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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Pick Your Own Pesto

Air Date: Week of

Host Steve Curwood returns to the Caretaker Farm in Western Massachusetts for the fall harvest season as the third part in a series on "community sustainable agriculture." The Anderson family have paid shares in the farm, and Curwood is invited back to their kitchen to sample some homemade pesto they're preparing for the winter ahead.


CURWOOD: On a small farm in western Massachusetts, a dozen or so people stand inside a faded red barn and fill baskets and bags with produce from long wooden tables. It could be any one of hundreds of farm stands around New England. But it doesn't take long to notice that here, no money is changing hands. This is a community-supported farm, and these people already own this food. They each bought a share in the farm's produce months ago. The return on that investment is measured in pounds of potatoes, lettuce, carrots, and onions.

CURWOOD: Well hi, there.

ANDERSON: How are you doing? Good to see you.


ANDERSON: Yeah, great.

CURWOOD: So you're here to get your stuff.

ANDERSON: Oh yes, definitely. This is Tuesday, and we, you know, you center your lives around these days.

CURWOOD: We first met Dale Anderson and his 10-year-old daughter Chickie in the spring, planting potatoes here at Caretaker Farm.

C. ANDERSON: Are you gonna get the peppers?

D. ANDERSON: Well I'm sure, there's not a huge choice here.

C. ANDERSON: Okay, I'll have to get a pound. I think this is different kinds; I think the red is ruby and the other kind is some other kind of chard, but they both taste the same. That's good enough.

CURWOOD: This summer has been a good one for Caretaker farm and its members. But as the growing season winds down, Dale Anderson feels a sense of urgency, especially about some of the herbs.

D. ANDERSON: There's a lovely sign out there; I don't know if you happened to notice. But when you pick your basil for your pesto, and you want to make sure you get all you need before the first frost. The sign out there says, "Pick before October." We're trying to pick some more today, because we could have a frost any moment. So you've got to get your basil, as much as you can before the first frost.

CURWOOD: You're a serious pesto man.

D. ANDERSON: Oh. You could bathe in pesto at our house. We've got enough pesto, I think, to last us for 5 years. But we want more. Because there's nothing like pesto in the middle of January.

CURWOOD: Across from the barn, there's a small herb garden where Dale Anderson cuts the basil himself.

D. ANDERSON: See how deft I am? I'm just like a barber. I never make a mistake, otherwise I lose my finger, you see?

CURWOOD: Meanwhile, his daughter Chickie is between 2 rows of tomato plants, filling up a bag with cherry tomatoes.

C. ANDERSON: I think it's really neat that you can just pick this tomato and eat it without having to wash it, because they don't use pesticides and stuff like that. So you don't have to worry about any chemicals in your food.

CURWOOD: Nearby, another member of the farm is loading what looks like a hundred pounds of tomatoes into a cart.

CURWOOD: This looks like a major tomato operation here. Somebody's canning; are you canning a fair amount?

WOMAN: I'm going to make tomato sauce and freeze it. And maybe also some tomato chutney.

CURWOOD: The growing season may be coming to a close, but Caretaker Farm will help sustain its members throughout the long New England winter. Farm owner Sam Smith says this has become an important part of the farm's relationship with its community. The farm stores potatoes and onions at a root cellar, and distributes them to members, sometimes into spring. And they grow extra amounts of some produce, just so members can put them up for the winter.

S. SMITH: For years now we've been encouraging people to come and just pick, pick as much as they want, and freeze it or can it, put it by. So that the farm can contribute even a greater amount to their total family household food requirement.

(Door opening. Man: "Come right in. Okay.")

CURWOOD: The Anderson household is just a few minutes away from Caretaker Farm in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The screened-in back porch leads to the kitchen, where Dale and Chickie begin their Tuesday afternoon routine.

