One more reason to anticipate the sweet, ever too brief, arrival of a Chicago summer is the start of CSAs in earnest: weekly batches of organic vegetables delivered to your house or farmers market, all set aside for you and ready to yield to creative culinary magic.
Our CSA is Peasant’s Plot, run by former big city folks Todd and Julia Macdonald in Manteno, Illinois. The Macdonalds wholeheartedly believe in their mission to reconnect metropolites with the sources of their food, fostering a deeper understanding of the labor, soil, seasonality and people behind the fruits and vegetables we eat. What we consume becomes a part of who we are: it’s literally what makes us tick, and our current—though shifting—agricultural paradigm often ignores the direct connection between eating well and energy, mood and health.
As such, we are big proponents and supporters of the CSA model, and even bigger fans of Peasant’s Plot Worker Share program, which allows intrepid Chicagoans to work on their farm for a full day once a month in exchange for weekly baskets of produce. It’s an excellent way to get a seasonally undulating bundle of vegetables for little monetary investment, while also becoming acquainted with the land it all came from. If you’ve never tried getting your hands dirty, so to speak, we highly recommend it. Few tasks are as meditative and magical, and the appreciation you glean will infuse dinner with new shades of meaning. That said, you can exchange those hours spent on Todd and Julia’s farm for a couple of shifts at the Lincoln Square Farmer’s Market. Either way, it’s a pretty fantastic deal.
Peasant’s Plot is pesticide free and organic, using methods such as companion planting and literally handpicking pests off their crops when plants are threatened. The avoidance of pesticides can make organic farming more labor intensive (due to the above methods), but ultimately it avoids contaminating nearby water and land ecosystems, and creating pesticide resistant pests, which is just an escalating arms race we’d rather stay out of. As their site says, “sometimes a batch goes belly up, but thats why we plant many varieties.” Planting many varieties avoids dangerous monocultures, where the failure of one plant varietal wipes out the entire year’s crop. Nurturing a biodiverse farm is like insurance against that threat, while also making shopping more fun for you and little ones. Candy striped chioggia, orange and yellow beets; french breakfast and watermelon radishes, purple asparagus (pictured) and russian blue potatoes make the farmer’s market more like its namesake garden than a fluorescent lit superstore with only red beets, idaho potatoes and eerily uniform pink radishes.
Mick Klug is the only other farmer we buy from, and we’ve been really enjoying their strawberries: tiny, fiercely red and exploding with flavor. The purple asparagus above is from them too. Summer is one of the most joyous times in the growing season, when the labor during dormant months yields a sudden deluge of cherries, plums, nectarines, peaches and berries, around for just a flash in the pan.
Straight from Peasant’s Plot, here’s an example of how much an individual-sized weekly ration is, for your reference: “a head of red leaf lettuce, a bag of arugula, a bunch of cilantro, and a bunch of kale. Later summer rations may include: 2-3 tomatoes, 3 peppers, a bag of salad greens, and a bunch of swiss chard.” You can also opt for the family sized share. CSAs save us time in line at the grocery store, and give us the fun challenge of figuring out how to use every last flavorful vegetable in our share when we get home each week. Here is an awesome Chicago CSA guide for 2013 compiled by The Local Beet and familyfarmed.org. Happy summer!