Join A Club, Eat A Veggie

It’s more fun and it’s healthier when you belong to a veggie club
BY: TOM A. TOE

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you become a CSA member, you’re purchasing a share in your local farmer’s co-op. You pay up front, at the beginning of the growing season, and each week you get a box containing a variety of vegetables, and that box is your share of the business for that week. Benefits include a steady supply of fresh local produce, the opportunity to try  new vegetables and recipes, and the chance to bond with your food cycle.

We have one of these in Todos Santos, run by Leon and Caroline Benzel and their partner with help from farm hand Claudia.  Caroline has just a few acres under cultivation, and she runs around doing a little bit of everything, including planting, tending, harvesting, and delivering the boxes. And that’s in between running after her three toddlers, two of whom are twins, and one who is a newborn.

She admits she has a full plate, so to speak, but she love it, even though she does not have a farming background. That’s her husband Carlos’ expertise he was born and raised on a neighboring farm in Todos Santos.

Once you buy into her co-op you will receive a box of organic vegetables every week with a variety of seasonal produce. Some weeks will be more bountiful than others and contents will vary depending on the season, but they always try to pack basic produce staples in each box, such as tomato, lettuce, and onion. One box one week might contain lettuce, peas, arugula, basil, and cherry tomatoes. Another week you might be green beans, watermelon, papaya, mint, sweet peppers, summer squash, and sweet potatoes. Throughout the entire growing season you can expect to receive 35 different vegetables and about 64 varieties. You’ll receive lots of your favorites as well as some rare vegetables you aren’t likely to see in stores, such as bright lights Swiss chard. To help you make the most of your box and in case you don’t know what to do with some of the more exotic fare, Caroline tucks in some recipes and storage tips relevant to the contents.

There are two memberships: family and basic, and their harvesting season is from December 18 through June 3.  Members will receive 24 weekly veggie boxes during that time. A family Membership feeds two to four people and costs about $430 for the season, which is $18 a week. Nope, not cheap, but you’ve seen the tacky condition of the vegetables you get at the local stores, it’s pitiful. You get an early bird discount down to $250 off if you pay in full by August 31. Huge discount, so pony up. Anyway, those twins need food and diapers.

An example of the family box includes 4-5 heads lettuce, 2 bunches Swiss chard, 2 bunches basil, 2 bunches carrots, 8 tomatoes, 3 heads cauliflower, green beans, and 5-6 onions. And that’s every week! Share with your neighbors.

Or buy the basic membership which feeds 1-2 people for $235 for the entire season, less than 10 bucks a week. And your early bird discount off that is a $150.

Contents of the basic box is  2-3 heads lettuce, 1 bunch Swiss chard, 1 bunch basil, 1 bunch carrots, 4 tomatoes, 1-2 heads cauliflower, green beans, and 2-3 onions.

She plants to plan for an  interesting variety of produce for delicious recipes and meal potential so you never get bored. (Have you ever met a boring veggie? Because we haven’t).

Caroline explains that she aims to provide you with 2-3 heads of lettuce as your basic, so you better make peace with salads. Then you’ve got your cooking greens . You should expect 1 type of cooking green each box. This is generally Swiss chard or kale. Sometimes bunched, sometimes bagged but always, she swears, delicious. If you like chard and kale. And have you ever met a chard you didn’t like?

Then you’ve got your brassicas. These are your cool weather loving crops: (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower), and as such, they tend to fill the boxes in the winter and spring. Expect 1-2 heads when in season. Then you’ve got your root crops. That would be 1 bunch of root crops like beets, carrots, and turnips and/or 2-3 onions.

Then you’ve got your fruiting crops. These are often the ones that people rave about. These include tomatoes, eggplant, corn, melons, green beans, peas, and cherry tomatoes. When in season you’ll get about a pound of one or more of these, often times more.

Then you’ve got your herbs. After all, no box of veggies would be complete without a herb to complement all the delicious vegetables. Basil, sage, rosemary, cilantro and dill are just a you will find each week in your box.

Caroline has been at this for a few years, so no worries on the paying upfront. (There’s those pesky diapers to be bought, and a lot of other things every young family needs, but Caroline is professional and very hard working. Her husband pitches in to help when he’s not working as a contractor). She tells us her veggie box memberships went great for last season. This non farmer tells us her farming experience has been incredibly rewarding and lots of fun and they are overwhelmed by the positive feedback from their members.

So, now is the time to sign up for the coming season. They deliver far and wide, from La Paz down to Cabo. You can email ranchobuendia@outlook.com or call them at 612 131 0326, which is a Mexican cell phone that she carries with her when she’s out weeding the pea patch.