Wednesday, November 18, 2020

November 19, 2020 - This Week's Box Contents, Featuring Tat Soi!

Cooking With This Week's Box

Tat Soi: 15-Minute Sesame Ginger Noodles (see below); Tat Soi Salad with Maple Mustard Dressing (see below); Ginger Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Coconut Tat Soi (see below); Freezable Stuffing with Kale and Caramelized Onions

Covington Sweet Potatoes: Ginger Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Coconut Tat Soi (see below); Brussels Sprouts, Pumpkin and Apple Hash; Roasted Sweet Potato & Apple Ham Sandwich; Sweet Potato Raisin Bread; Paleo Pumpkin Cheesecake

Broccoli Romanesco OR Cauliflower: Cauliflower Pumpkin Fettucine Alfredo

Cilantro: 15-Minute Sesame Ginger Noodles (see below); Ginger Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Coconut Tat Soi (see below)

Baby Ginger: 15-Minute Sesame Ginger Noodles (see below); Tat Soi Salad with Maple Mustard Dressing (see below); Ginger Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Coconut Tat Soi (see below); Warm Brussels sprouts Salad with Apples & Pecans; Paleo Pumpkin Cheesecake

Beauty Heart Radishes: Tat Soi Salad with Maple Mustard Dressing (see below); Watermelon Radish Salad with Orange & Goat Cheese; Watermelon Radish Toast with Orange Mascarpone and Honey

Italian Garlic: 15-Minute Sesame Ginger Noodles (see below); Ginger Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Coconut Tat Soi (see below); Cauliflower Pumpkin Fettucine Alfredo; Warm Brussels sprouts Salad with Apples & Pecans; Vegetarian Wellington

Brussles Sprouts Pumpkin and Apple Hash
photo from
Thanksgiving is coming up next week and for many this holiday may look a bit different than in years past.  You may find you have a bit more time on your hands once you cut out the time needed to travel and make plans for big get-togethers, which could be just perfect!  That leaves more time for cooking food, spending time with your immediate family and members of your household, perhaps doing things you may not otherwise take time to do.  Make that super fussy dessert that is so delicious, play a few games of cards or break out those board games you used to play as kids.  Build a fort in the living room out of sheets and have an indoor campout….Let your imagination go wild and have some fun!  Think of ways you can bless others and enhance your life and the lives of those around you throughout the next year.  In this time of thanksgiving, lets consider the power of gratitude to heal the wounds of this year and create space for the blessings you’ve received to grow and lead you into another season.

With those thoughts in mind, lets plan some meals!  We had a major problem packing this week’s box—there were too many vegetables and they all didn’t fit!  We needed to make space this week for the gorgeous tat soi!  If you are not familiar with this vegetable, please take a moment to read this week’s vegetable feature article.  If you’re looking for a quick way to use this green, here are my two suggestions.  First, use it to make this week’s featured recipe for 15-Minute Sesame Ginger Noodles (see below).  It’s super-simple and tastes great with this week’s fresh ginger!  I also recommend using the tat soi as your salad green this week.  I don’t have an official salad recipe, but here’s what I do.  On Sunday I chop a big bowl of tat soi, grate a few carrots and thinly slice some beauty heart radishes.  Mix the vegetables together in a bowl with a sealable lid.  Throughout the week this is your go-to salad, already prepped.  All you have to do is toss a portion with some dressing and add toppings.  I did share my dressing of choice to accompany a tat soi salad.  Credit for this Maple Mustard Dressing (see below) actually goes to Sarah Britton from, but I like to add my own variation by adding finely chopped fresh or pickled ginger.  Of course you can add other items to this salad such as chopped nuts or seeds, hard boiled eggs, fish, chicken, etc.  Lastly, we’ve included one more feature recipe for Ginger Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Coconut Tat Soi (see below)  This is a spicy flavor-packed vegetarian dish which also features fresh ginger as well as the tat soi.

Cauliflower Pumpkin Fettucine Alfredo
photo from
I want to introduce you to, a new blog I discovered this week featuring seasonal vegetarian recipes.  The gal who writes it is quirky and fun, is cooking from the Pacific Northwest and focuses on CSA food—perfect!  While her seasons and veg might be a little different than ours, there’s a lot of overlap.  Check out her site and see if her style resonates with your likes.  In the meantime, I selected a few of her recipes to share with you. Turn the last of this season’s cauliflower or broccoli Romanesco into this Cauliflower Pumpkin Fettucine Alfredo.  The cauliflower will add creaminess to the sauce that is enriched with pumpkin puree.  The recipe calls for a can of pumpkin, please don’t use canned pumpkin.  Rather, bake this week’s black futsu pumpkins or heart of gold squash, scoop out the flesh and use it to make the rest of the sauce.

