The fresh connection: Healthful eating is always in season

It's a long time from age 2 to age 3, so it's not surprising that Nori Catalano (now age 4) forgot what peaches were. She hadn't seen the fuzzy fruit for a year, and when it crossed her plate one afternoon last summer, confusion set in.

"The feel and taste of a peach had slipped from her little memory," explained Michele Catalano, mother of Nori and a true seasonal eater who serves as program manager of the Pike Place Market Basket CSA - Community Supported Agriculture.

"Friends thought it was sad that she couldn't remember what peaches were," remembered Catalano. "I thought it was great: we eat with the seasons."

The Pike Place Market Basket CSA, a cooperative made up of more than 30 local farmers who also sell at the Market, has connected the public with seasonal, organic and local food for nearly a decade. Members prepay for the season and join a community of consumers who support sustainable agriculture and the local farmers who practice it. They also receive some of the freshest produce available in Washington.

"The quality of the produce is excellent," says Christine Larsen, a graphic artist and Queen Anne resident who has participated in the Market CSA for six years. "I like the opportunity to support local farmers and engage in an activity that is more sustainable than buying organic produce shipped from Chile."

As the distance our food travels to the grocery store increases, supporting local farmers and engaging in sustainable practices is becoming vitally important.

"The CSA is something that we depend on, and it makes our involvement with the Pike Place Market worthwhile," said Marilynn Lynn, a CSA farmer and co-owner with her husband Rick of their organic Rama Farm.

The couple travels 250 miles one way from their farm in Bridgeport, near Omak, to deliver their soft tree fruits - peaches, apricots and nectarines - to the Market. Belonging to the CSA helps make the long trip worthwhile because of the volume of fruit that they presell to CSA members.

"We know that a generation ago most farmers had, on average, a 20-mile commute to the Market," said Catalano. "Now our farmers are coming from farther away to sell in the city. It's very challenging because urban sprawl is eating up the farmland."

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service 1997 U.S. Census of Agriculture, more than 20 percent of the farmland in the Puget Sound region - amounting to more than 100,000 acres - was lost to other uses in the 15 years between 1982 and 1997. King and Snohomish counties lost 30 percent of their farmlands to other uses in this period. During the 15-year period between 1982 and 1997, smaller farms have declined the most dramatically: 1,500 farms of less than 50 acres were either converted to non-farm uses or consolidated into larger farms.

"Our program has made it more [feasible] for growers to come to Seattle," said Catalano.

And more growers are selling in Seattle because of Catalano, a bright-eyed woman who inspires you to eat your fruits and vegetables.

When Catalano began running the program in 1999, there were 130 members. Today more than 750 Seattleites take home a basket during the summer months.

"I ran a brokerage business for 10 years," said Catalano with a smile. "Now I just broker food. I don't make as much money, but I eat well."

The CSA program runs for 20 weeks from mid-June through October. Members prepay $570 ($545 if you pay with a check) and receive fresh-from-the-farm fruits, vegetables, nuts and honey. You can pay a little more and get weekly Market flowers as an add-on.

"I can't think of anything that I don't like in the basket," said an exuberant Priscilla Lauris, Queen resident and seven-year member of CSA. "Apples and potatoes and lettuce - it just makes you want to have a salad every night; it's just great. Garlic and onions - you will even get fresh honey now and then. It's just a joy."

"We are definitely getting our five servings of fruits and vegetables a day," said a laughing Larsen, who during the summer commutes to work on a bike and picks up her CSA basket at the Pike Place Market on the way home. "Every other week you get an interesting vegetable like amaranth or some specialty greens. It's always fun to find some-thing new."

Catalano and her staff enjoy adding unique foods like cranberry beans, edamame, arugula and pea vines to the baskets. CSA members receive a weekly newsletter that includes a list of the participating farms and recipes for that week's produce.

"The seasonality of this kind of eating prompts anticipation," said Catalano. Basket contents change from month to month - berries, melons, corn - and members eat produce that is literally just picked.

"I think that the fresh sweet corn is at the top of my list," offered Lauris. "It is such a treat, and you know it was just picked that morning."

It is no secret that fresh-from-the-vine-produce tastes better. However, eating foods when they are in season may also offer hidden health benefits. According to Elson M. Haas, a medical doctor and author of "Staying Healthy with the Seasons," there is a two-way communication between man and nature that affects both your inner harmony and your physical well-being.

"Food both creates your body and serves as your fuel," explains Haas. "Depending on your climate and activity, your optimum foods will vary in content and quantity."

The CSA offers the perfect oppor-tunity to eat seasonally and keeps members in touch with what is farmed in Washington and when it is seasonally available. Another added benefit of the Market CSA is that it works with farmers on both sides of the mountains. Members receive fruits and melons from Eastern Washing-ton that won't grow west of the Cascades.

"I know that there are farmers participating in the Pike Place Market because of the CSA," said Marilyn Lynn. "The program brings more farmers and customers together and makes that connection happen."

All farmers who participate in the CSA program are required to sell at the Market at least one day a week. CSA members can find more of the fresh produce that they love and meet the farmers who grow it.

"We get wonderful feedback from people who come and talk to us about our farm," said Lynn. "They want to know who we are, where our farm is. They just want to know that there is a real human being behind that food."

As pesticide use increases and the world of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) gets spookier and spookier, real human beings doing real human farming is real important - and necessary.

Farmers are the stewards of our lands," concluded Catalano. "This program is about preserving farmland, helping local farmers and becoming aware of what is available in your community."

Luckily for us, what is available in our community is sumptuous and leafy produce that feeds your soul as well as your cells. Enjoy![[In-content Ad]]