Reflections on a Delicious Summer CSA Season

My 20-week vegetable box share has come to a close, but I'll be back in spring.

soup with pesto
Soup made with CSA vegetables, and a parsley-sage pesto.

K Martinko

Last week marked the end of my 20-week summer CSA (community supported agriculture) cycle. Every Wednesday afternoon since early June, I've ridden my electric cargo bike to a local pickup point to collect my family's pre-paid share of organic vegetables for the week.

Delicious Food

There's a fun element of surprise to the whole ritual, as I never know exactly what I'm getting, and can only guess based on the time of year. Over the years I've learned that the CSA cycle is sandwiched on either end by cold weather greens like spinach and kale (meaning, we start and end with them), and that the most bountiful harvests happen in August and September, when my box is overflowing with tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, and enormous bunches of aromatic basil.

Over the past few weeks the shares have gradually become smaller, more root-based, and hearty, with plenty of onions, carrots, tiny turnips, and radishes rolling in. We eat lots of cabbage slaws and pickled onions atop bean burritos, and bake squashes whenever the oven is on.

The most recent highlight was a special order of shiitake mushrooms from a local grower that CSA customers were able to purchase. I jumped at the chance to get my hands on these delicacies, which I cannot buy at any supermarket in my remote region. At $14 per pound, they're not cheap, but I have stretched them out over a week's worth of breakfasts, sautéing in butter and garlic to eat with eggs. They're an absolute joy to eat, and I savor them all the more, knowing I cannot have them again until next year at this time.

CSA share pickups
Using my electric cargo bike for weekly CSA pickups.

Katherine Martinko

Changing Weather

The CSA farmer's final newsletter described this season's weather as "notable." It was a very rainy summer here in Ontario, Canada, with the farm getting 5 to 6 inches of rain nearly every week up until now (and it's still coming down as I write). The warm fall temperatures have been glorious, but alarming. She said,

"Where we once would expect a fall frost anywhere from the beginning of September onwards, we've now seen several seasons where it is almost November when true frosts begin. Where we once relied on the cold fall nights to cool our winter storage room, we now have to wait until nearly November to begin winter harvest to ensure the storage room is cold enough to load, and we are planning on setting up a cooling unit so that we can get our crops out earlier and have somewhere to put them."

The farmer's biweekly newsletters are a fundamental component of the CSA share, offering a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes workings of a farm and everything that goes into growing the food that ends up on my table, feeding my family. It's easy to overlook the complexities of this job and to take it for granted when produce just shows up looking beautiful and perfect on supermarket shelves, but having a direct line of communication with the farmer is a completely different and eye-opening experience. 

Throughout the summer I found myself stopping and thinking about her (and her amazing, hardworking team), wondering how a particular storm was affecting that week's harvest or a prolonged dry spell in the spring was hurting plant growth. I'd never normally make a connection between my local weather and a grower in a far-off place—because there wouldn't be a connection to make, as we live in totally different climates—but this is different. I felt attuned to the exact same weather that was affecting the production of the food I was about to eat, and personally invested.

Alas, this week I must return to the grocery store to buy fresh produce. No doubt I'll be jolted by the sight of bright red hothouse tomatoes and plastic-sleeved English cucumbers—foods that, to my CSA-accustomed palate, seem shockingly out of place at this time of year. I will still look for the Canadian-grown items that reflect the growing season, but I will have to return to buying some imported items like peppers, broccoli, and green beans to keep my kids eating vegetables all winter long. 

But the countdown is already on. Only 32 more weeks to go until the CSA cycle starts once again! Then I'll feel that familiar sense of wonder that the same soil, air, rain, and sunshine that I'm feeling on my feet and face are responsible for growing the vegetables I'm eating.

At a time when global issues can feel overwhelming, supporting a local organic farmer is a straightforward and tangible way to build a more resilient food system. Not only does it make me feel better, but the produce is absolutely delicious—and you simply cannot go wrong with that.