Eating Like a Farmer

We belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture) farm. This means that each spring we purchase a share, and every Thursday from mid-June to mid-October, around four o'clock in the afternoon, a box like this appears on the front doorstep. Usually I don't notice it until one of the kids sees it and hollers, "MOM, THE PRODUCE IS HERE!" And then the fun, and the work, begins.

In Michigan, where I grew up, we learn to "eat like farmers." Distilled to its most simple meaning, this means to eat what's in season while it's in season, and to somehow preserve what you can't eat. I still mark my summers according to what produce is ripe, even though I don't live close enough anymore to partake of much of it. We start with asparagus in late spring. Strawberries are next, mid-June. Then cherries; then blueberries right around my mom's birthday toward the end of July. Next we have apricots and plums. (For veggie fans, here also start the cukes, sweet corn, green beans, peppers, and tomatoes). In August, the peaches begin, and in September the earliest of apples begin and yield to the next variety and the next, on into October. At the beginning of each fruit's season, no one can get enough of it; by the end of its run, you almost feel like you never want to see another strawberry (or blueberry, or apricot) again. Until next year, that is.

When I was a girl, my mom, and sometimes the whole family, would pick and preserve produce throughout the summer. We would eat as much of it as we could fresh; the rest was "put up." Strawberries were made into jam. Blueberries were washed, frozen on baking sheets, the put into containers in the chest freezer to last for the year. Cherries were pitted and canned. Mom also canned tomatoes and beans, and made pickles. Some years, there was even peach jam (Indeed, I will never forget the time my little brother came into my fifth grade classroom to ask, "Do you have that peach crap on your sandwich, too?").

Now, as a the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of the family, I appreciate how much work it takes to eat like farmers. My friend, M. (who buys a share from the same farm), and I sometimes commiserate about being behind on our produce. This morning I spent three and a half hours roasting beets, carmelizing onions, and washing greens. I still have some kale staring me in the face; it needs to be washed, chopped, and put in freezer bags (I add it to soups in fall and winter). Then there are the three enormous eggplants clamoring for my attention. And the five green peppers -- or is it six? Suffice it to say that even though stuffed peppers are nobody's favorite dinner around here, we will be having stuffed peppers one night this week. Oh, and the sweet corn that will go bad if it isn't used soon. Like yesterday. I admit it: I get tired working on my feet for hours in the kitchen to use our produce each week.

Not that I am complaining. The taste of farm-fresh produce is, to me, sublime. And in trying to use the produce each week, I feel a connection to generations of families who used to eat like farmers. Before the modern food preparation and delivery systems were in place, everybody had to. You just couldn't get a box of strawberries in December (and our family still doesn't. I admit it: I am a produce snob and I look down my nose at strawberries in December). I think of the generations of people who, if they wanted to fix chicken for dinner, had to go out and butcher the chicken for starters. I think of all the resourceful cooks who stretched every last inch out of every crop so that they would be able to feed their families throughout the year. And I also have a deep appreciation for the farmers of the world, and their families. If it takes a lot of planning and work to use what is grown on the farm, just think how much goes into raising the crops.

Nonetheless, it is always a bit of a relief for me when the last box of the year comes and goes. Then I don't have to work quite so hard to use everything up before it goes bad. Until then, we will continue to eat like farmers. And I will cook like crazy to make it happen............ oh, my achin' feet(!).

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