She also has several recipes using beauty heart radishes, otherwise known in some circles as “watermelon” radishes.  Check out this Watermelon Radish Salad with Orange & Goat Cheese, a simple salad that requires just a little bit of prep time.  You want to make sure you slice the radishes thinly and allow about 30 minutes for them to marinate in a simple mixture of orange juice, white wine vinegar and honey.  This marinade will essentially become the “dressing” for this salad.  The recipe calls for green onions as a garnish, which are not in season around here.  I’d suggest some finely chopped red onions or shallots.  You can plate this salad on a large platter for passing, on individual plates, or feel free to mix it all up and deal with it that way if you don’t want to get fussy.  Any way you do it, the flavors will be bright.  The sweet oranges and touch of honey bring out the sweetness in the radishes and complement their radish bite that is mellowed by the fatty goat cheese.  If you don’t have goat cheese, you could substitute feta cheese as well.  If you like the flavor combination of oranges and beauty heart radishes, you might also like her recipe for Watermelon Radish Toast with Orange Mascarpone and Honey.  If you don’t have mascarpone, you can substitute cream cheese.  You’ll use this as the spread, while first mixing in some orange juice and the zest of the orange.  Don’t skip the step of adding the orange zest as this is where the real orange flavor will come from.  I’d recommend adding the orange juice gradually.  You don’t want your spread to become too runny and might need to reduce the orange juice a bit.  Spread this on top of the toast, layer on thin slices of radish and drizzle with a little honey.  You just made a simple breakfast, or light lunch, or appetizer for dinner!

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad
with Apples & Pecans
photo from
As I was poking around, I found a few more recipes on this blog including Beer Marinated Fries with Thyme Mayonnaise!  This week’s russet potatoes will be perfect for this recipe.  These fries are baked, which is always my preference.  I have also reserved her Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apples & Pecans as a recipe to make for our Thanksgiving dinner.  This recipe will make good use of both the Brussels sprouts and fresh ginger in this week’s box. You can thinly slice the Brussels sprouts using a food processor, a mandolin or simply with a knife.  They are then sautéed briefly along with onion, just until wilted then tossed with a sweet & sour dressing made with apple cider vinegar, maple syrup, fresh ginger and garlic.  As if this isn’t delicious enough, top the salad off with fresh apples, crumbled blue cheese and pecans!

That is all for recipes from, so lets move on to one of my favorite blogs,  Ali has some tasty recipes in her collection of 25 Thanksgiving Side Dishes, including her Freezable Stuffing with Kale and Caramelized Onions.  Her recipe has loads of caramelized onions and wilted kale.  I haven’t tried it, but I would think you could easily substitute tat soi for the kale.  Ali also offers the suggestion of making it in advance and freezing it.  You could take this suggestion and make this dish while you have a little extra time over the holidays, and the greens with which to make it, and pop it in the freezer.  You might want to pull it out and serve it with ham at Christmas or use it for a convenient dinner accompaniment to roast beef or roast chicken in the middle of winter!  Of course, it could also be served as part of a vegetarian meal, maybe with some sauteed mushrooms and roasted sweet potatoes!

Roasted Parsnips with Spicy Honey Butter
photo from
Before we leave, I want to call attention to her recipe for Roasted Parsnips with Spicy Honey Butter.  You can use honey or maple syrup for this recipe and if you have any Korean chili peppers hanging around—use them here!  I also want to try this Creamy Parsnip & Pear Soup.  This is a silky, smooth way to enjoy the sweet, earthiness of parsnips.  This soup gets its creaminess from parsnips as well as celeriac and just a touch of cream or half and half just before serving.  Ali recommends a drizzle of truffle oil just before serving.  This is quite decadent and I’m guessing most of you don’t have truffle oil hanging out in your kitchen, so I’d suggest a drizzle of something as simple as a good olive oil or a toasted nut oil such as hazelnut or walnut oil if you have it.  She suggests serving it with crusty bread, but you could also choose to make croutons to put on top.

I’ve used a few recipes from in past articles, but I was drawn to revisit her site this week because she had called attention to some tasty fall recipes in her prelude post to the holidays.  Check out this recipe for Brussels Sprouts, Pumpkin and Apple Hash.  I would not recommend using this week’s Black futsu pumpkins as you need to peel the pumpkin for this recipe.  I would recommend substituting butternut squash, or you could use sweet potatoes instead.  There’s a touch of bacon for some fattiness, a little tang from dried cranberries and a bit of vinegar at the end, along with the sweetness of the apple which helps complete the lovely balance of flavors to complement the Brussels sprouts in this dish!  If you’re looking for a less labor intensive alternative to yeast rolls to fill the “bread” slot in this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, you might want to consider these Parmesan Pumpkin Scones.  The black futsu pumpkin would be a good selection for this recipe, but you could also use butternut squash puree.  The dough is seasoned with Parmesan cheese along with sage, pecans and pepitas.  Before you bake them you garnish the tops with a bit more cheese and dried sage, which makes them very attractive to serve.  Of course, you also might want to reserve this recipe for a post-Thanksgiving brunch item to serve with leftover turkey and cranberry or as an accompaniment to scrambled eggs.

Vanilla Carrot Parsnip Puree
photo from
We’re not done with yet!  I want to try this Vanilla Carrot Parsnip Puree.  This is a lovely dish featuring very simple flavors.  Carrots and parsnips have very different flavors, but they go together quite well.  I’ll admit—I have no idea what this might look like if you make it using purple carrots!  If you’re up for an experiment, give it a try.  If you’re not—go for orange or yellow carrots in this recipe.  I also found this  Roasted Sweet Potato & Apple Ham Sandwich.  Wow, this sandwich looks really amazing!  Slices of roasted sweet potatoes, caramelized onions, salty ham and fresh apple slices!  This recipe was created to promote a honey mustard spread that I’m not familiar with.  My suggestion is to mix equal parts mayonnaise and Dijon mustard and then sweeten it with honey to your liking, or use your own favorite honey mustard spread as an alternative.  Lastly, I wanted to share this recipe for Sweet Potato Raisin Bread, another way to incorporate sweet potatoes in some less traditional ways.  While this is a quick bread, it should have enough density that you could slice it and toast it a bit.  Eat it with a bit of butter for breakfast or enjoy it as an afternoon snack.

