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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 30, 2002

Our Town: Purple peppers, blue potatoes Our Town: Purple peppers, blue potatoes (January 30, 2002)

by Elizabeth Lorenz

The first time I ever ate a blue potato was at Flea Street Cafe in Menlo Park.

Somehow, my brain wiring couldn't accept the fact that the potato would taste the same in blue as in regular potato-color. I was expecting it to taste like a blueberry or something. No matter that as kids, my sister and I had no qualms about putting green food coloring into pancake batter and joyfully eating the results.

Perhaps our palates were broadened by literary influences as well. Being read Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" definitely aroused our curiosity, especially when it was discovered that such fare was actually quite tasty.

Today, I can say I'm an old hand at eating untraditionally colored vegetables. Just the other night we ate spaghetti sauce I made with orange tomatoes. Purple peppers went into a roasted pepper soup not long ago.

Every week from May to November, I pick up a slatted basket filled with various in-season things such as orange-yellow tomatoes, white eggplant, purple peppers, yellow-and-green-striped squash and even yellow watermelon. These alien-looking pieces of produce are usually scattered among ordinary deep-red tomatoes, dark-green chard, orange sugar pumpkins and emerald-green basil.

It's all part of the fruits (pun intended) of the Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at Hidden Villa in Los Altos Hills. Organically grown produce is lovingly tended by the staff, as well as volunteers who also can learn close up what it's like to see things grow.

When you sign up for the CSA, you pay for a "share" of produce for a season. That means the crops that work will end up in your basket. Like a farmer, you also sign up for the risk and cost that goes with crops that don't make it, or get chewed by neighboring deer. The program even offers the opportunity for city folk to come and help pick the harvest.

I am much more in touch with the rhythms of the seasons since becoming part of the CSA. No longer do I expect to find farm-fresh tomatoes or strawberries in March, or really good corn in October. We eat with the seasons now, enjoying the waves of harvest as they come.

We watch squirrels and robins feast on persimmons growing on neighbors' trees, and anticipate the ripening of our oranges in mid-winter.

We are spoiled here in California, since we can get pretty much anything year-round, or import it from somewhere else if we are willing to pay more for it: like $5.99 for a tiny plastic container of blueberries grown in some South American country.

My mom, who is from the East Coast, used to remind us how lucky we were, eating fresh green salads. In Montreal, where she grew up, winter meant virtually no salads and lots of canned vegetables. A head of lettuce just wouldn't make the trip very well, and if it did it would be prohibitively expensive.

I can't wait until May, when our basket will have the first garlic, lettuce and maybe even a fragrant bouquet of sweet peas. The basket won't be full at first, but as the summer goes on it will become heavier and harder to carry to the car. I never decide what to have for dinner until I can see what's in the basket -- if there's fresh basil, then a pasta with pesto sauce might be in order; fresh corn and watermelon means a barbecue.

It's also fun to look at the CSA Web site to watch the crops grow before our eyes, or read the weekly newsletter written by the farmers to find out the latest on how the tomatoes are doing, or which seedlings they've just planted.

The best part is that I simply feel more connected to the Earth.

Elizabeth Lorenz is associate editor at the Palo Alto Weekly.


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