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Evolution

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Or, how the farming communities have changed their models to reflect their customers’ desires. It used to be the case that Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs used one or two farms that pre-sold their crops. Buy in before the season started and reap the bounty of what was grown. Not much in the way of options, and very risky in bad weather years.

These days, things have changed. The models keep evolving. There are cooperatives. Home deliveries. Buying services. All sorts of sizes, add ons, payment plans and expansion of the definition of local.

Here in Howard County we have many choices in the winter. For us, finally, we got our winter CSA from Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative. The Coop has over 100 farmers in it now. And, they have expanded their options, offering packages and add ons. Today was our first pick up. What do you get in the winter?

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White mushrooms – Mother Earth Organic Mushrooms
Covington sweet potatoes – LFFC
Mixed winter radishes – Spring Valley Organics
Sunchokes – Lee’s Organics
Orange carrots – Rising Sun Organics
Parsnips – Rising Sun Organics

All of us who bought vegetable shares got these in our box. Some of us chose an omnivore package, with three add ons. Others may have chosen a Vegan package, which had tofu instead of chicken. They got bread, instead of cheese.

We got:

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Sauerkraut. Colby. Chicken breasts. I love the message on the sauerkraut.

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As for the other half of our winter food source, we still love Friends and Farms. Today is our one year anniversary of buying from them.

What is interesting today? The carrots in our Friends and Farms basket come from Lancaster Farm Fresh Wholesale. Many of the produce items come from the same cooperative that supplies our CSA.

As I said above, the evolution in provision of fresh local and seasonal foods has brought us many good choices. There is definitely a program and a package that fits a person or a couple or a family, a package that replaces mass market grocery store food.

Today, our small basket from Friends and Farms included the following.

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This was in our insulated bag. Individual Quick Frozen (IQF) green beans. Chuck roast. Eggs. Chevre. Cod. Ground beef. The ground beef was our chosen substitute for bread. The eggs. Our substitute for milk. What I love most about them is their flexibility to tailor your basket to your preferences.

For us, all the protein we need for a week comes in this basket, and in our CSA.

The rest of our vegetables?

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Sweet potatoes. Carrots. Thyme. Apples. Hydroponic romaine. Kale.

There are other winter options for food around here. Zahradka Farm delivers weekly. So does South Mountain Creamery. They both let you tailor your deliveries to include your preferences. This is so different from the days of rigid “Take it or leave it” CSAs.

Come March, add the early bird Breezy Willow to the choices.

We really are lucky. We can have fresh regional foods (mostly from a 150 mile radius). You can’t beat fresh produce. Way better than those cardboard tomatoes in the stores.

Tonight?

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I pan fried one of those cod fillets in some browned butter. Seasoned with bread crumbs and paprika. Served with those IQF green beans and a sweet potato.

Third Time Lucky

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With a winter CSA. We finally got enough participants to create a winter pick up spot for a 13 week Community Supported Agriculture program from the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative.

For those of us who like that weekly infusion of a surprise basket of vegetables, getting this off the ground meant quite a bit to us. I chose what is called an “Omnivore Package”. 5-8 vegetables. One pound of meat. One half pound of cheese. One pantry item. Every week. We may get bison. We will get raw milk or aged goat, sheep and cow’s milk cheeses. We will get staples for our kitchen, like honey or maple syrup or horseradish. All from right up the highway in Lancaster County.

They changed our pick up from Thursdays to Wednesdays. I like that too. Gives me more time to get things done before the weekend comes. Then, we can easily heat up and eat, with a good made from scratch meal.

During this four week hiatus from the CSA I have been cleaning out some items from the freezer. Like all the chicken wings we got last fall.

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Perfect for a play off game day. Covered in raspberry jam, sriracha, honey, onions and garlic.

Or my meat loaf.

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Made with a half pound of hamburger meat and a half pound of pork sausage. A couple of eggs. Bread crumbs. Onions. Salt. Pepper. Drizzled in ketchup. Do you remember your mom making meat loaf? Didn’t you love it? Leftovers made great sandwiches.

I have also been making chicken salad from the chicken breasts. Egg salad from my Friends and Farms eggs. Some days I do feel like we have regressed into that world from my childhood, with all our food made from scratch.

Can’t wait to see what we get next week. Between Lancaster Farm Fresh and Friends and Farms, I don’t need markets or grocery stores this winter. Well, except when we run out of toilet paper.

Taco Night

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Thanks to Friends and Farms.

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My first ever fish tacos thanks to the themed basket this week. Mahi mahi. Cilantro. Red cabbage. I did cheat and use Roots market salsa fresco instead of the tomatoes, garlic, onion and radishes in the basket.

I did use their recommended recipes to find a good sauce for the tacos. A take on a tartar sauce, but slightly different.

