It’s seed starting time. For those who love to garden as much as I do, you can appreciate how exciting this is. IT’S REALLY EXCITING! All those seed catalogs that whispered of spring from my coffee table all winter, with their heirloom offerings and non-GMO, organic, rainbow of variety - this is when it all comes to fruition. From that frosty morning in late February when I finally sat down to narrow my selections; a necessary task because $400 in seeds is probably not necessary or prudent...fast forward to these March days where my dining room table finds itself covered in soft, dark soil, seed trays, and packet after packet of edible potential. Every year I set up a rather heinous greenhouse smack in the middle of my living room, and the children and I peek in daily to spritz and rotate and generally love on those pale green shoots emerging within. It has somehow become a rather sophisticated yet grassroots operation of love and gardening. It is our early spring ritual that feeds our imaginations and our souls.
But why? We host a CSA pickup site at OUR HOUSE. We sometimes buy two veggie shares to get us through the summer. Why, oh why, oh why the greenhouse and the seeds and the garden too?
Because love of things that grow. Because interacting with that process of growth and life and nourishment feels as essential as breath itself. Because teaching my children that we are intimately connected to our food feels more important to me than anything they could ever learn at school. Because the rhythm of the seasons plays that much more beautifully when we join in and become part of the music. Because hope is a seed and proof is watching that seed unfold. Because I can’t help but want to feel life in as many ways as I can. Because I want to stretch into time rather than fight against it.
So we garden. Out of love for life and a passionate sense of obligation to drive roots into the earth. It’s not only for the food - not even necessarily for the food. It’s more about survival in a hundred different ways.
Whether or not to garden can be a tricky point to ponder for CSA customers. To this, I offer forth the idea that a garden and a CSA share are not mutually exclusive. We can donate the food, freeze it, can it, share it with neighbors and the elderly. Gardening is art. Do art for the process of doing art. For how it feeds the soul. Garden because humans need to feel dirt in their hands and definitely between their toes. And because the fruits of that labor make the world a better place - and how better to share love than to share the result of this process?
There are some simple ways to create a garden that harmonizes with your CSA share rather than conspires against it. Here are the strategies that I’ve adopted over the years:
Grow flowers, because the world can use more beauty.
Grow crops to donate. Most food pantries will accept produce from home gardens to give to families in need. Considering that canned and processed foods are the typical staples that families receive from food pantries, fresh produce is really valuable here.
Plant more herbs! Herbs are easy to dry, freeze, or use fresh. Having an abundance of fresh herbs will help make your summer CSA share that much more delicious.
Remember the elderly. The elderly population is the most underserved when it comes to accessing food assistance - often because they are too ashamed to ask for help. Those who do receive assistance are often afraid to spend it on fresh produce for fear it will spoil.
Plant things you can freeze. If you loved the frozen items included in this winter’s CSA share, think how great it would be to go into the winter months with a freezer stocked full! Freezing your own vegetables is a great way to plan ahead for the cooler, more sparse months.
Plant things you can ferment. Same idea as the things you can plant to freeze. I grow many, many turnips for this reason.
Plant vegetables that can be preserved through canning.
Plant things you can dehydrate. So, you’re getting the idea. But think broadly on this one. You can dehydrate tomatoes, peppers, vegetables for soups and stews...whether you're fermenting, canning, freezing, or dehydrating, the summer garden is your opportunity to help ensure variety during the winter.
Grow the things you can’t get enough of. In my family, it’s greens and tomatoes. When in season, we eat greens at least three times a day. They go into salads, smoothies, eggs, soups, stews, sandwiches - often they are sauteed with garlic and serve as the base for other delicious toppings. Tomatoes get eaten like apples or chopped up and tossed into salsa which is then put on EVERYTHING.
Eat more vegetables when they’re in season. If you’re striving to eat seasonally, this makes a lot of sense from a health and nutrition standpoint. What items in your diet could you handle less of? Less grain? Less sugar? Less processed food? Less meat? Having a lot of vegetables around gives you the push to replace some of those less nutritionally dense foods with the rich offerings of summer’s variety. For example, when my family has a barbecue, we don’t serve a bunch of chips and grain based side dishes. We grill some meat, and then loads and loads of vegetables brushed with olive oil and salt.
Share with neighbors and family. I make “garden boxes” all summer long to surprise friends and family.
Take up juicing during the summer months, using vegetables from your garden and CSA share. Juicing is a great way to get extra vitamins in your diet. Compost or bake with the pulp to make sure none of the goodness goes to waste.
Grow medicinal crops. Two of my favorite things to grow are chamomile and calendula, and I have two entire garden beds reserved for this purpose. They are beautiful to grow, fun to harvest, and beneficial for the whole family.
- Add vegetables to your smoothies. Beets, carrots, and greens can all hide very well in smoothies. Choose just one to add to a smoothie every day, and you’ll find your demand for vegetables suddenly goes way up!