Category Archives: Farming

Red Root Farm

By Stephen and Kate

A typical week's CSA in the spring season

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.

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Alabama Farmer’s Market – Fairview Ave.

By Stephen and Kate

“There once was a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings.”

So begins the book Silent Spring by Rachel Carsons, the 1962 wake up call that served as a foundational text for much of the modern environmental consciousness. The book, a searing critique of the atrocities of American pesticide use, has considerable bearing on the origins of the modern movement towards food consciousness and support for agriculture that is organic (a term that is often debated, but in the casual sense means grown without synthetic pesticides).

The organic market was estimated to be $24 billion and growing quickly in 2008. And if the oil spill in the Gulf has taught us that industrial carelessness  is killing the planet, the recent McDonald’s recall of poison-laced Shrek drinking glasses serves as a reminder that industrial carelessness is killing our bodies too.

And that’s where the Farmer’s Market on Fairview Avenue comes in. Some people have always gotten vegetables from farmer’s markets. The populist rural history of farm-to-market sales is well documented in states like Alabama, where generations have grown up loving the freshness of locally-grown crops. But with more and more people moving towards increasingly-processed diets, it has taken a counter-revolution of health-conscious return-to-the-basics consumers to bring local production back to the center of many dinner tables.

Authors like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser (along with movies like Super Size Me) have certainly pushed people towards the “slow food movement” and away from fast food. And all of that contributes to what makes local and organic eating so much fun. You have the environmentalists aware of the toll of industrialized agriculture on the natural world. You have the folks who don’t want to pay for the markups on food that come with expensive refrigeration, shipping and advertising. You have the rural folks who just like dealing with the farmers. You have the folks who urge people to “buy Alabama first” for economic development reasons. And you have the folks who just think that store-bought tomatoes don’t taste quite right.

These people all come together across racial and class lines to celebrate good food at the Farmer’s Market, where all of the food isn’t certified organic, but nearly all of it is grown in Alabama. Midtown’s market is on Fairview Ave., across from the Piggly Wiggly where popsicles are in the produce aisle and everyone’s shopping cart seems full of canned and packaged foods.

The Farmers Markets are run by the state Department of Agriculture’s Farmers Market Authority. That would explain why they have a hilarious picture of current Gubernatorial candidate Ron Sparks (who is currently the state’s Ag Commissioner) in an apron. The Fairview Avenue location was once the auto parts shop for the nearby Sears store.

Vendors can rent space on monthly contracts. There’s an indoor part and an outdoor part. Outdoors, in the space that used to be a garage, stands boast huge cardboard boats of summer squash, big bunches of lush collards or turnip greens, baskets of tiny plums, white potatoes ready to plant, jars of homemade pepper sauce, and watermelons ranging from the personal size ($3) to a size more appropriate for your whole extended family ($9). In the front of the market, you can still buy okra or tomatoes, but you can also get jars of pickles, candles, flowers, ferns, herbs in cups, tea, red velvet cake or individual sweet potato pies. There is also someone who takes your name and puts it on a piece of paper with an Eagle on it, including your birth stone and an explanation of what your name “means.” For example, Ronald means “rules with counsel.” So, maybe that bodes well for the Sparks campaign.

Everyone takes cash. EBT cards are accepted, as are credit or debit cards. If you want to use a card, they’ll ring you up at the front and cash out to the relevant vendor. The market is full of fresh Alabama produce sold by people who know the farmers and can tell you that your watermelon came from Dothan and your peaches from Chilton County. In a world of pizza rolls and microwaveable individual serving cakes, we’re lucky to be just a few minutes away from the Fairview Farmer’s Market.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, 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.

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