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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Farm Shares but Were Too Afraid to Ask

“Who is our farmer?" my daughter asks me.

We are at the farm, picking up our weekly farm share.


“Let me introduce you to Anne," I tell her.

I lead her by the hand toward our ponytailed farmer.

“Mama, I thought farmers were boys," my daughter whispers.

“Well, this one is a lady," I whisper back.

When I met my husband, a bona fide sustainable food systems geek, I'd never heard of a farm share. I bought all my food at the grocery store. I had a dim awareness that cantaloupe isn't in season during the winter, if only because it's not available from October through April. It never occurred to me to be grateful that for an avocado that traveled all the way from Mexico in December. I found it annoying that beets were so hard to clean, never considering the fact that they'd grown in the soil before being picked. As if by magic – a brand of magic I lacked the awareness to even appreciate – nearly any food I wanted was available to me virtually whenever I wanted it. I had no idea how amazing this was until I developed a different relationship with food through our farm share.

What is a farm share?

A farm share, also known as Community Supported Agriculture – or CSA – allows farmers to sell directly to the consumer. When you purchase a farm share, you pay for a share of produce up front, usually in the winter, despite the fact that in most climates, you won't receive any produce until late spring or early summer. This is mutually beneficial to you and the farmer, as the farmer wouldn't normally have any revenue coming in until harvest time (e.g., spring), while you are guaranteed a share of the bounty. By buying a share, you are taking on some risk, just as you would if you were buying stock in a publicly held company. A late frost or an unexpected storm could mean a smaller share. By the same token, your share of the harvest will be generous if the farm has a good growing season.

Is a farm share for me?

Being directly connected with the farm that produces your food gives you a chance to see the place where your food is grown. Like most parents of small children, I approach grocery shopping with dread when I have to bring my kids along, or with resentment on those occasions when I am trading precious free time for the chance to hit the supermarket solo. Taking my kids to the farm, however, is another story. Now that they are old enough (at ages three and five) to actually help, I look forward to our weekly visit to the farm. The kids help me weigh apricots and choose bunches of kale. If there's time, they like to look at the pigs and feed carrot tops to the ducks.

Even if you don't pick your food up at the farm, many farms host a party to kick off the season and/or at the season's end. No matter where you pick up your food, in most cases you'll meet the people who pick, wash, and bundle it, if not the farmer herself.

Food not only tastes different (read: better) when you get it fresh and straight from the source, but it looks different, too. The other night, my daughter pretended to blow dry her hair with a carrot. I stopped short of reminding her not to play with her food as I realized she couldn't help it. Shaped like an uppercase “L," the carrot bore an uncanny resemblance to a hairdryer.

A non-exhaustive list of delightful, quirky items that have turned up in our farm share include a head of lettuce larger as big as a volleyball, two-headed cherries, a double-yolk egg, and a carrot that missed its calling as a human anatomy model. I constantly have to squelch my impulse to say, “Look at this weird vegetable!" when I see these anomalies. The truth is, these “weird" vegetables are healthy and totally normal. (It is my belief that veggies are like people: The more perfect they appear, the more damaged they are inside.)

When you sign up for a farm share, you're not just admiring and Instagramming your oddly shaped goodies – you're eating them. While there are endless debates on what constitutes the “best" or “healthiest" diet, it's hard to find anyone who would recommend decreasing your consumption of fresh veggies.

While it can be annoying to come up with a way to prepare a food you've never heard of before (daikon radish, anyone?), letting veggies rot while you eat take-out is a certain recipe for guilt. Meanwhile, it's easy to find ways to prepare your bounty. Many farm shares offer recipes in their newsletters and/or on their websites. Plus, there's always Pinterest. Experimenting with new recipes or combinations of ingredients you might not normally combine forces a degree of creativity. Thanks to my farm share, I now know a dozen ways to eat fava beans, and how to shell them. (See also: the garlic scape-shallot-fava bean hummus I recently invented, based on the contents of our share.)

Farm shares aren't for everyone. If you go out to eat often, travel frequently, or do not enjoy cooking, your wilting, uneaten produce will probably provide more sadness than joy. At a minimum, you need to commit to the weekly pickup, storage, and preparation of your food. Depending how much you get, it can make sense to wash, slice, and store your produce right away to preserve freshness if you won't use all of it in the first half of the week. If this feels too overwhelming, a farm share might not be a fit for you. If you like to map out a strict menu on a weekly or monthly basis, not knowing exactly which or how much food you're getting will not mesh with your system.

