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October Gleaning, October Fun

On a Friday night in late-September, hours after our crew had completed the season’s final tomato harvest, I emailed the CSA to announce an annual gleaning opportunity—before handing the tomato rows over to the chickens, we’d give CSA members first dibs. Twelve hours after the email went out, before the Saturday morning pickup had even begun, several members were booking it to the field, armed with bags, determined to fill them. Those expecting loads of ripe tomatoes were disappointed that morning—our crew had picked anything with a hint of color the day before—but those willing to settle for green, with the goal of counter-top ripening or fried green tomatoes, were rewarded. And in the days that followed, there was plenty of ripe fruit to be had—not quite a juicy as the tomatoes of August, but delicious in the way last-call tomatoes can be.

Opening up the fields to gleaning is more challenging that it might seem. Tomatoes are easy enough because they’re easy to identify and easy to access. Greens are trickier. In recent years, we’ve invited members to glean spinach, kale,

arugula, and broccoli raab, but these require more effort on our part. To the untrained eye, all greens look alike—mature, baby, and everything in between. So if you don’t want gleaners accidentally mowing down the wrong item, you must be sure everything is well-communicated and clearly marked. It also helps if the beds are relatively weed-free. If gleaners must tramp through knee-high weeds to find the arugula, they may not be conscientious of the baby mizuna growing in the next bed. If, however, the beds are carefully tended and walkways easy to follow, most gleaners will carefully fill their bags without harming the pipeline. For many members, gleaning is a big perk of CSA membership, and this season we saw a notable spike in interest, presumably because people had more time on their hands. So, in spite of the extra work involved, we make every effort to offer as many gleaning opportunities as we can.

If many members are sad to see the tomatoes go, the crew is undeniably giddy about the incoming fall crops. Butternut squash, radicchio, and celeriac made their debuts last week, napa cabbages the size of newborns are causing bags to break, and the first broccoli out of the field is as perfect as I’d hoped—tight heads with no signs of early flowering. Plus, if this mild weather continues, our bonus plantings of romanesco, brussels sprouts, arugula, and broccoli raab will be gracing our tables for Thanksgiving.

But first…there’s Halloween. The kids and I have been cooking up a cauldron of ideas for a family-friendly, Covid-appropriate event for the big day, which, as luck would have it, is the first Saturday since May that there’s hadn’t been a CSA pickup. Why relax in the off-season when you can start a new project? In all honesty, planning a Halloween event is a welcome break from virtual schooling, and as long as the weather is this beautiful, it would be a shame to waste it. So join us if you can, especially if you’ve got a fun costume. Our plans include a scavenger hunt, pumpkin carving (bring your own), and an interactive journey to a witch's lair—no junk, all imagination!


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