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Happiness comes in a CSA box

Community Supported Agriculture helps farmers, and our family looks forward to each delivery
Photo by Sarah LemonMicrogreens, homemade pesto from vegetable tops and braised baby carrots accent this meal prepared with ingredients from a CSA share.
Photo by Sarah LemonAn early summer share in a 16-week CSA includes lots of radishes and greens.

Staking a claim in community supported agriculture expresses optimism.

That’s perhaps never been truer than this year, when the region’s farmers face drought, searing temperatures and a shortened irrigation season. Local irrigation districts have said water delivery will be curtailed Aug. 1, just as summer’s harvest really ramps up for farmers expecting to see the year’s most significant sales.

The CSA model shields farmers somewhat from these uncertainties and keeps communities invested in their local farmland and food ways, even in these trying times. Purchasing shares in late winter or early spring, participants front cash when farmers need it most for investing in equipment, tools, seeds and workers — months before they can expect to recoup their expenses.

A smaller gardening footprint at our new home inspired my family to sign up for a 16-week CSA from a nearby farm. In previous years, we’d participated in a winter CSA, which furnished biweekly deliveries of fresh produce — plus free-range eggs — when much of our garden was fallow. The share contained plenty of cold-weather crops, including overwintered root vegetables and squash, that we didn’t have the expertise and space to grow ourselves.

Fresh fruit was a major motivator for choosing this year’s CSA. Beebe Farms in Central Point has been an agricultural fixture for nearly 130 years, but it’s a newcomer to the CSA scene, introduced by fledgling farmer Octavio Poscidonio, who worked for the past three years with Mike and Angelika Curtis of Wild Bee Honey Farms in Eagle Point to resurrect Beebe Farms after its longtime orchard manager retired.

Locally famous for peaches, Beebe Farms also grows apples, melons and strawberries. While the typical CSA focuses on row crops, Beebe’s draws from decades-old fruit trees, plus ample acreage for sweet corn and even a pumpkin patch.

Don’t get me wrong: I love options for adding locally baked bread, flower bouquets, even locally made cheeses and wines to some of the CSA shares offered in Southern Oregon. But my two kids are most excited by fruit, and the CSA serves as a lesson for them in obtaining sustainable, wholesome, delicious food.

They eagerly joined me in harvesting strawberries at Beebe’s U-pick patch about a month before our CSA kicked off in mid-June. The U-pick was so successful that there weren’t enough berries for the first few CSA deliveries of the season. But I’ve been building the kids’ anticipation each week by characterizing the share as a “surprise.”

Variety is inherent to CSAs, which rely on what’s ready to pick, not necessarily which items shareholders prefer. My younger son swoons over the big, juicy radishes that arrived in our first few CSA shares, while my older son stays loyal to carrots.

Although the produce allocation this early in the season seems small, we’ve been challenged to use it up in a week, particularly in a fashion that doesn’t take any item for granted. The tops attached to bunches of carrots and radishes are too verdant and fragrant to toss in the trash. So I committed part of my weekend to transforming them into pesto. And while the tops’ flavors are subtle, even slightly bitter, they invite mixing and matching with whatever fresh herbs are available — mint, basil and parsley in my yard.

Our CSA’s per-week cost of just over $30 saves me time by staving off trips to the grocery store. Shopping just a couple of times each month — or less — I can keep my family in enough eggs, meat, dairy, pantry staples and hardy, long-keeping fruits and vegetables.

But in summer, when it’s the season for tender salad greens, delicate berries and tree-ripened stone fruits — all perishable — infrequent grocery shopping seems more like deprivation without special trips to farmers markets or farm stands. Enter the CSA, which reduces browsing in my grocers’ produce section to just a few minutes.

My grocer doesn’t stock some of the CSA’s specialty items: salad turnips, green garlic and “confetti mix” microgreens, most recently. While I used store-bought garlic for my veggie top pesto, I saved the milder green garlic for quickly sautéing with the CSA’s thin-stemmed, feathery kale. The “hakurei” turnips are teasing me to put them alongside the radishes — with little dollops of their pesto — on a light variation of pizza, perfect for summer.

