Friday, May 24, 2013

Living Off The Land

Diane Phillips is the Technical Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read the published version of her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin on May 24, 2013.

I’m about to embark on a new venture.  I just purchased a share in a community farm.  In my opinion, there’s nothing better than sitting down to a meal prepared with fresh, locally grown vegetables.  It reminds me of my childhood.  My grandmother used to have the best garden that yielded bushels of green beans, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, zucchini, tomatoes, and so on.  From the early summer to early fall, my family had homegrown vegetables.  I’ve tried my hand at gardening in the past, and I learned that I don’t have the knack for it.  I forget to water it and weed it.  I don’t provide adequate protection to keep out our resident rabbit and neighborhood woodchuck.  Because of my ineptitude at living off my land, I made do with the offerings at the local grocery store.  I’ve tried to make sure to buy organically grown fruits and vegetables to avoid the genetically engineered or pesticide-laden products.  It just wasn’t the same as that fresh-picked taste that I remember from my grandmother’s garden.  I figured I’d have to make do with what I could buy since I clearly didn’t get the gardening gene from my gram.

My ‘just get used to it’ attitude changed about a month ago.  I was enjoying a beautiful spring day at Bird Park when I saw a notice about the Community Farm located at Moose Hill in Sharon.   A CSA (or Community Supported Agriculture) isn’t a new concept but I’ve only heard about community gardens in which you purchase a plot of land and you plant and tend your share of the garden.  That was not going to work for me since all of my gardens have always wilted, succumbed to weeds or been enjoyed by backyard bunnies.  I was curious about this CSA opportunity and found out that actual farmers plant and care for the crops.  Members who have purchased shares volunteer during the growing season to help weed, harvest, pick and distribute the food to other members.  I figured that this is the perfect scenario for someone like me to get locally grown vegetables.  

While I wait patiently for the crops to grow at the farm, I’m researching ways in which I can ensure that our share of the harvest is stored and prepared in the best way possible.  Eating local: The cookbook inspired by America's farmers by Sur La Table with Janet Fletcher is organized by type (vegetable, fruit and finally meat and eggs) and then alphabetically by product.  This volume has storage tips as well as 150 recipes to help you prepare delicious, fresh meals with the bounty from the local farmers’ markets or CSA.  The farmer's kitchen: The ultimate guide to enjoying your CSA and farmer's market foods by Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal also provides storage tips and recipes for typical foods that CSAs harvest that you may or may not know how to prepare.  A new edition to our collection is Vegetable literacy: Exploring the affinities and history of the vegetable families, with 300 recipes by Deborah Madison.  This book is organized a little differently than others.  Ms. Madison arranges the descriptions and recipes by vegetable family.  She informs the reader about the common and uncommon varieties that one might encounter, and she provides recipes which are geared to make the most of the vegetables’ natural flavors – all with beautiful pictures throughout the book.

In addition to learning about the produce, I also wanted to learn more about CSAs in general and so I decided to scope out one of the books we have in the Minuteman Network, Sharing the harvest: A citizen's guide to Community Supported Agriculture by Elizabeth Henderson.  This book provides a basic understanding of CSAs and even how to start one.  Community gardening, edited by Ellen Kirby and Elizabeth Peters, provides examples of various community garden projects across the U.S.  For those who are more interested in food beyond the garden but still in their backyard, there are resources available for you too. 

While I was researching the gardens, I stumbled upon a few titles that discussed the topic of foraging.  Backyard foraging: 65 familiar plants you didn't know you could eat by Ellen Zachos and Foraged flavor: Finding fabulous ingredients in your backyard or farmer's market by Tama Matsuoka Wong are interesting reads and will have you examining what’s growing around your yard and maybe trying a thing or two.  Maybe it’ll stop you from reaching for the weed killer.  Dandelion Hunter: Foraging the Urban Wilderness by Rebecca Lerner provides an entertaining account of one woman’s quest to survive for one week on what plants she can forage for food and use to make her own medicine in her city of Portland, Oregon.  Lerner provides additional resources to further your knowledge in both her book and her blog,  One of her recommendations worth mentioning is the books and web site of “Wildman” Steve Brill.  Mr. Brill is a naturalist who leads tours throughout parks in New York.  His book, Identifying and harvesting edible and medicinal plants in wild (and not so wild) places, shows readers how to find and prepare over 500 plants.  He followed up this work with The wild vegetarian cookbook: A forager's culinary guide (in the field or in the supermarket) to preparing and savoring wild (and not so wild) natural foods, with more than 500 recipes.  All foragers caution the reader to never eat anything that they cannot positively identify.  So, if you get adventurous and decide to forage, do so with a guide in hand.

After all of this reading, I’m ready to collect my first delivery of produce from the farm.  I have more recipes than I can count and have even started to look at those weeds in my yard a little differently.  As I watch the backyard bunny nibble on dandelions and other leafy greens, I start thinking that I might actually get to his crop first one of these days.