My First Year with a CSA

By: Scott Rattan, Executive Chef at Capital University

I had the opportunity to attend the annual PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) conference last year as part of a chefs outing for our company.  It was a wonderful experience and I learned a great deal about farming and sustainable practices.  This year’s conference is being held at Penn State University, February 2nd through the 5th.  If you’re interested, I highly recommend it!

Anyway, one of the things I learned, besides new sustainable practices, organic farming, yogurt making, cheese making, pickling with whey (I really did learn a lot), was CSA farming.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  How it works is you invest in the harvest of a farmer for a year.  You buy-in (seed money) and once a week throughout the growing season you receive a market basket of the freshest produce available.  It is more economical than shopping at a farmers’ market or grocery store and you share in the responsibility and the reward of a local farm.

CSA membership allows you to connect with your food and your farmer.  I came home from the conference excited and eager to share what I had learned at work, as well as at home.  My wife and I decided we wanted to get involved with a CSA.  I went on-line to www.localharvest.org, found a farm in my area, and set up a meeting with its farmer, Todd Schriver.  Now I thought I was pretty excited about this new venture, but Todd is a man full of energy and passion for farming.  At the very beginning, I could see possibilities not only for my family, but for the students at Capital University.  By the middle of June I started picking up my market baskets:  green beans, carrots, salsify, spring onions, assorted peas and beans, radishes, beets, sorrel, blackberries, and chard.  Then corn, fennel, Indian crest, new potatoes, tomatoes, summer squash, peppers, and zucchini, as well as the aforementioned produce. Then winter squash, potatoes, pumpkins, savoy cabbage, and apples; it was more than I could ask for.  I wouldn’t even get done utilizing all I received before the week was up and I had another basket of fresh produce.  Some items I didn’t recognize or know what to do with it, but Todd had recipes and suggestions that could help even a novice at cooking.  Amazingly to me, Todd told me this was not a great year because we had little rain.

This bounty of great food inspired John Brite, General Manager at Capital University, and me to start a little garden of our own on campus.  We contacted student government to see if any students would like to take on a project like this – we had great responses!  Students came to campus before the school year even started to get the garden up and running.  Our Corporate Support Center was already growing a garden on their balcony using Earth Boxes made out of recycled material and we decided to do the same.  The Earth Boxes come with everything you need except the soil and even have casters for easy mobility.  This was important because we didn’t get started until August and planned on bringing the boxes indoors to finish growing.  The students set up a schedule between themselves to tend the garden.  I shared my experience over the summer with my CSA with the students, and we planned a theme meal with the produce from Farmer Todd for the entire student body and in September made it happen.

Farmer Todd with his Honeycrisp apples

Todd even came to the dinner and answered questions while handing out local Golden Supreme and Honeycrisp apples.  The dinner was so well received we did another one in October.  Some students developed a relationship with Todd and, on their own, went out to the farm to visit him.  One student even has an internship on the farm now.  As a final note to the season, the students had their own mini version of a local harvest meal as an action station using vegetables and herbs they grew in our garden.

Todd’s growing season finished with an apple pressing party out on the farm.  The taste of real apple cider brought back some fond memories from when I was a kid.  Todd built his own cider press and promises to show it me.  Most of the farm equipment was put together or modified by Todd to suit his needs (he’s a very resourceful guy!).  It also helps that his wife has an engineering background.  I’m looking forward to some hard cider I made from the party (should be ready in February) and for next year’s harvest.

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