About 20 years ago, my friend Judy called me very excited. “I heard about this new thing that’s about to start,” she said, “you can buy vegetables directly from a farmer.
Its all organic and the farm’s just over in Rancho Bernardo. I’m going to join, do you want to join with me?”
It was my introduction to Community Supported Agriculture and its been a part of my family’s lives ever since.
Judy and I were both journalists so we took a trip out to Be Wise Ranch see exactly what this was all about. We met farmer Bill Brammer, a giant of a man with enormous hands and a deep voice. Bill is a man of few words but we soon got the picture of how this “buy directly from the farmer” system would work.
Every quarter, we’d pay a flat fee to the farm. In exchange, we’d get a box of whatever was ripe, every week. In summer, we’d get corn, tomatoes, and watermelon. In winter it would be broccoli and strawberries. There would always be baby greens and several kinds of citrus, as well as avocado much of the year. And then there would be changing crops like potatoes, radishes, all kinds of greens, and so on. Boxes were to be dropped off at centralized locations across the county.
Judy and I were both gardeners so we knew the value of what he was offering and the hard work involved in growing it ourselves. We each had small children and were scrambling to get our professions off the ground, working around “being moms.” We signed up right away.
The produce was amazing. The challenge for me was getting it. The drop off was just a few blocks from my house, on the second story of a small office building. Problem was, I couldn’t go without my kids, one of whom was a toddler and one still learning to walk. With the toddler by the hand and the younger one in a backpack, carrying bags of produce to the car was impossible
That situation soon alleviated itself, however. The woman who at the drop off lost her lease. The minute I heard, I offered our house as a drop off and its been that way ever since.
Be Wise’s CSA has changed in many ways over the years. It was the first and only CSA when it started. Today, there are about a dozen CSAs in San Diego County. Its grown from just a few dozen subscribing families to close to 2,900 families. The farm expanded to about 900 hundred acres in the 90s, then shrunk to 240 acres after land was lost to development and to fire. The farm’s methods and management have changed and upgraded significantly since the beginning as well.
And my children, now in their early 20s, grew up with the best, freshest, most delicious produce imaginable. Until they left home for college, they didn’t know what was like not to “get a box” every week. They recognize good produce, they know how to prepare it, and they look for the best. In fact my son, now a senior in college in the Midwest, texts nearly every week, asking for my recipe for leeks or fennel or some other vegetable he grew up eating. He was surprised to find that those vegetables are not standard fare where he is.
And as for my vegetable gardening…you might think that being part of a CSA would make me lazy about growing my own. On the contrary…knowing that we will get a box of the basics (plus a few surprises) every week freed me up to try growing other things. Even more, it’s given me the flexibility try new things in my own garden. Every spring for the last 10 years, my editors at Organic
Gardening Magazine sends me interesting vegetable, herb, and flower seeds to try in my garden. Ten or eleven other
people around the country do the same thing and our results are reported in the January issue. I never know what I’ll get or how it will do, but I know I can rely on my Be Wise box for all the essential – and more.
Thanks Bill, Sandra, and their crew for their incredible hard work and dedication at making Be Wise a part of my family’s life and the lives of so many, many other families across San Diego County. You’ve fed a generation of children and families. That is an accomplishment to be proud of!