Sunday, November 16, 2008

Twilight at Sophia Garden: The CSA Experiment Concludes

The crescent moon looks like a sliver of fingernail – thumbs down – against the blackened sky as I approach Sophia Garden on foot. It is a cool night. The volunteers are huddled under the canopy and a propane lantern casts a beacon of light across the remaining bins of vegetables.

It is my last pickup at Sophia Garden, the heavenly organic farm run by a group of Dominican Sisters on suburban Long Island. I joined on an impulse, and now the growing season is over and the summer has turned to autumn. The fields are plowed under and little evidence remains of the plants, stakes and vines once bursting with vegetables. It has been my first experience with Community Sponsored Agriculture. I feel a sense of accomplishment, but a tinge of sadness that it is over. And, my wallet is feeling just slightly pinched at the thought of having to return to supermarket prices, just as the economy is experiencing a meltdown.

The yield is far smaller now. Three carrots, two eggplants, a butternut squash and just a half pound of still ripening tomatoes. Gone are the days of nine pounds of tomatoes, bushels of burgundy beans and bundles of crisp lettuce. Still, I will likely make good use of this produce, generating close to two weeks of meals.

I learned a great deal through this CSA experiment. I approached my meals differently, learning to cook according to the yield of the garden instead of some spontaneous food craving. Usually, I made great use of the pickup, preparing enough good food to carry me through lunch and dinner for nearly two weeks. On those weeks when some of the produce went to waste, I felt badly, and tried a little harder the following week. I cooked in quantity on Sunday and Monday, although I can still improve how I organize my freezer. I also became more thoughtful about where my food comes from.

I learned that I love chard and one can eat greens as a main course. I’d always been afraid to try it, and now I’m pining for its sweet, tender flavor. I learned that pasta, rice and couscous can help extend a meal for days. And I discovered that even three small carrots can lead to a surprisingly good meal when transformed into an exotic Moroccan Carrot Salad. I also took the opportunity to purchase more vegetarian cookbooks than one guy should really own.

The rainbow-colored heirloom tomatoes were glorious. I ate them in salads and soups, and used gold and red jewels to adorn the tart pictured above. I even mastered the art of preserving some for later, thanks to Lydia’s recipe for oven roasted tomatoes and some guidance via email on a Saturday night.

The pounds and pounds of potatoes have made their way into frittatas and Spanish Tortillas:

The luminous purple, white and green eggplants became Ratatouille:

In the end, the garden only gave me two butternut squash, but it was the base for a silky autumnal soup with apples, leeks and cider:

Acorn squash goes all fancy when roasted with pure maple syrup and butter:

And, there are even still more potatoes to prepare, this time in a lovely golden potato leek soup:

With all these vegetables, thoughts eventually turn to dessert, and even there, veggies are victorious in nutty and dense whole wheat zucchini bread:

Finally, I must report that I did actually make it to all of my scheduled volunteer work shifts, although at times my attendance seemed precarious. On one occasion, I was introduced to a talkative 8-year-old boy named Elijah who told me his life story and peppered me with questions about mine for three hours as we pulled weeds from between the string bean plants. I also sustained quite a few mosquito bites along the way. On my final shift, I actually found myself alone in the shed with only my thoughts, sorting cherry tomatoes and watching as a burnished, golden haze enveloped the garden. Eventually, it was too chilly and too dark to see what I was doing and it was time to conclude. There were times when I didn’t want to report for duty, but I was usually glad I did, especially when I would complete a task. The garden needs continual care, but at times the weeds seemed daunting. But there was some sense of satisfaction leaving a vegetable plot more orderly and tidy than it was found. Dare I say that Sophia Garden may, in fact, be a metaphor for life?

Happy Winter to the blessed organic sisters of Sophia Garden! I’ve already signed up for next season!

©2008 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Anonymous said...

Hooray -- I'm so glad you signed up again. It's been a real joy reading your posts throughout the summer as you've cooked your way through your CSA share and grown ever more fond of Sophia Garden.

Kalyn Denny said...

How great seeing some of the wonderful things you've made with your garden produce. I was laughing because as much as I love having my own garden, it is difficult reporting for duty there too! Right now I never managed to get my last few tomato plants pulled out and it's cold enough in Utah that I have no desire to do it! But even when you don't want to do the work, nothing can compare with fresh-from-the-garden produce.

Kathy said...

Congratulations for following through with your CSA season! I've enjoyed seeing and reading about the food you've prepared and its journey to your table.

Colette Burke said...

What is really striking about this beautifully written post is the way your closer connection with the growing of food seems to have profoundly changed the way you think and cook.Perhaps if more people could have a similar experience we would see a healthier nation and a more sustainable environment.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness what a feast. And yay! for cooking your way through the CSA experiment!

~~louise~~ said...

The garden experience can be quite humbling T.W.

Kudos to you for seeing it through and patiently answering the little future gardener's questions:)

Dish after dish, they look gloriously satisfying. I'm partial to the acorn squash dripping with butter and syrup.

Thanks for sharing your journey of delights...

Susan from Food Blogga said...

It sounds like the Sophia Garden is both nutritionally and emotionally nourishing.

Anonymous said...

I am a long-time volunteer at Sophia Garden...I am working on updating the website...somehow I found your site...I had no idea someone was creating such a wonderful food journal...please contact me...I would love to create a link to your site...and have other members of the garden know about what you are doing...have you been to any of our potlucks? Your food looks so yummy!