BY Eileen Z. Fuentes (@theSPEACHgal)
Last year I just missed joining the local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) chapter in Washington Heights so I was excited when Sara Martinez, my friend and fellow UC contributor, mentioned that she had joined and that there were still more spots available. So what is a CSA? And what are the benefits? Well, they offer a way for consumers to buy local, seasonal, and in our case, organic produce directly from the farm. This guarantees that I would get my SOUL (Seasonal, Organic, Unprocessed and Local) food fix regularly. As members, we pick up our fresh vegetable, fruit and egg shares on a weekly basis. We commit to volunteer just a couple of hours of our time in a 5-month period and occasionally meet as a group. This weekend, as part of our membership, we went upstate to visit the La Baraja Farm, where our food comes from, to meet the farmer and his family.
Waking up and getting my 3 young daughters ready early on a Saturday morning was no fun venture. When we arrived, a little over an hour later, five smiling faces greeted us. One swept while the others sat around a table talking. Upon arrival, my kids ran right out of the minivan and straight into a homemade wooden playhouse. I was in awe as I looked at the green pastures with rows and rows of vegetables. It was breathtaking! Soon after Pedro, the farmer and his wife Maritza arrived with some groceries. After settling in, they divided us into groups and the older kids led us on a tour.
Our guide, Cynthia looking much younger than 17, was accompanied by her adorable 6-year-old sister. Together they took us on a journey, pointing out various types of vegetables and herbs including: lettuce, Swiss chard, scallions, onions, garlic, eggplant, corn, sweet peas, summer squash, carrots, cilantro, lemongrass, mint, parsley, and chamomile. I was amazed at how much she knew about everything! Along the way she pulled some items right from the ground and let the kids have a taste. While they didn’t like everything they tasted, they were excited to try it.
As I spoke to Cynthia she explained in great detail what life on a farm is like. They start their day in the fields at 5:00 am, work until about 9:00 am depending on how sunny it is, they cook and tend to things indoors until 4:00 pm, at which point they return outdoors to work some more until sundown. They go to school in Texas and arrived to New York early June. The family works together through the summer months and then the kids go back in August when school is back in session. Their mom Maritza goes with them for a week to get them settled but returns to the farm to work alongside her husband through November when the harvest is over for the season. She told me that she excelled in science and math, which made perfect sense considering the daily work she does.
When we returned from the tour, we were met with an unexpected surprise from Maritza. She prepared a lavish, authentic Mexican meal using mostly food from the farm. The women in our CSA group helped by adding the final touches. Some cut up vegetables and others helped to set the communal table. We drank cold spring water from their well, which I infused with fresh mint, an idea I got from a woman in my group. What a presentation and what a delicious meal!
Over lunch I spoke with a lovely woman appropriately named Bienvenida (Welcome). She talked to me about how much this reminded her of her native Dominican Republic. She vividly explained to me what her life was like before coming to New York. As we spoke, some of the kids had taken their shoes off and were running barefoot through the soil. Others took turns relaxing on the hammock. It was nice to see them away from electronics and simply enjoying nature. We ended our meal with fresh apples and then helped to pick-up. I explained to Maritza that I had a lingering stomachache from the previous night. She walked right to the field and picked an herb called epazote. She used it in the beans we ate with our lunch and told me to make a tea when I got home.
Afterwards Isabel, 14, joined her sister Cynthia and their brother and took us to visit the chicken coop. The chickens were roaming free and looked happy; enjoying the attention they were receiving from the kids. Two women asked if they could purchase them to take to the local vivero. Many others purchased eggs unable to wait until the weekly delivery because of the sample they had for lunch. The kids all took turns petting them and I heard one kid ask, “Is this where chicken wings come from?” It was a good way to end a great day. Our kids got the lesson of a lifetime. This is REAL food. It doesn’t come from the supermarket. It isn’t wrapped in colorful packages. It comes from the earth, makes a stop in Washington Heights and then ends up on our table.
When I got home, I reflected on the family we met as I sipped my tea. They were happy, smart, respectful and loving towards each other. I felt that even with all of our technological advances; they were way ahead of us. And yes, the tea worked!
To learn more about Tierra Direct CSA, click here.
I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. ~Henry David Thoreau
See below for a video of the benefits of local food and CSA’s.