Vegetarian Wellington
photo from
Moving on, I have some more recipes to share from a variety of other sites.  If you’re vegetarian and you’re looking for an alternative to turkey for Thanksgiving, check out this Vegetarian Wellington.  The filling is made from vegetables including celery (substitute celeriac), carrots, garlic, mushrooms and onions held together with lentils and wrapped in puff pastry.  You also might want to try these Garlic Parmesan Potato Stacks.  Thinly sliced potatoes are tossed with butter that is mixed with Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, dried thyme, salt and pepper.  Then you layer the potato slices in muffin tins and bake them until the edges are crispy!  I also have my eye on this Creamy French Onion Mac-And-Cheese.  This recipe calls for one Spanish onion.  I’m guessing they’re using one large onion, so I’d suggest one large or two medium onions and you can use this week’s yellow onions as they are a Spanish cross and perfect for this type of application.  Finally, before we move on to desserts, here’s a simple recipe for Roasted Potatoes and Carrots.  Have some fun with this weeks’ colored carrots and keep it simple with a pan of roasted roots seasoned with cumin, paprika and rosemary!

Paleo Pumpkin Cheesecake
photo from
Alas, we’re nearly at the end of the box AND the end of this week’s article!  Before we close, we have to talk dessert!  I’m excited to try this Paleo Pumpkin Cheesecake.  Whether or not you are looking for paleo recipes and/or vegan recipes, this cheesecake looks so creamy and delicious.  The recipe calls for pumpkin, so you could use the black futsu pumpkins, but you could also make this with sweet potato or butternut squash.  The crust is made from walnuts and dates with a touch of cinnamon.  The cheesecake part gets its creaminess from soaked, raw cashews and coconut milk.  Of course you need some spice in the filling which includes dry pumpkin pie spice along with fresh ginger!  Oh, I forgot to mention there is no baking involved with this recipe!  At the very least you need to refrigerate it for 3 hours before serving, but you can also pop it in the freezer as long as you allow some time for it to thaw before serving (guidelines in the recipe).  So, if the rest of your Thanksgiving dinner is taking up space in the oven and you want to make something in advance, this just might be the recipe for you.

If you’re more into pies or cookies than cheesecake this year, I encourage you to try my Grandma Yoder’s Squash Pie.  This is a simple alternative to a traditional “pumpkin” pie.  You can use the black futsu pumpkins, butternut, kabocha or any other winter squash that has a rich flesh.  Lastly, I want to remind you of this recipe for Parsnip, Oatmeal, Chocolate Cherry Cookies which is the creation of the very talented and loving Annemarie of Bloom Bakeshop in Madison, Wisconsin!

And that is a wrap!  I’ll see you back the first and third weeks of December for our final two CSA deliveries of 2020.  Happy Thanksgiving!—Chef Andrea  

Vegetable Feature: Tat Soi

By Chef Andrea

We are trying as hard as we can to keep green vegetables coming in your boxes for as long as possible!  This week we were lucky enough to have a few afternoons that were above freezing to return to the field and harvest some of our late season crops including the gorgeous Tat Soi!   This time of year the flavor of tat soi is a very mild, slightly sweet mustard flavor and its green color is so deep and intense!  While it can take some cold weather and frosty nights, repeated cold exposure can result in frost damage.  We took the time to put wire hoops in the field and draped a double field cover over the tat soi, anchored with lots of sandbags to keep it in place even with the 30 mph winds we had!  The cover added extra protection for them on frosty mornings the past few weeks.  It’s always a gamble as the tat soi may still freeze under the cover and by the time we’re ready for it, sometimes it can look pretty rough.  But this year’s crop looks very nice and some of the tat soi were huge!

Vegan One Pot Ramen Noodles with Tat Soi
Tat soi is a relative of bok choi.  It has spoon shaped dark green leaves and light green stems extending from the base.  Nearly the entire plant, leaves and the stems, is edible and you’ll find both to be tender enough to eat raw as well as cooked.  One of my favorite ways to eat this green is as a raw salad tossed with shredded carrots and beauty heart and/or purple daikon radishes.  This week I included a recipe for a Maple-Mustard Vinaigrette (see below) which has become my go-to vinaigrette to use throughout the year.  Recently I’ve been adding pickled or fresh ginger to the dressing which is a nice complement to tat soi.  I didn’t include a full recipe for the salad, because you can make it whatever you want it to be.  Turn it into an entrée by adding a protein such as seared beef, fish or tofu, top it with toasted seeds or nuts, get creative!  I like to think of Tat soi, like many tender greens, as “Nature’s Fast Food.”  Incorporate it into a quick stir-fry or pasta dish such as this week’s 15-Minute Sesame Ginger Noodles (see below) or last year’s Ramen Noodles with Tat Soi.   It’s also a nice addition to soups such as miso or hot and sour soup.  I tend to pair tat soi with flavors such as ginger, sesame and soy, but really you can prepare it with many different ingredients and use it in place of other greens in recipes calling for bok choi, spinach, chard, mustard greens, etc.  I have used tat soi to make Red Lentils with Winter Squash & Greens, featured in our newsletter in 2015.  Another one of my favorite recipes to adapt to tat soi is for Bok Choi Salad with Sesame Almond Crunch, featured back in 2016.

