After all these years we are still not sure if Susan is really human. We rather suspect that she is super-human. She cannot technically call herself a workershare since she has always paid full price for her share and still shows up to work 2 shifts every single week at the farm. Susan is more reliable and determined that anyone I have ever met. She shows up on the worst imaginable days when the weather is so crummy that I don't even want to be out there. She has put up with our marginal 3-season set up and froze her but off right along side us as we pack late season shares--and I can't remember her ever complaining about it. For as far as we have come at Three Sisters, we still have a long way to go. Susan has always believed in us even when we have doubted ourselves at times that things will work out. We are extraordinarily thankful for everything she has done and to know her and her family.
How long have you been a member with Three Sisters CSA Community Farm?
In anticipation of talking to you, Kelly and I brainstormed how long I’ve been there. I believe I started at the beginning of the 2014 season.
And you are a worker share, correct? Kelly told me you’ve “basically been keeping the farm running.”
I retired in may of 2012. I’ve always wanted to be part of a CSA, but there’s really only me in the house that would eat CSA kind of things. I live with my brother who hasn’t touched a vegetable since my mom fed him from the Gerber baby food jar. I also live with my 34 year old son who is profoundly disabled. So any vegetables I make for him must be mush. He loves potatoes and carrots and pasta sauce from tomatoes.
When I was working I couldn't imagine being able to cook enough to get through an entire box. Plus I was scared of getting things I didn’t recognize as vegetables and didn't know what to do with. So when I saw Three Sisters had the “choose your own” I thought it was great.
I signed up online and sent an email, and I’m sure they thought I was a complete lunatic. I said “I’m going to come work at your place.” Not “Can I volunteer? or “Can we talk about this?” Jeff very kindly excused how weird I was and said that the one thing they need help with was packing boxes on Thursdays.
So I’ve been doing that for coming up on my 6th season. I’m at the head of the line so I put in all the heaviest stuff. The watermelon and carrots and zucchini/cucumbers and squash. I love doing that, but I wanted to be more involved in part of the whole farm process. So one day I started asking about helping in the fields and I went one afternoon a week, Tuesdays, weeding and harvesting in addition to Thursday morning box packing. But I am just getting too old to work in the field, I just felt silly next to all the 20-somethings that actually work on the farm and can actually do the four hours and I’m just figuring out how to get on my knees.
So I asked if there was something else I could do, so now I go out on Wednesday afternoon and help bag the produce. Anything in rubberbands is done in the fields, but anything in bags is usually done by me and Kelly’s mom, Renee. We have a lot of fun, and now we’ll have somewhere warm to work to pack the fall shares. (Because of the newly insulated barn!)
What part of Southeastern WI do you live in?
Mequon (Susan takes her share home with her after helping out on packing morning.)
You must have gotten to know Jeff and Kelly pretty well by this point. Is there anything you want to say about the two of them?
When I first met them they weren’t married yet, so when they decided to get married, I was really happy for them.
I think they are so brave for what they do. It’s hard to struggle the way that they have and to keep moving forward and to realize they are going to get to an end result that’s going to work for them. I know they are still struggling so it makes me feel good to help out. It’s not easy what they do and they’re really making a lot of sacrifices. They’re both very educated and very smart, they could make a lot more money doing something other than what they do but they are doing something they believe in for a lot less money and that’s just tremendous.
I’ve met Kelly’s mom who lives next door and Kelly’s sisters who come to stay. And I’ve been sort of in on the conversations about what’s going on next and what the plans are. I’m very honored to be a sounding board for some of those discussions sometimes. They are great people.
How would you describe the experience of being connected to the seasons through being intimately connected to the farm?
It’s really fun to celebrate when new things appear on the packing line, but at the same time it’s really sad to see things go away.
For example at the very beginning of this season we had microgreens and I was so excited and they were so yummy, but they were only there for two weeks. They are so labor intensive so I’m not sure we’ll have them again. I was so excited to see them but it was such a short time.
My favorite recipe can be made pretty much solely from things from Three Sisters for one week a year. It has so many vegetables in it and they don’t come together at the same time. So I have to go to Outpost until Three Sisters has their version come in. So it’s really fun, sort of like having a solar eclipse and lunar eclipse all at once. That happened a couple of weeks ago where I had everything I needed and I only put Three Sisters produce in.
Now my summer is planned around when certain vegetables are going to be in my box from Three Sisters and know what I’m going to eat and what I will share. I share my box with a few very good friends.
When you’re on the packing line are there things you ever get sick of seeing?
I have to be careful, I’ve been putting watermelons in boxes for four weeks I think. And Jeff is considerably younger, taller and stronger than I am so he fills the crates full of watermelons and stacks them very high. So I have to always remind him that I need things lower to the ground. I always have to be thinking about how I move heavy things.
What’s really fun is when the really aromatic herbs come, or fennel, I’ll get a whiff of anise and I’ll know someone is putting fennel in a box. Or basil, every time Kelly picks up the basil to put it in the box I can smell it, even though she’s like three people down the line from me. It’s so fun.
You only get that level of scent with the fresh food…
Yes and the dill, and even the carrot tops. Some things are really auromatic and wonderful and you never know when they are going to come.
What do you tell people about your experience working on the farm and being a CSA member?
A lot of the people I talk to about Three Sisters are in CSA’s themselves. They’re not local to here - I have a lot of friends on the East Coast where I grew up. When we get together, we talk about food and it comes up. It’s interesting to hear how their CSA is different from Three Sisters. I think people are kind of amazed that I get to go grocery shopping every week with my CSA and I can do it on a computer. I don’t think many CSA’s are doing the customization that Three Sisters does.
