Surprises await from organic gardens

Container-grown carrots, right, offer welcome addition to Keys tables.  The large specimen, left, came from an organic farm in the Redland.
Container-grown carrots, right, offer welcome addition to Keys tables. The large specimen, left, came from an organic farm in the Redland. Keynoter Contributor

I consider myself an adventurous eater. I like to try different foods, but what a challenge when I signed up for the Redlands Organics CSA vegetable share last winter.

CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) share harvest from local farms. In this case, Redlands Organics has a group of farms and businesses in the Redlands area in South Miami-Dade County.

The food is locally grown, mostly organic, and seasonal. You get what can be grown at this time of year; nothing shipped in from outside.

I grow some of our own produce in my small raised bed. The idea of having freshly-grown local produce to supplement the vegetables from our garden seemed perfect.

What a surprise when I picked up my first CSA box in Big Pine Key and excitedly opened it. The first thing I saw was a huge daikon radish. What? And dandelion greens, yukina savoy, oh brother. Thankfully I saw a few things I recognized like green beans, lettuce and cherry tomatoes. Enclosed was a newsletter with photos describing the contents and a couple of suggested recipes.

Still, I had to research recipes for the daikon radish, while the other things I figured could be stir-fried or boiled like collard greens. I made a delicious daikon radish and chicken Korean-style dish.

The next shipment's surprise was callalo, roselle, Asian eggplant as well as a selection of more familiar items like lettuce, avocados, yucca, scallions.

Again, more internet-browsing for recipes for the exotics and then another couple of hours cooking them.Thank goodness shipment day is Sunday when I had time. My husband, a very easy-going guy, was my guinea pig. However he drew the line at the very green callalo soup I served him.

And so it went on for 20 weeks. Every Sunday morning I picked up my box, researched recipes for the unfamiliar items and cooked them up immediately. Gradually I became less intimidated with the different vegetables and even appreciated kale. Who knew kale chips could be so good.

I decided not to sign up again for 2011-2012 as I wanted to concentrate on my own vegetable garden and supplement as needed with store-bought items. I am currently nurturing bush beans, collard greens, bell peppers and broccoli. It is only now, when I am still waiting for my garden to produce, that I am missing my CSA surprises.

A couple of years ago my husband and I started eating more vegetables and fruit and less meat. Research has shown that incorporating more veggies and fruit into your diet can help reduce risk of heart disease, lower BMI, lower blood pressure, provide better blood sugar control and reduce cholesterol.

Not only is your health improved, but the environment benefits as well. Recently the United States Geological Survey reported that 40 percent of fresh water used in the U.S. went to irrigate feed crops for livestock. Only 13 percent was used for domestic purposes, including showers, flushing toilets, washing cars and watering lawns.

Record droughts in Texas and Mexico have had drastic effects on the livestock industry.

Eating more veggies and less meat is not only a heart-healthy choice, but goes a long way toward conserving freshwater, an important, in-demand and unpredictable natural resource.

Shirley Gun is a member of the Keyswide nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education. She writes about green living and the four R's -- reducing, reusing, recycling and rot (composting). She can be reached at