Monday, July 09, 2007


Mars and I have joined a Co-op.

Not the kind headed by someone named Sri (whose real name is Bob). Nor the kind that requires us to surrender all of our worldly possessions - we're finding lots of other ways to SKI (Spend Kid's Inheritance). Lots! And definitely not the kind that requires us to proselytize in public places, or even private ones.

This is a co-op for centrist folks like us who grew up sympathetic to the hippy culture and values, but from a reasonably safe distance (Joan Baez on vinyl but not as a cellmate, Wavy Gravy the ice cream flavor rather than the role model, Woodstock the movie) - and now have retired from the "rat race" with our homes, asset portfolios, and trusts. (People who now sing "If I had a Hummer...".)

It is the kind of "shared community" we actually might have joined back in the sixties - if they had existed and we had the cash. Think of it as more of a mutual fund with organic/free range investments. And all it requires of us is a one-time act of monetary funding and a weekly trip to the mother church in order to collect our profits.

We had heard about such organizations, but not until a month or so ago when a piece appeared in our local newspaper did we know who, what, why, when and where about the ones in our immediate area. The article gave us an email address to contact and we did.

It's not really called a co-op (or commune, or cult) but rather Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). According to the response that we received a CSA "allows the farmer to get income for seed and other purchases at a time when there are no sales being made and it allows the farmer the ability to predict volumes needed by the number of shares subscribed. The member gets a bell curve of fresh produce - light to heavy to light - and usually gets a very good value."

And there are two ways to join.
* You can receive a weekly allotment (regular CSA member). A share is our estimate of 70% of the vegetable consumption of a family of 2 adults and 2 young children. I have never heard any complaints of "not enough". I usually get a "STOP".
* You can obtain a prepaid credit to allow you to set your own weekly draw and to pick up produce at your convenience at our self service "stand" (which is actually an area of our packing and grading barn). We refer to theses CSA members as prepaid credit CSA members.

Not being inclined to extremism, even in the area of healthy vegetables, we opted for the second plan and sent in our check. We got an email welcoming us with an attached Word document on which we were to keep track of our purchases. Shortly thereafter we got an electronic message telling us that free-range chickens were available, although not included in the "prepaid credit" plan. We chose not to partake. A couple of days later came the invite to begin picking up produce (but not what) and last Sunday morning we drove out to the farm for the first time.

It is located in the town of Glastonbury (like our burg of Wethersfield, a Hartford suburb on the banks of the Connecticut River) in an area once known mostly for tobacco farming. We realized that is no longer the case as soon as we turned onto the road housing the farm and noticed the recently developed mega-houses with tree-less, bush-less landscapes that stretched for most of the three miles to our destination. (There was also a newly built school. And a patch of farmland equaling about four house lots with what seemed to be incipient nicotine plants which I assume was for real, although it could be part of the planned ambience of the area.)

The farm itself, in spite of now being the minority housing in the area, was definitely the one place that looked like it belonged here. We drove down a dirt driveway past the housing in which the chickens that were foraging the area apparently lived voluntarily and parked in front of the open barn. No one was inside, but about one hundred yards away alongside another farm building were three Hispanic looking workers. Out back two other young guys were setting up the superstructure of what appeared to be a greenhouse. Our instructions told us "To shop, just take what you want, total it up using the calculator on the table and record it on the sheet for the day."

There was a white board with a list of vegetables and prices. From the contents, "winter squash" for example, it was clear that this was an index of posibilities rather than what was available at the moment. There was a glass-door refrigerator along one wall within which we noticed several types of squash - summer, zucchini and a yellow, round, scallop edged variety that we figured out from the product roster was probably Pattypan. The summer squash was almost Crayola yellow, the zucchini deep green, and all three were delightfully irregular in shape and size. There also were two heads of lettuce and one something that we decided was bok choy. I roamed out back to see if that was all that was available and what if anything else we needed to know.

The greenhouse builders pointed me to the vegetable fields where the owner's son was spraying something onto the tomato plants. I hiked out there and after removing his ipod earphones he told me to that the squash in the 'frig was all of that that they had but if we wanted herbs or lettuce we were welcome to just wander out into the fields and pick it. I walked back to the barn and we decided to get three really fresh heads of lettuce. So we went out into the fields and cut off three large curly leaf (two green and one red) using a meager knife tool that Mars carries in her handbag. One was for Mars' mother but we quickly realized we had over extended our ability to absorb salads and later gave some away more to our friend Sandy.

Back in the barn we were weighing squash on the scale and tallying up our expenses when a rush of cigar smoke floated in followed by a slightly chubby guy wearing a tee shirt, shorts, and Teva sandals. It was George the owner. After introductions and small talk - he also supplies the local Whole Foods stores, was "certified organic in 1999", and just relocated to this location ("saved it from the developer") - he offered us some Swiss chard ("just take what you want!"). We did. Then we tallied up, packed up, and left just as a late-twenties couple arrived on the scene looking as confused as we did initially.

As we drove away I wondered. Are George's cigars organic? Are the workers migrant and if so are they free-range? Do the folks up the street from the farm shop at Whole Foods?

I didn't think at all about whether this would turn out to be a good investment.

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