The Best Salad I Ever Served

06/06/2011 11:02 am ET | Updated Aug 06, 2011

This past week I experienced one of the most satisfying food providing moments of my life. I enjoyed making food for people in restaurants and did some rewarding catering for the casts and crews of a few independent films. (I even got to feel like I was part of one making it to the Sundance Film Festival this past January.)

None of that compared to the utter pleasure of distributing our unbelievably fresh, sustainably grown produce for the first week of our CSA.

As you most likely have noticed and read about, this spring has been unusually rainy. Too much rain creates a wide number of problems for farmers, but ultimately leads to one big predicament: not having food to sell during a time of the year farms count on making money.
The farm I work for in rural Northeastern Pennsylvania, Fertile Grounds, was in the conundrum of having promised food to its CSA members beginning June 1. Several months ago, Fertile Grounds started accepting members for a Community Supported Agriculture program, also known as "subscription farming." Members pay an annual fee in exchange for a weekly share of fresh vegetables directly from the farm all season long. (Our season, for example, is 22 weeks.)
Farmers benefit from the arrangement by receiving financial support when they need it most -- in the winter and early spring. Using this bulk payment, farmers can order seeds, start seedlings and repair equipment before the busy season begins.

Members, in exchange, receive high-quality, farm-fresh produce well below retail prices due to the elimination of long-distance transportation costs and middleman mark-ups.

The last two weeks of May were a bit worrisome, with everyone aware of our looming first distribution date. Conversation after conversation was had about what food could be harvested, whether to push back the start date and any extra items -- like tomato plants -- that could be substituted for produce in the CSA "boxes."

In the end we settled on distributing variant items to different people (chives or garlic chives, ramps or radishes, etc.) and giving a frank caveat to members that this week's harvest was smaller than we had hoped. Part of joining a CSA, after all, is taking on some of the risks associated with farming. Besides, as more than one member has confirmed since Wednesday, the share included some of the freshest and most delicious salad greens possible.

In addition to feeling satisfied that we were able to provide such fresh food in an area no longer abundant with farms -- "I've been waiting for years for there to be a CSA here," was another common comment from our members -- I relish the opportunity for people to see so clearly where their food comes from. I want everyone to have food this fresh, but most exciting was distributing the produce to small children and pregnant women.

I saw enough farms as a child -- though mainly in the form of pumpkin patches and one, lone local dairy -- to know that food doesn't grow in the back of a supermarket. But I wouldn't be surprised to hear a child say that. Most of the food in the supermarket bares little resemblance to the diversified vegetables we grow at Fertile Grounds. At least, I haven't seen our mac and powered cheese or high-fructose corn syrup with cranberry flavoring plants yet. Perhaps toward the back of our main field.


While CSAs are designed in part to provide farmers with much-needed funds between growing seasons, many allow people to join any time. Some operate year-round, usually in climates that provide continual growing seasons or in places where farmers have successfully experimented with season extension plans. Talk to vendors at your local farmers' market, visit or just search for CSA and the name of where you live.

Have you had the best salad of your life yet?