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Melon Season

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Here we are again, in the abundance of summer Community Supported Agriculture world, where all of a sudden a fruit or vegetable dominates your weekly allocation. These past two weeks? Melons.

All sort of melons.

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Last week there were three of them. This week, four. YES, FOUR!!!!

Those melons in the picture above included an heirloom cantaloupe. A “modern” cantaloupe. A yellow seedless watermelon.

As for the difference between heirloom and modern cantaloupe. Just a touch different in terms of acidity.

And, a soft fragile rind.

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I remember from my childhood, only having cantaloupe in the summer. Getting them fresh from the fields on the way to or from the ocean. Maryland Eastern Shore cantaloupes. They were a breakfast treat. Sliced into quarters. Sprinkled with salt.

Now, we get more creative with melon. I have become enamored of this recipe lately. It is very similar to my watermelon, feta and mint salad, but with a more complex dressing.

As for what we are doing with this week’s watermelon. I am thinking melon margaritas, if the weather stays this hot.

This week’s basket included four melons. A French Chanterais. An heirloom cantaloupe. A “baby doll” watermelon. A regular cantaloupe.

Anyone have other ideas for what to do with all this melon?

Sum-sum-summertime

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We are only a week away from the official start of summer. Tell that to my garden, that is still giving me lettuce and asparagus.

At least we are transitioning into summer with our CSA delivery this week.

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This is our second week with garlic scapes. Which I love. Last week I made pesto which has been melted on pasta, and used with shrimp to make a meal. It may get slathered on cod tomorrow night. I will make another batch from this week’s haul, and freeze it in ice cube trays. To brighten up next winter.

As for the peas. I absolutely love getting fresh peas and shelling them.

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They have to be eaten or frozen almost immediately.

The greens are being replaced with summertime vegetables. But, no, there won’t be tomatoes for a few more weeks. Be patient. The ripe, fresh, flavorful tomatoes are coming. Just not there yet. If we get a few more weeks of warm weather, we should be there.

I saw my first blossoms on the zucchini today, and there are blossoms on my tomato plants. Summer is just around the corner, here in Howard County.

Regional and Seasonal

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Blurring those lines again.

And making decisions that give people more options for good food. While keeping their businesses profitable.

The old Community Supported Agriculture model used one or two farms, without all sorts of add on options. It was great in good years. Not so great when flooding, or drought, or extreme heat or cold, impacted the yields. We see now how two of our major food sources have expanded their horizons and brought in farms from farther away.

I can hear it now. “but it’s not local. Not from our state(county)”. Maryland is a very tiny state. 42nd in terms of area. You know, if we lived in Texas, we could be more territorial. Just for fun, I put my map on my iPad over the state of Texas. Moved the view to Maryland. I could make it all the way to SC if I put MD on top. Or all the way to upstate NY if we were on the southern edge of the page.

Thinking regionally is a good thing. It gives us access to fresh food from a surrounding area that may not have had all the rain we did.

Cast in point. Our CSA, Lancaster Farm Fresh is bringing food in for their wholesale business from farms south of us. When they need to meet demand in the CSA, they occasionally use that wholesale produce for our boxes.

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Like these collards last winter.

If you want a sense of what drives these decisions, read this interview with our CSA founder Casey Specht.

The refinement of our CSA model into a full service food delivery system is a remarkable journey in seven years.

Then, take a look at what Friends and Farms is doing. And excerpt from our latest newsletter. Phil’s Farm Field Trip

“With 14 days of rain in a row and little relief in sight, we decided to send Philip on an expedition to find both sun and spring produce among his many friends in the Carolinas. He finally encountered the sun in Newton Grove, NC, and the produce was not far behind. Burch Farms in Faison was busy at work harvesting leafy greens and a little further down the road, strawberry harvest was just wrapping up. But the real purpose of the trip was a little further South at the Farm of Chalmers Carr where the season’s first peaches were being harvested. Because our local harvest was decimated by the late winter storm, we are asking Mr. Carr to start shipping peaches to us within the week. We know it is early, but we can’t risk a “peach-less” summer. To top the trip off, Philip stopped by the Pine Ridge pecan orchard to visit what we hope will be a bountiful fall harvest of paper shell pecans. So far, so good!”

I can’t wait to order those pecans.

I have done quite a bit of my shopping from them, in addition to getting my protein and dairy bag. Just this past week.

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Checking out the refrigerated items. Picking up my favorite yogurt. A few cheeses. Not to mention the butter I normally buy from there, Trickling Springs butter. I do love how our food services add so many items from small farms and vendors to their inventory.

Hot House Tomatoes

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Not something I expected from our CSA.

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We have gone regional. I assume it is to keep customers who want vegetables all year round, and not just in season. If you watch, the Community Supported Agriculture model keeps changing, to compete with the regional food source companies. Who get more customers than the traditional models do.

I can’t say I blame them. There doesn’t seem to be an exponentially growing market out there for real food, grown locally and provided fresh in season.

Lancaster Farm Fresh has thousands of clients. Besides the CSA members, there are restaurants, schools, hospitals, grocery stores and small farms buying their produce, herbs and fruit. Some weeks our email tells us we are getting the regional LFFC labeled food, instead of the local farm food.

Toigo Farms. In Carlisle PA. Home to what they say is the largest greenhouse in the USA. Video here.

Toigo Orchards is familiar to us. We bought their fruit at the Dupont Circle market. They seem to have constructed a massive greenhouse to grow tomatoes.

