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Life is Like a Box of Produce

Partnering with farmers through CSAs



"What's in the box?" I wonder, my excitement escalating as I get ready to open it.

One week, the first Sun Gold cherry tomatoes of the season beam at me from their basket. Another week, the first sweet peppers show up glowing like lamps. Every week, the assortment of fresh produce in the community-supported agriculture (CSA) box reminds me of beloved recipes and inspires me to create new ones. As an avid consumer of vegetables, I don't need special prodding to eat more of that food group, but joining a CSA has introduced me to some vegetables I didn't know well, like turnips and their greens.

In a nutshell, a CSA subscriber (also called shareholder) pays the farmer early in the season, then, during it, he or she receives a weekly share of farm products by delivery or picked-up at the farm. The cost ($20-$25 per week), payment schedule, number of weeks (21-36) and selection of produce all vary by CSA. While the farmer knows what he or she has planted, what will be available (and when) is subject to the weather, which may make things ripe earlier or later than expected, grant an abundant crop or deny it. Hence, each box is a surprise.

The excitement of opening the boxes takes me back to childhood summer vacations spent in my father's native village north of Rome. A farmer would sometimes deliver a wicker basket to the house. One day it contained green and black figs. The skin of the ripest ones, slightly cracked, revealed a glimpse of red pulp. Another day it held peaches, their downy skin enveloping yellow or white flesh, whose heady perfume signaled the height of summer. A tomato or two could be nestled in a corner of the basket. My mother would slice one and add it to the dinner salad or my father would use it to prepare panzanella, his favorite summer breakfast (see "Panzanella — A Father's Recipe for Stale Bread," Aug. 9, 2007 ), or I would claim it for myself.

A number of farmers in Humboldt County have adopted the CSA model, which brings together farmers and community in a partnership that involves a direct, personal relationship. Ed Cohen of Earthly Edibles describes it saying, "The CSA model, community members investing in their local farms at the onset of the season, when many of us are financially challenged, and we in return providing them with the freshest produce at near wholesale price, is perhaps the most intimate relationship a farmer could have with the community." And Janet Czarnecki of Redwood Roots Farm says she loves "seeing everyone every week, getting to know them, them getting to know each other, watching the kids grow up. The human connection. All in all, the CSA model fits what is most important to me in life: relationships."

What I have carried with me in the years between figs in a wicker basket and cherry tomatoes in a cardboard box is the connection with the farmers growing the food I eat. It's the childhood memory of holding a tomato in my fingers, inhaling deeply with my nose close to its skin and eating it in ardent bites, drops of juice escaping from my cupped hands onto my once clean T-shirt.

Each CSA has its own characteristics: types of produce grown, length of the season, price, pick-up options and hours. Below is a list of farms offering shares in the upcoming season.

City of Arcata's Bayside Park Farm, Jayme Buckley, 822-7091 [City of Arcata Recreation Division]

Deep Seeded Community Farm, Eddie Tanner, 825-8033

Earthly Edibles Organic Family Farm, Ed Cohen, 502-5833

Luna Farm, Frederic Diekmeyer,

Organic Matters Ranch, Sara Mosser, (951) 204-4244

Redwood Roots Farm, Janet Czarnecki, 826-0261

Shakefork Community Farm, Kevin and Melanie Cunningham, 498-3546

Valley Flower Vegetables

Bill Fales, 786-9827,

Simona Carini also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog,

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