Wednesday, November 28, 2012

CSA 2012 Part 2 - The Experence

Here's our experience with our first CSA, broken down into sections.  To see the first part and pictures of most of the weeks, check out this post

1) Food differences

 First off, I had no inkling farm food and store bought food would be in any way different.  Lettuce for example.  It requires quite a bit a washing.  Five weeks in we got a salad spinner and thankfully the kids liked doing that part of the job. 


But why does it more washing than I was used to?  Besides having more of it (and it not being packaged) it actually had dirt on it!  It dawned on me- I had never seen dirt on the lettuce I typically got.  Hydroponics!  I quickly youtube'd it, and found I really am in the dark when it comes to where my food comes from.  It was a odd realization.


Second was the overwhelming potency of the CSA onions.  Never in my life has onions made my eyes sting that bad.  Friends with different CSA's confirm, it's just that it is locally grown fresh onions.  It is crazy. Next year, I get swim goggles, 'cause the lacrosse ones weren't cutting it. I'd have to cut half as fast as I could and sprint across the room to cool down for 15 minutes.  An onion took about an hour to finish chopping.

Third, I'd say was the taste of the carrots.  They were just different.  More earthy.  Still haven't figured that one out.

2) Veggie distribution

I felt we had an adequate amount of most of the common veggies (common = the ones I knew how to identify).  It was really nice to have a useful supply of lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic and onions throughout most of the CSA.  I'm super happy to still have a good stock left of some of them. 

I was a bit disappointed we didn't get more corn, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, peppers, spinach, herbs and melons. There were surprisingly few.

I was really bummed we didn't get any fruits, like the apples, pears, tart cherries and strawberries that were listed on their website.

As for over abundant foods, the only one that stood out to me was too many beets (and maybe parsnips).  The other ones I feel would be a good amount... for people who like them. 

3) Variety & Use

There was plenty of new foods we hadn't ever been faced with preparing.  For some we rose to the occasion and had a good meal.  I was surprised to find I liked bok choy and collard greens.  Others, like brussel sprouts and beets....


Finding use for the food we tried and knew we didn't like was tough.  We tried to make beets work again and again, but there too many to keep up with it.  Our biggest use was making Beet-za (beet-pizza).  It turned out pretty good, but still didn't use up enough of the beets.


And at the end of the CSA, the squash was overwhelming that some of that didn't get eaten.  And Kale.  We couldn't find anything we liked that used kale.  We tried Kale chips twice to no avail.

We didn't meet our goal of not throwing out any, but that was mostly due to not knowing what to do with some foods...  or completely hating them. By October we didn't bother fighting it, and when a food came we didn't like, we just gave it away to someone who would take it before it went bad.

Sometimes, the timing was just off.  I found I'm much more likely to enjoy the lettuce after it's only been here a day or two.  Sometimes scheduling just didn't allow for quick use.

For the extra common veggies we froze them, which came in handy for quick meals on soccer nights.  There wasn't really enough extra to do any canning or sauces with them.

4) Cost

Looking at money last, we paid $565 for 20 weeks.  Doing the math, we should have been getting about $28 dollars of food each week.  Looking at the pictures here I wouldn't say it's exactly $28 dollars of grocery store veggies we got, but looking at prices at organic food markets like trader joes, it's not far off.

But the other part of the consideration is how much we didn't spend on other food because of veggies. Below you'll find a graph of what we labeled as 'groceries', which I feel is fairly accurate.

I use a program that helps automatically tracks my money, otherwise I wouldn't done this.  (lies, haha)  April is the month we paid for our share.  You can see there is a real drop for the summer months.  (Note: May was lowest and the CSA hadn't started yet.  We traveled in May so our restaurant/gasoline bills were probably higher.  Ignore May.)

Alright, I'll get to the numbers!
Before: $438 a month (ignoring May)
After: $462 a month (absorbing cost of the share)

So for an extra $23.35 a month we ate organically, ate healthy, and made some friends happy giving them the food we didn't like.  I'd say that's fair. 

When it comes down to it though, we choose to waste some (ie. fed to pigs) and could have probably bought less convenience foods at the store...  I feel it could have been a money savings.  But small steps people.  We tried.

Overall, a good experience.  Hopefully, we'll have a house with a garden next year, and be able to focus more on what we like... but we'll see!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

CSA 2012 Part I - Week by week

We decided to try a CSA for the first time this year.  We decided to take the plunge for a few reasons:
  1. To support local farms& try organic
  2. Try new varieties of Fruits and Veggies
  3. Eat healthier
  4. Get an idea of what I'll want to garden some day
1)   We decided to go with Red Manse Farm, because of their location, the list of crops on their website and because they grow organically.  I like the idea of a local farm not spraying chemicals all over the place.

We've never made any attempt to eat organically before, but a CSA seemed like a good place to start.   I support organic agriculture more for environmental rather than health issues, but I'm starting to feel sold more on health.... I'll get to that later.

2)  Beyond basic veggies my husband and I haven't been exposed to much variety and I'd like to not pass that on, and expose them to more at an early age.  Also, we focus a lot on traditional meals, and have been in a what-to-make rut for a while, so this to help break out of that.

