Local Food The CSA Way
Local Food The CSA Way

Last November our family bought a share in a CSA from Napoleon Ridge Farm in Napoleon, KY. Napoleon is one of those places that you’ll miss if you blink. It’s located in Gallatin County (Kentucky), just along I-71. Owned by Trisha Houston, Napoleon Ridge Farm grows produce and flowers, and raises chickens, pigs, and cows.

A CSA, short for community-supported agriculture, has become, at least for us, one of the best ways to consistently have access to local food and ingredients directly from a farm throughout the growing season. Farmers who have CSA programs sell a limited number of shares of their harvest every year. When someone joins a CSA they pay the farmer up front for one share of their harvest.

Last winter I contacted Napoleon Ridge to indicate that I’d like to join their CSA for 2012. I sent Farmer Trisha a check for a full share of her harvest. (She also sells half shares for smaller families or couples.) Beginning in mid-May we started our weekly pick-ups of produce and other ingredients from Trisha at the Covington Farmer’s Market. Each farmer designates different pickup days and times that are convenient for them. Trisha has Tuesday and Saturday pick-ups on Covington and in Clifton.

Every Saturday morning we meet Trisha in Covington and with no further exchange of money she gives us our weekly share of her harvest – plus more. So far this year weekly share has included a variety of vegetables, fruits, and other cooking ingredients. We’ve enjoyed honey, kale, mustard greens, garlic scapes, kohlrabi, fennel, cabbage, and blackberries. One week Trisha included a bottle of olive oil from an organic olive oil producer in Lexington, We have also eaten our fill of fresh brats, pork roast, ground beef, steaks, fresh chicken, and farm-fresh eggs. In late June we grilled two of the steaks and I have to say they were some of the best steak I’ve ever eaten, thanks to Trisha and her cows, and her care of the food. From what I understand the squash is almost ready and tomatoes and corn are sure to be delivered in late-July.

A CSA arrangement is a win for Farmer Trisha and for any farmer who has a CSA program. Trisha gets her money up front which helps her cash flow for the farm. In addition, she doesn’t have to worry about marketing her produce and meat during the busy growing season, it’s essentially already sold. For us, we get ultra-fresh local ingredients for our meals. Best of all we’ve developed a relationship with Trisha – she know us and we know her. A few weeks ago when the best male cook went to Covington to pick up our box, Trisha threw in some fresh chicken livers because, “Maggie will know what to do with these”.

The idea of a CSA is simple, but the results I believe are telling for city-dwellers, like us, who live outside of an agrarian lifestyle. We have access to fresh, locally …

Kentucky Maple Syrup
Kentucky Maple Syrup

Our back yard is home to three maple trees of varying sizes. Two towering silver maples bump up the ground with their thick, extended roots, while a lone sugar maple spits out “helicopters” and drops large yellow leaves. The trees offer our home and backyard much shade, so I try to overlook the nuisances they produce. In addition to the above varieties of maple trees there are over eleven more maple species native to North America. But it’s three varieties in particular – the sugar maple, black maple, and red maple – that comprise most of the trees tapped for the sweet sap used to produce pure maple syrup. Kentucky might not be the first state that comes to mind when one thinks of maple syrup, but with an abundance of native maple trees, and nights with below-freezing temperature and days with above-freezing temperature, Kentucky produces syrup that rivals any New England, or Vermont-produced, syrup.

The cover article in the February 2012 issue of Kentucky Monthly tells the story of Federal Grove the southernmost maple syrup producer in the United States. Located in Auburn, a small town southwest of Bowling Green, Federal Grove is not only a source of Kentucky-produced maple syrup, but is home to a Maple Syrup Festival, as I discussed in The Kentucky Fresh Cookbook.  Federal Grove proudly hosts their annual festival during the last weekend of February, just as the sap for producing pure maple syrup starts to flow. Although, I can’t help wonder this year if the warmer winter we’ve had in KY has affected the maple sap.

Pure maple syrup is an amber-colored sweetener produced from the clear sap of sugar maple and red maple trees, and not to be confused with pancake syrup that is largely made of corn syrup and maple flavoring. During the first hard thaw after a late winter freeze, workers at Federal Grove (or any other syrup producer) drill holes in maple trees to house a spout through which the sap flows and on which a bucket hangs to collect the sap. After collecting gallons and gallons of the clear sap, maple syrup producers evaporate the sap. They boil it down, waiting for the fine line between thick, pancake-worthy syrup and a boiled mess. It takes about 40 gallons of clear maple sap to produce 1 gallon of maple syrup.

Pure maple syrup comes in four grades according to the flavor and color of the syrup. Sometimes the subtle differences correspond to the point in the season where the sap was collected and the syrup produced. Grade A light is the earliest spring sap syrup with a light amber color and has a mild maple flavor. Grade A medium has a more pronounced flavor and is the most popular grade for table syrup. Grade B dark, sometimes called grade-A dark amber, is darker in color and more robust in flavor than other Grade A syrups because it is made later in the season. Grade B, made at the …