D. ANDERSON: Tuesday, from 3 o'clock on, is dedicated to vegetables. And the real change for us is by being a part of this whole program, you do participate in the creation of this fresh environment. Otherwise, I would do what everyone else does. Go to the store, like I do during the winter, and get my beets and whatever I can find and it takes less time doing it that way. But you don't - two things: you don't have as fresh food, which is one key item. You can literally taste the difference in the lettuce. But the other aspect of it is, you suddenly begin to have a different relationship to the lettuce, and the beets, and the potatoes. It's something very hard to explain. But you suddenly feel like you're, you're really nurtured by it, because you've been there from the moment it was taken out of the ground.

CURWOOD: Tell me, Dale, you do all the cooking here?

D. ANDERSON: Yes. I am now in charge of the kitchen. It's part of something that just has worked out very well. My wife has started her own business.

C. ANDERSON: Boy, is the cooking much better. Mom would just throw together something.

CURWOOD: One of Dad's favorite creations is pesto. He's been a pesto-making machine lately, stocking up on the stuff for winter like a squirrel stashing nuts. Chickie assembles the food processor as her father pulls together the ingredients. First, chunks of parmesan cheese, then a handful of pine nuts are tossed into the food processor. Then some olive oil, and the basil leaves.

D. ANDERSON: Okay, give it the gun. [Speaks loudly over food processor] Just like Mister Rogers used to show, you know, on TV, this stuff just magically turns itself into - turns itself, come on, turn, turn! It's happening. And once you stop it, take the top off quickly - oh, just take a sniff. Just take a...

CURWOOD: That's really strong.

D. ANDERSON: That is a -

CURWOOD: I'm going to - [sneezes] sneeze!

D. ANDERSON: That has a powerful effect on people. We've lost people, they go right out the door with that, that sneeze. All right, now, this is for my friend here, take a nice, nice taste.

CURWOOD: Thank you.


CURWOOD: [Bites into what sounds like Italian bread] Mmmmm.



D. ANDERSON: Isn't that delightful?

CURWOOD: So how much pesto have you made this summer, so far?

D. ANDERSON: Well just to give you an idea here, come over here.

CURWOOD: We're opening the freezer, now.

D. ANDERSON: Go in the freezer, and this is the size, typical size -

CURWOOD: This is an old margarine tub, here. You've got -

D. ANDERSON: Four or 5 here. And then we have, you can scoot down and see more piled up there. Plus I have some downstairs in the freezer. So I'd say we have about 25 containers. And our goal is to have pesto throughout the winter.

CURWOOD: Dale squeezes the freezer door shut. Over the next few months, containers of pesto will emerge, and remind them of Caretaker Farm and the summer's labors. After the demonstration, Dale and his daughter and kitchen partner Chickie gather up the basil stems, the carrot and beet tops, and other scraps, and walk out to the compost heap.

CURWOOD: What has this done for your relationship with your kids?

D. ANDERSON: Oh I tell you, I think that it's just, for them, a wonderful experience both being at the farm and having that experience. But also I think, seeing me get involved with food in this way and finding it being a creative endeavor, I think it's inspiring.

CURWOOD: The compost heap is almost unrecognizable. it's covered with long green vines, with foot-wide leaves, still green basketball-sized pumpkins, and softball-sized acorn squash.

CURWOOD: Where did all this come from? You didn't plant this in here.


C. ANDERSON: We kept all of our squash that we got from the farm in the fall. There's like, tons of squash you get. And I guess we mostly threw away rotten pumpkins, like old Jack-O-Lanterns and acorn squash, they probably grew into the plants.

D. ANDERSON: So that's an add-on to the grandeur of Caretaker. You end up with - it follows you home. And we're just going to harvest this at some point; I don't know what the heck we're going to have, but we'll probably make pesto out of it. [Laughs]

CURWOOD: The Anderson's newfound relationship with their food, and the land and people which produced it, will continue through the winter. Meanwhile, the proprietors of Caretaker Farm will be reviewing the season's output and finances, and taking some lessons for next year. We'll check back with them in a few weeks as we conclude our series on community-supported agriculture.



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