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CSA

Roasted Carrot Pitas with Carrot Top Spread

Roasted Carrot Pitas with Carrot Top Spread

Do you have a favorite veggie? One you love so much that you’ve considered getting it inked somewhere on your body? If so, we should probably be friends.

Carrot Top Spread

For me, that veggie is carrots. Particularly those that come in multi-colored bunches, beautiful green tops kept attached and in tact.

Carrots are simply a delightful sight, and I happen to absolutely adore their earthy, slightly sweet flavor, too.

Multi-colored carrots

However, it wasn’t until, perhaps just last year, that I would do much with a bunch’s tops. Despite this, it had always pained me to dump all of those elegant, lacy greens into the trash. I’m not one to waste food, especially when it’s the kind that comes straight from the ground and still appears rather fresh.

So, I finally decided to do some research. The result? Without too much surprise, I discovered that carrots were edible from head-to-toe, and that I no longer should be trashing their tops.

Since, I remain determined to find new ways to use them. I’d invite you to do the same. (And share your findings with me!)

Carrot Tops

What do carrot tops taste like? To me, the little leaves resemble the qualities of an herb – very unique in flavor and fairly pungent. I’d liken it to parsley, with a fresh flavor that can cut other rich foods, yet with a slightly bitter touch.

Like herbs, I love to loosely chop the leaves, and use them for topping salads and sandwiches. I also love them for a flavorful pesto-like spread, such as this one.

Roasted Carrot Pitas with Carrot Top Spread

Given the flavor of carrot tops, this spread is a bit more bitter than a traditional basil pesto, which is why it pairs so nicely with the sweetness of roasted carrots. The beans add a boost of protein to it and also mellow out the flavor. Together with crunchy cabbage and sunflower seeds, all sandwiched into a pita, this creamy spread feels almost decadent. Yet, it doesn’t require much more effort than it takes to pull out the food processor and place it on your kitchen counter. Thank you to whoever invented this wonderful appliance.

Roasted Carrot Pitas with Carrot Top Spread

 

I chose to keep this dish vegan, but feel free to add some goat cheese or feta on top. You could also swap the pita for a whole wheat tortilla wrap if pita is not available. Enjoy!

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Last Day at the CSA

So Friday marked my last day working with Herrcastle Farm (providers of several CSA & Farmer’s Market locations).

After spending at least 24 hours of my life just within the past two weeks picking blueberries, just when I thought I couldn’t pick another blueberry, it was also my last morning doing so.  Raspberries as well.

It was my last day hoeing around 1,000 sweet potato plants.

My last day picking snow peas while jamming out to the random shuffle on my ipod.

My last day endlessly weeding 1,000’s of tomato and pepper and melon holes.

My last day preparing and filling a bunch of paper bags with farm fresh produce to be delivered to eager CSA members.

The last time of baking my skin all day in the sun (sorry skin!), and filling my body head to toe with the day’s happy hour special:  dirt & sweat.

The last day of watching my back for the crazy neighbor that would come down and spy on me.  (Or just sit against his fence with binoculars.)

My last day being complimented by the mom and dad and picked on and joked around with by the son.

My last day of the summer continuously learning in the garden and watching the vivacious baby plants grow into adults right before my eyes.

There are a million lasts, good and bad, as my job with the farm comes to an end.  Along the ride, there were also a ton of memorable firsts and countless learning experiences.

Like my first time driving a tractor.  That was a laugh.  After knocking out a couple squash plants, I actually got the hang of it relatively quickly.

Or my first time preparing for a CSA and seeing how much work is actually involved with doing so.  After picking 80 pounds of cherries in the morning and peeling 275 onions in an afternoon among other produce preparation, you start to realize CSA’s take more effort than you originally thought.

My first time working at a farmer’s market, getting a behind the scenes view of what’s involved with actually running a produce stand.  Also my first time being asked, as a customer points to the onions, “How do you prepare these?”

My first time digging wood chips.  Eight hours later and a good night’s rest, oh was I feeling that the next morning.

My first time using rhubarb.  That was delightful.

My first time having a job that coincided as a grocery store.  I’m going to miss that one!

My first time working in a loving environment with a family who totally rocked.  It’s so rare, especially at my age, to find a job where the boss’s truly appreciate your efforts and remind you almost daily how glad they are to have you working for them.  I’ve been through a few jobs…I don’t think I ever fully felt comfortable in any of them, aside from this one.

I can’t believe almost two months have gone by already.  I have learned so much about gardening on a large scale and what it really takes to put food into the hands of others around us.  I can say I’ve truly gained an appreciation for what these guys at Herrcastle Farm are doing day after day as well as others just like them.  What a wonderful learning experience and unforgettable summer job.

