turtle farm book cover

If you don’t know that the initials CSA stand for Community Supported Agriculture, you will after reading Angela Tedesco’s recently released book “Finding Turtle Farm.” Tedesco subtitled her University of Minnesota Press book of roughly 200 pages, “My Twenty Acre Adventure in Community Supported Agriculture.” So, there it is — right on the cover.

But what the heck does CSA mean?

Tedesco spent 17 years raising organically certified vegetables on her Turtle Farm, near Granger Iowa. Having raised organic vegetables for sale for twice as long as she did, and having worked with the CSA model for nearly as long as she did, I can say with some authority that her book does a credible job of answering the above question regarding CSAs.

I generally skip a book’s introductions; but the introduction in “Finding Turtle Farm” is well worth the read. I say this because it unmasks a lie that Tedesco and I (who are roughly the same age) were told throughout our youth and early adulthood. We were told we were among a class of Americans who were destined to attend college and join the professions. Agriculture, the growing of food to sustain life, was unworthy of us. Further, we were told (not so much in words but actions) that home-grown and homemade were inferior to highly processed and heavily packaged foods. Food was just a commodity to be prepared and eaten as quickly as possible so we could get back to our boring jobs at the office or laboratory.

In her introduction, Tedesco writes nicely of her own turning toward agriculture.

“I wanted to make choices based on what would be best for the common good of people and the environment, and farming was where I could make a difference,” Tedesco writes, summing up her thinking after quitting a job as a college-educated chemist shuffling test tubes in a lab. “Everyone eats. I wanted to grow food that was as good for people as it was for the environment.”

There it is: CSA is about growing food that is as good for people as it is for the environment. But it’s more complex than that. Keep reading!

Following her description of her personal journey toward becoming a farmer, Tedesco gets to work. Naturally she titles part one of her book “Planting and the second part Harvest.”

In “A Delicious Revolution," the first chapter of Part I, Tedesco continues to enlarge upon what a CSA is; while at the same time, giving readers practical onion planting and green house management tips.

I particularly liked the parts of this chapter where she honored her employees and the elderly gentleman who tilled her fields. Making farm workers visible and respected partners in a farm operation can easily be included in the big list of what Community Supported Agriculture is.

“That’s what the sacred is all about. It’s not a concept but an experience — an experience of awe, of wonder, of beauty. And with the sacred comes the zeal, the energy,” Tedesco writes, quoting the theologian Matthew Fox at the beginning her book’s third chapter.

The chapter is titled “Food as Sacred” and, since the sacred is not a concept but an experience, Tedesco shows the reader the awe experienced by a child when she picks and tastes her first ever golden cherry tomato right from the vine. She shows us another child eating peas from the home freezer in February. The child has a moment when she connects the peas with harvesting, shelling and putting them up with her mother the previous summer. She connects the relationship with her mother, to the hot life-filled garden, to the equally hot summer kitchen, to the beautiful vegetables on her plate. That, indeed, was a moment of awe, of wonder, of beauty.

Part I of “Finding Turtle Farm” is made up of 10 chapters. Some other chapters are “CSA Starts With Community," “The Wisdom of Biodiversity," and “That Bug on Your Plate.” They all make for good reading.

Part II consists of seven chapters — each named for one of the months CSA shares were harvested on Turtle Farm. The chapters are actually a seasonal cookbook featuring recipes on how to use and enjoy the farm produce in customers CSA box for the month. August, for example, has simple ways to cook with basil and eggplant. The June chapter has a delicious-sounding recipe for Swiss chard rolls with walnuts and salsa.

I’d recommend all of this book to readers; but the “Harvest” section alone makes it well worth a trip to your local library or book store.  

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