Finally, at long last, after what seemed like a cold, rainy, interminable Spring, the Farm Season has begun!
Yesterday was my first pick-up day of my sixth season of membership at Honeybrook Organic Farm. Looking back, it’s sort of crazy how we ended up with our membership for the 2003 growing season; we’d moved back to New Jersey from Arizona in late April, and one day Pookie randomly spotted an ad for the farm in the local free newspaper. We’d read about CSAs a bit in the year before our move, so we thought it would be fun to try it out. So, late in April, we mailed in our membership fee, and started picking veggies up shortly thereafter. Fast forward to this year, and the farm has become so popular that they sold out all 2300+ shares by January. How lucky for us to have gotten in when we did!
The way our farm works is that you pony up the membership fee up front, and then spend the next 5-6 months reaping the rewards. They offer boxed shares for pick-up at non-farm locations, and for on-farm pick-ups, there are two share sizes, single and family. (Our first season we went with a family share, and it ended up being a lot more than I could handle. So we went down to a single share our second season, but missed the thousands of pounds of tomatoes. We’ve gone back up to a family share since then, and my great mission every year is to try to let as little of it as possible make its way to the compost. Sometimes that’s a losing battle.) When you arrive at the farm on your assigned day, the bulk of the crops harvested that week are parceled out depending on your share size, and there are a variety of other crops that are “pick-your-own” (PYO), generally stuff like herbs, berries, beans, and whatnot.
The first few weeks of the season always mean strawberries, and I have been increasingly desperate this Spring for the buckets of scrumptiousness the May harvests always bring. The PYO strawberries are carefully managed by the farm, though, and unlike the other PYO crops, they have to be picked on your scheduled pick-up day (I get my regular veggies on Mondays, and generally hit the PYO fields on Thursdays after work – it can take a couple of hours to do everything in one swoop). There had been a warning on the farm website that the dreary, sunless, cold days of the last week had kept the berries from ripening, but after two days of glorious weekend sun, I had high hopes when I trundled up to the check-in table outside the berry field. I was told my share of berries was one quart, and on top of that, I could pick a pint of snap peas. How exciting! The first PYO of the year!
Sadly, a quart was an overly optimistic amount. There have been a few times over the years where I’ve taken literally hours to pick one half pint of blackberries, but I’ve never headed out into the field, thinking I would find a set quantity, and discovered… nothing. Later I saw people walking out of the fields with heaping quart containers of bright red berries, and I don’t know if parts of the field had been opened up for the Monday members, or if those people were breaking the rules and picking in rows that were not available to us. I suspect the latter. I hate rule-breakers. I’m so the kid who seethes from the back of the classroom at the other kids who get away with shit.
On top of being delicious, the plants themselves are so pretty, and we don’t grow them in our own garden – they seem so exotic to me.
In the middle of all the spring green plants with their white flowers, I found this one purple bloom:
Now, I am extravagantly lazy, so there is many a week where I just can’t bear the thought of having to go out in the field just to pick a pint of whatever. The PYO veggies aren’t normally the big-ticket ones, so it can be easy to let them slide. But what’s fun about them, aside from the whole “spending time outside doing something wholesome” aspect, is that the PYO fields are also planted with plenty of non-PYO crops. I love getting to watch the rest of my share growing. In the field up next to the berries and peas, there was a rainbow of lettuce:
And down in the herb PYO field, the spinaches were coming along:
Last season was a terrible one for herbs, and I ended up really regretting that I hadn’t planted any of my own at home. The farm grows a nice array of the essentials – oregano, thyme, sage – as well as some that I never bother with, like lemon balm. They also grow catnip, which is an absolute necessity for the furry denizens of Maple Hoo. Anyway, I don’t think I got more than a few handfuls of any of the herbs last year, so I was delighted to see that all of them were in massive, bushy states on opening day.
The sage, which I pick as much of as possible and dry for our Fall and Winter cooking, was waist-high and covered with gorgeous flowers.
And they’ve added chives to the mix this year. With the giant, puffy blooms on them, the chives looked like the most beautiful purple hedgerow ever:
Of course, the story wasn’t just the PYO – there was lettuce to pick up at the farm stand. Eight heads of it. Normally the lettuce sounds like a lot, but is actually a bunch of smallish heads, but not so this week. My basket went from being lightly used to busting at the seams:
The final tally on the day was the aforementioned lettuce, one pint of snap peas, four strawberries (slightly underripe), and one bunch each (a bunch about as wide around as a quarter) of chives, oregano, thyme, catnip, and sage. Not bad for a light starting day. Before I know it, the floodgates will open, and I’ll look back at this paltry a pick-up day and laugh.
The lettuce, by the way, went very nicely with my homemade croutons, some homegrown radishes, and a quick honey-dijon dressing.