The point here is that ISN'T THIS EXCITING? Despite my being enamored with all of the availability of produce while visiting California recently, part of the reason I have to live in a place with four seasons is all of the anticipation that it brings. Would sitting on the shore of Lake Michigan on one of our hot summer days really be as sweet as it is without the biting cold of winter? I love to walk out on the icy pier of Hollywood Beach in the winter and soak in the frigid wind off the lake, look at the ice floating in the water, and revel in the calm, seeing in it me sitting in the same spot in the summer, drinking something cold and delicious (no doubt something lime-based due to the excitement of my recent purchase of a really good lime squeezer), sweating it out, then jumping in the lake. One needs a night in order to enjoy the day, right?
Braising and roasting turns in to sautéing and straight from the garden eating turns into grilling and smoking turns into pickling and preserving turns into more slow-cooking once again...
All this brings up the very important question of where we'll get our food this year. Gladly, Chicago's Green City Market, despite seemingly becoming a haven for double-wide strollers and chef-spotters, is nevertheless (or perhaps because of this) growing each year, and never really goes away--I believe this is the first year it's open year round. So, every Wednesday and Saturday, we can stock up--and this is really a great place to begin our understanding of food and seasonality, and why eating local is important. Shopping at farmers' markets allows us only what's in season, and what was able to grow. It helps us understand why we cook what we cook, when we cook it. Oh--THAT's why we see arugula on every menu in the summer. THAT's why we hear food-types talk about the crime of out-of-season tomatoes. THAT's why I go nuts for peaches every summer.
To take this further, I present the CSA. That's Community Sustained/Supported Agriculture. To those who aren't familiar already, this is how it works:
- You buy a share of a CSA up front from a particular farm at the beginning of the growing season. Much like buying stocks. But I trust farmers way more than I trust bankers.
- Depending on the share you buy, you pick up, or are delivered a box full of the farm's produce. This will only include what they were able to harvest that week. This means that if you live in Chicago, you won't be getting any bananas or coconuts. This is also the sign of a true CSA--I've come across some that slip in California produce to pad the box. The way I see it, buying the share is investing in the farm and trusting the outcome. If they don't have enough produce to fill the box that week due to a huge storm or drought, well, that's part of the risk taken by each CSA member. After all, this is the risk every single farmer in the world takes when they buy and plant a seed, isn't it? This is reality, and I'd prefer to have less in the box if less is what's available.
- You eat the box of food. Part of the challenge is making something delicious if all you get is, say, rutabagas (though this is unlikely). It's the anti-Costco. Wonderful, isn't it?
ANYWAY, a good source of information on CSAs is Local Harvest. You'll get a good list of CSAs nearby; it'll tell you where it can be picked up and how involved you can get. The thing to remember, though, is that it is a group effort--I think to get one's head out of the mindset of simply paying for a service is important--rather, it is just what it stands for--community sustained agriculture, and for it to work, we've got to act like a community; we've got to share in the risk that these farmers are experiencing every day, and we've got to treat these wonderful, whole foods that they are bringing to us in a respectful (and delicious) way.