It’s best to store tat soi in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.  Prior to use, turn it over and use a paring knife to cut the stems away from the base.  Wash the stems and leaves vigorously in a sink of cold water.  If you’re using it to make a salad or stir-fry, make sure you pat the leaves dry or dry them in a salad spinner. If you’re using them in a soup or just wilting them, just shake a little water off of them.  Savor one of the last of this year’s greens!

Ginger Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Coconut Tat Soi

Yield: 4 servings

photo from
Sweet Potatoes:
2 lbs sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
⅛ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ cup olive oil
½ tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp pepper

Tat Soi:
1 medium to large head tat soi, leaves and stems kept separate and cut into bite-sized pieces 
1 garlic clove, grated or minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
2 Tbsp olive oil for sautéing
½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
Whole milk Greek yogurt, for serving (optional)
Cilantro, coarsely chopped, for serving (optional)

Sweet Potatoes:
  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Add all the ingredients to a bowl and toss until well coated.
  3. Transfer to the baking sheet and spread the potatoes out, making sure to scrape the bowl of all the ginger and garlic.
  4. Roast for 35-45 minutes or until the potatoes are beginning to brown on the edges and the green onions are charred.
Tat Soi:
  1. Just before the potatoes are done, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the tat soi stalks first and cook for about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add the tat soi leaves and sauté, tossing frequently until the leaves are tender and wilted but still green, about 5-7 minutes.
  5. Pour in the coconut milk, tossing the greens so all are evenly coated.
  6. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper as desired.
  7. Pour the greens and all the juices into a serving dish.  Top with the roasted sweet potatoes, and onions.
  8. To serve, add a dollop of Greek yogurt and cilantro if desired.
Recipe borrowed and adapted from

15-Minute Sesame Ginger Noodles

Yield: 4-5 servings

1 Tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
5-6 cups Tat Soi, leaves and stems chopped into bite-sized pieces
8 oz rice noodles (may substitute spaghetti or any other long, thin noodle)
Toasted sesame seeds, for serving
Cilantro, coarsely chopped, for serving
Salt & Black Pepper, to taste

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
6 Tbsp  soy sauce 
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  1. Prior to cutting the tat soi, wash the leaves and stems well, then cut into bite-sized pieces for 5-6 cups total.  Keep the stems and leaves separate.  Set aside.
  2. Boil the rice noodles according to the package directions.  When cooked, drain and set aside.  
  3. While the noodles are cooking, mix the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl.  Set aside.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil in a medium skillet or saucepan over medium heat.  Add the tat soi stems and saute for 1-2 minutes.  Add the sauce to the pan and bring it to a simmer.  Once the sauce is bubbling gently, add the tat soi leaves.  Simmer for about 2 minutes or until the leaves start to wilt.  
  5. Next, add the cooked noodles.  Stir to combine the noodles with the vegetables and sauce, cooking long enough to ensure the noodles are heated through.
  6. Remove from heat and adjust seasoning to your liking with salt and black pepper as needed.  Serve immediately, garnished with toasted sesame seeds and fresh cilantro if desired.
Recipe inspired and adapted from

Maple-Mustard Dressing

Yield:  about 1 cup

4 Tbsp whole-grain or Dijon mustard
4 Tbsp maple syrup
¾ cup cold-pressed olive oil
4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger or pickled ginger
  1. Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  2. In a small bowl, combine the mustard, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, salt and black pepper.  Whisk to combine.
  3. Slowly drizzle in the oil, stirring as it is added.  Once the oil is fully incorporated, stir in the ginger and taste.  Adjust to your liking with additional salt, pepper and/or vinegar.
  4. Store in a jar in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.  Use to dress your favorite green salads!
Recipe borrowed and slightly adapted from Sarah Britton’s book, My New Roots:  Inspired Plant-Based Recipes for Every Season.

2020 CSA Season Reflection: Our Best CSA Season…Possibly in the History of Harmony Valley Farm!

By Andrea Yoder

Pallets of Red Radishes heading to the cooler!
I think it’s safe to say that 2020 will go down in history as a year unlike any other.  But the aspect of 2020 that we’ll put in the forefront of our memories is that 2020 was one of our best CSA years in the history of Harmony Valley Farm!  Overall we have had a very successful and bountiful season.  Every crop wasn’t perfect, but week after week we’ve been able to pack beautiful boxes filled with seasonal goodness.  We’re also thrilled to have more than doubled our CSA membership this year!   What has this meant for our farm?  First and foremost, we’ve been able to feed people—a lot of people!  But not just that, we’ve been able to do so in a way that is economically sustainable for our farm and with added efficiency.  I’m not talking about corner-cutting, quality compromising efficiency as we often see in the industrial food system.  I’m talking about simple things like our trucks are running full!  Instead of traveling to a destination to drop off 8-10 boxes, we’re unloading 30-40 or more at a site!  On CSA pack days, it still takes us the same amount of time to set up and clean up the CSA line, but once it’s set up we’re able to pack 400-500 boxes instead of 200-300 per session.  These are just a few examples of efficiencies that, in our world, make all the difference and turn CSA into a sustainable part of our business that we are happy to offer to you.