The reason for my summer job ending halfway through summer, well, that will explained in my next post… I’ve been holding a little secret from my readers…definitely a good one though!

Working at the Farmer’s Market

On Wednesday, I went with Herrcastle Farms, my CSA/farm job, to work at my first farmer’s market!  Topping out at near 100 degrees, it was a hot, but undoubtedly worthwhile experience.

The farmer’s market is where you get to see all your hard work pay off, and not just solely in monetary ways.  It’s when customers buy blueberries, and then ten minutes later come back with an empty container, raving and craving for more, that you know all that work in the field was worth it.  It’s when the husband comes and purchases 8 bunches of collard greens, saying the wife just can’t get enough of your gorgeous-looking greens.  It’s when the little kids start digging into the raspberries, red dribbling down their faces, before the mom can even finish paying.  It’s when people tell you that yours is their favorite farm stand.  It’s when the young lady comes and describes what she’s going to do with your potatoes that evening.  It’s the oohs and ahhs.  The smiles.  The thank yous.  The face-to-face appreciation for the hard work it takes to grow all of the wonderful produce and for providing a resource for obtaining in season, local food.

Getting to talk to the people and show off all those glistening, fresh veggies and fruit had to be my favorite part of working with the farm thus far.  It’s always interesting to see the eclectic crowds that pass in and out of farmer’s markets.  Actually working at the farmer’s market and getting to speak with all of these young, old, quiet, chatty, nice, and not so nice faces was an experience in itself.  While I can certainly get my hands dirty and sweat my butt off working in the gardens, working with people is also definitely in my element.

I loved educating the inquisitive faces about how different veggies were grown and the best ways to cook them up.  I also really enjoyed listening to customers’ stories about their own gardens and their favorite ways to use certain fruits and vegetables.

The inherently colorful displays at farmer’s markets get people excited about healthy foods, and this is exciting to see and be a part of!  However, the day also showed me just how unconnected a lot of people have become from the Earth.  “Where are the peaches?  You guys have cucumbers yet?” etc. etc…If you live in the northeast and you’re in touch with eating foods that are in season and knowing when things grow, you’ll know that items like cucumbers and certainly not peaches aren’t in season as early as June!  Cucumbers tend not to come until July, and as for peaches, sorry, but you’ll have to wait another couple months until August.

That’s what is great about farmer’s markets though.  It gets people to learn more about one of the very fundamentals of survival: FOOD.  Those who are unaware that peaches don’t grow in June probably aren’t aware of the endless hours of work it takes to grow and pick that table of food displayed in front of them.  But at least they’re out there, able to get in season, local food from the hands of small farmers, helping to move our food system towards the way it should be.

After a long, hot, and absolutely rewarding day, we packed up and headed an hour and a half home.  Once back at the farm, we unloaded the truck into the dark, taking in the few remaining veggies we had left (luckily the day was a success and we didn’t have to carry too much home with us!).  I then headed home and called it a night, resting up for another sweaty day under the sun calling my name the next morning.

Putting Together a CSA Delivery

If you had a chance to read this post a couple weeks ago, you got a little glimpse of what it’s like as a full-time CSA employee, a.k.a. this year’s summer job.  I described a bit of the fieldwork and day-to-day tasks in my last CSA post.  In this post, I want to give you a glimpse of what’s entailed in putting an actual CSA delivery together, and how I am involved with this at my work.

With over 30 shareholders (and presumably more still to come for the season) signed up with Herrcastle Farm’s CSA, my place of work, CSA delivery days require a lot of picking, pristining, preparing, and packaging.  Each week, patrons receive 8 vegetable selections, one fruit selection, and one herb selection from the CSA’s extensive crop list.  The CSA has two different CSA delivery days, falling on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  They also are involved with two farmer’s markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and occasionally an additional one on Sundays.  What this means for me?  All day produce preparations taking place on Tuesdays and Fridays/Saturday mornings.

Working on the farm has really opened my eyes to how much work actually goes into putting together produce for CSAs and farmer’s markets.  I now really appreciate all those displays of clean veggies at farmer’s markets and realize that vegetables can’t just wash and bunch themselves.  It takes a lot of hand work and time from the farmers to put together the farmer’s markets I so greatly love to visit.

Clean sells.  Dirty doesn’t.  So while there may still be a bit of earthy dirt lingering on your veggies as you take them home from the farmer’s market or pick them up from a CSA delivery, trust me, those veggies had a ton more dirt on them before they got to their final destination.