3) Our goal was to not throw any out..  Didn't happen.  But we did eat way more veggies than we would have and our diet was substantially more varied (less pasta).  It was a shift from an occasional veggie as a side, to veggies as the main course...  like a hearty salad.

4) I decided to take pictures for our haul each week so I'll be able to remember what veggies I liked, didn't like, and what I'd like to grow when I get a garden.  I've done some gardening of typical sutff, green beans, tomatos, etc...  but not much more. I decided to post these pictures, so others can have a little guidelines to expect each week for a share of a CSA, since I had no idea.

 [NOTE: your CSA will vary.  Considerably.]

Without further ado, here's what our CSA looked like in 2012:

 Week 1 -  Lettuce x2, Napa cabbage, rhubarb, beets, radishes, maple syrup (not pictured)

 Week 2 - herbs, garlic scapes, green onions, rubarb, red russian kale, lettuce x2

Week 3 - lettuce x2, sugar snap peas, broccoli, garlic scapes, green onions

Week 5 -baby bok choy, carrots, beets, peas, sugar snap peas, garlic, zucchini, cucumber, red russian kale
(at this point we got a salad spinner...  which of course we didn't need quite as much anymore)

Week 6 - curly kale, beets, carrots, peas, zucchini, tomato, summer squash, onions, garlic, sunflower

Week 7 - carrots garlic, tomatoes, lettuce, kale, onions, cucumber, zucchini... and something else

Week 8 - tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, carrots, beans, squash, beets, curly kale, onions, garlic

Week 10 - rainbow chard, corn, beans, carrots, onions, garlic, zucchini, squash, tomatoes (being stolen)

Week 12 - lettuce x2, Brussels sprouts, tomatos, garlic, onion, pepper, onion, potatoes, cantaloupe x2, zucchini, green onions

Week 13 - tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, squash, herbs, garlic, onions, lettuce and some other stuff...

 Week 14 - tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, onions, Brussels sprouts, radishes, lettuce, garlic, peppers... some sort of squash?

Week 15 -  red russian kale, onions, sprouts, beets, potoatoes, peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, squash

Week 16 - maple syrup, mushrooms, lettuce, squash, carrots, onions, garlic, potatoes

 Week 17 - lettuce, Brussel sprouts, potatoes, onions, cabbage, squashes, garlic... and some mystery items

Week 18 - pumpkins, lettuce, onions, rainbow chard, carrots, potatoes... and a mystery item

 Week 19 - herbs, beets, carrots, potatoes, green onions, squashes... and more mystery items (it's hard to do this in retrospect)

 Week 20 - beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, kale... and even more mystery stuff

Overall, the experience was good. I'll get to more details in the next post...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Outdoor Eating

My desktop is still not up to the job of blogging, but in between crashes I was able to back up our pictures on an external hard drive... so I'm back to posting.  Yay!

One of my undertakings this summer was a picnic table.  We don't have any place we can put an air conditioner in the bottom floor of our apartment, so it gets pretty hot during the summer months.  We can skirt around it by staying upstairs/outside, but dinner is always a pain.  By that time of day the temperature outside drops off, but inside it's still really hot.  Without another option, we would stick it out and eat in our kitchen.

I wanted an smaller, but still adult sized table, so we could keep it in our covered porch for the winter.  I couldn't find anything exactly, but it was easy enough to combine what I like from these two plans: Big Kid Picnic Table and Adult Picnic Table.

 When I saw there was a big pile of scrap wood at a local business a friend and I went snatched it up (with the company's permission).  It was rough cut, but still seemed good enough for a quick picnic table.

My share.  I didn't even come close to using this much.
In a few hours of careful picking we were easily able to get enough wood to make the table, plus enough for my friend to side her cow barn and then some.

The wood was rough cut, but I was able to plane it down to a smooth finish.  I bought a hand planer, which gave me some practice with the tool without worrying too much about the outcome.  I had really been wanting to expand my repertoire of hand tool skills.

Because the free wood was rough and not the best quality, I did end up buying some lumber for the load-bearing parts.  While I was there, I also picked up a mis-tint can of paint for $2.50.  I would have gone with a brighter color if I had a choice, but it was $2.50!

Someone commented on the original plan's site about how big of a pain it is to paint in-between the slats.  Minding this, I was sure to paint the sides first before securing them.

I countersunk the screws from the bottom of the table through to the top.  I didn't really want to see screwheads on the table top and it really didn't take much extra time. 

 The first time I screwed the legs and seat together, I totally flaked and didn't even check the height of the legs from the ground to see if they were even.  After being shocked by the wobble, I went back and made some minor adjustments.  The table now sits great.

 With that above little guy's help, it took about a week (stop and go) to get it to a painted, usable state.  It wasn't quite finished yet, but that didn't stop us.  The color grew one me and I think it turned out to be a nice neutral picnic table color after all.

After about a month of use, I got back to the project and used some scrap wood to add some diagonal cross supports to stabilize it.  I didn't want to go with a bar straight across, like the big kids plan, as  it seemed to take up too much legroom.  It was acceptably sturdy before and would have been fine for at least a year more, but now it's very solid and I would feel comfortable even storing it on one end. 

