Think a moment about the last piece of fruit or vegetable you ate. Do you know where it came from? Do you know who grew it? If your answer to both is "no," consider this: If you were part of Morning Song Farm's Community Supported Agriculture, you'd know that it came from Rainbow, a burg in northern San Diego County. And you'd know that the farmer who grew it is a dedicated woman named Donna Buono.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), the idea behind Morning Song and other farms like it, is relatively new to the U.S. As a patron, you make a pledge by subscribing to the program; in return, you get a weekly basket of the farm's freshest and ripest. There are no middlemen, no farmers market—the goods pass directly from the farmer's hands to yours. Simple as that.
But as the seasons change, so does the variety. So don't expect to get tomatoes during winter months.
"Supporters have to love being part of the ebb and flow of a local, just-picked harvest, as opposed to walking into a grocery store and buying off the shelf from near and far," Buono says. "We like to think that our supporters are more than vegetable/fruit buyers, but rather passionate, committed, Community Supported Agriculture participants."
And, of course, everything from Buono's farm is certified organic.
Morning Song sponsors pick up their weekly baskets from four designated locations throughout the county. One, the Old Vine Café in Costa Mesa, isn't just a pickup spot for Buono's produce, it's also a showcase. And chef/co-owner Mark McDonald isn't just a customer of Buono's, but he's also a champion. He turns her macadamias into Old Vine's signature macadamia-nut butter, her kumquats into marmalade.
"I really enjoy the collaborative relationship we have," Buono says. "Poring over seed catalogs; adding more perennials like our blackberries, Cara Cara oranges and passion fruit; and then standing back and watching in amazement what he does with what we grow."
Buono's story started like those of other homegrown entrepreneurs. Her green thumb tended to a small organic garden at her home in San Clemente, where she still lives with her husband and children. She experimented with heirloom veggies and unusual fruits for use at the family table. Friends wanted in on the bounty, and she was happy to oblige. In exchange for a share in her harvest, they contributed money, time and resources to offset the costs of maintenance.
The rest, as they say, is history.
But since Orange County is no place to flesh out her "secret farming fantasies," they found 20 subtropical acres in northern San Diego County. It was a perfect fit, and Morning Song Farm as it stands today was born. Visit morningsongfarm.com to check what's in season.
We asked our favorite OC farmer to list her OC favorites:
1. "Of course I love The Old Vine Caféin Costa Mesa." 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 545-1411; www.oldvinecafe.com.
2. The boardwalk in San Clemente: "Park at North Beach near Ole Hansen Beach Club/and or the train station."
3. Casa Romantica: "It's the Ole Hansen house that was turned into a museum and cultural center perched on the beach cliffs in San Clemente." 415 Avenida Granada, San Clemente, (949) 498-2139; www.casaromantica.org.
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4. Avenida Del Mar in San Clemente: "I don't know any other place in Orange County that has such a cool main street and sense of community. Restaurants, shops, ice cream. There's an eclectic shop called Erba that I love to go to for gifts."
5. "I know this is so expected, but I have to count Orange County's beaches. The surf, the waves, the sandy beaches. Dog Beach at San Onofre is great if you have a dog."
6. "Of course, I have to count Orange County's climate. It's a pity the undeveloped hills aren't covered with frost-sensitive orange groves. They'd be easy, horticulturally, to grow here and would reduce the fire risk."
7. Lantern Bay Park: "The park near the Marriott Hotel in Dana Point is stunning. Its hilly grassland overlooks the harbor. When you can find parking, start there, and then climb down the million steps to the harbor, walk the harbor, and then return. It's quite a workout." 25111 Park Lantern Rd., Dana Point, (949) 248-3530.