Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Eating With The Seasons - Thoughts from Claire Burdick

Meet Claire Burdick, our director of field operations. Claire shares her thoughts on the challenges and benefits of eating with the seasons.

Claire pruning grapevines in March.
Like many folks who have CSA memberships, I have a great fondness for eating local foods. From June through October that generally means taking the kids "shopping" in our large back yard garden. Over the years we've expanded our garden to the point that most of our fruits and vegetables come from this most local of places. The learning curve has been steep, and at times I've encountered difficulties that I hadn't anticipated. The biggest of those was undoubtedly learning to eat with the seasons -- that is, accustoming myself and my family to eating and appreciating what the Earth has to give us, when it is offering, without resentment! I have a feeling that some CSA members might share in these difficulties as it can be a bit overwhelming to find yourself with bucket loads of greens in the spring, or a trunk full of tomatoes in the summer. Maybe sharing my journey to becoming season-savvy can offer some help!

Before I became what my friends and neighbors lovingly call a "hardcore" gardener, I'd shop each week at the grocery store for all of our favorite fresh fruits and vegetables. I prided myself on a cart that was always well balanced- cabbage, peppers, broccoli, apples, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, grapes... you know what I mean. The only time I ever gave thought to the fact that a particular food was out of season was when it drastically affected the price ($4 per pound for asparagus in October, you must be kidding me!?). So as my garden grew I found myself in an unfamiliar situation- for instance during the summer of 2008 I probably uttered the phrase "please, PLEASE, no more greens" at least a hundred times. I'd put so much time and effort into planting, tending, and loving those vegetables that each head of lettuce practically had its own name. But when the harvests started really coming in I felt-- I don't know-- over it.

Claire planting seedlings with Debbie Wickham.
See I had been buying kale, spinach, and lettuce each week at the store, all winter long. So even though I now had the freshest possible vegetables in almost unlimited supplies, they just didn't seem that special. I hid that feeling from everyone, ashamed that I could be anything less than thrilled with my own hard work. Finally I spilled the beans, so to speak, to my husband, who admitted he felt the same way. We decided then and there to eat with the seasons. Even if that meant no more fresh tomatoes in January, or eating frozen greens through the winter so that the first bite of fresh spinach in the spring was *that* much more meaningful. We do treat ourselves to fresh produce throughout the winter, but we try to make it a special treat instead of a predictable weekly grocery list.

It was only when we made this decision that it all started to click for me. I finally realized that eating local isn't just about supplementing the grocery store with a few fruits and vegetables here and there, but rather embracing all of the peculiarities of the growing season and what it gives us. I realized that there were so many leafy greens in the spring because our bodies had been surviving on calorie dense foods all winter, like potatoes, squash, grains, meat etc. Dark leafy greens are some of the most concentrated forms of nutrients, you get A LOT of bang for your buck out of them. They are low in calories but high in everything our body craves after a long, dreary winter. In other words all those salad greens that grow in the spring are nature's way of telling us to replenish and revitalize ourselves. The Earth is providing for us what we need to gear ourselves up for a labor-intensive warm season. We truly need those greens, even if we start to resent all those salads by the 4th of July!

After we've feasted on greens, the warm weather hits. We start to go outside more, exert ourselves more, and dehydrate a lot more quickly. It is at this point in the season that watery foods start coming into full swing. Berries, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, watermelon... all of these have LOADS of water. We rarely stop to think about why it is that the watery-est vegetables and fruits tend to grow during the driest times of the year. It's simply that unrelenting mother nature reminding us to stay hydrated! Water is, after all, the thing with which our bodies cannot survive. So eat those watery foods in the summer, and just when you feel like you can't eat another tomato or cucumber- eat a couple more, they will be gone soon :)

Claire checks on potatoes in July.
That brings us to the fall- it's not just my favorite season but it's also the busiest here at Wickham Farms. The pumpkins, apple cider, and cool crisp air come just in time to save us from the dog days of summer. It's also when the high calorie fruits and vegetables start to make their presence known. Potatoes, apples, winter squash, root vegetables- all of these favor the cooler fall temperatures, and they conveniently all have long storage lives as well (as if they are meant to last us through winter). We all know it takes a good source of nutritious calories to make it through the cold winters in Rochester!!

At Wickham Farms CSA we work very hard to provide our customers with the best possible variety throughout the growing season, and I think we do a pretty good job! Still, if you find yourself feeling a bit salad-fatigued around by the beginning of July, try to remember that those watery summer treats are just around the corner!


  1. Found this article to be "food" for thought! Thanks for the insight.