Home & Garden

Now's the time to cultivate a growing season

iowa growing season garden csa spring growing seed catalogs
Andrew Dunham works July 18, 2017, on harvesting chard at Grinnell Heritage Farm in Grinnell. The farm, owned and operated by Andrew and Melissa Dunham, produces organic vegetables, flowers and herbs. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Andrew Dunham works July 18, 2017, on harvesting chard at Grinnell Heritage Farm in Grinnell. The farm, owned and operated by Andrew and Melissa Dunham, produces organic vegetables, flowers and herbs. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

I know I’m far from alone in feeling this winter is just too much.

Honestly, the only thing keeping me going right now and not buckling under the weight of all the snow piled next to my driveway? The thought that spring’s official start is less than a month away, and dreamily browsing through seed catalogs.

Yes, I know we can still get snow storms into April. But who needs that kind of negative thinking? I must keep my faith in Punxsutawney Phil strong and believe spring is near.

To feed my faith, I’m relying on the summer produce I have stored away in my freezer. Jars of tomato sauce and cubes of pesto have been my winter salve, small reminders of July’s heat. I made them last summer, when fresh produce was plentiful, and stashed them away to snack on throughout the winter, alongside plastic bags of frozen peppers and kale, perfect for tossing into stews and stir-frys.

The source of much of my frozen stash was the CSA share I split with a friend. CSA stands for community-supported agriculture and it essentially is a subscription to a local farm. For an upfront fee, we got a box of fresh, seasonal produce each week throughout the summer.

I like getting that box each week for many reasons. I eat more vegetables when they show up on a regular basis rather than when I’m considering them at the grocery store next to the shelves of chips and cookies.

And the variety in the box encourages me to experiment with things I might not buy otherwise, like crisp kohlrabi and flavorful parsnips and beautiful purple carrots.

I also like knowing where my vegetables come from; when romaine lettuce is being recalled again, I can be reasonably sure the greens I’m eating aren’t from one of the farms spreading e coli.

Finally, I like knowing my dollars are supporting a local farmer. I get my CSA from Grinnell Heritage Farm, an 80-acre farm northeast of Grinnell, owned by fifth generation farmer Andrew Dunham and his wife, Melissa. The money I pay when I sign up goes directly to them and their farm.

If this winter’s weather has been brutal, so was last growing season’s, Dunham told me by phone last week. A late start to spring was followed by months of little precipitation, only to then see their farm deluged by 27 inches of rain in September and October. They lost a lot of their crops, and Dunham said that translated into financial losses “well into the six figures.”

There also is the fear those kinds of seasons could be the new normal in a changing climate.

Investing in a CSA means investing in the farm, whether it has a bountiful harvest or a poor one. And truly, I never felt my box of produce was too small. I still had enough extra to freeze, after all.

“The weather was so terrible, it was nice to have people who support us in the up and down,” Dunham said.

Friday was National CSA Sign Up Day. There’s a reason for that; the offseason is when farmers are order seeds and inputs for spring and planning repairs and investments.

Grinnell Heritage Farm is far from the only CSA in the area. Local nonprofit Field to Family just published a guide to Corridor-area CSAs online at fieldtofamily.org/find-local-food/csas. You can search for one that fits what you’re looking for. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach also publishes a statewide directory at extension.iastate.edu/localfoods/iowa-csa-directory.

As you look at the lists of local farms, let them remind you of the fresh tomatoes that will be here soon.

Summer is coming.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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