A good example in which I had never payed particular attention prior to my job at the CSA is the spring onion.  Let me take you through the process of preparing spring onions.

The first step:  Picking.  At my CSA, this usually entails the uprooting of about 200-300 onions, depending on the market.

Second step:  Peeling.  Who knew, or at least noticed, that all those little gleaming white onions at the farmer’s market actually went through hours of processing and peeled beforehand.  Not me.  You can imagine how the room and my hands would smell after peeling 275 onions.  I always joke around with my colleagues that I’m going to permanently smell like an onion.  (Luckily I’m not peeling garlic, and the smell is much easier to remove.)

Third step:  The haircut. After peeling, all of the onions have to get their whiskers trimmed.  Those thin, brown strings coming out of the white bulbs of the onions are typically 3-4 inches or so long, and using scissors we trim them to about 1/4 inch.

Fourth step:  Bunching. Next, the onions need to be separated and bunched, typically in a quantity of 8-10 onions per bunch.

Fifth step:  Haircut #2.  After being rubber-banded, each bunch gets the lengthy green hair growing out of the top of their heads trimmed down to about 12 inches or so.

The five step process can take as long as a couple of hours until the spring onion bunches are ready to be beautifully put on display.  Sometimes I feel like I’m working on an assembly line at a factory, cruising through several hundred foot rows of veggies, and cleaning and preparing what seems like endless piles of produce.  After the onions, I might pick ten pounds or so of kale, collards, or swiss chard.  Then I might move on to the mescalin mix, cutting it, weighing it, and then bagging it into 1/2 pound or 1 pound quantities.  Next I might do the herbs, picking 300 sprigs of mint, and then bunching them into cute, fragrant bouquets.  Then maybe I’ll go on to pick from the 100 foot row of snow peas, and then dividing them into individual pints.  After doing a few more veggie preparations, such as bunching the kohlrabi or weighing and bunching the rhubarb, it’ll be time to start getting the CSA bags ready for delivery.

As afternoon nears evening, one of the owners and I will start placing all of the earlier prepared produce into the lined up paper bags, quickly working to get the bags finished in time.  Thinking about all of the customers waiting to obtain their CSA drop-offs is exciting.  I think that receiving a bag tightly packed full or fresh, in-season produce is an absolutely wonderful way to get your groceries.

When the bags are brimming over the top with the 10 different produce selections, it’s time to load them into the truck and send them off.  On Tuesdays, I’ll typically work another hour or so, continuing to do a few extra preparations for the farmer’s market the following day, and on Fridays I’m usually free to go, alas heading home, that is, after a good 5 minutes of scrubbing my hands of industrious dirt.

I don’t think I could have asked for much more of an enriching experience for a summer job at my age.  Sure, I could be working part time in retail or as a cashier or something like that and probably still learning a great deal, but within just a few weeks, this job has already taught me such an unmeasurable amount about an area that is needed to live.  The hard work spent out their in the field makes the small stuff seem easy, and I can really appreciate that.  Even if just for a day or two, I think working at a farm is an experience that would be so valuable to everyone, really giving you a hands-on appreciation of where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate.  Doing quantity with quality is such an eye-opening, learning experience, and has showed me that within farmer’s markets and CSAs, there is much more than meets the eye.  I can’t say sometimes I wouldn’t rather just be laying out on my porch relaxing on my summer days, but at least I’m not cooped up inside doing work in no direction of my interests and missing out on everlasting memories.

Working at the CSA

Last Friday, I finished my first full week at the CSA (Community Sustainable Agriculture) gardening farm where I’m currently working.  Wow, must I say I have learned so much already!  For one, I don’t think I want to open up my own CSA like I had once dreamed.  While I say this half jokingly, I also say it half seriously.  Working on the farm is a lot, a lot of hard work.

I’ve grown up working in my family’s organic garden, which is much larger than your average household garden.  I’m used to sweating out in the sun doing doing hard labor for hours at a time, and my dad has instilled an appreciation for hard work within me since I was little.  I wasn’t initially sure how large-scale the CSA garden I’d be working at would be, but I now know that my household farm is nothing in comparison to the CSA, nor is the work I had done in my family’s couple-acre garden.

Sure I’d plant 40 or so tomato plants in my family’s garden, more than would be planted in the typical family plot, but at the CSA I was planting 400 tomato plants just within the first morning on the job.  On my second day of work, I had planted a total 1,000 melon and pepper plants…1,000 plants in one day!  My back was definitely yelling at me by the end of that day.

