The Day I Didn’t Scratch My Face Off

Fresh veggies!

Fresh veggies!

It’s springtime! Signs of life are all around us, with little critters and animals scurrying about, flowers in full bloom, and trees filling out their canopies of leaves…and I want to pop out my eyeballs, dunk them in Benedryl, and stay holed up in my air-conditioned house until…oh, I don’t know…maybe winter?

My contented view, from a window, of the great outdoors on Mother's Day.

My contented view, from a window, of the great outdoors on Mother’s Day.

Since my breast cancer diagnosis, seasonal allergies, which began in adulthood, are more fierce than ever before. The bloody noses, itchy and watery eyes, scratchy ears, and permanent tickle in the back of my throat are rivaled only by the ferocity of my sneezing fits. One outburst caught me by surprise, causing me to pull a groin muscle. (Only those of you comparable to me in lack of grace can sympathize with that.) The medicinal eye drops that best alleviate my symptoms are currently out of my price range, and no oral medications seem to help consistently.

All of this combines to make me a miserable specimen this time of year. Friends observe me and ask me if I’m doing okay, with a naked concern that reminds me of when my skin was gray and ashen after chemo. I must really look like crap.

My current physical state is easily manipulated into validation that, for me, being outside isn’t so great, anyway. I’m content to sit by a window, observing nature, instead of being outdoors participating in it. Hiking, swimming, picnicking, camping…they’ve never been my things.  After last year’s attempts at gardening, I’m okay with saying this year’s experiment is to observe how many species of weed will pop up on their own in our former growing space. While I, reluctantly, will admit it was satisfying to pull a beet out of the ground and say “I did it,” I lost steam at the end of the season last year. I know I can garden with some effort, but since I didn’t fall in love with it, I can let it go, too. This year, I’m not getting one little finger dirty. I’m not shielding my eyes from pollen, surgically-scrubbing my exposed limbs, or breaking a sweat, thanks to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

Weeds, in the name of science

Weeds, in the name of science

We are members of Lancaster Farm Fresh’s CSA program. This weekly way of procuring vegetables is satisfying to me because

  1. We are purchasing healthy, nourishing food that I do not have to grow. I don’t even need to go to a farmer’s market to select it, or to the grocery store to shop for it. It’s all packed together for me, in just the amount I need for a week, and I simply take my share and enjoy. This is what a busy (and unmotivated) person like me needs.
  2. The cost for the season is paid up front, but that advance allows the farms time to prepare and maintain their crops for the duration of it. We are supporting local organic farmers and business owners by purchasing through the program, and knowing that feels damn good.
  3. Our fellow pick-up site members are a cross-section of our community: retirees, stay-at-home moms, working professionals, large families and singletons. I’m meeting new people and forging new associations, while finding a few minutes in a busy day to also connect with established friends. This added social bonus is a nice touch.
  4. A big box of veggies can be intimidating if you don’t experiment fearlessly in the kitchen. I’m more of a follow-the-recipe girl myself, so receiving an email two days before pick up day has me searching for ways to prepare the CSA’s listed contents. In just the first few weeks, I’ve made Balsamic Chicken with Baby SpinachRhubarb Raspberry Compote, and a sauteed concoction of garlic, kale and bok choy that even my anti-greens husband ate without complaining. Part of the process is the planning, and I find myself relishing the challenge in that.
  5. My kids act like game show contestants when opening the box each week for “the big reveal.” I once attended a talk by a nutritionist who said we should make it exciting, and that participants should use their senses to explore the share’s contents. We smell the vegetables, we hold them in our hands, we examine them and discuss them and then taste them. I’ve discovered that the kids will try anything roasted in olive oil after getting to handle it for a few minutes before cooking. Engagement is key to inspire them to make good food choices, and since gardening is off the table, the share is the next best thing. Of course, washing and cleaning the produce is a vital step, too.
  6. The CSA is a reliable way to commit to healthy eating. The vegetables are there each week, without fail, and are already paid for. I’m throwing money away if we don’t use what we received, so I’m more motivated to stay on top of it.

I’ve had my fails with the influx of freshness, too. There were the kale chips that were soggy and limp, the greens I cooked until they were stringy and bitter, and the radishes that were utterly useless to us until I discovered they taste like turnips when steamed. I’ve attempted to freeze raw zucchini (don’t) and kept carrots in the fridge for too long (they became so flexible that peeling them was no longer an option.)

My eating habits are far from perfect, but the CSA and all it offers keep me on track more often than not. The nutritional needs of cancer patients and survivors cannot be overstated. Wholesome food will sustain me and aid me in combating the challenges my body faces. It also allows me to provide those same benefits for my family. Maybe these veggies will contribute to an immunity boost, so that my kids will never walk this path behind me. I’ll eat to that!