We share recipes on Facebook - I remember one of my friends posting kohlrabi and somebody saying “I get kohlrabi and I don't know what to do with it,” so I posted a bunch of ideas. Renee, Kelly’s mom, has tons of recipes. It’s fun to be able to share that in common with friends from high school - I never would have imagined that.
The people I share the box with are people that live in Milwaukee’s inner city. They go to the Fondy Market which is great, but normally they just shop at the grocery store. They are always totally amazed at how good the food is.
What is your favorite CSA food item?
Probably tomatoes. Just because they are so versatile. When I was growing up my dad always had a patch of tomatoes in the backyard. Some of my most vivid memories are going in the backyard picking tomatoes for dinner. We cut the tomatoes in half and put some cheddar cheese on top and put them under the broiler. Tomatoes are also one of the things my son can eat and really enjoys.
Also, Kelly grabbed a bunch of green tomatoes for me last week, and one of my friends I share with is from Mississippi and has a family recipe for fried green tomatoes. Oh, they are so good!
What is your favorite thing about being a member of Three Sisters Community Farm?
I enjoy the process of being able to go out and see things that have just been put in the ground, then weed the things that are grown, then harvest those things and eventually put them in the box. There aren’t that many people that have that experience, especially with the variety of food. I used to have a small garden when I lived on the east side, but most people who have their own gardens can’t grow you know, the amount of varieties they grow.
It was really spectacular when they were in West Bend - Jeff and Kelly worked really really hard to improve that soil out there. They made compost with materials they had brought on, and to see how it changed the soil from season to season and how it changed the vegetables that grew in that soil was just amazing. We just don’t see that on most farms. It was really remarkable. It was amazing to see that process and watch Jeff and Kelly learn how to do it and make it work with very few resources and limited equipment.
What’s the most delicious meal you have had recently?
I love to go out to eat...that’s in part because when I was growing up we went out to eat exactly one time a year when my Grandpa would take us out. My parents couldn’t afford to take us out to eat, ever.
I have always loved to eat at restaurants every since I’ve been on my own. I have a lot of favorite restaurants in Milwaukee. One of my favorite chefs is Tory Miller (in Madison) and I just had a great meal at Graze recently. A friend and I drove to Madison on a Wednesday during the last week his restaurant Sujeo was open, and I did get to eat this magnificent bowl of Korean yumminess one last time. He opened Sujeo to make food he really loved to eat. It was his heart and soul in that restaurant, so it was really sad to see it close.
What’s the strangest thing you have ever eaten?
I eat a lot of what people might consider strange food. I took a sabbatical from Three Sisters last fall and went on the trip of a lifetime with my son. We took a 60-day cruise, round trip out of LA., and mostly to Asia. We got to eat a lot of really interesting Asain food. My favorite place was in Seoul, South Korea, we went on a tour of their version of “Old World Wisconsin” to show how Korean people used to live. We were served a traditional Korean lunch at a restaurant that was there. Bulgogi beef, you cooked yourself, rice, a big bowl of kimchi, other nibbles like pickled vegetables. I was in heaven.
What is one thing that is bringing joy into your life these days?
This is my favorite season - the fall. To be able to have the windows open, and it’s beautiful during the day. I have a bike that I ride with my son with a wheelchair on the front. He and this bike together weighs about 130 pounds, so I can't do it when it’s hot, but this is our primo riding time. I can bundle him up if it’s not raining and we can ride and I’m not sweating and we’re both really enjoying it.
What is one thing that is giving you pause, or reason for concern?
We’re maybe going to finally get rid of this disaster in the White House. Maybe it will work. I lived through the impeachment of Richard Nixon and I hope it doesn’t tear the country even more apart. It’s just so scary. This is the time, you know, if you’re living in pre-nazi Germany and you see what’s coming - what are you willing to stand up and do? We have to figure out what we’re each willing to do. I’m not going to live in a place where women don’t have rights and there are guns everywhere. I think it’s a very scary time.
Well, in that case - Onion or Garlic?
That’s not fair, they go together… Probably onions, just because I also view onions and scallions and leeks. So we have onions all season long pretty much and that’s fantastic because I put onions in everything. I couldn't live without onions, plus they last a long time. I can stockpile onions in my basement and be able to eat Three Sisters onions all winter long.
Is there anything you would like to share about seasonal eating, local food, CSA membership or anything else related to these topics that you have never had the chance to say?
I’m just really excited that the farm will be going to ten months. It’s such a huge undertaking and I'm going to try any way I can to make it work. That’s just going to be the best things ever. I could never live in a place like FL because I could never do the climate. But I’m really jealous of people that can eat fresh food in their gardens all year round. This is going to be almost the same. Everybody needs to support a ten month CSA.
Susan's Recommended Recipe
Adapted from Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
4 cups tomato juice
1/2 cup finely minced onion
1 medium clove garlic, crushed
1 medium bell pepper, minced
1 teaspoon light honey or sugar
1 medium cucumber (peeled, seeded, minced)
2 scallions, minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup minced parsley
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups diced fresh, ripe tomatoes (peeled, seeded)
Salt, pepper, cayenne to taste
Purée all ingredients in blender. Chill overnight. Serve cold.
Jeff Schreiber has been farming organically for 10 years. In 2011 he started Three Sisters Community Farm with his wife, Kelly.