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Saturday, July 31, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
Just a few tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, the first-ripening of the large quantities hanging green on the plants. Once again we're going for our popular multi-color and multi-flavor cherry tomato mixes, though I think this week there will be less than ten pints. They're ripening, though.
Mixed green beans will also make their first appearance; drawn from up to five different varieties, these standard beans are excellent steamed with a bit of salt or used any other way you like. Yellow, green, purple, and several patterned heirloom varieties included.
Edamame in limited quantities; it'll be one more week before the main plantings kick in. Tomatillos & okra also in limited, beginning to form quantities.
Cucumbers will again be plentiful. Get a batch of picklers for fresh or fridge pickles (try Show Me Eats' Momofuku Vinegar Pickles; very easy and yummy). Also enjoy the tastier yellow/white heirloom varieties, which I've had multiple customers (including one of our restaurants) rave about.
Garlic will begin to hit its stride with most of our standard varieties. Still taking a long time to fully cure, but we're willing to start cutting down and selling most of them. Just don't store these too long yet; use them reasonably fresh until we're sure they've cured thoroughly.
Lime basil is flowering now, but Genovese basil will be available, as well as parsley. Maybe some other herbs, like summer savory or thyme. We've found herb sales to be very unreliable; some weeks lots will sell, other weeks I bring lots home. It's frustrating for planning, because we never know whether to spend the time carefully harvesting and managing the herbs.
Having finished our onion harvest, we're feeling better about it than we expected. So we should be selling some onions eventually, once they've cured for storage. Peppers are still in the developmental pipeline but coming on, as are many of the items above which are right now only yielding early, small amounts. Feels like I've been saying this for a long time now, but there really is a lot of summer produce coming on for us, just late because (a) we always start summer things late due to our location, and (b) we were extra-delayed due to weather this year.
Monday, July 26, 2010
My grandfather passed away recently. He was a man I always looked up to, a man who helped raise me, a man more influential in my life than anyone beyond my mother, his daughter. If there were justice in this world, his would be a life taught to schoolchildren and celebrated as that of a great American. I’m sure there have been many like him; devoted citizens, spouses, and parents whose lives shape us all for the better despite, or perhaps because of, their anonymity. But he was the person I knew, the person I loved, and I will always be grateful for his time here.
He was the grandson of Norwegian immigrants, a line he claimed to trace to Erik the Red. His relatives worked the iron mines of northern Minnesota, the mines that helped build America. He grew up working in his father’s store, keeping the miners and their families fed and supplied. He grew up loving the northwoods and their lakes, spending so much time in what is now the Boundary Waters that for the rest of his life he was often happiest in a canoe.
He and his brothers went to war along with their generation, a young man drawn far from the backwoods into worlds he’d never imagined. Through the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, he served in a quartermaster’s camp just behind the lines, helping to support others in their duty. Though he never shared many details of his experiences, from his deeply personal letters home, I know that he struggled to reconcile his Christian faith with the evil and suffering he saw around him, and with his role in it. His war ended in the mountains of central Italy, when a surprise attack sent shrapnel ripping through his leg. He would have bled to death in the chaos but for the bravery of two others who helped him to safety and medical help in time. For the rest of his life, he bore a deep gouge through both sides of his lower leg as a reminder of how lucky, or perhaps blessed, he had been.
Recovering in New Orleans, a long process, he met a pretty young farm girl from southern Mississippi, in the big city for the first time and studying to be a nurse. A classic story of their time, he wooed and won her heart. Sharing a deep faith and a desire to make the world a better place, she supported his decision to enter seminary and emerge a minister bound for missionary work. My mother was born in Dallas as he studied. Following seminary, he pastored two small churches in northern Minnesota, and not long afterward the decision was made. A true son of the North, he dreamed of Alaska, but instead was assigned to the remote southern jungles of the Philippines.
They spent much of the next two decades there, raising a family of four, and serving the remote Christian communities on several islands. They were an excellent pair, able to tend to matters both spiritual and medical in areas stricken by poverty and politics. Even then, tension and rebellion fomented in this diverse and rugged region, and many times he returned from long trips with bullet holes in his jeep. Today, we cannot return to where my mother grew up, as these are the areas where American troops are working alongside Filipinos to counter a violent insurgency. Despite the dangers and hardships, he stuck to his ambition to improve people’s lives, and did so in a way that integrated the best of both worlds into my family. Even today, Filipino food and culture is valued and preserved among many of us.