We hope CSA has been a meaningful, sustainable part of your lives this year as well, and perhaps has even added a bit of efficiency to your food purchasing and meal preparation each week.  We’re preparing to roll out our 2021 CSA Sign Up form within the next month, but before we do so it’s important that we take pause to look back and reflect on the season.  What did we actually deliver this year?

CSA box from August 27, 2020,
our heftiest box of the season!
This week we are delivering box 28 of 30 boxes in our full CSA vegetable season.  If you purchased our Weekly Vegetable share, you will have received about 430# of produce by the time we’ve completed the season.  Over the course of this year we’ve delivered approximately 75 different vegetables!  Within this list there are some categories that are quite expansive.  For instance, you’ve received over 10 different varieties of potatoes and over 8 different varieties of head lettuce.  One of the fun parts of growing vegetables for CSA is that we are not bound by the limitations of traditional wholesale requirements.  Wholesale buyers are looking to stock store shelves with “normal” vegetables, not “weird” (we prefer the word “unique”) looking things that the average consumer will either not recognize or may not know what to do with them.  Instead, we get to grow cool things like purple napa cabbage, yellow cauliflower, black futsu pumpkins, chocolate sprinkles tomatoes, sun jewel and canary melons, Diana purple radishes, and strawberries grown for flavor instead of shelf life!

Look closely....a little crown
of Broccoli is emerging!
While it’s a lot of fun to introduce our members to different vegetables, we also understand that it’s important to deliver some of the staple, more traditional and well-loved selections.  Asparagus is always popular in the spring and we are grateful to Mother Nature for a 5-week delivery season this year!  We also had a very bountiful summer season complete with over 9 weeks of tomatoes, 8 weeks of sweet corn, 6 weeks of green beans, 10 weeks of broccoli, 13 weeks of carrots, 20 weeks of garlic (not including green garlic and garlic scapes early in the season) and we’ve included an onion selection in every single box!  Even as the season is coming to a close, we are still having problems fitting everything into the box!  This is a great problem to have!

Harmony Valley Farm Produce beautifully 
displayed by our Retail partners
We also like to look at the value of our CSA boxes.  Every year we have a “Secret Shopper” who goes to two different stores in our delivery area to price shop each week.  They go to a food co-op and a natural foods store.  They look at availability of products comparable to what they received in their CSA share that week as well as prices.  While we still have a few weeks to go in the season, the pricing data demonstrates that if you were to purchase the contents of this year’s boxes at the natural food store you would pay at least 5% more than the cost of our Weekly CSA Vegetable share, which is our most economical.  If you were to shop at a local food co-op you would pay as much as 19% more than our share price.  One important point I want to mention here is that items used in the secret shopper data are not always locally produced and may come from a distance.  Also, pricing data is based on items that are most similar to the box contents, but are not always the same items you receive.  When we figure the value of our box contents based on retail prices derived from what we are able to get when selling direct to a customer, our records consistently show that in most years we deliver as much as 15-20% more value than the cost of the share.  This is the difference between purchasing a CSA vegetable share and buying your food at a retail store.  When we have a bountiful harvest, we pass that bounty on to you!

Tomatillos hanging heavy on the vine
Undeniably, the CSA model for sourcing food is much different than purchasing food from a retail grocery store.  We believe CSA offers benefits to you that cannot be matched elsewhere.  Yes, there is the monetary value of the food you purchase and receive, but there are other values that may be harder to assign dollar values to, but nonetheless they are a benefit to you.  For example, consider the variety of produce you have consumed this year and the spectrum of nutrients they contained.  Would you have eaten such a wide variety of vegetables if you were purchasing your food from the store or even a farmers’ market, or are there items you’ve tried and included in your diet this year because they were in your box but you may not have otherwise selected them on your own?  We’ve had members tell us year after year that they’ve discovered they actually like a lot more vegetables than they even knew existed and in some case, they’ve discovered their “favorite” vegetable this way!  Some members have also told us they eat more vegetables when they get a CSA box simply because they are in their kitchen!  We also know that not all items included in your box this year would have even been available to you elsewhere.  In our secret shopper data, there are consistently 1-3 items in the box most weeks out of our season that are not available at the stores.  Vegetables such as Egyptian spinach, lemongrass, Korean chili peppers, fresh edamame, black futsu pumpkins, or fresh baby ginger!  While we’re relieved that most of the items that are available in our secret shopper stores are now available organic, many weeks there are still 1-2 items that are not organic.  This year tomatillos and sweet corn were two items that were consistently not available organic.

We’ve also delivered value in areas that are less tangible, but very meaningful.  Many of you chose to purchase a CSA share this year because you were looking for a safe and reliable way to source your food in the midst of a pandemic!  We believe CSA can be one of the safest ways to procure food.  We have spent a lot of time this year setting up safe protocols and procedures both at our delivery sites, but also on the farm and with our delivery teams with the goal that all of us will be able to minimize our risk of any possible exposure to COVID-19 related to CSA.  No, we don’t like the added plastic liner bag we’ve used in all of our CSA boxes, but it has helped us facilitate a quick, easy, safe CSA pick up system while keeping everyone’s food contained and safe from any potential exposure.