While working on the CSA farm is certainly tiring, I want to emphasize that it’s so very rewarding, particularly compared to most typical summer jobs I could have gotten.  On my drive home at the end of that second day, I reflected on what I had just accomplished and realized I had just planted the most plants in one day that I have ever planted in my entire life.  Sure I was exhausted, but it was a satisfying exhaustion.  On my first day, I had learned that while I was planting 400 or so various tomato plants in a small section of the field, there would be nearly 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes being cultivated that year at the CSA.  I really support the heirloom movement, and I was proud to be a part of such an impressive tomato-growing CSA!

As I paint my hands in mud day in and day out, I’m picking up so much information and useful tidbits along the way that hopefully I’ll be able to carry with me through time.  Even if I don’t open my own CSA one day, I’ll certainly always grow a garden (at least I hope).  I’ve learned that growing plants inside black plastic helps hold the water and attract the sun and can enable plants to grow twice as efficiently.  I’ve learned that blueberry bushes love dirt from the woods because it’s more acidic, and that they also really enjoy being fertilized with pine needles.  I’ve learned that my little muscles are surprisingly strong, and I can hoe through large fields of compact dirt and shovel wood chips for an 8-hour work day.  I’ve also learned and re-emphasized my thoughts that you certainly don’t need a gym to feel sore the next day.  (Boy were my shoulders and arms feeling all that shoveling the next day!

After a little over just one week, I’m already feeling fully immersed in farm life.  Dirt permanently beneath my nails.  Skin almost as tan as the dirt.  Body always a little tired or sore in one area.  Appetite, pretty ravenous.  Bed time, much earlier than a college kid is used to.  That goes the same for my morning wake-up call.  A daily 15 minutes of yoga a huge plus in the morning or evening.

I can’t lie, my summer job is more back-breaking work than I’m used to and it’s already taken a little adjusting.  But I already know that this job is going to be (and already is) such a great and worthwhile experience.  Plus, a job where I get to be outside almost all day is my kind of job.  A little sweat and dirt certainly won’t harm me.  I also want to add that the family I’m working with is so great…I know I’m definitely going to be one of the fam. by the end of my summer job.  So far it’s just a husband, wife, their son, and me working on the farm, and a little old grandma who’s always sweetly there to talk and give encouragement.

At the end of this week we’ll begin to prepare for the first CSA run and farmer’s market!  I can’t wait to learn about this side of the farm, for this is something I really don’t have much previous experience with.  I though I’d leave you with a short log of my first days at the CSA…below you’ll see the kind of hard work you’d be getting yourself into if you worked/ran a CSA…but certainly rewarding as well, especially when all those plants start to birth veggies and fruit!

My first days and full week at the CSA

Thursday (1/2 day of work…of course my car battery would die on my first day!):  Planted 400 or so tomato plants.  Weeded a 100 x 10 foot area of lettuce with a hoe.  Weeded the herb garden.  Became acquainted with the farm.

Friday:  Planted 400+ sweet and hot pepper plants.  Planted 600+ cantaloupe and watermelon plants.  Some small hand weeding.

Monday: Hand weeded and then hoe weeded one of the blueberry patches, approx. one 200 foot row.  Then spread long pine needles up and down the row and in between the blueberry bushes.  Hoe weeded the lettuce again.  Hand weeded the rhubarb.  Planted some flowers all around the house.  Left around 2 or 2:30 due to rain…went home and baked a rhubarb crisp!

Tuesday:  Rainy day/ Off work

Wednesday:  Hand weeded and then hoe weeded several 400 foot rows of swiss chard and spinach.  Planted 100 or so okra plants.  Used a hoe to remove grass and weeds between 100 blueberry bushes spread 10 feet apart…approx. 1,000 square foot area.  Fertilized 100 blueberry bushes by hand.  Help spread sawdust around blueberry bushes.

Thursday:  Did around 45 minutes of hand weeding, and then dug wood chips from 9-5.  Shoveled wood chips into truck and then spread around four 100-foot rows of grapes.  Spread wood chips around remaining blueberry plants that didn’t get sawdusted.  Spread wood chips around rhubarb plants.  Spread wood chips in between herb boxes and lettuce boxes.  Spread some more wood chips.  Wood chips.  Wood chips.  Wood chips.  Total:  5 overly full truck loads of wood chips, shoveled

Friday:  Weeded a gigantic flower garden, probably around 1500 square feet.  Used a wheel barrow to dig mulch and spread around entire flower garden.  Did some odds and ends jobs, such as painting a couple tables and areas around the house.

If you live in the Lancaster or Philadelphia area, check out Herrcastle Farm.  They also do farmer’s markets around the Philadelphia area.