Don’t get me wrong. They were OK. But not as good as vine ripened tomatoes in season. And, not as good as what we get from Hummingbird Farms in MD. Maybe I need to let them hang out in a sunny window for a few days. Yeah right. Like we actually get sun around here.

All in all, today’s basket from our CSA wasn’t bad.

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It was springtime in a basket if you looked at the green garlic, the romaine, the radishes and the rhubarb. I did a few swaps this week. I really wanted good salad material, and those greens will make a killer pesto.

Still, I will wait for this type of tomato.

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Those heirloom tomatoes.

I did make a nice Caprese salad tonight. Tomaotoes, mozzarella and fresh basil. Balsamic and olive oil. Salt and pepper. IT just didn’t have that in season taste.

Food Safety

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Raise your hand if you were one of the millions contacted that you had bought possible listeria contaminated foods. That would include me. The ORGANIC edamame from COSTCO. Bought in 2014. Yep, it took two years for them to figure out they had a problem.

And people wonder why I stopped buying as much processed food. Why I run from my CSA to Friends and Farms to get most of the basic food we cook and eat. Why I do pick your own farm food, and process it myself.

We have seen three different recalls in May. CRF frozen vegetables and fruits from everywhere, it seems. Rice from Trader Joes and “pictfresh” veggies at Harris Teeter. Nature’s Promise at Giant Food. Around here these stores provide most of the pwople who live in the area with their weekly groceries.

I wonder why we have all these regulations driving our small local farmers crazy, while we allow mega producers to go TWO YEARS with possibly contaminated food.

Thankfully, that edamame didn’t make us sick. And, we haven’t bought grocery store frozen food in quite a while.

I have become convinced that the closer we remain to the source of our food, the better we have it. Since that “organic” label isn’t a guarantee that you get better quality, I think I will rely on knowing where my food originates.

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The Amish cooperative that gives us much of our food has that motto. Along with this philosophy.

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If we support our local farms and farmers, who feed their families with the same food they sell us, we wouldn’t have to worry about the industrial processing which may or may not contaminate our food.

It’s not as easy to take time to buy from small farms and producers, but at least you have a face to match to the food you buy.

Join a CSA if you want to take more control of the vegetables you get. Find a local meat producer to have fresher meat without hormones, antibiotics or questionable handling. Pick your own, at places like Larriland.

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And, by all means, don’t just assume because it’s organic, that it’s better. Farms around here take great care in growing food without undue use of harmful pesticides. They are an affordable alternative to mega-company organic stuff that costs more without being any better.

Shopping at Friends and Farms

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Somewhere along the line, we reduced our reliance on grocery stores and increased what we bought from our CSA and our regional food bag.

Like our combinations at Friends and Farms.

The Protein and Dairy bag.

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Today we got monkfish, ground chuck, eggs, cheese and turkey filets. Instead of milk, I pick extra produce. Today it was arugula.

Arugula was also in my sample produce bag, which I went on line to choose. My CSA doesn’t start until next week so I went on line to order a produce bag.

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One with a protein option. Shrimp.

You can customize all kinds of combinations with this company. And buy extras at the warehouse.

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Like yogurt and ice cream and apples and rice. Meat options too, which I saw on the blackboard. Whole chickens. Beef brisket. Specials every week as they try to keep the inventory in the freezer at a minimum.

Most of our food comes from here, and our CSA. No recalled foods from small local suppliers. No vegetables with possible listeria contamination. No meat products with wood, metal, plastic or whatever in them. I am a true believer in buying from small local companies, and knowing who processes your food.

Just to show how easy it is to come home and make an awesome dinner.

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I sautéed that monkfish. Added it to a skillet of rice and vegetables.

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Made a fish stew that will go into my regular rotation. It was that good.

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This was simple. Yesterday I made a couple of cups of rice in my rice cooker. The leftovers from dinner become an addition to tonight’s dinner. I sautéed onions, garlic, and asparagus in olive oil. Added a container of crushed tomatoes. A container or spicy kale and bean soup. A teaspoon of sugar. A half teaspoon of salt. A splash of wine. After sautéing the monkfish I finished it in this mix.

Served with this.

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A locally produced merlot.

Between the local markets, farms, CSAs and Friends and Farms, I don’t need to go to grocery stores. Unless I need toilet paper.

Yeah I forgot to photograph the final dish. It was served over arugula. Which was in my produce bag and my sample bag.

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A double dose of arugula.

And The Winner Is …

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… carrots. Yep, carrots. Well, tied with mushrooms, but they needed three varieties to match the two varieties of carrots in eight weeks. Out of the thirteen week Community Supported Agricultural winter share.

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We got orange carrots six weeks. Yellow carrots, two. We got mushrooms eight weeks. A combination of shiitake, cremini, and portabella.

All together, our 13 week CSA gave us 45 varieties of vegetables. Doing some math to compare the $330 price against buying in Wegmans (the best prices for organic), we would have spent at least $380 there. We did have to fudge a bit as Wegmans does not sell strawberry popcorn or garlic greens. I had to use farmers’ market pricing for those items.

My favorite this winter.

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Watermelon radishes. Sweet. With a slight hint of sea salt. A perfect appetizer.

We have a couple of weeks off before our spring/summer CSA starts. I will have to hit the local farm stands for vegetables.

No matter what. We will still support our Amish organic CSA, because they bring us awesome vegetables at less than store pricing, and only one or two days out of the fields.

Want to join us? 40-50 people hang out in a garage in Braeburn, picking up fresh foods. Check out the sign up page.

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