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Farm School Week 14: Welcome, June, We Have Your CSA Veggies

A photo of Alison Spaude-FilipczakThe first week of June marks a transition here at the Greenbank Farm school. We have officially started our CSA. This is what we have been working toward for the past three months. Our members are the reason we have planted one hundred hundred-foot beds (to date) filled with annual vegetables. They are the reason we have the pleasure of growing so much good food. It’s week one of twenty, and our excitement is bursting so much that if we don’t let it out we will swell up and crack like the radishes. The time for harvest is now.

What has made it into this week’s box? Asian greens, salad turnips, radishes, spinach, head lettuce, kale, and arugula. Spring is the time of leafy greens — nutritionally dense, delicious, and somewhat overwhelming. Even as a self-proclaimed vegetable lover, I admit that our first box has lot of greens in it. However, that is eating with the seasons, and, for the sake of our CSA members, let’s hope they like salad.

Taryn proudly displays the contents of our first CSA share.Taryn proudly displays the contents of our first CSA share

Tuesday morning was the first harvest. My job was to pick Asian greens and salad turnips. Kelly and I used the salad knives that we had purchased from Johnny’s Seed catalogue to cut the greens right below the soil at the roots. We artfully bunched the home-mix of komatsuna, Tokyo bekana, and turnip tops, then twist-tied them together.  After picking and bunching the greens, we brought them to the washing station (a used sink with a hose attached to it) and hydro-cooled and washed the veggies in potable water before putting them in a box kept in the shade. I had never put too much thought into the need to keep vegetables cool and fresh until this experience, but man, fresh greens don’t look too good if they are left in the sun.

Then, it was off the pick the salad turnips. Until this summer, I had never had a salad turnip in my life. Unlike the turnips we are all used to, these are a spring treat and eaten fresh like a radish. These are delicious. The turnips are white and golf ball size, they are so sweet I almost think of them as a fruit rather than a root. The greens, although not as sweet as the root, are also edible. I enjoy the greens lightly pickled or sautéed with oil and garlic. For the past few weeks I had been sneaking undersized turnips from the field when others had their backs turned. They are so good that they have brought me to thievery.

I can only describe my feelings as heartbreaking when we began to harvest the turnips on Tuesday.  Each beautiful round globe we pulled from the earth had been munched on the bottom and destroyed to a point that we could no longer salvage them for our members. On average, five out of six turnips and been spoiled. The culprit was the cabbage-root maggot. Another terrible reality about farming hit me: Pests can destroy entire crops. Fortunately, we were able to find good enough turnips to give our members a (small) share of this delicious veggie. Fortunately, the cabbage-root maggot has only had the chance to destroy our first fully mature crop of turnips. We plant twenty feet of salad turnips every week, and, in hopes the cabbage-root maggot does not strike again, we will be covering our crop with row cover. Hopefully, our members understand. It’s a difficult crop to only get a teaser taste from.

Joe and Jordan harvest spinach.
Joe and Jordan harvest spinach.

In March, we set a goal of finding fifty members. In mid-April, we decided to shoot for forty-five. (We had taken on a few more wholesale accounts to make our financial goals.) June 1st we had thirty-six members, and by Friday we were up two more. Hopefully a few more will roll in throughout the coming weeks, but, for now, we have decided to focus on the members we have and be content with thirty-eight.

Our members live all over the island. The Greenbank Farm Training Center is located roughly in the middle region of Whidbey Island. We have two drop off points for our CSA shares in the north end of the island, three sites in the south end, and, of course, a drop site right here at the farm. So as not to overload ourselves with a massive harvest day, we have chosen to harvest shares twice a week. And this is where we are going to have to make our biggest adjustment. Time management.

Picking, washing, and packing take most of the morning on a harvest day. Then someone has to drive the shares to the drop points in the afternoon. We are including a newsletter each week with recipes and information about the farm. Some of us have to write the content while others of us edit and take photos. All of this takes time--one of the most precious resources of all.

Participants of the Greenbank Farm Training Center excited for first CSA harvest. Participants of the Greenbank Farm Training Center excited for first CSA harvest.

Somewhere in the day we still have to take care of all of the tasks we were doing before we started our CSA. We are still starting seeds in greenhouse. Other plants need to be transplanted into the fields. And, being a training center, we still need to have our time in the classroom so we can learn all things farm related. There is weeding, of course. Not to mention having to balance the books and making sure our members are getting their produce boxes while the arugula still looks good. And we still want to look good too, so we need to make a few minutes for stretching, and maybe even some time to drink some herbal tea. As I write this, the to-do list is getting longer. Oh no ... it’s almost going off the page!

Farming is starting to be a little more work than I first expected. I think it’s time to get my beauty sleep and get ready to go back into the fields. Week two of our CSA shares is only two days away.