Strawberries are in!

Strawberries in the fieldThe second week of April here in Hampton Roads brought an early treat – red, ripe strawberries fresh from the field.  YUM.

I’ve been to the fields twice already, each time returning home with buckets heaped with red ripe strawberries.  They now sit on my kitchen counter, filling the air with an irresistable scent.  I may have eaten one or two teeny tiny ones before breakfast.  Who am I kidding, they were the size of a baby’s fist.

For a scant four to eight weeks, I’m prone to stuffing myself with fresh local strawberries at every opportunity.  I eat them warm from the sun or cool from the fridge.  I slice them and put them on top of cream cheese and toast or layer them in a homemade strawberry shortcake with fresh whipped cream.  If the family and I can keep our mitts off them long enough to make a recipe, we make smoothies – but only with the ugly ones.  The pretty ones with long stems get a bath in chocolate to prepare them for consumption.

I’m fortunate enough to live close to Lilley Farms and proud to be a frequent customer there.  The fields are well maintained – no need to worry about knee-high weeds here! My children always have to pose with the giant strawberry. The strawberries are so good, I can’t even look at grocery store strawberries for most of the year.  If you don’t live close to Lilley Farms, look for a you-pick closer to home.  If you don’t live near a you-pick strawberry field, perhaps you should consider moving.

My Community Supported Agriculture

Since I first learned about them a decade ago, I’ve wanted to join a CSA or Community Supported Agriculture. If you’re not familiar with the idea, you pre-pay a farmer for a share of the harvest. Some are organic, some focus on certain type of products (I read of one that does cheese) but all support local agriculture. Each Friday, I head to Clarke Farms and pick up a basket of produce, all of which is grown within a day’s drive. I have a half-share which, as it turns out, is just about the right amount for my family of four.

Part of the fun of the CSA is not knowing what we will get from week to week. Our first pick-up included spinach. We  haven’t had it since. Last week, we got an eggplant. I’m still not sure what we will do with that one.  We’ve gotten potatoes, onions, may-peas, green beans, cherry tomatoes and of course squash. I finally found a way to cook squash that my husband likes. The kids aren’t sold on it yet.

The last four weeks, our basket included corn on the cob. True local corn is only available a few weeks, so the day’s drive limit on our CSA allows us to the extend the season. Over the four weeks of receiving corn from South Carolina we’ve tasted the difference as the sugars turn to starch. The first round was so sweet, it barely needed to be cooked. The last was so starchy, one ear went uneaten, this in a house where the three-year old alone has been known to put away three ears.  I suspect we’ll see the same pattern as the harvest moves further north until the last harvest on Maryland’s eastern shore.

The food has been delicious, but also fun is sharing the experience with my children.  My grandparents all farmed and when I was my children’s age, my parents dragged me to our family’s weekend farm. I have no idea how many acres they cultivated, but I remember pouting a number of times when they announced it was time to pile in the van to work on the farm. Once there, I spent a few minutes tending my flower patch, then I worked hard harvesting anything that looked even remotely ripe and popping it in my mouth, straight off the vine, still warm from the sun. Later I could wander unsupervised away from the garden plot. I was free to find rocks, snake skins, and wild flowers. I don’t know if they ever worried, but they always knew where they could find me, tucked away in the blackberry patch, bleeding and shoveling in as much fruit as I could eat.

I can’t recreate that experience for my children. My gardening efforts are humble at best. I grow great hydrangeas, but you can’t eat those. But the CSA allows me to introduce my children to local foods and the people who produce them. My son likes to predict what will be in the basket each week and my daughter begs to carry it home. They see the variety of colors, shapes and textures freshly grown food comes in. They happily eat a peach that might be deemed small or ugly at the grocery store because they’ve observed how good the ones in the basket taste. By the way – South Carolina Peaches are really good this year.

It’s been a terrific experience, one that I’m sure we’ll repeat in future years.  If you have a chance, seek out a CSA in your area. You won’t be disappointed, unless all shares are sold out.