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Published on May 21, 2019

Enjoying summer’s bounty without the back-breaking work

In May, everyone’s an imaginary gardener.

By winter’s end, we dream of crisp greens, juicy berries, sweet spring onions and tomatoes that actually have flavor. And it seems so simple: Dig a hole, put in some vegetables, add water and wait. Voila! A garden!

And then comes the reality of weeding, thinning, watering and all those pesky rabbits. And, if you live alone, who’s going to do all that work?

But take heart, solo chefs: It is possible to grow a few simple things, or, if that fails, find local produce without the work of gardening.

Why bother to go someplace besides the supermarket? Simple answer: Fresh and local is better for you and the environment.

“Once produce is picked from the vine or soil, it no longer receives vitamins and minerals, from their nutrition source,” said Dianna Carpentieri, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at Cape Cod Hospital Davenport-Mugar Cancer Center. “If we can grow our own or purchase locally grown produce, then we are eating produce at its peak nutritional value. Therefore we really maximize our nutrient intake.”

Take strawberries, for example. In the winter months most of us are purchasing them from a grocery store where they have been picked prior to receiving all of their nutrients in warmer climates, such as California or Mexico, Carpentieri said. In the winter, frozen fruit, which is picked at its peak and flash frozen, retains more nutrients than the fresh strawberries that are picked before they have received all of their nutritional value, she said. But come June, local strawberries are left on the vine until they are ripe and sweet and packed with nutrients.

If you’re buying from a local farmer, you can ask how the produce was grown, or even how to cook it, said Becca Yavner-Westgate, coordinator for Buy Fresh Buy Local Cape Cod, based at Cape Cod Cooperative Extension in Barnstable.

“Farmers are doing their best to make this sustainable and keep the farm in business as long as possible,” she said.

And, by buying local, you’re lowering your carbon footprint since you’re not contributing to transporting food long distances.

Three Roads to Healthy Eating

So how can you achieve fresh, local produce without breaking your back or the bank? Consider these three ways:

1. Grow your own.

Gardening doesn’t have to be a big deal. For most vegetables, all you need is a spot with about six hours of sunlight, said Russell Norton, agricultural and horticultural educator for the Cape extension service, which can help with all things gardening on Cape Cod.

Look for varieties that are recommended for containers, and then use whatever containers you have, such as a 5-gallon bucket, he said. “I generally think the larger the container the better. It gives you more leeway with watering – one of the things during the summer you have to do quite often.”

Lettuces are great for Cape Cod’s cool springs and long fall growing season, Norton said.

Plant them every couple of weeks so you can pick them before they get bitter. If you’re growing a tomato plant or two, choose either bush or container varieties so you won’t have an overgrown plant that requires extra water all summer.

You can also tuck vegetable plants – leafy greens or peppers, for example – into the flower beds where they have ornamental value. Last year, I had green peppers in among my perennials. And this year I’ve planted a pot of spinach and one of cilantro.

However you do it, grow things you like to eat. In Norton’s case, that’s sweet peppers, which he stuffs with cream cheese, onion, parsley and grated carrot.

“Some things might sound great but if you don’t eat them [usually], the likelihood of you utilizing them is negligible,” he said.

2. Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA.

CSAs are like a vegetable club where you pay upfront and then get a weekly box of produce or other farm products for the duration of the season. CSAs require an initial outlay of funds – the amount depends on the plan but can be $300 to $600 for four or five months. You also must pick up the produce each week.

The amount and type of produce you get is seasonal and depends on the farm. When I was part of a CSA, one mid-August box included tomatoes, kale, beans, squash, potatoes, leeks and garlic, as well as all the flowers and herbs I could pick. It can be overwhelming in high season. The solution for solo cooks: Share the cost and the produce with a friend. I split a share and it worked out to about $20 a week for plenty to eat and freeze. Also, some CSAs accept federal SNAP benefits.

“You’re purchasing a crop share and [farmers] are using those funds to purchase feed and amendments they need to use for soil or the farm,” Yavner-Westgate said. “Your funds are going into the local community; staying in the local community, not going to the big box store.”

