Self-harvesting: 15 things I learned previous year.
We've just subscribed to a new year of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) or to "Farmer Tom and farmer Ine" as we say at home. About a year ago we subscribed to the dairy packages of yoghurt butter and cheese. Only by the end of Spring we realized there were still free spots at the self-harvest vegetable farm next door as well. Even though I didn't really know what to expect and I somehow doubted we'd end up at the field to collect vegetables frequently, we subscribed and we started going with a more or less regular frequency. I wrote about our first experiences as harvesting novices during the drought summer in August.
- Harvesting your own vegetables has a therapeutic effect. It's fun to walk to the field, through the field, chose your vegetables and dig your fingers in the earth and carry it all home in a big backpack.
- I feel more motivated or even a bit "obliged" to eat the vegetables that I harvested. It feels worse to let some turn bad while it feels different with those that are bought from the supermarket. Farmer Tom worked to grow these, I harvested the vegetables and as a result they were no longer available for the other families that come to the farm.
Yet we often failed because we were unorganized, especially in the beginning. Jan would often go with a lot of enthusiasm but forget that he was travelling and that I was home alone and I couldn't deal with that many (unknown) vegetables at once. Or we had no idea how long food would stay fresh. But at the end of the season I really tried to harvest the quantities we could eat and reduce our food waste.
- I tried to use the combination of 1 and 2 to eat more vegetables and get a healthier food habit. I fear that habit slid away again in the winter. Eating a lot of vegetables still doesn't come naturally to me.
- I have tried some new vegetables but I am still not adventurous when harvesting. The big unknown exotic leaves, balls or whatever on the field that I cannot define stays on the field. It could be a nice challenge for myself to explore more this year.
- I have become aware of what grows in which season and that was one of my goals when joining this CSA. That's a good evolution. In the supermarket, everything is available at all times. Of course we currently live in a society that we love to eat beans once in the winter when preparing a specific recipe. But they shouldn't be available in the same abundance without distinction to what is local and in season.
- With better knowledge of the growing seasons, I have to learn to use the freezer better than the year before. We never did that and we sometimes got surprised by not getting to the field in time (and having to by in the supermarket more than we wanted) but also by going to the field with the intention to get more tomatoes or broccoli or beans or carrots . ... only to notice that they were all gone. So maybe I need to harvest a little more (it still has to be own reasonable consumption of course) and freeze some of these vegetables at the moment they are available to consume later. It would also fix the issue that we don't always get to the field when we want or that we harvest too much at once (proactively since we know we won't get there in the next days) and then let it turn bad. So...our freezer has to become a better ally.
- The motivation and the opportunity to go to the field is highly correlated with nice weather and long daylight. In the first months I had the feeling it was Jan who was the most motivated family member to go to the field while in the 2nd half of the year it was mostly I who took the initiative. In the Summer it was often a fun walk/ bike trip for the entire family in the weekend or in the week after school but in the fall with darker evenings and rainy weather, you quickly rush home with the children instead. As a result, in the fall it was a lot harder to go as we only could plan it during weekends in Leuven anymore. In the summer I could go so to speak also still quickly go and pick some fresh tomatoes after the children went to bed if Jan was home but in the winter you won't go and search the field with a flash light. Fortunately there is a lot of pumpkins and cabbages in the fall that don't go bad quickly.
Fortunately there was also some sort of farming / harvesting break in winter. That works out well ;).
- The meat package we bought in the fall was very tasteful. But since we don't tend to freeze and use meat from the freezer regularly we have not consumed very much yet...and did not have the room in the freezer yet to opt for a 2nd package.
- With 2 adults at home we finish our bi-weekly dairy package in about a week but when Jan is travelling a lot then I accumulate quickly a backlog of yogurt eating :).
- It's not really a hassle to keep all the dairy jars, wash them out and return them upon the next collection moment.
- I am convinced that the self-harvesting has a good educational value to the children.
Motivating the children to eat more vegetables because they harvested themselves, wasn't so successful as I had hoped on the other hand.
- There is a lot of beauty in a field full of vegetables
- It feels very positive to get food without packaging. And it becomes very disturbing to see the low variety, never changing sterile offer of vegetables with a lot of packaging in the supermarkets.
- It also feels good to know you are paying the local farmer a fair price and you give him a fixed income for the year, regardless the weather/ climate / pests / .... We all share the risks and benefits together.
- While it is named "community supported agriculture" and the local farmers have organised some social events, we have not really participated in those yet. Apart from the collective potato harvesting, our agenda's were full in most of invites.
So the conclusion was that the first year was very successful despite the drought and the low offer of harvestable vegetables in the summer. We are ready for a new year.
We have already picked up and enjoyed our first fresh yogurt of the year and the children have seen the 3 young calves in the field.
(pictures from some of our last visits in the fall)