Monday, April 06, 2009

We Heart CSA Day

Iris and I enjoyed CSA day at Tanaka Farms immensely. Unfortunately, Bad Dad had to work that weekend and missed it. He did, however, celebrate 100 hours of astronomy by working 24 hours straight at Mt. Wilson Observatory.

Iris and I arrived an hour late for the 10:00 AM tour due to construction on interstate 405. While we were stuck on the freeway, I gave Iris my cell phone and asked her to dial her nanny. (Iris has decided that M will always be her one and only nanny; everyone else is just a babysitter.) Tanaka Farms is in Irvine. M currently lives on campus in Irvine. Let's meet for lunch!

Irvine is not a small town. I never expected that the farm and M's university shared a freeway exit. We drive this section of road regularly to visit my in-laws in San Diego. I never noticed this exit before. But, that's life in LA. Behind each freeway exit, is a community both distinct and integrated into the life of the larger metro area.

When M met us, she showed us how her college is visible from the Tanaka Farms parking lot. Once a week-on low carb, low carbon night-her dorm cafeteria serves produce from Tanaka Farms. Now that's local!

I couldn't believe the buccolic setting. Is this really only 1 minute away from the 405? The juxtaposition of banana trees and corn stalks tickled my fancy. The bananas we received in last week's box came from another farm. Irvine winter nights are too cold for these trees to bear fruit in large quantities.

Though they do bear some fruit. And who are those lazy guys all over the farm? Don't they ever move?

Iris tried unsuccessfully to befriend one.

The farm was also overrun with ladybugs.

The CSA tour is run separately from the strawberry and birthday party tours. We were given a map of the farm and sent to stations to pick radishes, carrots, cilantro, spinach and strawberries. It was a farm treasure hunt.

At each station, I embarrassed Iris by asking lots of questions. Can you imagine they run this entire farm, the CSA, the farm stand, educational tours and take care of the back office with just ~20 full-time employees and a few part-timers?

They minimize weeding by using drip irrigation and plastic row covers. Weeds only grow if they have water and sunlight. Under this system, they get very fewer weeds.

At first, I thought that was a whole lot of non-recyclable plastic. Then I thought about all the energy they save by not having to pump more water out here and not needing more workers, each commuting by car. We don't see the waste from that petroleum use, though we do see the plastic.

The ladybugs and scarecrows are part of the integrated pest management system, which includes interleaving crops.

Those are the healthiest tomatoes I have seen since I moved from Kansas.

Their Swiss chard has a few insect nibbles, just like mine. Note that not all the people in the background are capable of moving. ;-)

I lingered near the carrots because I enjoyed observing the wind rustle through the carrots with my senses. I could see, hear and smell the carroty goodness.

Then we headed up to the washing, chopping and grilling station at the top of a hill. They provided tofu, oil and spices to mix with our veggies. They also grilled sweet Maui-style onions. I noticed that the discarded onion tops resembled leeks. The young man told me I was welcome to take as many onion tops as I wanted.

After the food break, we headed over to the strawberry patch for dessert. They gave us one large plastic box per person and told us to fill them up. We were so sad that M had to leave the tour before dessert. She had an appointment with a study group for an upcoming exam. Luckily, we picked a small box of strawberries for her at the strawberry maze near the farm entrance before she met us that morning.

The onions are planted there to help repel insects from the strawberries.

They told us to eat as many strawberries as we wanted. So we did. All the parents were telling the kids to eat the darkest red ones, because they were the sweetest and wouldn't transport well. We picked bright red ones to take home. There is a certain joy in eating freshly picked and ripe strawberries, warmed by the sun. The kids had strawberry juice dribbling down their chins. Before long, I heard one child cry out, "My stomach hurts!"

Iris says she knows how a flower becomes a strawberry. You can see the whole process right here.

Iris managed to spill her container. She picked up what she could, and asked me to pick some more to fill it up. She carried mine. It was a windy day and our hats tried to fly away. She put the strawberries on her head to hold the hat on and to carry the strawberries. Container #2 hit the ground and burst open. I bit my tongue and watched her pick them up, slightly worse for the tumble.

After we put our pickings away, we went to the farm stand near the entrance. I bought some onions, garlic and potatoes. Iris bought a box of 6 enormous chocolate-covered strawberries. She gave Mark one, but tried to charge me $2 per strawberry! I asked her why he got a free sample. She said it was because he wasn't there. I had the option to buy them and I refused.

Bye-bye. We will be back next year for CSA day. Actually, Iris says we will be back in the summer for the watermelon tour. We went home to cook potato-leek soup with cilantro. What a great way to cap off the day.

I am not going to dwell on the chocolate-covered strawberries.

You can see Iris with the world's greatest nanny here and here. Even though she only worked for us regularly for one academic year, and then only two evenings a week, we owe her so much. I met her when she was 11. She started babysitting Iris (irregularly) when they were 14 yo and 5 months old respectively. Mark and I stopped going out as I became sicker and sicker. M became busy with school.

She called me one day and said, "I heard from my mom that you are very sick. What can I do to help? Tell me what you need and I will do it." She did it all. She took care of Iris, she shopped for groceries, she shlepped Iris to her activities. When Mark traveled on business, she came nearly every night to feed and bathe Iris. (My symptoms are most severe in the evenings.) She gave me the chance to recover my health to a manageable equilibrium.


  1. It sounds like you had a fabulous day.

  2. How I miss the wonderful produce of California!