Our weekly "What's in the Box Email"
We have also worked very hard this year to provide you with a lot of valuable resources to help you find success and joy with each CSA box you receive.  Every week you’ve received a delivery, you’ve also received our “What’s In the Box” email that is packed full of important information about the contents of your box as well as updates to keep you informed about what’s happening on the farm.  We hope you find the weekly picture of the box contents with labels helpful for identifying all the items in your box.  We also hope you are utilizing our “What’s in the Box” newsletter and/or content that we post on our blog each week.  Thus far we’ve provided 54 vegetable feature recipes in our weekly newsletter/vegetable feature blog.  Plus, all members have access to our weekly Cooking with the Box article we post on our blog where I provide additional suggestions for ways you might use the contents of your box including providing links to more recipes.  Thus far this season I’ve shared links to 501 different recipes!  (yes, we counted!) I really hope you find this article helpful.  I realize you may not care for all of the recipes each week, but hopefully you’re able to find a few from the article from time to time that are appealing to you and possibly even earn a spot on your “lets make this again” list.  One member recently sent me an email with the following comment about the Cooking With the Box article:  “I actually haven’t been using my cookbooks all that much this year, and I blame you and the Cooking with the Box section! I swear, I make at least two of those recipes each time. It’s a goldmine!

We use the cards and pictures you send
to decorate our office!
We can’t talk about the value of CSA without talking about the value of connection.  This is one of the unique aspects of CSA that we truly value—the ability to communicate directly with our members every week and offer transparency.  No, I’m not just writing an article right now, I’m actually talking directly to you.  We can be honest with each other, communicate details about crops and growing conditions, share tidbits of information each week about the items in your box and offer support so you know what to do with new and unusual vegetables!  We also value your feedback, notes of encouragement, and other ways in which you engage in communication with us.

Beauty Heart Radishes as far as you can see!
We hope you feel that you have received a value from your experience with our CSA this year that supersedes the actual value of the dollars you paid for the share.  Some of you have been with us for many years and understand the positive impact CSA has had on your personal health and well-being, the impact CSA has had on the lives and health of your children, and the connection you’ve formed with us over the years as well as the land where your food is grown.  For those of you who joined us for the first time this year, you may have turned to CSA out of uncertainty or simply because you were looking for a way to secure food safely as none of us knew the future this year would deliver as we watched elements of our food system start to buckle and crumble under the stress of the pandemic.  Based on the influx of last minute orders we received back in April, this is likely the case for many of you.  But now that you’re here, stop and reflect on what your CSA experience has meant to you this year.  How have your habits changed?  Are you cooking more at home?  Are you spending less food dollars eating out?  Are you sharing more meals together with your family and household?  What impact has CSA had on your health and well-being?  What will your choices be going forward?

Guests from our 2019 Harvest Party getting ready
for the wagon tour
While we’re grateful to see such an increase in CSA membership this year, we are still concerned about our future.  Who are we growing for in 2021?  In 2022?  The results from our recent short survey are very promising.  Of 1,448 respondents, 1216 individuals (83.98%) said “Yes,” they are planning to join our CSA again for the 2021 season.  13% of respondents indicated they are undecided and only 2.69% said they will not be joining us in 2021.  We know we still need to recruit members as some have or will be moving, others may choose to retire and do more gardening, etc.  We also know, from experience over the years, that it takes most new CSA members about 3 years to truly transition to eating out of a CSA box.  We certainly hope our new members will come to appreciate the value and benefits CSA can contribute to their lives and will choose to stay with us even after the pandemic has passed!

Stunning Diana Radishes!
As we all launch into a new year, we know this pandemic won’t last forever.  My hope is that we will all come out on the other side stronger, healthier, empowered, nourished, thriving and ready to achieve our individual and collective purpose and passions.  The world, our communities and society needs healthy individuals who are ready to make a difference.  

We hope you enjoy the final few boxes of this season and we look forward to growing for you again in 2021.  With gratitude in our hearts, we wish each of you a Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Food Waste: How CSA Can Help Us Understand & Improve the “Big Picture”

By Andrea Yoder

Andrea playing "Cooler Tetris"
I admit, I’ve been a little hesitant to write this article but these thoughts have been rolling around in my head so I’m going to take a chance and share them with you. This is the time of year when I spend a lot of time riding around the packing shed on the forklift which gives me a lot of time to ponder.  Our coolers are full and managing inventories is a daily game of “Cooler Tetris.”  Everything has to be mapped so we can find it and trace it.  Everything that goes into the cooler needs to be put in the appropriate place so it will all fit at the end of each day AND so we can access it when we need it.  When space is at a premium, I have little room to tolerate bins that are only half full and do not have the luxury to store product that doesn’t have a purpose or a home.  And yet, I just can’t seem to let go of those 20 totes of number 2 daikon radish sorted out because of surface defects caused by insects in the soil, but are otherwise wholesome and entirely usable.  And those 25 totes of funny-shaped, oversized parsnips along with the 20-30 plus totes of funny-shaped number 2 carrots…  I can’t let go of those either.  They’re good carrots!  Yes, some have funny shapes, are too big or too small or may have a spot or surface defect that earns them a place in the “number 2” category—just not quite good enough to end up in a bag of our soup Mix or in a CSA box.  Yes, we could let them go to the compost pile and they would have a respectable purpose.  But they’re still edible!  We grew them, we harvested them, and at the very least we, along with our crew, will eat them and/or donate them to the food pantry where they are gifted to people who eat them!  And this leads me to the topic of this article, Food Waste.