Some CSAs are certified organic but even those that are not certified will likely use good practices, Yavner-Westgate said.

“The organic certification is extremely expensive to get and most Cape Cod farms just don’t produce enough to get that certification,” she said. “Although they may not be certified organic, they are using the least amount of pesticide and herbicide, and you’re not worrying about chemicals used in long-distance transportation.”

Some of the fun of a CSA is getting things you’ve never bought in the store. I’d never eaten kale (really) until I was part of a CSA. But you’ll get a weekly alert as to what’s coming and CSAs provide recipes or preserving techniques. The extension service also has suggestions and publishes CSA updates in its Buy Fresh Buy Local newsletter, Yavner-Westgate said.

“It’s its own little experience as well as a service of picking up food, – the smells,, the touch, the feel, the meeting people who are growing your food,” she said.

Here’s this year’s list of Cape CSAs from the extension service.

Cape Cod Organic Farm, 3675 Route 6A, Barnstable. 508-362-3573. www.capecodorganicfarm.org. Produce and (sometimes) pork. Accepts SNAP.

Coonamessett Farm, 277 Hatchville Road, East Falmouth. 508-563-2560. www.coonamessettfarm.com. Produce, cheese and oysters.

Crow Farm, 192 Route 6A, Sandwich. 508-888-0690. www.crowfarmcapecod.com. Produce. Accepts SNAP.

Dasilva Farms, 104 Brick Kiln Road Rear, East Falmouth. 508-548-1248. https://www.facebook.com/DaSilva-Farms-208029572549326/. Pork, poultry, produce.

Wellfleet Chick Koop, 25 Eric’s Way, Wellfleet. www.facebook.com/WellfleetChickKoop 508-349-1327. Eggs, cheese, sauces.

3. Buy at farm stands and farmers markets.

Not willing or able to make a commitment to a CSA? Then search out the scores of small farm and garden stands around the Cape or the weekly farmers markets. There are farmers markets locally almost every day of the week, and many farms that offer CSAs also sell at the markets or have farm stands. Markets set standards and requirements for sellers so you’ll know food is locally sourced. Some also accept federal SNAP and WIC benefits.

You can buy only the quantities you need – no plastic boxes of greens that you can’t use up. Stands and markets also offer fun extras like herbs, baked goods, soaps and honey, and are just plain fun. No one ever said that about the supermarket.

Recipes

Here are a couple of new ideas for local seasonal produce.

I had never heard of a garlic scape until I joined a CSA. They are the flower stems of the garlic plant that farmers remove to encourage the bulbs to grow. You’ll find them at your CSA or farmers markets in a month or so. They have a mild garlicky-flavor. Use them as you would garlic, in pesto, for example, or to flavor salad dressings or, in this case, potatoes. This recipe comes from the Cape Cod Organic Farm CSA.

SAGE-ROASTED POTATOES

1 1/2 pounds small potatoes, cut in half (red or yellow potatoes work best)

2 tablespoons chopped sage

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped scapes (or garlic)

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss all ingredients together in a bowl. Place in one layer on a metal baking sheet. Put in center of the oven and roast, checking after 20 minutes. Potatoes are done when a fork can go through them to the center, and outside surfaces are golden brown and getting crispy. Can take 25 to 40 minutes depending on size/type of potato pieces.

Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family and is a fall vegetable akin to a radish or turnip. You can cook the greens as you would turnip or other greens, or eat the crunchy bulb raw in salads. Or, you can roast them. This recipe comes from the Food Network. I cut it in half when I made it rather than eat kohlrabi for days. If the bulbs are small – under 3 inches – the skin may be tender enough to avoid peeling them.

ROASTED KOHLRABI

6 kohlrabis

2 tablespoons olive oil

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons parmesan

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Pinch of cayenne

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Peel kohlrabi and cut into 1-inch wedges. Toss with olive oil, salt and cayenne on a rimmed baking sheet.

Roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until tender and golden, about 30 minutes. Toss with parmesan and chopped parsley.