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Tess was in a stroller the first summer she visited the farm. Six months old, with a sunhat on her head and sunlight on her toes, she watched (and snoozed) as my husband and I and our CSA comrades picked the day’s crops, then washed and packed them for the trip back to the city for pickup.
The following summer, we brought a little pop-up tent for her and a friend. But by the next, she was working right alongside us, eating a cherry tomato for every few she picked, chomping fistfuls of pea shoots like a cow. This was before bugs became “gross,” so every wiggler and caterpillar was a new friend. The memories of those days are etched in the mommy memory bank. The salad days. Literally.
A couple years later, we switched to a CSA without a work component, and while it’s been easier and we’ve loved the variety on offer, it’s felt a bit weird to simply show up, check our name off a list and start bagging. No work at the farm. No work at pickup. Just pay our money and get our food.
This isn’t unusual, I understand. It’s how many CSAs these days work, and how most people prefer it. But it makes me a little sad. I miss the experience of working the farm and the camaraderie of knowing fellow members as more than faces in a line. Most of all, I miss exposing my daughter to all of that and more.
This season, though, instead of going back to our old CSA, we’re doing something radical: We’re skipping the CSA altogether. We tried to skip it last year, then changed our minds, lured by convenience. (And sure, all that good food.) But this year we’re holding firm.
Why? So we can shop the markets, one farm and farmer at a time, picking just what we want and learning from the choices along the way. Times change, so we’ve found new ways to get our farm fix. We grow a little at home. We pick a lot at local farms. We’ve continued shopping the markets to supplement our CSA. But now I want to slow it down and make each purchase a deliberate act. Tess is 10, still young enough to love shopping by my side, but old enough to be shaped by the experience. The salad days aren’t over yet.
A version of this post also appears in my “Food Literacy” column in the summer 2014 issue of New York Organic News, the quarterly magazine of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.
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