My husband and I were born and (mostly) bred in small farm towns on the outreaches of Chicago’s suburbs. My high school had a thriving FFA chapter and tractors were not uncommon sights around town. His family, just 5 miles up the road, grew a huge garden and raised pigs. Somehow, though, we ended up as yuppie city-folk, living and working in America’s largest city… and loving it.
We welcomed our daughter to the family last October. She was born at home, in our small, dingy, overpriced Brooklyn apartment, and 11 months later, it still sometimes shocks us to realize that she’s a native Brooklynite. A city girl. Although still an infant, her existence revolves around subway rides and skyscrapers and concrete. Lots and lots of concrete.
Lucky for her, we are still tied to nature and try to live as sustainably as we can. We have a vermicompost bin in our small kitchen, tend a vegetable plot in a local community garden, and have been members of local CSAs for the last 4 years, even helping to launch one in 2007. We also try to get out of the city as often as possible – partly for her sake, but mostly for ours – to stretch our legs, breathe in some fresh, crisp air, and dig our toes into some grass and dirt. Lucky for us, our current CSA provided us the perfect opportunity to do just that last weekend when we headed upstate to spend a day with our farmers.
The CSA we joined this year partners with The Farm at Miller’s Crossing in Hudson, NY. We got up bright and early on Sunday morning, caught the subway to our meeting location, and boarded a chartered bus with fellow members of our CSA, as well as two other local CSAs also partnered with the same farm.
When we arrived, the farmers had picnic tables set-up and ready to go. We all gathered for lunch, which was a combination of the sack lunches we’d brought as well as a couple of pot-luck style dishes provided by the farmers and others. We mixed and mingled and had a good time, and as soon as lunch was over, headed off on a hayride around the fields. Poppy seemed to enjoy herself, even if she did appear a bit confused.
After the hayride, we all had some time to relax and explore a bit. We wandered about the farm, let Poppy toddle through the grass and chase the farm dog, and even pitched in on some chores – trimming garlic.
Once the chores were done (or, at least, our photo opps were), we gathered around our farmer, Chris, for a walking tour of the operations. We started near the buildings, where he explained how each had been retrofitted and repurposed for their current crops, then into the fields where our food is grown. He discussed the rotation system they use in order to preserve the soil and keep it healthy, explained where and how they get their seeds each season, and answered all of our questions as we strolled.
We crossed the farm’s creek on a bridge Chris and his crew had built just the day before for our visit and headed into the upper fields, where Chris talked a bit about the irrigation systems they use through the farm, and finally, across the street to find the cows.
Being a city girl, Poppy had never encountered livestock (I’m pretty sure her beloved farm animal toys don’t count here). Yeah, we have a couple of cats that she enjoys chasing around and whacking, I mean… petting. But a cow? This was a whole new adventure. As we all gathered at the fence in anticipation, Farmer Chris started yelling.
“Hey, girls! Girls! Hey, girls! C’mon now, girls!”
Seriously? I’d seen a lot of things on farms before, but cows that come when they’re called? Like housepets? A few minutes later, as Chris kept yelling, and just as the crowd seemed to be getting a bit skeptical that this would work… the first signs of movement appeared over the hill. And another minute later, here came a whole herd of cows, happily strolling over to say hello.
All us city folk gathered near the fence – close, but not too close – to admire the big gentle beasts.
They stared at us, we stared at them, and everyone was happy. Except Poppy.
Well, to her credit, she was ok at first. And then they started moo-ing. Loudly. And she was so startled that she burst into tears. We all got a good chuckle out of it (sorry, kid), then we quickly walked away from the group to calm her and tried again. And I wouldn’t say she was happy to see them this time, but she held it together. Barely.
I’m pretty sure her suspicious look above says it all.
(Also, note the two scenarios behind us… to the right, a calf nursing from its mama. To the left… Nature is grand.)
On the walk back from the cow pasture, we strolled through a couple of more vegetable fields and were thrilled to be able to show Poppy where her favorite food in the entire world comes from. Oh, swiss chard, you are a beloved treat in this house.
After the tour ended, it was time to get back to the city. The farmer’s had set up a small farm stand on our way out, so we all stopped, bought some extra fresh food to take back to the city with us, and piled back onto the bus. Several hours – and Sunday night/weekend traffic – later, we arrived back in Brooklyn, exhausted, but inspired.
Knowing where your food comes from – down to meeting the men and women who grow it for you – is such a blessing. We can prepare dinner each week knowing that we’re not only feeding our families the freshest, healthiest foods possible, but that we’re supporting small, local, family-owned farms in the process and setting a good example for our daughter and her peers. And that is delicious.
To find out if there is a CSA near you, visit www.localharvest.org. If you’re in the NYC metro area, check out www.justfood.org for information on workshops and events related to sustainable agriculture and/or to learn how to start a new CSA in your neighborhood.