Of course, the price is another consideration. The cost is comparable to organic produce at the grocery store. However, with a farm share you don't get to choose which fruits and vegetables you buy. Budget constraints might make a farm share impossible, not only due to the expense but also because of the required upfront financial commitment.

Which farm share should I choose?

One of the most important factors to consider is whether the farm offers the types of items you're interested in. While the staples of most farm shares are vegetables, many offer a variety of other products, such as:

  • fruit
  • coffee
  • eggs
  • cheese
  • bread
  • flowers
  • wine
  • soap
  • tofu
  • honey
  • meat/poultry

Another consideration is what options the farm offers, as far as quantity goes. You'll want to consider your budget and the amount of food you expect to use. Most farms offer small, medium, or large shares, but some only offer one or two size options. Most require weekly pickup, but some may offer a bi-weekly option. Meanwhile, if you're buying meat, the pickup is likely to be on a monthly basis.

The pickup situation is another important factor. The perfect farm share is not perfect if the pickup time and place do not fit your schedule. The pickup location is, in fact, much more important than the location of the farm itself, as most farms offer pickups throughout the region where they're located.

I've been part of farm shares with pickups at a variety of locations, including:

  • the local farmer's market
  • a neighborhood park
  • a fellow CSA member's garage
  • at the farm itself

If you're lucky enough to work for an organization that has a corporate partnership with a farm, you can grab your veggies right at your office. For example, Colorado's Grant Family Farms will designate your work place a pickup location (and offer a group discount) as long as a minimum of 10 employees purchases a farm share.

The reasons for buying a farm share (or not) are as personal as your opinion on Brussel sprouts. For me, a farm share means being invested in my local food system, eating delicious food, trying new recipes, and storing extra kale and rainbow chard in the freezer for the green smoothies my kids refuse to eat. It means treating my summer menu planning like I treat the rest of my summer – with less structure and more fun. It's the smiles on my kids' faces when they help me fill a bag with two pounds worth of black cherries on a Wednesday afternoon at the farm. It's searching for new turnip recipes and eating fresh salad greens for breakfast. It's running into our farmer and her family at the pool on a Saturday morning. And it's thanking the people who feed my family, face to face.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Sometimes it's easy to overlook this amazing work we are doing, my love. On the surface, our lives couldn't be less extraordinary. We work our jobs, we care for our children—we embody a simple life. (Though, don't get me wrong, we love every second of it!)

But especially when I think about the work you do for our family, work that largely goes unsung, I'm reminded that, really, it's my job to make sure you know how much it's appreciated.

We both came into this marriage so young, so untested, and so blissfully unaware of the hardships that would come our way through the years. As we grew up together, we weathered our own storms before finally realizing we were ready to expand from a party of two to a party of three.

You were more nervous than I was, but you stayed strong for me, making me feel stronger and shouldering my own moments of uncertainty like the hero I needed.

When our daughter was born, pink and sweet and impossibly small, I never felt safer than when I saw her in your arms. From her first breath, you were there, ready to give her the world if she asked. Your dedication to her, to me, and to this family we continue to build never wavered from that moment forward. From the first moments, you were an incredible parent.

But life has a way of distracting us—blinding us to the everyday heroism even when it's right under our noses. As Edna Mode sagely reminded us in The Incredibles 2, "Done properly, parenting is a heroic act", and I see your heroism.

So thank you, my love…you are incredible to me.

Thank you for stretching to pick up my slack, even when you’re just as tired as I am.

Somedays you walk through the door from work, and you were slammed all day and your commute took an hour longer than it should have, and you're immediately bombarded by a needy toddler and an (almost) equally needy wife. But when I watch you shake off the day in an instant and throw your arms around us both, ready to help, I don't think words can truly express how grateful I am.

Thank you for being strong in my moments of weakness, even if no one else ever knows about them.

I play it so strong all the time, but you know the truth. You know the moments I'm about to break or the days when I truly can't take on another thing. And how do you respond? You make it okay. You let me crumble, you let me whine, you let me cry when I need to. You make it a safe space where I don't have to be #supermom, if even just for a moment. You are my safe space, and I love you for that.

Thank you for the thousands of practical, “little” things you do every week.

From taking out the garbage to changing the lightbulbs to actually remembering to replace the toilet paper roll (something even I forget to do!), those little things don't go unnoticed—even if I often forget to thank you in the moment.