The family travelled throughout the world, eventually returning to the United States for good, though the focus on service never changed. For decades more, my grandfather served as minister to communities in many states, with my grandmother always supporting and complementing his mission. Eventually, he earned his dream of serving in Alaska, moving there several times to minister to small churches along the southern panhandle. He loved Alaska with all his heart, and though he finally semi-retired in the mountains of North Carolina, he never tired of telling its stories.
He was a story teller worthy of his Viking ancestors, always willing to recount a tale or slip in a joke. He remembered, invented, embellished, and always fascinated a devoted grandson like me with a repertoire earned from a life of travel, adventure, and service. For someone so talkative, he had the rare patience and empathy of a good listener, and could relate to and draw out almost anyone. Being in his company, you always felt he was paying attention, and meant it. It is a skill I respect all the more for not having myself, though I know how important his care was to me growing up.
He was a man who knew how to make the best of things, in ways that pleased others. Faced with a young grandson fascinated by all things military, he swallowed his memories and told a carefully sanitized set of war stories, over and over, recounting the times but not the realities. We played silly war games, pretending his car was a fighter plane shooting down bombers (the other cars). It wasn’t until much later that I truly understood how much he had left out, and why. Together we attended the deeply realistic film Saving Private Ryan, which many veterans had praised. We left in tears, our arms around each other, and I thanked him for his service. Though we never did speak of the details of his experiences, he later told my mother it was one of the nicest things anyone had done for him, to share that experience, that understanding, and that depth of feeling. The tolerance and love he showed me, to share my youthful enthusiasm without betraying the darkness beyond it, was equally meaningful to me.
To both my mother and myself, he passed along a deep love of travel and the outdoors, of the joy to be gained from exploring and appreciating all that the world has to offer. He taught us to love water and canoes especially, on trips short and long through the Minnesota northwoods and their endless chains of remote lakes. Again befitting his heritage, he was ever restless, ever ready to go somewhere new, explore something different, learn what else there was to learn around the next bend. Even in his sixties, he spent a summer travelling the west with my mother and I, living in a small tent trailer which shook with his snores. We teased him constantly that an amorous bear would be drawn to us in the night.
Until his body finally shut down, he was ever-ready to set off on a new adventure. Only a few years ago, he and my grandmother undertook the difficult journey west to attend the wedding of Joanna and I, at the Missouri farm on which we had settled. It may have felt strange to him, seeing a descendant with the travelling blood choosing to set down such roots, but he enjoyed the trip and delighted in seeing a new chapter begin in the long narrative he began to spin so many years ago.
He passed his ninetieth birthday, and his sixty-third wedding anniversary, though his body was finally beginning to fail. The radius of travel slowly closed around him, as a world which had been there for the taking gently but insistently shrunk toward his chair, his bed, and his desk. In the final years, I and many of my family took turns spending weeks upon weeks with them both, helping out as needed and gaining a little more time, a few more stories, returning some small fraction of the love, care, and attention that he and my grandmother had given over the years.
They moved several times, closer to family, to make the care easier, first to Virginia, then to New York. True to the ethic of a couple who devoted their lives to helping others, their own children and grandchildren poured time, resources, and energy into returning that devotion. In our broken medical system, families must do what a fractured, dysfunctional, and expensive system cannot. It is a sad day when a man who served his country, his faith, and his family so well can be let to slip through the cracks this way. But we never left him, and one night in May his lively eyes, which for so many years had looked always to the horizon for the next opportunity, closed forever.
He led a diverse, successful, and valuable life that fulfilled many of his dreams, and will be fondly remembered by all. He and my grandmother, an inseparable team for 63 years, left the world a better place than they found it. Although I don’t share his faith, he was deeply influential in the development of my morals, character, and interests.
Though I have known personal losses, I have cried more for him than for any other. I do not believe in life after death; I will never see him again. We can, however, keep a memory alive through stories, photographs, and actions, just as he lived his life. I can tell others about him; I can keep the images that remind me of all that we did together; I can live my life in a way that respects his. Most of all, I can be grateful, shedding both tears of sadness for our loss, and tears of happiness that I had the privilege and honor to know and be influenced by this great man. Thank you, William H. Olson, for the mark you left on the world and the legacy I am grateful to continue. I will never forget you.
