Dig dem taters

One potato, two potato, new potato, purple potato?

When we lived in Florida, organic produce wasn’t really on my radar. Occasionally I would notice an organic item or two in the produce section while shopping. Here in Western North Carolina, organic products are ubiquitous — local grocery stores carry organic cleaning agents, organic dog treats and even organic beer!

The subject of buying a share in an organic farm came up during a Friday “culdee meeting” (aka happy hour). Joining our next-door neighbors, we pull out folding chairs, snacks and beverages and converse about the past week while watching our boys roar around the cul-de-sac on their pedal cars and Big Wheels. At times, the racket of the plastic wheels grinding on the concrete makes talking impossible — something like a front-row seat at a NASCAR event.

But in between the spinouts, spills and crying flags, we agreed to split a share in an organic farm. We would alternate picking up the box at the food co-op each Wednesday. We even decided to splurge, signing on for the weekly bouquet of fresh flowers as well.

Let me confess that when I brought my check next door to cover our half, I had no idea what “CSA” even stood for. Several weeks in, I was still clueless. It wasn’t until we attended the Memorial Day family picnic at Full Sun Farm that I found out — and then only by accident. As I was mingling, listening to a trio picking tunes and watching our two boys throwing sticks to Coco (the friendliest dog ever), a nice man asked if I was a member of the CSA. I said no, with more disdain in my voice than intended. He looked at me quizzically and, deterred by my tone, quickly moved away. I looked around with some trepidation — who, exactly, were these people? As a fully certified Yankee, I wanted little association with members of the Confederate States of America. What else could CSA stand for?

About 25 minutes later, I caught sight of a faded T-shirt, proudly worn, that made it all clear. This was not some bizarre assembly out of Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic but a warm family gathering of friendly community-supported-agriculture members. Live and learn.

Each week brought a new box brimming with culinary challenges. Curly kale? Steam, toss with soy sauce, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and plenty of fresh-roasted sesame seeds: delicious!

Sugar-snap peas? Eat ’em raw. Baby chioggia beets? Bake 40 minutes, slice, mix with feta cheese and capers: cool and refreshing. Basil and tomatoes? Add sliced mozzarella, a drizzle of good olive oil, salt, pepper and capers. The best insalata Caprese in town.

Garlic? Press two cloves, pat on a soy-marinated pork loin, place on grill. Scrumptious! Bok choy? Chop, mix into noodle packet. Blueberries? Keep ’em all and tell the neighbor we didn’t get any.

Of course, not everything went so well. One evening my neighbor brought over a couple of just-out-of-the-oven rhubarb tarts. Absolutely heavenly! (I added a sidecar of vanilla ice cream.) Naturally I thought I could go her one better: rhubarb pie! Delighted to see rhubarb in the box the next week, I kept it all for myself.

But baking pies is tricky at best, and never having made one of these before, I quickly bogged down. Calling next door for assistance, I got no answer, leaving a pathetic message about needing help with my first-ever rhubarb pie. Meanwhile I soldiered on, adding some bananas in an attempt to put my personal stamp on the recipe.

Two hours later, my pie still cooling on the rack, Roxanne called back, proclaiming, “Stop! That’s not rhubarb — it’s rainbow chard!” With a double sidecar of vanilla ice cream, however, banana-chard pie is not half bad.

Our encounter with Full Sun Farm and community-supported agriculture was wonderful. As the chief cook and bottle washer, I knew our share would arrive every Wednesday. I could then plan the next several days’ meals based on what was in the box. The cost was fair, and both the quality and quantity of produce we received were outstanding. Having a fresh bouquet of flowers on the table added a delightful splash of color to the dining room. And knowing we were contributing to the local economy — while eating as healthily as possible — further enhanced the whole experience.

As a product of the Chicago suburbs, I didn’t have a clue about farming. But Alex’s weekly updates offered plenty of insight into the challenges he faced growing our food. And next season, I intend to carve out time get out in the fields myself. That will be the penance for my earlier CSA faux pas.

Purple potatoes? Steam, then pan-fry with dill. Seconds, anyone?

[Peter Billingsley lives in North Asheville and always remembered to bring his box back.]

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