Community-supported Agriculture and TNCS

The New Century School families recently got an email from Chef Emma Novashinski, detailing a CSA (community-supported agriculture) share program offered by One Straw Farm in Whitehall, MD. This is TNCS’s second year participating in the CSA; Chef Novashinski is hoping to garner enough support to make TNCS a drop-off point again in 2013. TNCS needs a total of 10 shares to be a drop-off location, and One Straw Farm throws in a bonus share for the school to use if we make that number. Chef Novashinski relies on locally sourced produce in her school lunch program, so the extra share would go right into TNCS students’ tummies! Visit her Garden Tuck Shop facebook page to see a gallery of her marvelous lunches.

Why CSA? 

For readers unfamiliar with what CSA is and how it works, Wikipedia defines it as, “an alternative, locally-based economic model of agriculture and food distribution . . . CSA members or subscribers pay at the onset of the growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest; once harvesting begins, they receive weekly shares of vegetables and fruit [etc.] . . .” Or, as the very funny and very quotable Joan Norman (co-owner of One Straw Farm with husband Drew) boils it down, “You give me money, and I give you food.” Paying for this food subscription service up front tells the farmer how much to plant, thereby reducing waste and keeping the farm solvent. The customers save money and eat more “vegetables, glorious vegetables” than they otherwise might. Everybody wins.

And then there’s the contrast between most grocery store produce and locally sourced produce. Consider that produce grown in California might get picked on a Monday, crosses the country and lands in the supermarket Friday, gets put behind the older goods already on the shelf Saturday, and is eventually purchased by you the following Monday or so. By the time it reaches your refrigerator, the two qualities we look for in food have been degraded dramatically—the taste and the nutritive content. All of which begs the question, why are we eating this??? CSA, on the other hand, is as fresh as you’re going to get (unless you’re growing it yourself), with flavor and nutrients at their peaks.

Chef Novashinski adds a couple more dimensions to this issue. She strongly believes that what is growing in your particular environment is what is best for you to eat. So, if it’s rhubarb and asparagus being harvested in central Maryland now, that’s what central Marylanders should be eating. Leave the corn and tomatoes for summer, when they’re in season here. She is also personally a shareholder. “I like it,” she says, “because I already eat local food, but this way I get my Saturdays back. I don’t have to go to the Farmer’s Market, I can go to the pool. They’ve picked the best stuff for me.” Very practical!

Why One Straw Farm?

One Straw Farm

One Straw Farm

Located on 350 gently rolling acres near the Maryland/Pennsylvania border, One Straw Farm is Food Alliance certified since 2010, meaning that they adhere to sustainability standards and guarantee food integrity (i.e., no genetically  engineered or artificial ingredients) and is the largest such vegetable farm in Maryland. They boast some prestigious customers, too, on the basis of these important principles. Popular farm-to-table Baltimore restaurant Woodberry Kitchen is one, and the relationship seems to be working out quite well for them. (In fact, it was announced this month that chef and owner Spike Gjerde is the only Baltimore chef to become a 2013 James Beard Award Finalist. The winner, chosen from an elite pantheon of only five mid-atlantic chefs, will be announced May 6th. Go Spike!)

Says Joan Norman: “If you learn nothing else, know where your food comes from. I’m liable to the people who buy my food. I will grow you the safest food I can.”

The Deets on the Beets

The available bounty ranges from onions, peppers, lettuces, chard, kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. to herbs—rosemary, oregano, thyme, chives, cilantro, parsley, etc.—and fruit, such as raspberries, strawberries, watermelon, and gorgeous varieties of heirloom tomatoes.

Greenhouse veg

These vegetables are started in the greenhouse and transplanted to the fields 6–8 weeks later.

Starting in June and running through November, on a set day of the week, “shareholders” get 8 pieces of 3–6 items, primarily vegetables (for example, 1 head of lettuce, 3 cucumbers, 1 watermelon, a bunch of herbs, and maybe a few tomatoes). This year we get an extra week, totaling 25 weeks of locally, sustainably grown produce. The cost is $600 (remember to sign up early next year to receive a discount), which is only $24 per week. CSA makes eating right so easy; click here for a chart of what’s harvested when.

Becoming a Shareholder

If you’re like many of us, you might be wondering how you could manage a weekly share in your household. Common questions are: What if I don’t like what I get? Can I possibly eat all that produce each week? After thinking hard about purchasing a share myself, this writer just had to see the farm and learn about CSA from those experienced in this business. So, a day after Baltimore’s surprise Spring snowstorm, I drove up to One Straw Farm to meet Joan and Drew as well as my future food. Joan drove me around in a four-wheeler and showed me everything, “from the ground up,” as it were. It was amazing. We munched red leaf lettuce growing right at our feet, smelled handfuls of rich black compost (surprisingly pleasant!), and talked farming. We were often accompanied by Easy, one of the Normans’ Labrador Retrievers, whose favorite toy is a bucket. Easy and bucket must come in very handy at harvest time.

I learned that unbeknownst to the Normans when they bought the farm back in 1983, the land had once belonged to Drew’s great-grandfather. Talk about serendipity! I learned that the name One Straw Farm derives from the book One Straw Revolution, a manifesto that unites the practice of sustainability with the philosophy of common sense by a Japanese scientist-turned-farmer. I also learned that the 75–80 acres of food crops are lovingly hand-tilled at least once each year. Their full-time crew consists of between 20 and 25 people, most of whom are more like family than employees. But the, uh, “meat” of the conversation was veggies. “I love growing food for people,” says Joan. “I love helping kids eat vegetables and giving them that advantage.”

Tricks of the Trade

Both Joan Norman and Chef Novashinski also have plenty of helpful tips for how to use your share. There are lots of creative recipes on the One Straw Farm website, for example, for dishes like Kale Enchiladas (the kale is the wrapper—ingenious!). Chef Novashinski also encourages getting creative when you find yourself with leftover produce. You can add a little sugar and vinegar to almost anything and make jams, jellies, chutneys, or piccalillies, she says. “Instead of wasting it, experiment with it—what have you got to lose?” Other suggestions are to make juices and to “share your share”: give food gifts to your friends and family. The bottom line is, she says, “access to organic, home-cooked food is better for us.”

TNCS needs just four more sign-ups to qualify as a drop-off site. Sign up for your share here (make sure to mention that you’re associated with TNCS) or email Chef Novashinski.

8 thoughts on “Community-supported Agriculture and TNCS

  1. As stated, Joan Norman is very quotable, especially on the subject of kids + veggies. Here are some more of her memorable quips:

    “Your kids will learn to name all their vegetables and hate them all.”
    “Anything you can do to get a vegetable to cross a child’s lips is fair game.”
    “Get sprinkles. Let’s face it, cookies don’t really need sprinkles, but sometimes vegetables could use a little help.”

  2. Very informative! I live on the Eastern Shore and have a CSA with Greenbranch Farm. I scour the internet for well-written, insightful articles about local farming.

    I want to visit the farm with Easy & bucket.

  3. I think this is the year for a CSA share!

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