Food waste being repurposed as compost
In January of this year, the USDA published an economic Information bulletin entitled
“Economic Drivers of Food Loss at the Farm and Pre-Retail Sectors:  A Look at the Produce Supply Chain in the United States.”   In this report the authors cite some statistics I’d like to share with you.  For starters, the USDA “estimates the value of uneaten food at the retail and consumer levels at around $161.6 billion annually.”  This dollar value is from data reported in 2010 and represents about 133 billion pounds or about 31 percent of all food produced in the United States.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that approximately one-third of total food production worldwide is wasted each year. I don’t know what our current statistics look like, but I would guess they have not changed much over the past 10 years.  The amount of food these numbers represent is shocking to me and these numbers still don’t represent all food losses.

Most studies looking at food waste look at losses occurring at the retail and consumer levels, after the product has been produced and started along the distribution channel.  However the point of this report was to acknowledge that in the produce sector, there is another subset of food waste not represented in these studies.  In the world of fruit and vegetable production, there are on-farm losses that occur for a variety of reasons.  This report explores some of the causes for produce losses on the farm including price volatility, labor constraints, supply chain rigidities, and standards and consumer preferences. The bottom line though is that producers are making decisions every day as to whether or not a crop will ever leave the field or the farm.  These decisions are based on a variety of considerations including quality factors caused by weather, insects, plant disease, sizing, etc as well as available labor to harvest product, supply and demand, viable markets and the potential profitability of harvesting a crop versus leaving it in the field.  If you’re interested in gaining more insight about these factors, you can access this full report at:

Red radishes donated to Community Hunger Solutions,
photo from Community Hunger Solutions Facebook page
While this USDA report focuses on the economic factors and impacts related to food loss, specifically on the farm and at the pre-retail level, a discussion about food waste goes even deeper and extends to other facets of our current reality.  As a society, we have a responsibility to ensure all people have access to food.  I would go even further to add that all food is not created equally and all people have a right to wholesome, nutritious food that will benefit their health.  Food insecurity is a big issue in this country and we still have food deserts where there is limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables in particular.  In 2019 we donated about 16,000 pounds of fresh produce representing about $30,000 to Community Hunger Solutions, an organization in Viroqua, WI that distributes food to food pantries in our local area.  Sadly, the need for food assistance in our area alone has risen in 2020 due to the impact the pandemic has had on some household’s ability to afford food.  I suspect the same is true in many communities across our country.  As a food producer, it’s hard not to respond to this need when we have the food, a basic human necessity, that other people need.  So, despite the fact that the cost to our farm exceeds the value of the food alone, we continue to willingly contribute labor and other resources to serve our community in this way simply because we feel it is the right thing to do.  To waste this food would be irresponsible.
Once a beautiful field of melons, 2007 Flood 

We also need to acknowledge that food waste has an impact on our environment and, vice versa, the environmental conditions often have a direct impact on the cause of food loss on the farm.  This is the point in the conversation where we have no choice but to acknowledge the link to climate change.  Producing food that will not be consumed is directly linked to consumption of resources required to produce the food, eg land, water, energy, and other inputs.  Thus in addition to the economic loss of wasted food, we’re also contributing to unnecessary CO2 emissions and loss of resources.  On the flip side, the more erratic weather patterns we are experiencing as a result of climate change are many times the cause for food loss on the farm.  I hate to use the “F” word, but we’ve had our fair share of flooding over the past 10 plus years that has resulted in significant crop losses exceeding $250,000 or more and literally tons of produce in some years.  Some of you may remember several years ago when we lost our entire crop of sweet potatoes.  That was a very sad year, especially given the fact that the crop was ready to harvest in less than a week from the time the flood event occurred.  We went through every step of the production process, including cleaning up the field and the only yield we got off the field that year was 10-15# of sweet potatoes Richard dug by hand to see how close they were to harvest before the flood occurred.

"Funny" tomato repurposed as a pen
holder on Kelly's desk!
Another factor that contributes to food loss is industry standards and consumer expectations.  When I was in college I remember sitting in a food service class where we had to learn about the industry specifications for produce.  Yes, I was tested on my knowledge about the standards for how long an acceptable cucumber can be, what size of a tomato is acceptable and how many of these acceptable tomatoes fit in a standard wholesale case.  As a society of consumers, we’ve been trained at the retail level to expect a standard appearance of produce.  We expect the apples will all be of a similar size, otherwise how can the people stocking the produce at the store build those attractive displays?  We’ve been trained to expect a certain size of sweet potatoes that are shaped just so and potatoes that are a certain size.  Vary from these industry standards and the product now becomes labeled as “number 2,” “imperfect,” or “ugly.”  Basically, the value of the produce drops and it is considered to be of lesser quality simply based on its appearance assuming all other indicators of wholesomeness remain intact.  These labels of “imperfect” and “ugly” do not settle well with me.  We prefer to use “unique,” “funny,” and “real.”

