It’s December 22nd my friends! Which means there are exactly 3 days until Christmas, 9 days until New Year’s Eve, and 10 short days until our CSA launches for the 2019 season! It’s honestly hard to know which thing to focus my massive amounts of enthusiasm on because I adore the holidays, I’m so ready to start fresh with a new year (2018 was definitely not our year), and I love the wild energy and excitement surrounding the launch of a new CSA season (especially when we have so many new things to offer!).
But since I’ve got the majority of my presents purchased and planned (wrapping will have to come later), I know what I’m cooking for each of our four Christmases, and it feels a little early to dive into self reflection of the past 356 days, I think I’ll keep living in this moment of 2019 CSA planning obsession while streaming terrible holiday movies in the background.
And I want to take a moment in the middle of all this holiday hooplah to explain why focusing on CSA right now feels so good because if you were with us through the tumultuous 2018 season, you likely already know that the weather was brutal, the tomatoes rotted, the peppers fared horribly, and we truly didn’t know if we would make it to the end of our growing season. Yet through it all, our CSA prospered.
We expanded our CSA membership from serving 110 families in 2017 to feeding a little over 200 this past year. And with that massive scale up, we didn’t miss a beat. The boxes were beautiful and bountiful and colorful and better than the year before. Our communication and education materials got stronger and more clear. Our pilot programs of free-choice market-style CSA shares, add-on shares of other products, and flexible shares where folks get to choose their dates for delivery were all wild successes without the administrative burden I feared. Our two big farm events of the season were humbling successes. Our farm partnerships soared.
So before we even had a chance to thoroughly interpret our data from the season, we decided unequivocally by early November that CSA was our past, our present and our future. In a farm life that is crazy and exhausting and sometimes feels financially impossible, for us, CSA makes sense. For us, it works.
And that feels amazing to say out loud because there is a lot of talk in the CSA industry about the model changing and customers opting for meal kits and free grocery delivery over a relationship with their farmer. And I know I should feel threatened, and at weak moments I do, but I also feel the warm embrace of my community through good times and bad. I feel a business growing in alignment with its owners and its customers. A business that is nimble and dynamic and fun. And at the end of the day, through all the pain and hard that comes with farming, I feel so grateful to be able to build something that is this much fun.
So since early November I’ve taken that knowledge that we are going to double down on our CSA program and I’ve let my mind run free: designing the ways next year’s CSA program will be different, strategizing what we want the future of our business to look like, and updating our business plans and website accordingly. I love collecting feedback, crunching numbers and brainstorming wildly about what will make our farm life more sustainable and our customer experience even better.
I’ve come up with a lot.
For starters, we’re shortening the CSA season to 18 weeks so we can give folks more of what they want and less of what they don’t. We collected loads of survey results and had dozens of conversations to figure out which crops are the clear winners (tomatoes, carrots, onions, potatoes, lettuce mix) and which ones folks would be happy to see a little less of (or maybe not see at all). The shortening of the season will allow us to narrow our production of diverse crops ever so slightly ultimately helping us be much more efficient farmers in the long-term. It also allows us to offer a two-week storage share in the fall for the folks who really want to embrace and celebrate seasonal bounty.
We’re also expanding our free-choice market-style CSA program to 40 members and have set up an online store so folks can easily order exactly what vegetables they want each week. We will still have our traditional CSA program too and next year’s members will be able to choose between eight different options of size and delivery frequency so they can find the CSA share that really works best for their family, lifestyle and cooking habits.
And you guys, those are only the changes on the production side of the spectrum. We’re also drumming up new farm partnerships so that our members can order so much more than just veggies from us (think organic flour, dried beans, maple syrup, coffee, apples, cheese). We’re trying to figure out what services and products will really enhance the CSA experience for our members (new and old) and provide those as bonuses and offers during our sign-up launch period. We’re meeting with new site hosts so we have more convenient delivery locations (including one at a brewery that I’m over the moon excited for). We’re securing a delivery service for not only our two days of CSA delivery but also the majority of our restaurant deliveries. We’re lining up a worker share with years of experience as a food blogger who is going to create content for our private CSA Facebook group.
There is so much good brewing over here at the Raleigh’s Hillside Farm headquarters and so much changing in the best possible ways. It’s inventive. It’s invigorating. It’s totally and completely all-consuming. And just when I thought for a moment that all the scheming and dreaming was taking away from the sparkle and shine of the holidays, I pulled these ↑ delectable Christmas baked sandwiches straight from the oven, shared a perfect festive meal with my husband, and remembered that the holiday season is about anything and everything that makes you feel alive.
Merry (almost) Christmas everyone. May this holiday season be filled with love and magic, whatever that may look like for you.
BAKED CHRISTMAS SANDWICHES WITH SPICY CRANBERRY SAUCE
I also like to call these the “shit, I totally forgot people were coming over but still have all the ingredients to throw together these absolutely amazing and very festive” baked sandwiches. Because these totally delicious, stupidly easy one pan, one pot and one bowl sandwiches can be thrown together in 30 minutes and make the whole house smell like you had a plan all along. It’s also great when the holidays just suck all your energy and you need a delicious family-friendly meal on the table fast. Serve this baby with a green salad and everyone is sure to be satisfied. They also heat up great if you want to take them to that potluck holiday party.
Takes 1 hour minutes (30 minutes of active cook time)
12 rolls (I used Kings Hawaiian)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 pound thinly sliced deli meat of your choice (I used ham)
6 ounces sliced cheese of your choice (I used cheddar)
3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
Spicy cranberry sauce:
1 pint cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon candied ginger, optional
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 teaspoon dried garlic
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine all ingredients for cranberry sauce in a small saucepan. Heat over medium high heat until it begins to bubble (this should take about 10 minutes). Reduce heat to medium and let simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often until the mixture has thickened into a spreadable sauce. Remove from heat immediately and allow to cool while you build your sandwiches.
- While the cranberry sauce is thickening, prepare your mustard sauce. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.
- Drizzle a couple tablespoons of your butter mixture into a 9×13-inch or 9×9-inch pan depending what fits your rolls best.
- If your rolls came in a package all stuck together, cut them in half horizontally in one big block. If they didn’t, cut them in half individually. Place the roll bottoms in your buttered pan. Spread mayo evenly over bottom. Add deli meat followed by cheese. Top with mildly cooled cranberry sauce. I used about 2/3 of the mixture and saved the rest for another use. Spread mustard on the top of buns and press on top to finish the sandwich. Drizzle all the sandwiches with the butter mustard mixture. Cover with foil and bake 15 minutes.
- Remove foil and bake 10-15 minutes more until the tops are golden brown and a little crispy. Serve warm.