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The recipe calls for mayo, sriracha and honey. I used mayo, taco seasoning that I made myself, and agave. Hey, you use what you have.

Mix it to your taste preference. I like it spicy. My taco seasoning, which is my chili mix, uses cayenne, chili powder, garlic powder, cinnamon, cumin, unsweetened chocolate, salt, pepper and chipotle powder. It’s just a container full of whatever looks interesting. Variety is truly the spice of life around here.

As for the mahi, sprinkled with the seasoning and grilled in olive oil.

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I got the corn taco shells at Wegmans. We also made sirloin tacos with the other protein in the basket.

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I hear a few people whined about the lack of produce in this week’s basket. It is the beginning of January. I thought they did a great job giving us some fun items to use to cook. We got hydroponic lettuce, tomatoes from a high tunnel, radishes, red cabbage, cilantro, apples, eggs, bread, sirloin, mahi mahi, and the larger baskets got cheese.

I was happy. But then who wouldn’t be after tacos with Yuengling.

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Who can resist? Supporting a local business and a brewery from my husband’s home county in PA.

Season’s End

Last Tuesday was our final fall season pick up of our Community Supported Agriculture box from Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative. In previous years, we lamented the loss of fresh organic seasonal vegetables until the May start of the spring and summer share.

This year, we are crossing our fingers that we get the minimum number to keep us going through the winter. I am impressed with how this cooperative continues to deliver so much for our dollars. No, I don’t get anything in remuneration for shamelessly promoting our CSA. I just can’t believe we get so many great items for significantly less than shopping in the organic aisles of the stores.

What I find most interesting though, is the changes the CSA is making in order to market themselves. More a la carte options. We are trying a new option, the Omnivores package. Five to eight vegetables, one pound of meat, one package of cheese, and one pantry item every week. We are hoping to get enough of us to keep the Columbia site going. Otherwise, I am driving an extra three miles to go to Olney.

I haven’t shown the last two boxes from the fall share, but here is what we got on the 18th and the 23rd.

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Ok, so the newsletter said “garlic”. They didn’t tell me we were getting 17 heads of organic garlic. And, the carrots. A couple of pounds of purple carrots. Plus, popcorn. Red orchid chicory. Jerusalem artichokes. Potatoes. Celeriac. And leeks.

Five days later. The final share. Thankfully a bit smaller.

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I did two swaps this week. I love the Beauregard sweet potatoes, and have had enough of the radishes. Plus, I couldn’t resist the arugula. I am addicted to arugula. I gave up a butternut squash for the arugula. More carrots in there. Two different onions. Lettuce, I think it is speckled troutback, because it certainly wasn’t chicory like the newsletter said it would be. Also, a green cabbage.

We got our final cheese delivery Tuesday.

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We get cheese every other week. Cheese that just continues to amaze us. I have become a huge fan of the aged cheddars from PA Noble. Nothing like wine and cheddar for watching those endless bowl games.

I am hoping we get the minimum members to keep us going. Winter is so much nicer with fresh local foods making us feel like it isn’t cold and dreary out there.

The Dark Days

The time of year when the sun is in the opposite hemisphere, and our daylight hours get shorter and shorter. On December 21st, we here in Howard County only get 9 1/2 hours of daylight. Then, thankfully, the days get longer after that day.

A few years back, I did a food challenge. Called the Dark Days Challenge. The challenge, simply, was to make a meal once a week in the winter that used almost completely regional, seasonal items, and/or items you preserved from the summer.

I found out we had lots of sources here in Central Maryland. I didn’t have to eat food flown halfway across the country or halfway around the world. I learned about the Silver Spring, Takoma Park, and DuPont circle year round markets. I found farmers in the area where I could procure local meats.

I found a year round CSA. Bottom line. I changed how I ate. I changed how I cooked. I reduced my carbon footprint by using more and more local foods.

Last night, I made dinner. Afterwards, I realized how that dinner would have rocked the Dark Days Challenge. Almost all of it was local. And I didn’t even work hard to do it. I had just changed my food sources over the years.

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My lamb stew dinner. Using Mt. Airy Meats lamb. CSA potatoes, turnips, onions and carrots. Friends and Farms kale, garlic and rosemary. Trickling Springs butter. Secolari’s olive oil and balsamic. Wayne Nell’s bacon ends.

And the wine.

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A 1999 Linden Glen Manor from Virginia. Like inhaling cherries. Dark, delicious. Nowhere near its peak. A bargain back when we bought it. A treasure to be savored with the lamb.

My husband declared I now make a braised lamb stew that rivals those that Marc Dixon used to make at Iron Bridge. Falling off the bone lamb. Simply cooked in the oven at slow cooker setting, with the potatoes, turnips, carrots and onions in a chicken stock I made last month.