A memorial service was held today in Minnesota, with another to follow in Mississippi. A shortened version of this piece was and will be read at both. The photo above shows him on his native lakes, in earlier days. The photo below shows me, just a few years ago, also in the Boundary Waters. Both were reprinted on the memorial service program, offering proof of the legacy he built and left behind.
Friday, July 23, 2010
Edamame! Finally. We'll have the initial smallish harvest, around 16 pints or so. This first planting was devastated by voles, with almost half the seeds eaten before germination, so the yields will be small. But at least they're here, and subsequent plantings are developing as expected. Come early if you want these...
Also starting in small quantities with more to come will be okra and tomatillos. Again, I expect these to be gone very quickly this week with plenty more to come.
Cucumbers will be plentiful; give the various types a try, and explore all the different uses for crunchy, fresh heirloom cucumbers. We will have garlic, though again we won't have the full assortment of varieties. High humidity and copious rain this week is not helping with curing, so once again we will likely be selling the handful of varieties that we harvested first. Some heads have been affected by a pest problem; we're doing our absolute best to cull any problem heads before they hit the market stand, but we ask customers to please tell us if a problem head slips by.
The early planting of Fin de Bagnol green beans is starting to fade, though some will be available. The next planting won't mature until closer to fall; these are not a heat-loving variety. However, we do have several rows of other green beans coming on. Also mixed summer squash, basil, parsley, summer savory, etc. A few jalapenos will also be available; we stuffed a set with fresh chevre earlier this week and fried them for a delicious side.
DONE FOR NOW
Fennel is done; it's been hit hard by pests and none of what's left is sellable. Scallions are through, as is Swiss chard. Purslane is probably done, due to insect damage, though we'll do a final check on the best stand during Friday harvest.
As noted before, pest pressure has been really bad this year. Combined with more than enough rain to encourage disease and other problems, many of our plantings are not lasting as long as hoped. After this market there will be a gap in summer squash production, as we're ripping out the current planting due to disease & pests and the next planting won't start producing for another couple of weeks or so. We're also not sure how long the cucumbers, currently yielding more than we can sell, will hang on (another smaller planting is in the works here, too). We're finally getting the first signs of maturation on tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, okra, peppers, tomatillos, edamame, and more, with regular green beans on the way.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
One of more interesting twists lately comes from the United Farm Workers, who have initiated a program called "Take Our Jobs", inviting Americans to spend time as a farm laborer to see what the work really entails. It is a reaction to the common trope that migrant labors "steal jobs Americans would otherwise do", the counterpoint to which is that Americans "won't do such jobs, so migrants have to". I've heard many claims that Americans are just too lazy or spoiled to do this kind of hot, dangerous, more-skilled-than-you-think work.
I think there is some truth to both sides of this, but in thinking about the issue, something very significant occurred to me. I don't think it's true that Americans won't do farm labor; I think they won't do farm labor at the pay offered. There are lots of Americans who do difficult, long, dangerous, hot, skilled, work. Construction workers in the South come to mind, as do soldiers. Difference? They're paid well, generally with good benefits, to do that work. (Growing up, I spent a portion of one summer tarring roofs in Alabama; I'll take farm labor any day.)
An even better analogy, in my mind, is Appalachian coal miners. This is easily an equally dangerous, hot, long, skilled job as farm labor, but it's done almost exclusively by (white) Americans, most of them with long pedigrees in this country. Difference? Coal miners get reasonably good salaries and can expect a comfortable middle-class life in return for their work; it's considered an honorable job and is often passed down through families. But we pay a lot more for our electricity because of that.
Considering the current economics of energy production, imagine the uproar if major coal companies started hiring low-wage migrants to displace well-paid American miners in order to keep costs down. Apparently we're all willing to pay effectively higher energy prices to preserve the middle-class incomes of coal miners; why aren't we willing to do the same on farms?
If farm labor were paid a salary and benefits commensurate with its equals in danger, skill, and labor (like mining or construction), and if it were accorded the respect given to those jobs, I think we would see Americans able and willing to do the work. But we've collectively decided that cheap food is more important than anything, while sticking our heads in the sand about the rational economic results of such a choice.
