Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A piece of heaven

It's almost time. Spring is so close I can feel it in my toes. The first weekend of Spring will be celebrated with some manner of camping trip. And after that? After that it's CSA time.

Words cannot express how much our CSA means to me. I truly, truly cannot do it justice. I've started this post half a dozen times.

Our CSA — A Place on Earth CSA — is run by Carden and Courtney Willis, a couple of late-20-somethings who started their CSA about six years ago. They plan each year for 75 shares, and last year, I signed up to be a working share.

That meant that instead of the full price, we paid a fraction of the full share cost in exchange for working on the farm once a week for four hours. And, since I worked the day the boxes were packed, I picked up our share there, knocking a little more off the price. If we could have afforded to pay

But money? Money's not important here, except to say that it was the best money I've ever spent. Every week I brought home a box of (practically) organic, locally grown food that I helped to grow, weed, thin, harvest, wash and/or pack. The farm isn't even 10 miles from our driveway, so the produce is as fresh as it can be without being grown in our own back yard.

Very quickly I learned that the experience was about far more than great, locally grown food purchased at a discount in exchange for a few hours of labor. It was about the relationships formed on my farm days. Working along with me were John, Marissa, Carol, and others. And then, of course, there were Carden and Courtney.

The stories told and experiences shared while we spent hours, and I do mean hours, weeding carrots, or picking cherry tomatoes, or sorting tomatoes in the barn, were priceless. John and I talked endlessly about books and reading. Carol educated me on the raw food movement. Conversations about politics were plentiful. Each week, Courtney seemed to enjoy some of the more colorful tales I had from the rough and tumble world of weekly newspaper editing.

Each day, we'd gather, somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 p.m., for an always fantastic lunch after a morning spent outside, in the sun, in the fields, enjoying the sites, sounds and smells of summer. The food. My GOD the food. It began with Courtney's roasted vegetable pizza (don't laugh, it was excellent) and stuffed shells made by Marissa's mother, and continued on throughout the summer with a variety of foods. Pesto. Vegetable Vindaloo. Homemade bread. Sweet potato quesadillas on homemade tortillas (made by Carden and the meal that finally urged me to purchase the cook book Simply In Season).

The best lunch came on a day when, as we later found out, Courtney had no bread in the house. That morning, I showed up with a loaf or two of sourdough. Carol showed up with a loaf of bread, and I think Marissa may have brought one as well. We feasted royally on tomato sandwiches. Oh, sweet summer, the tomatoes.

Just looking at this tomato picture conjures up memories of the smell in that barn where we sorted tomatoes. Nothing compares to the smell of a fresh tomato. And please, don't kid yourselves, those red round things you find in most grocery stores aren't tomatoes. Not really. They pretend to be. But they're not. They can't compare to that pile of red, yellow, orange, green and white orbs. On more than one occasion, Courtney delighted in my own expressions of tomato-worship. I couldn't stop smelling them, and praising their beauty. I can't help it. I love me some tomatoes.

My farm days were the best therapy a girl could ever ask for. It was, and is, good honest labor, performed with good, honest folks. I was very sad when the end of the season approached, and actually cried thinking about the last farm day - which was spent tossing hay bales from the back of John's truck. It was hard work, yes, but God it was fun.

Courtney reminded me, as we lounged outside after lunch that I didn't have to wait for the CSA season to start before I come back. Any time I wanted, or needed, I could come out. When she e-mailed me this week to say she'd received my subscription form and payment, she reminded me of that - and of an agreement we made to get together for dinner during the winter months.

The upcoming season has me so excited, I'm having a little trouble getting to sleep. And after that first weekend of Spring camping trip, I'll start up again with my farm time. No sense waiting until May for something that is so soul-fulfilling.

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