Adventures in Community Supported Agriculture

Adventures in Community Supported Agriculture

My interest in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA for short) started at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but it’s definitely worth a stop if you’re ever in town. Obviously, the exhibits are great (it is the Smithsonian, after all), but what many people don’t realize is just how amazing their cafeteria is. Yes, their cafeteria.

The Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe (mitsitam means “Let’s eat” in the language of the Piscataway people) has amazing, native foods from across North America. The cafe is divided into stations that focus on indigenous foods for specific regions, and each one combines traditional and contemporary cooking. For example, at the Northwest Coast counter, you could get fire-roasted salmon and grilled buffalo, while the Mesoamerica counter served up flour tortillas with an array of tasty salsas.

Being a lover of Thanksgiving dinner, I headed to the Northern Woodlands station, which offered roasted turkey with cranberries. For one of my sides, I chose parsnips. Now, this is kind of embarrassing to admit, but at the time I didn’t actually know what a parsnip was. If you’d asked me to pick one out at the store, I’d be stumped. I didn’t know if my local Kroger even carried them. Turns out though, they’re absolutely delicious (and a root vegetable, kind of like a turnip or a potato).

As someone who tries to live green, I felt pretty bad about not having encountered a basic vegetable like the parsnip in my 30+ years of eating. And it made me wonder, what else have I been missing out on? My local grocery store, while full of fruits and vegetables, doesn’t exactly wow when it comes to diversity of produce. I looked, and there were no parsnips to be found. Just the usual suspects—potatoes, onions, tomatoes, two kinds of lettuce, some mushrooms, etc.

Which brings us back to my local CSA. Community supported agriculture  is a pretty simple idea: you pay a local farm up-front, and the farmers use that money to run their business. In return, every week investors get a box of organic, seasonal produce. What’s not to like? You get to support a local business while munching on fresh foods straight from the farm. It seemed like a great way to break out of my grocery store-vegetable rut and try something new.

I’d heard about CSA programs from friends in other cities, and a little internet searching turned up several near me. After a bit more research, I settled on Home Sweet Farm, a CSA located in Washington county, Texas, that’s been supplying Houstonians with organic vegetables, herbs, meats, and cheeses since 2004. I signed up for their 12-week winter season, and am eagerly awaiting my first delivery.

Not everyone in my house is as I excited as me, though. My boyfriend, a meat and potatoes kind of guy, was surprised and somewhat horrified at the news that I’d be swapping his buttery starches and pan-fried pork for something a little bit greener. But with a bit of cajoling, he seems to be coming around. Last week he returned from the store with fresh Brussels sprouts—something I thought I’d never live to see.

His new-found adventurousness gave a us a chance to try out some different veggie recipes, another benefit of stepping outside our food comfort zone. I’m a pretty good cook (I think anyway), but my repertoire doesn’t involve a whole of vegetable dishes. Since I don’t know what foods I’ll be getting every week, finding new recipes should be part of the fun!

The mystery is part of what makes this so exciting. Who knows what I’ll get to eat next week when I pick up my first round of goodies? Google tells me that parsnips are a winter vegetable, so maybe I’ll finally get a chance to cook some up for myself.

. . .

. . .

Recipe of the week:

Pan-cooked Brussels Sprouts

1 lb. Brussels sprouts

2 tablespoons oil

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup grated cheese

1. Prepare the Brussels sprouts by trimming away any loose leaves and cutting each sprout in half.

2. Toss the Brussels sprout halves with oil, salt, and pepper.

3. Lay the sprouts flat-side down in a warm pan. Keep the heat on the pan low—it takes awhile for the sprouts to cook through, and if your pan is too hot they’ll burn first.

4. After about eight minutes, then the sprouts with tongs to brown the other side. Cook for five more minutes.

5. Once they’re browned and soft all the way through, top with grated cheese (I like using a hard cheese like Manchego or Parmesan, but any cheese you like will do) and serve!

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