So I don't think Americans (if there is such a consistent collective) are too lazy to do the work; I think they're too smart. They know perfectly well that doing hard, dangerous work for low pay and no benefits is lunacy, especially when the other options are easier work for low pay or government benefits for no work. The only people willing to put up with hard farm work for low pay are (a) immigrants for whom the conditions and pay are still better than back home, and (b) self-employed farmers like us who hope to improve our lot and who get the side benefits of independence and entrepreneurship. And we're not at all sure it will prove to be worth our while in the long term compared to other choices we could make.
So the next time someone complains about immigration, ask if they'd be willing to pay the food prices necessary to make it economically rational for Americans to work in the field, and ask why they aren't offended by higher energy prices caused by well-paid American union mine labor. Both answers had better be consistent, which is unlikely.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
I basically used this recipe for roasted garlic. Roasting in muffin tins worked well, because I could label the aluminum foil that covered each variety of garlic to keep the varieties straight. I ended up cooking longer than 35 minutes. Based on a trial run a few days ago, head size matters; larger heads need more cooking time. I didn't add any salt, but a sprinkling probably would have been a good idea. Two teaspoons of oil was slightly more than needed, but the leftover oil was good on bread.
It actually took a couple of tries to get this right, but the approach that I finally came up with was well received. I knew I needed enough garlic butter to serve 12 people, and I initially tried cooking the garlic in the full amount of butter. That was too much butter, and the flavor didn't come though well. Tried the same thing with oil, and, again, too much oil, not enough garlic flavor coming through. That's when I realized that most garlic butter recipes online call for raw garlic mixed with softened butter, but the whole point of this tasting was to use sauteed garlic. So, I finally found this recipe from Fine Cooking that served as the basis for my actual approach. Here's what I did:
~4 tsp finely minced garlic (anywhere from 2 to ~8 cloves)
2 Tbl olive oil
1/4 tsp salt (I used "Real Salt", which is moderately coarse.)
1/4 cup butter
I heated a small skillet on low to medium low heat and added 2 Tbl olive oil & 1/4 tsp salt. I monitored the oil temperature with a thermometer (for consistency's sake), adding the garlic when the temperature was ~180-190ºF. I sauteed for ~2 minutes, stirring & crushing the garlic in the process, and lifting the pan off of the heat as needed to prevent burning. After allowing the sizzling to subside, I poured the oil mix over the butter & mixed thoroughly. This went into the refrigerator, and I pulled it out a couple of hours before the tasting to allow the butter to soften, mixing it just before serving so that the garlic chunks were dispersed.
Though it was a bit on the salty side for my taste buds, the overall response was very positive.
This is pretty simple. I guessed on the quantities, aiming to make it pretty garlicky:
1/2 cup chevre
~1 Tbl garlic (2 or 3 largish cloves)
1 tsp olive oil
I made the cheese a few days before, though certainly any chevre would work. I coarsely minced the garlic, then pulverized in a large mortar and pestle, adding ~1 tsp of olive oil for lubrication. Then I added the pulverized garlic into the cheese and mixed well. I did this a few days in advance of the tasting to let the flavors blend.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Below is a quick summary of results; we're too tired to crunch all the numbers. Look for a more detailed set of results later in the week.
German Extra Hardy
German Extra Hardy was the clear winner in roasted, with the best flavor and texture. A few people really liked Chrysalis and Samarkand. Shvelisi was fine but nothing special.
SAUTEED IN BUTTER
(spread on fresh bread or cucumber slices)
Siberian was the runaway winner here. Everyone who compared Siberian with something else loved it, and none of the others could be consistently told apart from each other. Even tasting it again this evening, the Siberian garlic butter spread on bread has the richest, most luscious garlic flavor that none of the other three could match. Bogatyr is second in richness of flavor, and other other two are very mild. Not bad, just mild.
(infused into farm-made goat chevre)
Chet's Italian Red
The core result of raw garlic is that preferences depend heavily on whether you want a hot/spicy or a mild garlic. Those who liked spicy garlic thought Russian Giant was fantastic, with Georgian Fire a close second. Chet's and Tochliavri are far milder and were preferred by people who like really mild garlic. Personally, we've found that Chet's is excellent for uses like slaws and salad dressings where you want garlic flavor with no heat, and little aftertaste.