Rejected peppers left in field
The reality of producing fruits and vegetables is that it is a risky business with a lot of vulnerabilities to factors that can impact the end product in sometimes negative ways.  We wake up every day with the intention to produce the highest quality, nutrient dense and attractive produce we can produce.  We are experienced growers with a professional, skillful crew.  Yet, despite our best efforts, there are times when our crops do not turn out the way we intended.  Sweet potatoes are sometimes too big and sometimes too small.  Sometimes they grow straight and other times, for reasons unknown to me, they grow in long, skinny, curvy shapes.  Soil may become compacted due to excessive rain which may impact a carrot’s ability to grow long and straight.  Instead, it may continue to grow around the point of compaction causing it to be funny-shaped.  Several peppers may set on the plant in a similar location and compete for space to grow.  Thus, bell peppers may not always have the perfect blocky appearance, yet they are still entirely edible and wholesome.  I’m not trying to make excuses for produce that is considered by some to be less than perfect.  The point I’m trying to make is that the imperfections in this produce represent the realities of nature we sometimes deal with.  Any given crop seldom yields 90-100% “perfect” produce.  Growers often choose to leave a large portion of their crop in the field simply because it doesn’t meet the industry standards for aesthetics and, if sent to a buyer, it could be rejected.  We’ve experienced this before.  We’ve had entire pallets of produce rejected, which means we lose the produce, the packaging, the time we invested to grow, harvest, pack and deliver the product, the money we invested to transport it, and we don’t get a paycheck.  It’s a painful reality and there are times we choose to abandon a crop in the field and forego a sale because the risk of a potential rejection and loss is more than we want to gamble on.

Sweet Corn setting on tassels
So where are we going with this conversation?  Good question and I’m not sure I entirely know the answer.  Figuring out ways to decrease food loss, increase efficiencies in our systems for food production, decrease negative impacts on our environment and figure out ways to have a net positive impact on climate change efforts while contributing to reversing food insecurity in our community are pretty weighty responsibilities.  As I’ve been pondering all of these things as of recent, I had one thought that helped me be ok with all of this even though I don’t have solutions to all these issues.  I keep coming back to the fact that CSA is such an important model in contributing to a more sustainable food system with all these factors in mind.  Why?  Because CSA is a two-way street.  You support us so we have the resources and financial viability to produce food.  We support you by providing you with sustenance.  Within this system we have something that doesn’t exist in other retail models for food distribution and purchasing.  We have conversation, communication and connection.  Every week when I write the “What’s In the Box” or Vegetable Feature articles for the newsletter I think about what I want or need to communicate with you about the vegetables in your box and/or what’s happening on the farm.  Sometimes harvest conditions are not ideal and may impact the shelf life or appearance of a product.  If that’s the case, I can tell you “Hey, we had to harvest the strawberries in the rain this week.  They may have a much shorter shelf life as a result so eat them soon after receiving.”  If my only option were to sell those strawberries to a retail store, I may choose to forego harvest.  If I shipped the same pint of strawberries to a retail store, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to tell the consumer about harvest conditions and the impact they may have on the shelf life.  In fact, those strawberries may be decayed and moldy before they even get to the retail shelf and the buyer will likely be asking for credit!  I also have the opportunity to communicate scenarios like we had earlier this year with sweet corn when our final crop of the season was impacted by the corn earworm.  We were faced with the choice of harvesting and delivering corn that we knew had worms in the tip of the ear or abandoning the entire crop.  We chose to communicate with you and deliver the corn.  We were apprehensive to do so because we didn’t know how this decision would be received.  In retrospect, we are so glad we did because the response we got from those of you who emailed us was 100% supportive of our decision.  You made it very clear that you wanted the corn and could deal with a little worm in exchange for being able to enjoy the 90 plus percent of the ear that was unaffected and delicious!  Thank you for supporting us on this decision!

CSA also offers us flexibility that doesn’t exist in other outlets we grow for, namely wholesale markets but also farmers’ market.  If there is a problem with a crop, albeit low yield, quality issues, negative impacts from weather, etc, we don’t lose the sale with CSA.  We have the flexibility to forego harvest of one item, but we’ll fill that space in the box with another item that is available.  That flexibility does not exist in the wholesale world.  If we don’t have the product they want, we simply lose the sale.  This flexibility helps us manage production at the farm level, but it also benefits you and protects you from feeling the impact of crop losses.  Your willingness to be flexible and work with the items we pack in your box each week is an important part of the CSA model.  It’s also one of the reasons we do not pack customizable shares, which are often in direct conflict with this flexibility factor.  Again, it’s a two-way street where we both have to be willing to work with each other, yield to Mother Nature and hopefully achieve the end result of less food left in the fields and more food on your plates.

Cover Crop planted in field to help mitigate climate change on our farm
The bottom line is we all have a role to play in decreasing food waste and losses.  There will always be some crop losses on our farm, we realize that.  We will always strive to produce and deliver the highest quality produce.  We hope you realize the sincerity of that statement.  But when things aren’t perfect, I hope we can continue to engage in conversation and use communication as our basis for understanding the realities of food production so we can continue to maximize our harvests, decrease food loss, contribute to the economic viability and sustainability of our farm, decrease negative impacts on climate change and continue to invest in efforts to mitigate climate change on our farm.  All this while still continuing to deliver food to your tables that will nourish and feed you, and your families, so you can then go out into the world and contribute in positive ways.  It all comes back to the fact that we’re all connected and we truly do need to function as a community.  A community that communicates and strives to understand and improve “The Big Picture.”