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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 43.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Know your farmer
Olbrich Gardens hosts a CSA open house
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Admit it: You're sick of rutabaga.

That's no slur against rutabaga and its cohort of root vegetables, of course. But as the days get longer and warmer, we yearn for some green on our plates. An abundance of freshly harvested produce is still a little ways away (except for the delicious spinach at the winter Farmers' Market), but you can begin planning for the summer's bounty on Saturday, 1-4 p.m., at an open house sponsored by the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition.

The event at Olbrich Botanical Gardens (3330 Atwood Ave.) will gather representatives of the coalition's 23 farms. So, before you join a community-supported agriculture farm, or CSA, you can put your hand in the hand that will gather your weekly helpings of fresh vegetables. 'We want people to get to know the farmers,' says MACSAC coordinator Laura Brown.

How does it work? At the beginning of the growing season, customers pay a CSA farm a fee, which can range from $375 to $780. In return, at regular intervals (commonly a week), farmers prepare a five-ninths-bushel box of produce reflecting whatever is ripe for the picking ' radishes and broccoli in early June, for example, or carrots and watermelon in late August. 'You get to really know what grows in Wisconsin when,' says Brown.

Members pick up their goodies at a predetermined drop-off point, often the home of a member ' or, says Brown, on the farm itself, 'if folks prefer to go out and have a farm experience.'

Why pay up front? 'The idea is that it gives farmers the boost they need at the beginning of the growing season,' says Brown.

At the open house, farmers will answer questions and sign up new members. MACSAC also is planning demonstrations, workshops and a raffle, and just 10 days before the general election, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz will be on hand to welcome the public.

Last year, the mayor bought a CSA share from the north side's Troy Gardens. 'It feeds into the buy-local concept, which he's always been a big supporter of,' says mayoral spokesman George Twigg.

MACSAC was started in the 1990s and now is one of the nation's strongest CSA networks. The notion of community-supported agriculture originated in Europe and Japan in the 1960s and emphasizes sustainable farming practices. All MACSAC member farms use organic techniques, though not all are certified organic.

CSA is a growing movement, with seven Madison-area farms added in the last two years alone. 'The new farms have a really interesting perspective,' says Brown. 'They come in seeing that CSA is a viable way to live, and that other farms have done it without having to grow corn and soybeans.'

Visit www.macsac.org for more information.

Woe is me, say New Yorkers transplanted to Madison. They can't ride the subway, not all the pizza is up to their exacting standards, and they have to wrap their minds around the confusing spectacle known as big-time college football.

On one front, though, things may be looking up. March 30 (or so) will see the opening of Gotham Bagels at 112 E. Mifflin St., former site of the downtown Jacobson Bros. The new eatery is the brainchild of two East Coast transplants: MATC culinary instructor Joe Gaglio and Ian Gurfield, proprietor and namesake of campus favorite Ian's Pizza.

'I grew up in Massachusetts, but my dad's family is from New York,' says Gurfield. 'I know exactly what a bagel should be like.'

But can New York bagels really be baked outside New York? As with most regional delicacies, a number of legends have grown up around New York bagels, prominent among them that they derive their ineffable greatness from New York City's water supply. In the interest of due diligence, Gurfield shipped Madison water to a New York bagel maker for testing. The result? No perceptible difference.

'It's one of these culinary myths,' says Gurfield. 'I think, with time, it's being disproved.'

This Sunday, March 25, is Maple Syrup Fest at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center (300 Femrite Dr., Monona, 221-4038). Watch as trees are tapped, sap is boiled and maple syrup is born. There will, of course, be samples. The fun gets under way at 1 p.m. Sweet!

New restaurants, always new restaurants: Burrito Drive (310 S. Brearly St.), Sloppy Lobster (8452 Old Sauk Rd., Middleton), Mediterranean Hookah (77 Sirloin Strip) and a Fitchburg outlet of Ancora Coffee Roasters at 2690 Research Park Dr. And coming soon to 2810 E, Washington Ave., the old Las Palmas site: El Pescador. But adieu to Kimia Lounge (14 W. Mifflin St.), which closed late last month.

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