While I may take on the bulk of housework as the stay-at-home parent, you do your part in little ways I never forget. Those little things? To me, they are incredible feats, trust me.

Thank you for being the incredible father I always knew you would be.

I wouldn't have married you if I didn't think "Dad" was a mantle you could take on successfully, but it still makes my heart burst every time I see you excelling at this difficult role. You make our daughter feel supported, safe, and loved every single day, and I'm so, so happy that you are the person I chose to do this life with. Your instincts and commitment to our children amaze me every day.

So for all the million things you do—and for all the millions of times I forget to say it—I thank you. For all the million things you have yet to do for us—I thank you.

You're our hero, and you're pretty incredible.

This article is sponsored by Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles 2 on Digital October 23 and Blu-ray Nov 6. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

As I sit here and write this, I kind of feel like I'm just waking up from a newborn fog myself—like I had been living in a dream and a nightmare all at once. With all the highs and lows of newborn parenthood—I'm realizing that literally nothing could have prepared me mentally or emotionally for it. How could it have?

It's like—how do you prepare the sweet baby you're growing inside you for the warmth of the sunlight they'll feel on their cheeks or the sound of the birds chirping in the spring? Nothing you could ever say could prepare them for that kind of simple wonder.

And nothing I can tell you will prepare you for the simple wonder of being present in the first moments of your baby's precious and irreplaceable life.

Take a mental snapshot of your home as you leave for the hospital. It will never be the same again. Try to remember the way the light poured in through the windows, the way the air felt on your face. I'm thankful I was able to remember to do this myself. Months from that day when the light pours in and the air brushes against your face in a similar way you'll be filled to the brim with heartwarming nostalgia of the day your sweet baby was born.

There is nothing I can say to you that can prepare your body for the excitement, the nerves, the exhaustion, or the hard work that is giving birth. The inexplicable awestruck wonder of your baby's first breath, their first blink, their first cry. The first time you meet them—the only person in the world that knows your heart from the inside. You will be the most beautiful sight they have ever seen, as they will be yours.

There are no words for those moments. But there are actions.

Take a picture in the hospital holding that sweet soul—a picture that includes you. The postpartum you with no makeup on, your hair disheveled, your hospital gown draped over your tired body. Don't wait to be "ready."

Take the picture. I wish I had.

There aren't any words to describe your first night home and the first weeks to follow. They'll be some of the most emotional days of your entire life—highs and lows of epic proportions—waves of pride, frustration, invincibility and defeat. Take them all in and let them shape your experience.

Trust the process. I wish I had been more trusting.

Breastfeed if you want to. Formula feed if you want to. That is your choice. Make it for the right reasons. Don't do either because someone else wants you to.

Make the choice that makes you and your sweet baby happy, healthy and able to be present. I wish I had.

Don't let anyone pressure you into decisions. Don't let anyone make you feel less than for the first choices you'll make as a mother. There is no one on the earth that knows your son better than you. Yes, the diaper is on right. No, the swaddle isn't too tight.

Be confident in your abilities and instincts. I wish I had been more confident.

With that said, be open to support from those around you—particularly from the women in your life. Accept and embrace your vulnerability and surrender, at least for a little while, to the hands of your village.

My mother-in-law told me on the way home from the hospital that she was never more grateful for the presence of her mother than in the days and weeks after my husband was born. She said I would feel the same. And she was right.

Let your mom or mother-in-law or a mother figure of sorts come to your rescue. Let her put cream on your back after the shower and stroke your hair as you take a nap. Be her baby. Now you'll understand the depth of her love for you.

Try to enjoy the moments right from the start. Rock your baby to sleep. Smell their precious newborn scent. Snuggle them endlessly. Let them fall asleep on your chest and keep your skin touching theirs as much as you can. All of this will be pretty difficult as you run on likely very little sleep, so don't be hard on yourself when you feel overwhelmed (we all feel that way at times!).

But as you can— try to be there in those moments. I wish I had been more present.

Know that the first weeks and first months come with a lot more exhaustion than you could ever really imagine—but then they will end. They. Will. End. The sleepless nights eventually become more restful and your days a little more routine.

For many weeks, your nights and days will be mixed up and your schedule shot. Try your best to roll with it. Don't try to force a routine or a schedule—it will re-establish itself in time.

Have faith in those chaotic moments that things will settle. I wish I had had more faith.

