Seeds are rife with symbolism. Imagery of new life, promise and growth are all packed into a tiny handful. So, it seemed fitting that on the very first day of 2014, the team at the Restoration Farm CSA in Old Bethpage was already focused on the potential of the coming growing season with seed catalogs spread out deliberating the size, shape, color and cost of the food that will grace our tables in the year to come.
The annual seed selection has become a ritual at Restoration Farm, according to head grower Caroline Fanning. The solitary act of poring through catalogs to find the best price on organic seeds is tedious and time intensive, so some years back she turned it into a social event inviting CSA members to share in a communal pot luck lunch.
So, on January 1, 2014, I find myself sitting around the table with Caroline and CSA members Judy Stratton and Yvette Wang each paging through the catalogs from High Mowing Organic Seed, Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Fedco to comparison shop and debate the virtues of various seed varieties. As always, Caroline is extremely organized. We attack the list alphabetically, beginning with Astro arugula. I’ve got the best price in my catalog at $26 per pound. We click down the list — Genovese basil, purple opal basil and yellow bush beans — comparing prices and reviewing the descriptions to confirm each variety will perform well on Long Island. In some cases, the price difference can be significant.
When we get to fava beans, the debate begins in earnest. Caroline says the cost of organic fava beans is high, and they require a lot of hands-on work for CSA members. Is it worth it? Judy loves the taste of fava beans and makes a passionate plea. They remain on the list. All this talk of vegetables is making me hungry, and I’m soon craving a platter of sautéed broccoli.
Touchstone gold beets prompt a spirited conversation. Caroline says they can be irregular and can turn gray when cooked, but I like the look of golden beets on a salad platter. We do a little more research and find a new variety called Boulder that promises better germination and will retain its golden color when cooked. I’m also intrigued by a candy-striped variety of red beets called Chiogga. Caroline cuts a deal, if the Touchstone gold beets go, we can replace them with a combination of Boulder gold and Chiogga. Who knew that ordering seeds was so much like horse-trading?
In several hours, we move from cabbage to carrots to cucumbers. Bolero carrots and atomic red carrots make a return; we add a purple variety and agree to try a small experiment with Skywalker cauliflower, in part because we think the name is cool. While there will be several more days of seed selection ahead before the actual orders are placed, we break for a delicious potluck lunch of soup and bread, and I have a deeper appreciation for the decision-making that happens months before our vegetables are harvested. But, perhaps it is CSA member Jen Wang who notes the most important factor in deciding which seeds to purchase and plant — make sure the vegetable variety has a name that Restoration Farm CSA members can pronounce!
T.W. Barritt blogs at culinarytypes.blogspot.com.