Monday, May 06, 2013

Field Trip to the Local Farm

Kids on John Deere tractor

Tomatoes never tasted so good. Ever since I was pregnant with Ballerina, I've been a fan of tomatoes. Before that I was indifferent to them, tolerating the slices who stowed away in my sandwich, vastly preferring processed tomato products (pasta sauce! ketchup! pizza sauce!) over the real thing. Then suddenly, my belly round and taut, I was craving them, dreaming about tomatoes falling on top of me in slow motion a la American Beauty. I consumed great quantities of organic tomatoes, and I've been a changed woman ever since. I like them best with a dash of freshly ground black pepper.

Then I joined Teena's Pride CSA*. The grape tomatoes taste so fresh and juicy I consider it a crime to be masking them in salads. I eat them straight from the box, as a midday snack. 

Today our farm held its annual Family Day, where the owner Teena gave us all a tour and we had the privilege of tasting and eating veggies right off the bushes. The arugula was peppery and oh so tender, the salad greens crisp and fresh, the sweet peppers vibrant and tasty. And then there were the tomatoes.

Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The experience started innocently enough. All five of us came in, registered, and ambled into an austere-looking building where we saw people in blue and white busily getting ready. Colors from fresh vegetables popped everywhere. The big room looked inviting with all the food laid out. There was a chef and a cook preparing veggies expertly, and in the hustle and bustle no one seemed to notice us, which was fine by us. The kids were most impressed thus far by the door opening through which bright sunlight streamed, and disappeared to see what was outside.

A John Deere tractor stood invitingly ready for kids to climb on it, which they did with gusto. Husband spotted a big lizard (a little more than six inches long!) in a tree nearby, and I was able to capture a photo:

Green Anole?
An unimpressed teen said that he thought it was an anole. We were certainly excited, never having seen such a lizard this size outside a zoo - that was not an iguana of course. We had plenty of iguanas. I haven't had a chance to check in my Audubon Florida Wildlife book yet, but if you know, please comment below.

A view of part of the farm                       
After some waiting, the owner showed us around her farm. A no-nonsense middle-aged lady, I couldn't help but fixate on that detail I had read about her on a poster - she built this farm from scratch when she was a young widow with two toddlers? Widow? Two toddlers? This woman has my sincerest admiration. The name was apt, this farm was Teena's Pride.
Builder's favorite vegetable, sweet pepper
Teena encouraged us, especially the children, to nibble and taste everything we saw. Builder was especially keen to try this out with his favorite - sweet peppers. The arugula was too spicy for him, but I could see that he liked the idea that he could try out the plants. Ballerina was more reluctant, but when Husband coaxed her into trying the leaves she was game. Explorer, who's now 2, was the most reluctant to try (what? we can eat these? but you never want me to just put stuff in my mouth), but eventually I saw that she, too, was chewing happily on crunchy leafy greens. Husband and I exchanged a knowing look.

Sweet and juicy grape tomatoes on the vine
Teena explained to us how the farm operated. Everything is done by hand, using only sustainable methods and no animal fertilizers. Some vegetables are hydroponically grown, and others in soil maintained through a dripping system of pipes. The tomato area was cooled down five degrees for optimal growth through a hydrating system. The vines were pulled by lines, allowing the tomato plants to grow up to 35 feet by a system of pulleys as the weeks went by. In five weeks, the tomato plants reached the height of Ballerina - she's five.

We had just recently covered scientific farming in our little homeschool, and this was a prime example of the ingenuity and methods involved in modern farming.

Bell peppers hanging
Here we are at the tomatoes. Teena's Pride is known for her tomatoes, and it's not just a myth. These heirloom tomatoes and others are plump, juicy, deliciously non-uniform and wonderful by themselves or with just about anything.

Knowing my love for especially the grape tomatoes, Builder picked his pockets full of the designated red ones. I picked and ate and picked and ate. You get the idea. It was fabulous!

 The highlight for the kids was when they got to pull carrots from the ground. The pictures speak for themselves. As if all this isn't enough, we walked back to enjoy a fresh and tasty lunch made with care using all the veggies from the farm.

Ballerina watching her just-pulled carrot


It is the last week of the season, which runs from October to May. I'm glad I decided to give the CSA a try, and I will be signing up again in September. Thank you, Teena, for a fun and educational field trip - aren't those the best? - and for providing your community and ours with fresh vegetables grown with a respect for flavor and the planet.

Builder's bounty - after this picture he collected more, including radishes and eggplants
*CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a system pioneered by the Japanese in which families and individuals support local farms by paying up front and buying into the farm. The farmer is able to plan and buy seeds accordingly, and the consumer receives fresh produce for the agreed-upon term. For more information, visit Local Harvest.