Do you want to know one of my favorite things in the world? A day that happens every other week that I really, really look forward to? I love going to pick up our share of produce and bread and granola from the local food co-op we belong to, Horse & Buggy Produce.
I grew up in a rural farming community. I lived next door to my grandparents, who owned a small cattle farm and tended a fairly large garden. I grew up eating fresh fruits and vegetables out of their garden with very little supplement from the canned goods aisle. My grandma canned, jammed, pickled, and froze lots of the excess in the summer so that we had it all year long. My grandma’s sisters all had gardens, too, and they shared food with each other, especially if they had something the others weren’t growing. And what they didn’t grow, we went to local farms to get – peach and apple orchards, strawberry patches, all grown and picked and sold locally. I didn’t know at the time that having that experience was special, that most people ate produce picked green and shipped for miles (and hence largely tasteless) or canned (with that overcooked texture and metallic taste).
And then my grandparents got older and stopped growing as much, and I went off to college, and I learned that I didn’t really like the vegetables I could get there. For the first time, I actually understood why some people said they didn’t like fresh tomatoes – all they had ever had were store-bought ones, not real tomatoes that were still warm from the sun when you ate them! I stopped eating many fruits and vegetables. Not completely – I mean, I didn’t get scurvy or anything – but I definitely did not get an adequate number by the RDA numbers. After I graduated college and grew up a little, I did try to eat vegetables more often just for my health, but I didn’t really like it.
One day, I heard about this Horse & Buggy Produce thing on the radio. I thought, Hey, that sounds good – local vegetables without getting up at the crack of dawn on Saturday to go to the farmers market? (Remember how I’m not a morning person?) But I wasn’t sure, and we had settled into an early marriage dinner routine, and I wasn’t sure my husband would go for it. I mean, sure, fresh produce, but you don’t get to pick what you get each week? Insanity! Then I met a friend who had done it the previous year, and she said it was awesome. She did warn me that the “singles” share was plenty for two people, though – she had shared it with a friend. And I was embarking on a personal journey to become a lot healthier, and the idea of supporting local farmers and getting produce that was low- or no-spray in most instances REALLY appealed to me. So I talked to the husband, he said he was game, and we signed up.
The first share we got, I couldn’t believe how good everything tasted. It was unreal. Nothing like buying lettuce at the grocery store; this lettuce actually had a TASTE! We ate all the cherries in one sitting. We made rhubarb pie for the first time and fell in love with it. Tomatoes, corn, green beans, onions, potatoes…on and on and on, everything was just so good. Plus we got local honey and local real maple syrup and locally made apple butter and cider in the fall… They have shares of things other than produce, too, and we signed up to get a loaf of homemade bread every other week, which was unbelievably good. (For the curious, they also offer shares of granola, eggs, beef, chicken, pork, trout, bison, and goat cheese, all local, and they do an a la carte table of stuff that they don’t have enough of to give everyone some but you can buy what they have for a little extra if you want it). Sure, there were some things we could have lived without. We’re not big cabbage eaters, and try as we might, we only made it through half a head of cabbage before it started to rot and we had to throw the rest out. We couldn’t keep up with eating the abundant crop of green beans, either, and I know we had to throw out some chard and a few other things. But mostly, it was awesome. And I didn’t really do a detailed cost comparison, but I’m willing to bet it was the same or cheaper than buying the same things in the grocery store. Plus the H&BP staff are so awesome and friendly and nice, it’s hard not to love them.
So we signed up again this year, including the bread and adding the homemade granola, and I think today was our fourth pick-up of the year so far. Today we got potatoes, cherries, peas, tomatoes, two kinds of lettuce, a cucumber, yellow squash, zucchini, and…cabbage. But they’ve instituted a new thing this year called the swap table, so if you don’t want something on the share, you can drop it at the table and swap it for something else (that someone else left behind because they didn’t want it). So I swapped our cabbage for two more potatoes and a zucchini. Then I also picked up our bread (rye this time) and our granola (honey almond), and I bought some rhubarb and the last strawberries of the season from the a la carte table. And for the first time, our timing is right because we’re going to my in-laws’ tomorrow for the weekend, so we can bring some to share. I love eating fruits and vegetables again. I’d highly recommend checking out a CSA or co-op in your area if you can find one!