 After that, we painted.  My daughter got to help paint some of the top, so I thought it was only fair to share the fun with my son.  He was super cute and did a great job. 

Here's the cost breakdown:
  •    Top planks & Seat - Free
  •    Cross supports and legs - $10
  •    Screws - $2.50 (An overestimate; I didn't use them all on this project)
  •    Paint - $2.50
There we go, a $15 painted picnic table.  And more importantly, a completely finished project.  (I love when I actually finish the last few steps of a project.)

The size is just what I wanted.  Two adults can fit on one side, and three kids on the other.  Now, all that's left to do is enjoy it before the snow falls.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Updates and Homeschooling

Sadly, our desktop computer hasn't been working lately, so I haven't posted in a while in hopes we would get it up soon.  Still haven't.  Hopefully I'll be able to get some more DIY stuff up soon, but for now...


Homeschooling Charge!

This is our first year of homeschooling.  Eve, our oldest, did public kindergarten last year, but beyond kindergarten we really wanted to try homeschooling our kids.  Quick overview of why we opted to try homeschooling:
     1) Academic - Yes, we do think we can do a better job.
     2) Religious/Moral - We think know kids are exposed to too much, too early
     3) Time - We want to enjoy our kids growing up.  I actually relish the time I get to spend learning with my kids.  They're awesome!

The picture above is the day we got most of our homeschooling supplies.  Eli dove right into the math cubes and made... a sword.  Yep.

 It's funny how much I enjoy math.  I get excited when working with the kids and have to restrain myself from buying more math manipulatives.  Beyond the MathLink Cubes (cheaper here if you can combine shipping), we got a set of Base 10 cubes and some dice.  I really love the math cubes.   Mathlink is the brand, and they're really good quality. We've used them every time we've done math so far, and they really help illustrate early math skills, and my kids are pretty strong in math.  Since I'm such a math fanboy, Jon and I have decided that I'll do the math with the kids after work. (Can I just say math a few more times in this paragraph? Math. Math, Math, Math. ) So far, it hasn't been stressful at all, but Jon is taking care of our crazy two year old, which from what I hear, is half our homeschooling battle.

Here's *most of* our other curriculum.  We're starting off with a mix, which works well with us.  Some we've I've fallen in love with (Singapore Math), some not some much (Power-Glide French).  We're missing Eve's language books in the picture, and I'm planning on getting Eli a math and language workbook.

Quick Breakdown:

Math - Singapore Math Standards Edition, 1A and 1B.  We have the workbooks, textbooks, and 1A activity guide.  They recommend testing your kids before choosing a level, as it's not necessarily grade based. I'm going to get the 1A workbook for Eli this year too, since he's following along really well and I hadn't even bothered to test him.   Probably an extra problems workbook too.  Love this curriculum so far.

Science - My (formerly a science teacher) husband is doing the science for the kids following along with the "What's Science All About?" Usborne book.  Seems like a great intro to science at a 1st grade level.

History - <Story of the World Vol1, in the "Well Trained Mind" series.  I was put off by the WTM series all-in-all, but I really enjoy the history side of it.  The activity book has a lot of nice suggestions/activites/worksheets, along with a solid course plan.  It also cross-references the The Usborne history book I had bought at the library already.

Language - We picked up A Beka Letters and Sounds 1 and Language 1.  We got them recently, so we'll see how they go.  At first glance they seem nice, but I'm worried that it'll be too much activity work for a slight amount of learning.  We'll see though, Eve really likes activity sheets.  For reading, we're just picking up history related books (suggested by the history activity guide) and regular easy readers at the library. We're also having the kids write in their journals at least once a week.

French - We got the Power Glide French Unit.  I'm not a fan.  We're still going to keep trying it, but I feel we could have done a better job ourselves.  (I might talk my video-game-programming-husband into making something interactive for French if I can't find anything better).  We're also doing a sort of french language & cooking combo.  Eve loves to help in the kitchen, so we introduce a lot of words in French as we go.  J'aime le gateau!

In addition to what we're doing at home, we're also in a co-op with 3 other families (surprisingly made up of 3 homeschooling dads (including my hubby), and 1 homeschooling mom).  Art, literature, and science are the primary focus, fun is the second :)  There are 10 kids in the group - five in the big kids group,  four in the little, and poor Eli is stuck somewhere in between.

A fresh box of crayons make everything more fun.
As for what we got for school supplies, most of those came from Walmart.  I took the kids with me to get them excited and they were (me slightly more, I think).  We bought typical supplies- new crayon boxes, special pencils, erasers, rulers, markers, etc.  (Picked up some for the OCC kids too) It's not often the kids get to shop for themselves, so it was quite fun.  This was the first time we bought more than a box of 24 washable colors for them, so it was a big step.  With a 2-year old in the apartment, I feel like I'm pushing the limits, but so far so good...

 And that's about it....  I'll leave you with some pictures of our archaeology dig (the neighbors must have though I was crazy digging up the parking lot the night before). 

...and if I get around to it we have a funny video of the dig I want to post.