Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Honey Brook Organic Farm

I mention my CSA a lot so I thought you might like to check it out for yourselves. Or, at least, through the lens of my camera.

Honey Brook Organic Farm was the first New Jersey CSA. The owners have several different farm sites through the west-central part of the state. Honey Brook is a CSA only - no farm stand, no farmers markets and no commercial sales. That means that shareholders know they are getting the best of the available produce. Their website claims there are over 2,500 shares available, some at the Pennington farm (where I go), some at the Chesterfield farm, and some delivered box shares. Demand is high - they generally sell out. Since this was my first year with them, I made sure to send in my application early (in January, right when the forms went online!) to make sure I got a spot.

What do I like about Honey Brook? First of all, their philosophy. Their top priority is to nurture and sustain the environment (the Wargo Road farm in Pennington is on a nature preserve). All of their produce is organic or transitioning to organic (it takes three years to switch over a field that was used for conventional production). I feel safe eating their food, knowing that nothing is genetically modified. In fact, they work to promote genetic diversity by planting a range of heirloom varieties. Just last week, I brought home about a dozen different varieties of tomato. I believe that this kind of diversity makes us healthier.

I also enjoy the way share pick-up works each week. On Wednesday, I drive up to Pennington and park near the little red farm stand. (It's not very flashy because they're not trying to attract passers-by!)

Inside the stand, they've set up the produce for the week. Each item is labeled with the allotment for each share size. Look at those gorgeous tomatoes! As an individual share-holder, I got to take home a pound of regular slicing tomatoes and a pound of heirlooms last week. When tomatoes were peaking, we got as much as ten pounds at a time - I suppose the season is winding down.

Inside the building there are more items to choose from. From the left, the bins hold peppers, hot peppers, garlic, collard greens and scallions.

But that's not all! Once I've picked up my share, I am also allotted an assortment of pick-your-own items from the fields across the road. Early in the season there were strawberries, snap peas and snow peas. This week, there were a variety of herbs, cherry tomatoes, sauce tomatoes, okra, specialty eggplant, edamame, string beans, hot peppers, tomatillos, and lovely summer flowers. The tricky part is remembering everything that's on the map and how much I'm allowed to pick! I love that Honey Brook does this. I'm sure it saves them a lot of labor, but it also brings their customers closer to the farm. I have spent an hour in blistering heat picking snow peas until my thumbnails were dyed green. This gives me a greater appreciation and gratitude for the amount of work that goes into harvesting the produce I eat.

The CSA has become an integral part of the way I eat - I know I could never go back to the grocery store produce section when such wonderful, diverse food options are tucked away just down the road. And it has inspired me to try new things more frequently than I would have otherwise. I would never have purchased beets from the grocery store.

The farm has taught me to live dangerously. I now roam through the rows of hot peppers, picking whatever looks ripe, and figuring out how hot each one is once I got home (throwing two Tabasco peppers in a stir fry last week was a bad idea!).

While I still don't enjoy raw tomatoes, I love experimenting with how different varieties hold up in a sauce. I especially enjoy making quick sauces with cherry tomatoes, which don't require peeling! These are some Sungolds in the early morning haze.

I've also learned to cook entirely new foods, like edamame, which I'd never seen fresh before I harvested some at the farm.

Getting piles of fresh produce every week has also gotten me to start preserving. These Plum Dandy tomatoes went into the Roasted Tomato Basil Soup I posted recently, much of which was frozen for a chilly day. Other tomatoes went into batches of sauce that were frozen or canned. I'm looking forward to a canning workshop that the farm is hosting this weekend - while I've had some success, I'm still a beginner!

Finally, I get beautiful flowers to adorn my table every week. These straw flowers also dry well! Below is a picture of everything I brought home from the farm last week. Note the large pile of flowers on the left.

In striving to eat more healthily and locally, I have decided that time and money can no longer be factors. Good, healthy food is expensive and buying locally involves going to multiple stores and farm stands. But I know many of you are wondering if this could be cost effective. I will humor you.

I have been keeping a spreadsheet of everything I brought home from the farm each week, and what the value of these items would be if I purchased them at the supermarket (for my purposes, the prices are either from Whole Foods or Wegmans, which are the places I would otherwise be shopping). The numbers are staggering. I have brought home 65 lbs of tomatoes, (whether cherry, slicing, saucing, or heirloom varieties), 17 lbs of summer squash, 5.5 quarts of strawberries, 6 watermelons, and 10 lbs of string beans, besides about forty other types of vegetable. If I had purchased the entire list as conventionally-produced produce at the aforementioned grocery stores, it would have cost $535. If I had purchased all organic products, it would have cost over $700 ("over" because I was unable to find prices for half a dozen of my organic items). My farm share cost $360. Now, it's hard to make a direct comparison, because I would not have purchased many of these items on my own. In fact, we've been giving away all of our eggplant. But I still think that it was a cost effective experience. And remember that the season isn't over for another month and a half, so there's plenty more produce to come!