Things started to get really fun for me and my son at three months and things seemed to feel like my "new normal," my body included, around five months.

In time, your sweet baby will let you put them down. They will eventually get the hang of eating. There will come a moment where your baby takes a nap in the crib. Life on this side of the womb takes a little practice. Your baby will get the hang of it, mama.

Don't worry about it. I wish I had worried a little less.

Cry with your partner when you have to. Laugh together when you can. Take too many pictures. Have patience with each other. Try to hug every single day—sneak quiet moments together when you can. Try to step back from it all and observe it quietly.

You'll be amazed at yourself, at your partner, at your new family. I wish I had stepped back more often.

…And then one morning you'll wake up from a good night's sleep. You'll wake up from that sleep and you'll sit down to HOT coffee again and you'll realize the fog has cleared a bit.

You'll see that your life is forever changed. You'll realize now that when you gave birth to your baby, you also gave birth to a mother and a father, too. You'll realize now the magnitude of what you've done.

When the fog clears and you realize the enormity of this accomplishment, I hope you reflect back on your experience and marvel at the gift you have been given and also at the gift you have given to the ones you love.

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A new mother looked at me recently during a conversation we were having about sleep deprivation during the beginning of baby's life.

As a postpartum advisor and doula, I talk to a lot of new mamas.

But I hear all the time from women in the midst of transition to motherhood who are struggling to get their little ones to sleep and to respond to the demands of infant life.

This mama looked at me in desperation and asked, “So do you just not get anything done then??"

Mamas, I want to tell you the truth. Here it is:

You will not get anything done when you are home with a baby.

And anyone who told you otherwise is not being very forthcoming (or perhaps they just have a lousy memory).

You might get yourself fed.

You might get yourself dressed (then again, you might not).

You might take a walk (it makes baby happy).

You might have a short phone conversation or start a load of laundry, neither of which you will finish.

This is your new-mom normal.

So what are you doing all day?

Not much that can be measured, really.

You're simply responding appropriately and with patience (through fatigue) to smiles, to tears, to hunger cues and to drowsiness, teaching your baby how to navigate this complex and (to a baby) highly emotional and raw world.

You are keeping your baby clean, which on some days involves more costume changes (for both of you) than any non-mother can begin to fathom.

You are teaching a tiny, helpless person all about the world—at least the important parts, like how we treat each other and what it means to be connected to a family.

You are creating a foundation of love and trust between you and your baby, one that will help you set your parenting compass, inform your future interactions, and provide a basis for the way your child relates to the larger world.

You may be breastfeeding your baby—another time-consuming task (though once established, it takes less time than bottle feeding) that reaches forward through time to heal and protect your child, and simultaneously reduces your risk of disease.

Oh, and you're becoming a mother.

It started the day your baby was conceived, and it continues beyond birth.

Your baby is stretching and growing into this new body, and you are too.

But that's about it, really. That's your day.

Our culture doesn't have a good way to measure what you are accomplishing.

Your baby will grow and meet milestones: check.

To the untrained eye, most of this work, at the end of the day, will look like nothing.

But we know better.

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There is no greater task than the "nothing" you did yesterday, the "nothing" you are doing today and the "nothing" you will do tomorrow.

Caring for a baby is all about the immediate experience, yet the first two years are all about investment.

It's give, give, give and give some more.

These are hard-fought, rough-and-tumble years that can cut us down to our core and take us soaring high above the clouds, all in the space of five minutes.

And yes, as you do the hardest work of your life, it will seem like you're not getting anything done at all. Crazy, huh?

But here's where it gets interesting...

As much as you need and want a break now (and you should take one whenever you can), no mother has ever looked back on this time and thought, I wish I had held my baby less.

You will not remember the dishes that didn't get done, the vacuuming that you just couldn't make happen or the dirty clothes you wore more often than you'd like to admit.

You will remember the first smile, the first belly laugh, the first words, the first steps.

You will remember the way you looked at your baby and the way your baby looked at you.

So the next time you find yourself wondering how another day is gone and nothing is done, stop.

Hold your baby—feel the way that tiny body strains to contain this giant soul—complete and full of potential all at the same time.

Take a deep, slow breath.

Close your eyes and measure your day not as tasks, but as feelings, as sounds, as colors.

Exhaustion is part of it.

And it's true, you will get "nothing" done.

But the hard parts will fade.

The intense, burning love is what remains, and it is yours to keep forever.

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