Thursday, March 19, 2009

Getting My Hands Dirty

Today I am going to digress slightly from the food topic to discuss my CSA in more detail. As I've discussed before, I'm a member of Abbondanza CSA here in the Boulder, Colorado area. Last year we got a fall share, which was great, and for this summer, we have signed up for a summer share. I can't wait... the first pickup is May 13th.

Last weekend, they needed volunteers to help with some labor in the field, so I decided to join them. The whole experience was quite interesting, so I'd like to share...

For some reason, I thought that we would show up, they'd all give us jobs to do and away we'd go. Not quite. It seemed like they asked us out to educate us about the CSA as much as to do some work.

The first thing we discussed was the origin of the CSA. The field in which we were standing is a 10 acre plot of open space (Thomas Open Space) next to a housing subdivision. In 2005, the subdivision residents convinced the city of Lafayette that rather than let another subdivision be built, they should buy the adjacent land and create an organic farm. A ballot measure was passed and the land was purchased. The city irrigated it, ran electricity, added a parking area, created rows and roads up and down the ends.

Abbondanza started originally as a farm for organic seeds on 40 acres about 8 miles north of where we were. Two years ago, they leased the open space from the city and added it to their farm. In 2008, the farm gained official organic status.

From looking at the project description on the city website, the farm is still funded annually by the city to the tune of $100k in 2008. I'm curious why, given that Abbo is paying a lease, and I've sent an email to the project city manager... I'll post a follow up if he replies.

It is starting to become apparent to me that creating a local food supply must be a truly community effort. You can't just pay your share and pick up your veggies. If that is all anyone does, this idea will never fully take root :) It seems to require a combination of impassioned farmers, volunteers, committed communities and some subsidies. Some might say that this not very free market, but is supermarket food any more free market? I doubt it - the subsidies are just harder for the average consumer to identify. Hmmm, that sounds like another interesting blog topic.

Moving on, we next discussed our job for the day, which was to pull carrots. Carrots? Isn't the season over? Not completely.

These carrots are being grown for seed. They were planted last August and have been hibernating underground all winter, protected by a few layers of plastic. Because they weren't harvested, they'll now start to grow prolific greens and eventually go to seed, all of which will be collected and sold. We needed to pull up the carrots for transplanting at the other farm (the original 40 acres). Why, you might ask?

That's an interesting question, and one about which all of us were confused. It was explained to us many times...

Abbondanza sells hand selected, open-pollinated seeds. This means, "a seed which produces offspring just like the parent plants. Open-pollinated seed allows growers to harvest and save seed for the following year".1

The alternative is hybrid seeds, in which the seeds are harvested from a plant pollinated by a plant of a different species. "The one big negative is that hybrid seeds do not produce true reproductions of the mother plants. This makes buying new seed every year a necessary, expensive, and for someone who wants to become self-reliant, a dangerous practice."2

This is great for seed sellers that want to resell their seeds year after year. Abbondanza is more interested in creating self sustaining gardeners in its community and preserving high quality local species than in generating large profits. Hence their open-pollinated philosophy.

Why were we pulling the carrots again? Because they planted two varieties of carrots in the field over the winter. In order to keep the varieties from crossing with each other, they have to separate them. So in a few weeks, they'll put the carrots we pulled into the other farm and later in the summer, they'll harvest their seeds.

So no carrots for us, or so we thought... In one row, about 90% of carrots had their tops eaten off by geese from a nearby pond. Without tops, carrots can't go to seed. But they're still edible! As we searched for the few remaining intact carrots, each of us hoarded as many half eaten carrots as we could hold.

I've been making carrot cake, carrot salad, and anything else carrot I can think of ever since. There is something really cool about being able to eat for a week from 1) food that I shared with a goose and 2) food that was going to be left in the ground to rot. As you might guess, I'm no gardener or this wouldn't be such a novelty.

All in all, it was a fun day. I met some interesting people, learned a lot about my CSA, carrots and seeds. And went home with not just carrots... we were all allowed to raid the stash of root vegetables that weren't fit for sale last fall. So now I have a whole new load of potatoes. Just when I was starting to crave them again.

And in an interesting twist, the walk-in cooler at the farm is a weekly pick up site for Windsor Dairy, the raw milk dairy I've been interested in. I love seeing how all of these things are connected. It almost makes me feel like I live in a ... what's the word... community.


1 Responses (Leave a Comment):

Anonymous said...

There's a wonderful carrot/onion soup recipe in "The Art of Simple Food." We're trying to avoid burning out on it by having it too often but its truly fine.