Class demystifies cooking with farm-fresh produce - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

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Posted: Wednesday, July 28, 2010 7:30 am | Updated: 11:01 pm, Fri Jul 30, 2010.

Traditional food practices, like growing veggies in your own backyard, are in again.

In the past year, Mesa added a second weekly farmer’s market, the Downtown Phoenix Public Market (the Valley’s biggest open-air farmers market) opened its own grocery store and wine bar, and the Phoenix Permaculture Guild held its first Valleywide tour of backyard chicken coops.

Community supported agriculture programs — where everyday people pay an upfront fee to a farmer in exchange for a weekly portion of fresh produce — are also alive and kicking.

Finding a CSA is easy; there are at least five in the East Valley alone.

Knowing what to do with all those fresh-picked, sometimes unfamiliar, veggies is another matter.

To help answer that question, Michael Thompson, head of Love Grows Farms in Mesa’s Lehi area, and Michael Hodgins, director of Sustainable Food Systems at Rio Salado College in Tempe, will host “Cooking With Your CSA Basket” on Saturday at the Chandler Environmental Education Center.

“What gets people into (a CSA) is that they’re very happy to support local food production and a local farm. But what makes it go, what makes people sign up again and again, is good, organic produce. It just doesn’t work without really good food,” says Thompson.

His small, family-operated farm serves about 150 CSA customers in the summer, trading baskets of squash, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, garlic and melons for an $18-$38 per-week fee, depending on the size of the basket.

The produce changes with the seasons, and the farm includes recipe cards with uncommon fare like wheatberries or tomatillos.

“Some people are regimented in the way they want to cook, and if that’s the way they are, getting a CSA basket probably isn’t going to work that well for them,” says Thompson. “But for the people who don’t mind getting something different, a lot of people are really happy with getting something kind of unusual and preparing it, whether they follow our recipes or not, and eating it.

“There’s a payoff for them in trying new things, and most of the time they love it.”

In cooler months, Love Grows Farms prepares baskets for nearly 300 CSA members.

“Interest (in CSAs) is growing, and it’s only going to grow even more, as fuel and food prices go up. When the cost of shipping something from Brazil is passed on to you in your supermarket, and you can just as easily buy the same produce right here locally from someone who just pulled it out of the ground this morning, it just makes sense,” he says.

IF YOU GO

What: Farmer Michael Thompson explains how community-supported agriculture programs work, and chef Michael Hodgins teaches how to prepare produce from CSAs and farmers markets.

When: 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Saturday

Where: Chandler Environmental Education Center, 4050 E. Chandler Heights Road

Cost: $3 for Chandler residents, $4 for nonresidents; you must call to sign up.

Information: (480) 782-2890

FIND A CSA

Interested in receiving a regular basket of locally grown produce? Contact these East Valley CSAs for more information:

Bobbi’s B.Y.O.G., (480) 580-4132 or www.bobbisbyog.com

• Veggies from this CSA are grown on a half-acre in a backyard organic garden in Gilbert. Its next 10-week share delivery season begins Aug. 4.

Desert Roots Farm, (602) 751-0655 or www.desertrootsfarm.com

• This 33-acre Queen Creek farm offers pesticide- and synthetic fertilizer-free produce, plus a meat, egg and dairy co-op. You can buy whole or half shares, depending on your estimated consumption and budget.

Love Grows Farms, (480) 297-9829 or www.lovegrowsfarms.com

• This Lehi-area farm specializes in heirloom tomatoes, and it includes eggs in each basket of produce.

PolyHarvest CSA, (480) 727-1821 or www.polycsa.org

• A partnership between Crooked Sky Farms and the Arizona State University Nutrition Department means you can pick up the Phoenix farm’s just-picked produce at ASU’s Polytechnic campus in southeast Mesa. Choose from a six-week or 12-week commitment.

Superstition Farm, (602) 432-6865 or www.superstitionfarmtours.com

• Rather than veggies, this dairy’s CSA packages include homemade ice cream, butter, cheese, milk and a surprise item made by a local chef, artisan or farmer. Eggs are also available.

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