By Karren Jeske
We first unearthed Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) at the CSA Open House in Madison in March of 2012, and we were sold on the concept. It appealed to us because we could support local farmers and sustainable farming practices while eating certified organic food.
We couldn’t wait to join our first CSA, signed up on the spot, and began our first decade of CSA membership in 2013.
We’ve loved learning about different vegetables and how to incorporate them into our diet. Okra, for example, is one vegetable we had never eaten fresh, not frozen, for example, and we love how it tastes, plus its many health benefits. We learned about new, flavorful varieties of produce, especially melons and squashes we didn’t even know existed.
We were thrilled that our vegetables tasted much fresher and lasted significantly longer. Because there are only two of us, we chose the every other week share, and it’s worked out great for us. Sometimes, we also use our CSA produce to make nutritious dishes for my 92-year-old mother (who no longer cooks for herself), neighbors, and friends in my weekly Mah-Jongg group.
Another unexpected joy of CSA membership has been the challenge of using up all our vegetables, because it’s made us try new recipes that have become family favorites. We treat the challenge as a game, and the prize is homemade, tasty treats that can’t be beat (but can be beets)!
We are proud founding members of Gwenyn Hill Farm. It is our sixth CSA farm, and it’s our favorite! We give credit to Gwenyn Hill for our good health, and appreciate all they did to keep us safe during the pandemic and beyond.
Because Gwenyn Hill is much closer to our home than the other farms we had joined, we can reduce our carbon footprint even more by becoming CSA members there. That’s why we chose to switch to Gwenyn Hill, and we have discovered many other benefits. Here are just a few:
- Gwenyn Hill lets you see and select your own veggies each week, or every other week. We enjoy this more than picking up a box of vegetables someone else packed for us. If you like smaller potatoes, for example, you can choose the small ones.
- We love how clean our Gwenyn Hill produce is. At other CSAs, we had to clean the dirt off our vegetables, and sometimes there was a lot of dirt!
- Picking a flower bouquet each week is pure bliss! We didn’t have this colorful benefit at the other farms. Weekly U-pick items are enjoyable, too, because we can get out in the fields, pick some of our own veggies, and see children learning where their healthful foods come from and how to pick them.
- Wonderful extra events and educational opportunities, including a wonderful family friendly harvest event!
We also find Gwenyn Hill to be superior with its schedule flexibility and newsletters chock full of good, practical information. Communication from Gwenyn Hill is outstanding! They provide everything you need to make the most of your CSA membership, including recipes and storage tips, etc.
I’d love to see Gwenyn Hill add apples, and wish pumpkins would return.
One of the recipes we look forward to making every end of summer is the following one for ratatouille. We didn’t think we liked ratatouille until we made it this way with our fresh-picked veggies from Gwenyn Hill. We love it because it tastes terrific and uses so many of our CSA veggies.
It’s delicious by itself, served on pasta or a baked potato, or with some good crusty bread. It even tastes good for breakfast with cooked eggs from Gwenyn Hill. We hope you enjoy it too!
Serves four and takes one hour to make.
- 2 pounds ripe red tomatoes (6 medium or 4 large)
- 1 medium eggplant (1 pound), diced into ½-inch cubes
- 1 large red, orange, or yellow bell pepper (about 8 ounces), cut into ¾-inch squares
- 1 medium-to-large zucchini (about 8 ounces) diced into ½-inch squares
- 1 large yellow squash (about 8 ounces), diced into ½-inch cubes
- 5 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- ¾ teaspoon fine seal salt, divided, more to taste
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- ¼-cup chopped fresh basil
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less to taste
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, optional
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit with one rack in the middle of the oven and one in the upper third of the oven. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper for easy clean-up, if desired.
- To prepare your tomatoes, remove any woody cores with a paring knife. Then, grate them on the large holes of a box grater into a bowl (this is easiest if you hold the tomato at a diagonal), and chop any remaining tomato skin. Or, blitz the tomatoes in a food processor until they are broken into a frothy pulp. Set aside.
- On one baking sheet, toss the diced eggplant with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until lightly coated. Arrange the eggplant in a single layer across the pan, sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and set aside.
- On the other baking sheet, toss the bell pepper, zucchini and yellow squash with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt. Arrange the vegetables in a single layer. Place the eggplant pan on the middle rack and the other vegetables on the top rack. Set the timer for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender and caramelizing on the edges, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic, stir, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and use a wooden spoon or sturdy silicone spatula to stir any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan into the mixture. Reduce the heat to medium-low, or as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer.
- Once 15 minutes are up, remove both pans from the oven, stir, and redistribute the contents of each evenly across the pans. This time, place the eggplant on the top rack and other vegetables on the middle rack.
- Bake until the eggplant is nice and golden on the edges, about 10 more minutes (the eggplant will be done sooner than the rest). Remove the eggplant from the oven, and carefully stir the eggplant into the
simmering tomato sauce.
- Let the squash and bell pepper pan continue to bake until the peppers are caramelized, about 5 to 10 more minutes. Then, transfer the contents of the pan into the simmering sauce. Continue simmering for 5 more minutes to give the flavors time to meld.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon olive oil, the fresh basil and red pepper flakes. Crumble the dried oregano between your fingers as you drop it into the pot. Season to taste with additional salt (I usually add ¼ teaspoon more) and black pepper.
- Serve in bowls, perhaps with a little drizzle of olive oil, additional chopped basil, or black pepper on top (all optional). Like all stews, this ratatouille’s flavor improves as it cools. It’s even better reheated the next day. Ratatouille keeps well in the refrigerator, covered, for 4 days, or for several months in the freezer.
Karren Jeske and her husband Michael are CSA super-fans and founding members of the Gwenyn Hill Farm CSA program.