Obviously there are many other preparations and combinations, which is why we're also recruiting customers at market to buy several heads and do some taste-testing at home with simultaneous preparations. Ask at market if you're interested in trying this.
We'll crunch the numbers one of these hot afternoons, but the basic conclusions seem to be that raw and roasted were easier to differentiate from each other than sauteed. This is sensible, as cooking in more complex dishes would tend to cover the subtleties of flavor, whereas raw and roasted preparations allow more leeway for flavors to come through.
When it comes to choosing a variety, even for cooking, it's also still worth looking at the structure of the head. Cooks who use only a bit at a time might prefer a variety with many small cloves, whereas cooks who really like garlic should buy varieties with large cloves so there's less fussing with peeling and preparation. And we're hoping that as more customers do at-home testing, we'll have more data from other varieties in other applications. As we get more data, we'll be able to do a better job of suggesting varieties based on customer taste preferences and plans for cooking.
One final note: one brave couple stayed on afterward and embarked on an adventure with us, tasting all twelve varieties raw one after another. It was stimulating, and reinforced the conclusion that these varieties are very distinct when used raw (such as in salads, slaws, salsas, etc.).
Other takes on the garlic tasting will be available soon, as the author of Capturing Como will be writing up her experiences, and Marcia from the Columbia Daily Tribune will have a story in the food section a few weeks from now. And perhaps some attendees who read the blog will add any comments or experiences, good or bad?
Sunday, July 18, 2010
We're hosting an on-farm garlic tasting this afternoon with about 12 folks, including the food editor of the Tribune. Sure hope it goes well and people can tell some differences; we're putting ourselves on a limb with the media attending... It's been interesting coming up with simple preparations that give the best chance of tasting differences without overwhelming palates. We're doing roasted heads, raw mixed in fresh farm-made chevre, and sauted garlic butter. Fresh bread and sliced cucumbers are serving as flavor-neutral conveyances.
The morning's weather doesn't really affect these plans, other than the farm walk-around being muddy instead of dusty. We needed the rain, having had no meaningful rainfall since July 6 (haven't said that in a while). So overall it's a good thing, with lots of work coming up this week including increasing harvest loads and the need to start serious plantings of fall varieties. This rain keeps irrigation off the bloated task list. We're going to be wiped out by the end of this week.
Results of the garlic tasting event will be posted on Monday.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
In checking the progress of curing, which has been slow and troubling due to the constantly humid conditions, we've found some form of insect larvae in a few heads. Recently, we've cracked open a couple of otherwise good-looking heads to find several nasty-looking white maggoty things along the inner stem, eating away at the stem and/or cloves. If you've bought a head and find this, please, please tell us and get your money back. They can't always be detected from the outside.
We're not entirely sure what these are. Joanna saw a moth on one of the heads, and the first online searches revealed a terrifying pest spreading into northern NY from Canada, the leek moth, which is destroying allium crops in the area (do a search on this and you'll find some very sad articles from the last year or two). However, the descriptions don't quite fit and it would seem a jump for it to suddenly show up here next. We now think the moth was a coincidence, and the pests that we're seeing are likely the onion root maggot, a fly larvae which normally targets onions but can attack garlic as well, particularly if there are few onions in the area, which was true of our larger field this year. Until this year, we've always grown garlic in close proximity to onions, but this year did major plantings of garlic in the main field with almost no onions. So perhaps we invited them in, or perhaps it's some other obscure pest that we haven't found a reference to yet.
We were already somewhat concerned about the curing process, as the weather has been very difficult for this (consistently high humidity). We have two fans running in the barn to keep air moving, but feel that the curing process isn't going entirely smoothly. I noticed at market this morning that some of the heads we sold weren't as dry as we had hoped. The heads we sold today will be fine if used in the coming week or so, but we can't guarantee longer term storage. They really should be drier than they are after three weeks of hanging. We're worried about rot or mold in heads which aren't drying fast enough, and now about maggot infestations from a pest that shouldn't even be bothering garlic.
