The idea of joining a CSA or renting a plot in a community garden always sounded like fun in Denver–I like vegetables and/or I like to garden.  However, either option was very cost-prohibitive on our tiny budget.  Having had the opportunity to meet with several non-profit organizations that promote local food in Denver, it was always surprising to hear that it cost more than $100 for a small (10 x 10) community garden plot.  If we had rented a plot in Ames this summer I think it would have cost closer to $30 for a much, much bigger plot (15 x 40).  Besides talking about renting a plot, we talked about moving into a house where a garden would have been late, but possible, but I think we ended up making the best decision: we bought a share in Iowa State University’s Student Organic Farm (SOF).  (For more information check out: http://isustudentorganicfarm.weebly.com/)

ISU's Student Organic Farm (on-campus plot)

ISU’s Student Organic Farm (on-campus plot)

Sunflowers serving as a trellis for beans at SOF

Sunflowers serving as a trellis for beans at SOF

Each share costs $20 (a membership fee so to speak) and requires 2 hours of work on the farm per week for a big bag of fresh, organic vegetables (and herbs/spices–we’ve gotten garlic, parsley, cilantro, chives, and basil).  Because we “share a share,” we each work an hour each week to put in our two hour total (usually a little bit more because we enjoy it and want to finish whatever task we’ve started).  Having never had a big vegetable garden before, we’ve both been learning a lot: planting, weeding (okay, those we could do), spraying, using different tools to till the ground up faster/work around plants, trellising tomatoes, and harvesting.  ISU’s SOF has two plots, one at the horticulture farm north of town and a plot on campus.  We’ve been at both, but usually end up at the on-campus plot, just because those work days are usually more convenient for our work schedules.

Speed weeding the eggplant

Speed weeding the eggplant

Amazed at the size of the sunflowers

Amazed at the size of the sunflowers

By working on the farm the previous week, on Tuesdays one can return the previous week’s now-empty bag and exchange it for another bag full of delicious new food.  Yesterday I picked up another bunch of basil, turnip greens, cucumbers, summer squash, carrots, green beans, chard, and kale.  Some of these veggies are new (I don’t think I’ve ever tried turnip greens before), so we’ve been experimenting with ways to incorporate our hard-earned harvest into our diet.  I planted the previous week’s basil, because Japanese beetles ate my potted basil.  They have finally started to perk up from the transfer, but our basil is now living indoors.  We live next to one of the agronomy plots, so I don’t think the beetles will be going away any time soon.  A few weeks ago we made what we dubbed “vegetable casserole” putting squash, beans, carrots, and potatoes (not from the SOF) together into the oven.  Last week my partner made “kale chips” for us one night–they were a great side for our veggie burgers.  A bunch of basil is a lot, even for people who put it on almost anything, so last week I made pesto, using my mom’s recipe.  Since I don’t think the pesto recipe is a secret family recipe, here it is if you want to try it:

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
2 large cloves garlic
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnut halves
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
Combine the basil, garlic,cheeses, and nuts in a food processor or blender.  Process to mix.  With machine running, slowly add the oil.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and process to the desired consistency.  Let stand for five minutes before serving.  Makes about one cup.

Pesto!

Pesto!

I ended up doubling the recipe to make “pesto pasta” (which was absolutely delicious if I say so myself).  We had a jar of Parmesan/Romano blend, so I just used that instead of buying each cheese separately (they were going to end up mixed in the end).  Also, I would recommend letting it stand longer than 5 minutes–we left it overnight and it had so much more flavor (but I’ve noticed that with other foods too–including the veggie casserole).  I used our blender to make the pesto, but it was slow going.  I’m assuming a food processor would be faster/more efficient, but we don’t have space for any more kitchen gadgets and knowing the pesto was going into pasta, I didn’t think it mattered if some of the basil leaves were more finely chopped than others.
Pesto Pasta with tomato and parmesan

Pesto Pasta with tomato and Parmesan

Also, to make the kale chips Alejandro washed and dried the kale, drizzled it with olive oil (1 tbsp. for 3 bunches), massaged the oil into the kale leaves, then baked them on a cookie sheet at 350 for seven minutes or until crispy (don’t let them get brown).  Sprinkle with a mix of kosher salt, paprika, and garlic.  (Delicious.)
Kale chips

Kale chips

The SOF has been a relaxing place to put some energy into our own food and learn a little bit more about what locally-grown really means and the fresh, organic veggies are a real treat after years of city-supermarket shopping.
Our first SOF share: green beans, carrots, kale, squash, onions, garlic, and chard

Our first SOF share: green beans, basil, carrots, kale, squash, onions, garlic, and chard

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