By Stephen and Kate
Every Tuesday from April to August, and then again from October to February, we make it to El Rey Burrito Lounge on Fairview by 4:00 to pick up a bag bursting with organic vegetable goodness brought from a farm near Banks, Alabama (in Pike County) to Midtown. The food arrives care of our friends from Red Root Herb and Vegetable Farm. Red Root’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program allows Midtown residents like us to buy CSA shares that support the farm providing bringing delicious and healthy produce.
The shares ensure that you get weekly batches of fresh, organic, locally grown vegetables, while giving you the knowledge that the money is going straight to the farmer and not the various middle-persons that profit from the conventional grocery chain. While the chain supermarkets can create economies of scale from dealing in bulk, with the CSA, you’re at least not paying a lot of hidden costs for refrigeration, advertising, etc.
One of the things we love about the CSA is that you never know what you’re going to get. While that’s not exactly true – you can predict collards at a certain time of year, zucchini at another, radishes at yet another – it’s still a bit of a mystery until you actually get the canvas bag home and open it up. This summer we were flush with watermelons – some massive, others tiny (they were calling them “personal watermelons” down at the farm when we visited), some red, others yellow. El Rey (which also buys food from Red Root for various menu items) memorably used these watermelons in a salad with mint and red onion as part of their Red Root Farm-based menu on Bastille Day (the one where they had hired, oddly, a belly dancer).
Each bag comes with a note from the farm, sometimes talking about weather conditions, sometimes telling you what veggies are coming along at what schedule, sometimes just including descriptions of things and recipes. Ever had a kohlrabi? Farmer Gary not only will sometimes include one or two in your bag, but will tell you a little about it and suggest a few uses. And if you’re reading this blog, you know how to use the Internet. So you’ll enjoy (as we do) searching around for various recipes for the surprises that arrive each week — some of which will force you to discover new cooking skills. Tons of fun!
Getting the CSA also encourages us to adapt our cooking to what is seasonal. We learn new recipes and figure out how to use ingredients – some familiar but abundant, and some strange. One year when we were rolling in radishes, we discovered how to make a delicious salad combining them with corn, onion and parsley. Another year, we learned an unbelievable new way to make turnips using a simple yogurt marinade. Leftovers go into fried rice, soup, salads. The next Tuesday you take your empty canvas Standard Deluxe printed bag back to the pickup site and exchange for a new one.
This is the sixth year of Red Root Farm’s CSA and the tenth year that proprietor Gary Weil has been farming family land in Banks. He has studied all manner of agricultural techniques and is also quite well-versed in the healing properties of many plants. He has a passion for using sustainable methods and can offer up a pretty withering critique of the health and environmental effects of industrial farming methods. His vision is to make Red Root a fully integrated keystone of the growing local and organic foods movement. Healthy eating and environmentalism aren’t fads for Gary Weil and his workers at Red Root. They are ways of life.
CSA subscriptions for the fall are now available. While in previous years the CSA has been more limited (and highly coveted), this fall Red Root will be adding twenty new Montgomery subscriptions. A subscription for a growing season (fall/winter or spring/summer) is $375. They say that you receive 627 items freshly picked and in season over the course of a subscription, but honestly we’ve never counted them all.
You can download a brochure about the CSA here. It includes a subscription form. For more information, you can also call Red Root Farm for more information (334-243-4072).
Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.