Local Farm Highlight: Katherine and Abe's Asian Vegetable CSA

This summer, we are so excited to offer locally farmed greens such as amaranth and sword lettuce from Katherine and Abe's Asian Vegetable CSA located just a mile from here on High Falls Farm. Growing on a small scale and working primarily by hand, they aim for a minimal reliance on fossil fuels and commit to using no commercial synthetic fungicides or pesticides, even those that are approved for organic use. Now is our chance to learn more about their journey to the Hudson Valley, their food philosophy, and their plans for the future!

How did you and Abe get started in farming? What drew you to this area?

I worked on different vegetable farms in the Hudson Valley over the last three seasons, and Abe and I lived in New York City before that.  This is Abe's first season farming! We both have a hand in it all, though generally I'm overseeing what goes on in the field, and Abe has been handling our outreach and communications, including speaking with community members who are more comfortable communicating in Mandarin (he's fluent and I'm not), and making sure most of our communications are bilingual and get translated into Chinese.  That part is pretty challenging, since neither of us read or write in Chinese. We'll run something we've written through Google Translate, and Abe will call up his parents, or sometimes mine, to see just how far off Google Translate got it. You can imagine a lot of work goes into creating an acceptable translation. We do our best. If we had the capacity to communicate in more languages, we would.

Having lived in New York City for most of our adult lives, it's felt like home more than anywhere else.  We moved up to the Hudson Valley so I could pursue farming while staying close to our communities in NYC.  I started out on a farm in Eastern Dutchess where I lived in apprentice housing while still being based in the South Bronx, and after that Abe and I moved to Poughkeepsie.  Now we live in Stone Ridge. It seems every year we have been moving a little further westward to get closer to High Falls! In the different places we've lived, we've been able to experience and appreciate the beauty and diversity of the Hudson Valley's natural landscapes.  I feel like the Hudson Valley is known for this, but there is also a human diversity that is not as widely acknowledged and celebrated in our local media. Take local agriculture: there are a lot of farmers of color out here--workers, managers, owners--you just don’t see us as often in those glossy magazine spreads, especially those who are doing the most of the physical work but don’t have ownership in the farm where they work.

How long have you had the vegetable CSA in High Falls and what kinds of vegetables do you currently offer?

We just started our vegetable CSA this season.  We go to Poughkeepsie on Tuesdays and have a Saturday morning pick-up in High Falls.  We offer full shares (weekly pick-up) and half shares (every other week). We’re still taking new members in High Falls for this season, so it’s not too late if folks want to join!  Our goal is to make more widely available the vegetables and herbs that are especially cherished by many Asian-American families in the Hudson Valley.  Because we are currently focused on crops that we are familiar with growing (and enjoy eating), the majority of our offerings reflect the traditions of various East Asian cuisines, along with varieties of vegetables, culinary herbs and medicinal herbs that are found in South and Southeast Asian cooking.  

We’ve been calling it the Asian Vegetable CSA, which is effective shorthand language for reaching our target communities, but Abe and I talk about changing the name in the future, perhaps if we get around to having a farm name!  Asian-American folks get it--the vegetables themselves aren’t “Asian,” they’re simply used within the ancestral culinary traditions they’re familiar with or reconnecting with. But outside our community, it can create some confusion.  People have asked me what we’re growing and seem disappointed if I tell them we’re growing tomatoes, cilantro and scallions. Yup, we eat those too! I’ve also been asked what’s the “craziest” thing we’re growing. Our answer: it’s all normal.  It’s all food.

Our focus is on bringing more culturally relevant produce that is fresh and sustainably grown to our communities, and at the same time we are doing our best to encourage cultural appreciation, as opposed to cultural appropriation or erasure, of the foods that hold so much meaning for us.  That means honoring the diverse traditions where our food has come from, and most of the time, if we can trace back a cultivated crop’s history far enough, that also means acknowledging its indigenous origins. For example we grow varieties of amaranth that have been cultivated for the greens.  Amaranth greens are known by many names, including xian tsai in Taiwan and callaloo in Jamaica. I’ve eaten it stir-fried with garlic and sometimes fish. It’s a staple cooking green across many cultures, including in West Africa, across the Caribbean and throughout Asia. One story I read about amaranth that I love is about its place in Aztec cultures.  The plant was a staple in their diets and a sacred crop used in religious ceremonies, and because of this, when Spanish Christian conquistadors arrived, they outlawed amaranth as a pagan crop and ordered that all the amaranth fields be destroyed, not knowing that they were simply resowing the seeds and, more importantly, that some Aztec people were risking their lives to continue cultivating and using amaranth in secret.  Now amaranth has spread across the world, and today we have access to a nutritious grain and green because of the knowledge and resistance of indigenous peoples.

One thing I love about the High Falls Food Co-op is that everyone is open having these conversations with us.  By communicating with members about where food is grown and how it was grown, we can share deeper stories about our crops so that we as a community can understand and embrace the cultural context of our foods.

Thank you Katherine and Abe!

CSA share pick-ups are available on Saturdays in High Falls and Tuesdays in Poughkeepsie.

Learn more and sign up to become a CSA member at: https://asianvegetablecsa.wordpress.com/

Follow them on Facebook: AsianVegetableCSA

Contact Katherine and Abe at asianvegetablecsa@gmail.com or (917) 830-5238

Danielle Adams