Saturday, February 27, 2016

CSA Newsletter for February 2016

Farm Update

The cilantro is looking gorgeous already, and it is so nice to
have green growing things again!
Hello everyone!  It has been a relatively mild winter, although the last few days haven’t seemed like it, and there are already a few things that are starting to grow again as the days get longer.  Our spinach and cilantro that we planted last fall have really started to put on some growth over the last two weeks, and they actually look and taste really nice already.  We had quite a time with the high winds last week, and they actually blew the plastic off two of our coldframes.  We will have to do a little reconstruction, mostly to reinforce the tunnels to be stronger.  Fortunately none of the steel was damaged, which is the most valuable part of the coldframes.  There was some pretty nice looking spinach in one of the coldframes, and we were worried about it being uncovered with the snows we’ve had over the last few days, but we think it should come through.  We weren’t able to get our new plastic in time to get the spinach covered before the snows came, but the snow itself often has an insulating effect, so we are hoping that that will do the trick until we can get the new plastic on. The spinach was very hardy after experiencing the winter temperatures, so we are pretty sure it will come back just fine.  There is also spinach out in the field that is surviving very well (though does not look very good right now), so we expect that this spring will be full of spinach, early on at least.  Most years our winters are a little too harsh for the outside spinach to survive.  We will be seeding in the greenhouse next week, and we’re excited to finally start using the new greenhouse for the first time!  Things are starting to move faster at the farm, and we are also starting to put together our farm crew for the season.  We are hoping the milder winter results in an earlier start to the season, but we will see what shakes out.  There are more seeds that we’ll be starting in the greenhouses than in previous years so it will be nice to be surrounded by green growing things again in such abundance!  This time of year always feels so full of promise.  None of the real struggles of the season have been realized yet, and visions of perfect plantings and gorgeous rows of veggies dance in our heads

Humans and Food: A Most Complicated Relationship

Pretty much since the very beginning, humans have had a complicated relationship with food.  We either vilify it, put it on a pedestal, give it too much or too little thought, use it to fill all sorts of needs that aren’t actually related to food, or generally underappreciate it.  And it’s no surprise.  Food is something we need every day to keep on living, as well as an experience. 

If you have young kids or grandkids, you’ve probably seen the movie Ratatouille.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the movie, it’s about a rat named Remy who, unlike all the other rats in his family and colony, has an innate appreciation and talent for food.  While the other rats scrounge through garbage cans for sustenance, Remy seeks out quality food and combines flavors in truly enjoyable ways.  His father in particular thinks this is too fussy and a waste of time.  “Food is fuel,” he says.  “If you get picky about what you put in the tank, your engine is gonna die.”  For him, the only reason to eat is to have enough energy to keep on being alive, so one calorie is as good as another, and anything edible will do.

I’ve been on both sides of this ideological divide.  Being a human rather than a rat, my version of Remy’s dad’s food philosophy didn’t involve foraging through garbage cans.  But during my teen and college years, my relationship to food was extremely utilitarian.  The best kind of food was the kind that could be pulled from the freezer, microwaved for four minutes, and eaten standing up.  Taste was not essential, and nutrition wasn’t much of a consideration either.  Convenience trumped quality every time, so I never learned that food could be a joy.

Twelve years, three kids, and a major career shift later, I am squarely in Remy’s camp.  I would be lying if I claimed any kind of skill in the kitchen. (Alas, I have never managed to overcome my early lack of culinary education, but I do make a mean cup of coffee.)  But Fred is an amazing cook who truly enjoys experimenting with new ingredients and new flavors, and our whole household benefits from his talent.  So while I do not actually cook all that often or all that successfully, I appreciate excellent food.  I've found that eating high-quality, flavorful food is one of the easiest ways to improve your quality of life.

It’s more nuanced than a simple food-as-fuel versus food-as-pleasure, though.  There are many iterations of the food-as-fuel mentality, and they are all a little different.  I heard a friend say recently that she doesn’t want her kids to grow up with a weird relationship with food, so she doesn’t use it as a reward or make a big deal out of food occasions.  I get this.  There are many people out there who struggle with overeating or eating foods that are bad for them because of emotional factors.  But eating in a utilitarian fashion and ignoring the relationship humans have with their food altogether might end up having the same negative effect.  I happen to know that my friend does feed her kids healthy foods and doesn’t skimp on flavor, but I don’t think it’s detrimental to acknowledge that food can be an experience.  If you never learn to enjoy high-quality, nutritious food for its own sake, you run the risk of turning to what is convenient by default, and convenience foods are not usually good for you.

Alternatively, I’ve met many people for whom food decisions revolve not around flavor or enjoyment, but around calories and nutrients.  I remember a conversation I had with a woman last year about a green smoothie she had been making that contained a particular herb she couldn’t stand.  “It tastes terrible,” she said, “but it’s very nutritious.”  This might get me in trouble, but that’s no way to live either.  Science may be able to figure out what has the highest content of micronutrient X, but if you hate the flavor, you’re better off eating something that is almost as healthy that you actually like.  The point of eating nutritious food is to be healthier and therefore have a higher quality of life.  You can have more fun when you’re not sick all the time.  But if you have to eat boring, flavorless, or repellent foods to get there, that kind of defeats the purpose, and it may be worth reexamining your methods.  Good health shouldn’t be about deprivation.  There are so many foods out there that are both nutritious and delicious, so there is no reason to have to soldier through mealtime in order to be healthy.

So what is the answer?  What is the proper relationship between people and the food we eat?  I don’t know for sure, but eating delicious foods prepared with healthy ingredients in an appreciative and celebratory manner is a good start.  And if you’re not reliant on someone else to make them for you, all the better… though I’m still working on that part.


Here in Michigan, most local produce hasn't started to hit the farmers' markets, CSA's, or grocery store shelves just yet.  But pretty soon, you'll start seeing early spring favorites like spinach, cilantro, asparagus, and rhubarb coming out of gardens everywhere.  A good spinach salad is the perfect winter-to-spring transition dish.  You can winter it up with warm dressings and bacon, or you can spring it up with strawberries.  Here are several ideas for a wonderful spinach salad in your near future.  Enjoy!