There’s no guarantee, of course, for a seasonal bounty as the summer progresses. But solidarity with our farmers sows the seeds for CSAs to come.

See a list of Southern Oregon CSAs in the 2021 Rogue Flavor Guide, published by Rogue Valley Food System Network, rvfoodsystem.org/rogueflavor

Roasted Carrots with Carrot Top Pesto

2 bunches small carrots (about 12)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper, to taste

1 cup packed chopped carrot tops

1/2 cup packed parsley leaves

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

Grated zest of a lemon

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Trim greens from the carrots, leaving a half-inch or so of stem on top of each carrot. Spread carrots on a rimmed baking sheet, coat with the olive oil and season to taste with the salt and pepper. Roast in preheated oven until carrots are tender and golden, for 30 to 40 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes or so for even coloring.

In a food processor, combine carrot tops with the parsley, cheese, walnuts, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt and sugar, pulsing until coarsely ground. This makes about 1 cup pesto. Serve with roasted carrots.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Radish Green Pesto

Greens from 1 large bunch of radishes

2 garlic cloves, peeled

Juice from 1/2 a lemon

1/4 cup slivered almonds or sunflower seeds

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and ground pepper, to taste

Fill your sink or a large bowl with cold water, and dunk the greens, being sure to remove all dirt clumps. You might have to swap out water for fresh, depending on how muddy the greens are.

Place the garlic and a pinch of salt in your food processor, and pulse until garlic is minced. Add greens, the lemon juice, almonds or sunflower seeds and Parmesan; pulse again until things look granulated, but not to a total paste. Scrape into a bowl and, with a spatula, fold in the olive oil slowly. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Spicy Tuscan Kale

3 large bunches lacinato (Tuscan) kale

2 large onions

Olive oil, as needed

4 anchovy fillets

Chili flakes, to taste

Pepper, to taste

4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1/4 pound Parmesan cheese, grated

Homemade breadcrumbs (recipe follows)

Wash the kale then strip leaves from ribs. Tear leaves into large pieces and cook in a pot of boiling salted water for a minute or so. Kale should stay a vibrant green. Drain and run kale under cold water until it’s cool enough to comfortably hold in your hands, then squeeze out as much water as you can and set kale aside.

Peel, then chop the onions into a casual dice; no need to be fussy about this step.

Heat a healthy splash of the olive oil in large skillet. Throw in the anchovies and worry them with a wooden spoon until they’ve completely disintegrated. Add the onions, a few pinches of chili flakes, a few grinds of pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until everything is soft and fragrant.

Toss in kale, along with the garlic, and cook for another 10 minutes or so, until it’s all come together in a lively green mass. Taste for salt, add a bit more olive oil if you like, and stir in the Parmesan cheese and the crisp breadcrumbs for texture.

Serves 8.

Homemade Breadcrumbs

1 loaf stale French, sourdough or Italian bread

Olive oil

Salt

Cut the bread into cubes and grind into crumbs in a blender or food processor. If bread is not stale enough to crumb, you can dry cubes in a 200-degree oven for about 15 minutes before grinding.

Spread crumbs on baking sheet and toast in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes until they are crisp and golden. Drizzle with olive oil (1/4 cup for every 2 cups of crumbs), season with salt and allow to cool completely before putting into containers.

These will keep in the freezer almost indefinitely. Just stick crumbs in microwave for a few seconds to take the chill off before using.

Roasted Radish Flatbread with Ricotta, Honey and Herbs

1 pizza dough recipe

1 teaspoon olive oil

3/4 cup ricotta (full-fat)

5 plump spring radishes, sliced paper-thin

2 teaspoons honey

2 tablespoons chopped chives

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, preheat it, too. (Otherwise, use a baking sheet.)

Stretch the dough into a thin round. Brush with the olive oil and spread the ricotta over dough. Lay the radishes in a single layer on top. Bake in preheated oven for 7 to 8 minutes, until crust edge has golden spots.

Remove flatbread from oven. Drizzle with the honey, and sprinkle on the herbs and salt. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.