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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.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.



PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

My Instagram feed has been full of pictures of friends that their kids to the beach. I get it, I like the beach a lot. But the forest and the mountains are my real loves.

The way the damp leaves smell in the morning. The peace of walking underneath a canopy of trees. The sound of firewood crackling at night. Sigh, heaven.

I also grew up camping with my family and have done some intense hiking, backpacking and search and rescue. So it's kind of in my blood—I wear my frostbite scars with honor.

So I couldn't wait to get my future kids out into nature (minus the frostbite). I had visions of us hiking to a stream, swimming and splashing all day, then cooking a big meal over a campfire as we sing songs and laugh.

Then, I actually became a parent. Of three kids, actually, all of whom are still very young… and a dog… and a husband who doesn't really like camping.

Despite the realization that it wouldn't be exactly as I planned, this summer we finally decided to take our first camping trip as a family.

Here is what I learned:

1. Set the bar low

I had to remind myself over and over again that this trip would not live up to my expectations. I know this sounds like a bummer way to start a trip, but it really helped. I have the tendency to over-plan and get really (really) excited about things. This is not a bad quality, but it can lend itself to disappointment when things don't go as hoped. I didn't want us to leave the trip feeling like it was a failure in any way.

This trip was a success, and a big moment for our family, no matter how it turned out.

Instead of forcing activities or memories, I forced myself to just… be. Not expecting the trip to be magical opened us up to appreciate the unexpected moments of magic as they occurred naturally, without being forced.

This got harder, of course, when our car got stuck in the mud (true story), and we had to wait three hours for AAA to arrive. But when our kids talk about the camping trip now they still squeal with delight as they recount the story of the tow truck coming. You're welcome (I guess)?

2. We made it really easy

I put my camping ego aside, and we took a lot of shortcuts on this first trip. We didn't stay in a tent but rented a barebones cabin instead. For dinner, we ordered a pizza. And we let the kids play on our phones for a little bit in the evening.

Those things didn't make for a truly authentic experience, but goodness, they really helped. I have started to realize that there is no shame in making things easy, especially when you have little kids. And they didn't know any different. As far as they are concerned, we hiked the Appalachian Trail and gathered all our own food from the earth.

This was a lazy camping trip, for sure—and that was exactly what we needed.

3. I over-prepped for safety so I could calm down

I have hiked and camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in February—this was not that. At any given moment on our trip, an ambulance could have easily reached us, and we were only a few minutes away from a hospital at any point. But it made me feel much better to know that we were safe and ready for anything that should happen.

We bought a first aid kit, a survival kit, too many flashlights and bottled water. I was really big on everyone wearing good footwear and teaching them how to walk carefully on uneven terrain.

We also used the opportunity to teach about other areas, like water safety. Rita Goldberg of the British Swim School recommends "[teaching kids] to avoid water hazards and to not approach a fountain, river, pool or lake without an adult's supervision and permission."

We also incorporated their "Water Watcher" program, which assigns a "badge of responsibility" to one adult at all times, who maintains a constant watch over the kids while they are near water.

These easy steps, that we decided on ahead of time, made me feel much more relaxed, and therefore better able to enjoy our time.

This trip took some emotional adjustments on my part. It wasn't glamorous, or particularly exciting. But that was exactly what it needed to be. Emily Glover wrote that "by getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other...we're reminded of what really matters."

We found that in the woods—together.

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