actually releases a significant amount of heat when it changes phase from water to ice. The real trick to it, however, is to not shut off the sprinklers too early. The water needs the same amount of energy to turn back to a liquid, and if the sun isn’t up enough to provide the BTUs you can accidentally freeze your crop as it takes that energy from whatever the ice is resting on, which in this case is the squash plants.
(The fate of the vines was still undetermined by the time the letter went out. There may or may not be squash next week. Stay tuned.)
Stories like these have really changed the way we eat. I like to think of us as fairly enlightened people regarding food. We buy organics, we make our own stock, hey, we compost. But the truth of the matter is I’m still thoroughly addicted to control and convenience. I decide what I want to make for dinner, and then I go to the co-op and get ingredients. If they don’t have lemongrass, or fresh figs, or a particular kind of greens, I feel a) put out or (again) b) noble, if I’m able to change my plan in midstream.
Last night, thanks to all the workers at Hog’s Back Farm and to David, who has effectively renounced a life of control and convenience in favor of getting up at 3 am to take his squash’s temperature, I had the opportunity to cook a different way. In September, the shares are huge, much more than two people can eat, so the choice is between wasting food (while knowing what it took to get it here) and learning to cook what we get. We opted for the latter, and here was the reward for cooking what the farm gave us: cabbage slaw with red onions and jalapeno peppers, roasted squash and beets, and potato soup with leeks and kale. Not exactly intuitive, maybe, but totally satisfying. It turns out the vegetables themselves make excellent menu planners. Working cooperatively with the farm and the food this way feels both noble and humble. It feeds the ego a little, and it feeds the spirit a lot.