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Yes, I know I need to clean the oven. Ignore that. I did the stew in one pan. Seared it first, added the vegetables and stock and cooked it for four hours at the 250 degree setting in the oven.

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The kale. Started out with scallions from Laurel Amish Market. Olive oil. Bacon ends. Added the kale and garlic. Sautéed until wilted.

So easy to eat fresh food around here.

Blurring the Lines

Between markets, delivery services, cooperatives, and CSAs. I can’t help but notice as a result of being part of most of those choices that things keep changing. To keep customers. Take for example.

The presence of my CSA cooperative’s items in my Friends and Farms basket.

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Yes, that’s an LFFC sticker on my butternut squash in this week’s Friends and Farms basket. Just like the sticker on my carnival squash in my LFFC CSA pick up basket.

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And that Bowman Mountain applesauce in my fruit share. Was in the refrigerator at F&F when I got there.

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And, yes, Mother Earth mushrooms were in both deliveries. So was LFFC garlic.

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Here’s this week’s F&F individual basket. I am also pretty sure the leek was from Lancaster Farm Fresh Coop, too. I do like their use of a mostly organic non-profit Amish cooperative to give us great produce and fruit.

Just like I am thankful that our LFFC CSA share keeps going into the fall. And, hopefully into the winter if we get enough interest.

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This was my half share, and my fruit share. Anyone know a killer recipe for rutabagas? The one “weird” item in our share this week.

As for cheese.

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Lancaster Farm Fresh continues to give us artisanal cheeses at much more reasonable prices than Roots, Wegmans, and Whole Foods. We generally get 24 ounces for $25. Check out the per pound price of the best cheese at any of those retailers and you will see what a good deal we are getting.

So, where am I going with this post? I see a shift in my CSA. Giving more options. More individual choices. I see a shift in Friends and Farms. Using more and more reasonably priced organic items. And, more flexibility there too.

The old model, one farm CSA isn’t doing as well as those who broaden their sources. Consumers have lots of choices around here. A one farm CSA with limited veggies won’t survive against the cooperatives and regionally sourced food services like F&F.

I also see the value in these current choices. Better pricing. Fresher foods. I like Friends and Farms comment from a recent TV show. Wegmans and Whole Foods quality at Giant and Safeway pricing. We can get really great food around here. Year round.

The trick in all this? Knowing how to use it. Staying home and cooking. What have I done with the above, and what will I do this week with the rest of it?

One of the carrots went into tonight’s dinner. There will be a post tomorrow about that dinner. It was simply an awesome local meal. Spinach and mushrooms went into a salad yesterday taken to a friend’s house for dinner. Same with the garlic, in a potato casserole. Taken to that dinner.

As for LFFC, one of the onions in that potato casserole last night. Red cabbage in a salad tonight. I am making apple bread this weekend to give as Christmas gifts. Same for that jar of applesauce. One of my mom’s favorite treats, it will be in her “stocking” from me.

The lines may be blurred these days from my food suppliers, but I still can make flavorful meals and use these items over a two to three week period. Can’t say the same about grocery store produce, which wilts and slimes in less than a week. Fresh food is amazing. We are very lucky to have the choices we have here in Howard County.

A Peek at the Week

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In food. From my two local, seasonal, regional food sources here in Howard County. It may be December but with the advent of high tunnels and the use of greenhouses, you can still get very tasty fresh foods without them being flown from all over the globe.

A basket of vegetables and fruit from Amish country, for example. Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, delivered to our pick up site.

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This is what $30 a week got me for a half share and a fruit share. Last Thursday’s delivery. A salad spinner’s worth of young arugula. Three small heads of specialty lettuces. One large leek. Three parsnips. A small stalk of Brussels sprouts. Two yellow onions and a bag of white potatoes. The fruit share was a mix of apples and two humongous Asian pears.

As for Friends and Farms individual share. Also picked up on Thursday.

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One large pork chop. One small whole chicken. One half pound of hickory smoked bacon. A dozen eggs. Thyme. Hydroponic tomatoes. Four Bosc pears. One red onion. Four potatoes. Fresh curly kale. One small hydroponic leaf lettuce. The pumpkin ravioli was an add on. From the always stocked refrigerator on site.

All the meat from Friends and Farms has been used. Half the eggs too. This was the last week for free range pastured eggs from Miller Farms. We will get Nature’s Yolk eggs in the winter.

Lots of soups on the menu these days. All the fixings that go easily into the crockpot.

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That chicken? Became dinner Friday night with the leftover breast meat being part of a cream based soup today. Soup was a perfect dinner after getting that perfect tree from Greenway.

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Now, I have to go decorate a tree.

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