Many of us, a bit heavy and out of breath from the inertia and calorie-binging that winter seems to encourage, decide come spring that it's time to get healthy. Running shoes are pulled out of closets and dusted off, bicycles re-greased and gym memberships renewed, and, at the very least, promises are made to oneself to cut down on our interaction with medieval winter fare like mutton and stout (or their modern equivalents). Some people go for the all-out cleanse, embracing things like juice fasts or mega-fiber blowout diets, or just appoint a friend to yell at them every time they start eyeing anything remotely resembling a carbohydrate. But there are dietary paths to health and wellbeing that are more fun and involve less deprivation.
One of the best things to do when the weather gets nice is eat fresh, micronutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, which summer typically piles upon us generously (especially in the months when you hear your doorbell ring only to find an anonymously abandoned bag of zucchini on your porch). Of course, there are many places where fresh produce becomes available in summer, from downtown farmers' markets to roadside stands to the local food co-op, but one of the best ways to stay committed is to purchase a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm. The Valley boasts many such member-supported farms, and there's probably one near you that's still accepting share applications. Most either have sliding-scale share prices (farmers are pretty generous people, after all), will let you split a share, or both.
My family has a half share at Easthampton's Mountain View Farm, which provides weekly portions of everything from kale and beets to eggplant, broccoli, spinach and bok choy. We only need a half share because a whole could easily feed a family of five or six, and we're but two smallish adults and a two-year-old. The weekly shares are conveniently arranged in farm-stand/supermarket-style produce bins in a recently restored and expanded barn, where built-in refrigeration rooms keep the bulk of the harvests cool (and are a pleasure to walk into on a 90-degree day). A couple of shelves and refrigerated cases hold products from other farms, including peaches and apples from Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown, organic artisanal bread from Holyoke's El Jardin Bakery, tofu from The Bridge in Connecticut, yogurt from Ashfield's Sidehill Farm, goat cheese from Westfield Farm and local honey from Red Hen Farm in Florence, much of which is collected from hives at Mountain View. For customers with little children, there's a corner with toys, including a variety of tractors and several old-fashioned phones.
In addition to the weekly allotments of fresh vegetables, Mountain View has rotating "U-pick" crops ranging from herbs like thyme, dill, sage, basil, rosemary, oregano and cilantro to snap peas, tomatoes and even strawberries and raspberries, and the experience of walking around the farm on a beautiful summer day is a joy in itself. Nestled like some fairy-tale dell on 17 acres on East Street in Easthampton, the idyllic spot affords (as its name suggests) spectacular views of adjacent Mt. Tom, whose contrasting brown cliffs and lush green vegetation almost make you forget that you're in New England and not Missoula or Boulder. As a bonus, there are several varieties of flowers available for U-pick to spruce up your kitchen or coffee table and remind you that summer is in full swing.
While it boasts on its website that its Easthampton pickup location is within five to 15 miles of many Valley communities, Mountain View's produce can also come to you, if you know how to swing it. The CSA delivers some 200 shares to Baystate Health in Springfield, where an innovative payroll deduction system allows employees to have farm share payments taken out of their weekly paychecks, a model of food distribution that Mountain View helped pioneer with CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). You can even live in New York City and pick up Mountain View shares at several Manhattan locations twice a week—the farm delivers almost 400 shares to the Big Apple.
Obviously, it takes a bit more land than 17 acres to grow this much produce; add in the locals (about 800 shares) and you're looking at about 1,400 shares total.
"Just this year we leased another 50 acres from Arcadia [the semi-adjacent wildlife sanctuary that's maintained by Mass Audubon]," says Liz Adler, who co-founded the CSA in 2006 with partner and husband Ben Perrault. "We also farm 32 acres at the former Food Bank Farm in Hadley, which we also lease."
Mountain View's relationship with the Food Bank is a symbiotic one; they share their labor force in return for additional land to calculate into their crop rotation, and in return deliver 100,000 pounds of fresh, chemical-free produce to the program. This means that roughly one-eighth of the Food Bank's produce, which it distributes to low-income families in need, comes from Mountain View, and that as a CSA member you can have one more thing to feel good about as a result of helping to keep the CSA model going.
"Liz and Ben are an amazing, lovely couple who have been wonderful to work with," says Food Bank communications and marketing manager Sarah Gibbons. "In 2009 we transitioned from running our own CSA to focusing on using the land to provide food for people in need." The new arrangement will allow for more productive, sustainable use of the land.
Mountain View's online presence includes a weekly newsletter and recipe postings on the website, so if you've ever wondered what to make with parsnips and kale, there are scores of ideas from shareholders whose culinary imagination may be more active than yours. With a head start like that, it's easy to keep the family eating extremely healthy at least a few nights a week, and though Mountain View is technically not signing up any more shareholders for this season, Adler says sometimes spaces pop up when people move or discover they probably only need a half share. And the Valley has many CSA farms, so it's not so difficult to get in on the veggie party if you really want to. If it's something you've been thinking about for a while but haven't actually committed to yet, you can research it thoroughly before applying for a share next season (or for the winter share, which keeps you in squash and root vegetables), at www.mountainviewfarmcsa.com. Or, for a choice of area CSAs, visit www.farmfresh.org/food/csa.php?zip=01002.