Vegetables on Parade

May 25, 2005

Spiral Path Farm is a certified organic farm on 188 acres of Perry County, Pennsylvania, about 45 miles from where I live. Terra and Mike Brownback, fresh from their Peace Corps service, began tending the land in the early 1970s. They raised a family and successfully worked 60 acres as a conventional farm, growing corn, hay, wheat, oats, and other small grains. In 1991 they made a philosophical decision to stop using conventional farming and convert their entire property to organic methods. They became part of a network of local farmers using the Community Supported Agriculture model of farming.

According the Spiral Path’s website, “CSA is a relationship of mutual support and commitment between local farmers and community members who pay the farmer an annual membership fee to cover the production costs of the farm. In turn, members receive a weekly share of the harvest during the local growing season. This arrangement gives the farmer a direct connection to and relationship with the consumer. Ultimately, CSA creates ‘agriculture-supported communities’ where members receive a wide variety of local in-season foods harvested at their peak of ripeness, flavor and vitamin and mineral content.”

I learned about this concept last year, when a long-time journaller in Maryland began devoting all of her online writing to food and family meals. (She has since closed her journal so I can’t give you a link.) She joined her local CSA network and began writing lively descriptions of the trip each week to pick up her box, the sorting through of whatever she found there, and the dishes she prepared. Ron and I attended the open house Spiral Path Farm holds in July, and I determined to join this season. We picked up our first box today.

I signed up for a “medium share,” 5 to 15 pounds of produce deemed enough for two omnivores or one vegetarian. The boxes are trucked from the farm to various pick-up sites. Ours is a big house with a wide covered porch in the city neighborhood where I grew up. Members come bay at their convenience, pick up their boxes, and check their names off in a notebook. (Evidently people who buy organic vegetables through a co-op arrangement are unlikely to rip each other off.)

It’s been a cold May, the enclosed newsletter said, and while all the crops look good in the field, many are just not ready yet for harvesting. Our first box contained some spinach, some ready-to-eat mixed greens, and a small bag of radishes and spring onions. Ron and I both had big salads tonight for dinner, supplemented with mushrooms, sliced cucumbers, and shredded provolone cheese we had on hand.

There’s something about that box of stuff, about taking apart the components and washing the fresh earth of a local farm off the spinach and the radishes that made the salad more satisfying than it might  have been had I gotten all of the ingredients from the supermarket. We used a fair amount (the boxes are not chock full early in the season) but there’s enough for several more portions before our next box arrives. I have a feeling we’ll be eating more salads and less junk as the summer deepens.

(The title of this piece, “Vegetables on Parade,” comes from a memory Ron has of a selection in his first accordion instruction book. I think every primary book for every instrument has a version of this, a simple, perhaps familiar melody excerpted and modified for chubby uncertain fingers to practice on. A Google search indicated that it is also the title of a piece for “mezzo-soprano and instruments” by noted Canadian composer Douglas Schmidt. Dr. Schmidt is also described as a renowned accordionist.)

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