Tomorrow we're hosting a dozen or so folks for a fun garlic-tasting event, using all twelve of our main varieties. In fact, the process of working with heads of garlic for the event brought the maggots to our attention. We've found a couple of heads in which the maggots were present along the neck, but they hadn't penetrated the cloves. In the worst case, a head that was visibly problematic from the outside, multiple maggots were tunneling the cloves. It's hard to say yet whether the maggots are an isolated or severe problem. Some bad heads always happen; it's the frequency of occurence in the heads that we've looked at that concerns us. I sure hope no maggoty ones got by me at market; I culled a couple that looked suspicious and they did indeed prove to be infested when we opened them up.
Again, if you encounter any problems with garlic that you purchased from us, please, please let us know, both so we can provide a refund and so we have a better understanding of the extent of the problem. And if you do have a bad head to report, we'd be grateful for any other information you can provide us, including extent of damage and variety of garlic, if known.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Cuke slices can also take the place of crackers and chips; put those expensive English tea wafers back on the shelf and use cukes to serve cheese, dips, salsas, and more. The crunchy, sweet flavor complements lots of things and is cheaper and healthier.
Garlic! Finally. We'll be bringing the first sets of diverse cured heads to market this weekend, though they probably won't be the full set of twelve varieties (several are still curing). Still, we'll be kicking off our garlic tasting challenge, asking customers to buy two different heads and do some head-to-head tasting under controlled conditions, data sheets and all, and report back to us so we can build a database of customer experiences and opinions on the varieties. Participants will be entered into drawings for prizes such as free garlic later in the season, and all will be invited to an on-farm event in September.
Also, on Sunday, we're holding a garlic tasting event for a small set of friends and customers, and will post the results next week. This will be great fun, and a nice sequel to our earlier tasting event.
Garlic is one of our favorite and most distinct products, and we're thrilled to begin the 2010 sales season after 9 months of growth and management.
We might have just a few jalapeno peppers. Epazote might make a token appearance, along with summer savory.
Fin de Bagnol filet beans, diverse cucumbers, zucchini/summer squash, basil, purslane, parsley, scallions, and maybe some fennel.
On the topic of cucumbers, these are producing wonderfully right now, so consider diversifying your use of this delicious summer item. We love using cucumber slices in place of bread, crackers, or chips, as crisp delivery vehicles for cheese, salsa, or other dips. Cucumber sliders composed of two slices filled with soft cheese or other items make an attractive and refreshing summer meal, and cucumbers dipped in salsa are just delightful. Our cukes will last a while in the refrigerator, so stock up for snacks and meals all week.
The current heat should push many items toward maturity, including cherry tomatoes, edamame, okra, peppers, tomatillos, and more.
We checked out the produce prices at local grocery store the other day, and were bemused by some of the options. Two shrink-wrapped organic zucchini for $5? Even we don't charge nearly that much, and ours are far fresher and better. Ratty-looking fennel with brown leaves for not much less than our fresher, albeit smaller version. Every time we visit the produce section of a store (which happens about quarterly) we're rejuvenated with pride in the freshness of our products. Half the stuff seriously looks like it's been on the truck and in the warehouse for weeks. It's always worth considering that good produce from reputable vendors at a farmers market will last you a week or two, taking the pressure off needing to use things right away. Shop for the week, not just the weekend.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
One major problem has been thrips, which we've implicated at least in part in the near-total failure of our sweet onions and the less-than-spectacular crop of storage onions. These are tiny little pests which are especially fond of alliums and whose sucking of the leaves damages the plant badly. Interestingly, given my recent discource on odd plurals in English, the Wikipedia entry for thrips notes that the word is both singular and plural. Thus one could properly refer to a single thrips, as odd as that sounds. Is there another word like this?
Outdoing the thrips, however, have been the cucumber beetles. Coming in two varieties, striped and spotted, these descended on our summer squash plantings shortly after real production began and have been happily spreading damage and disease. Cucumbers are highly susceptible as well, and while our plants are producing nicely at the moment, we don't know how long they'll last. Our control method is to hand-squish the little bleeps.
The striped cucumber beetles stick to cucurbits (squash & cukes), but the spotted cucumber beetles aren't so picky. They eat holes in beans, nibble on fennel, cause damage to corn (in the larval stage, especially), and show up almost everywhere, including occasionally in our hair. One avoided being squished today by landing on a poison ivy leaf.
Other crops are battling heavy insect herbivory, too. Last year about this time we had some nice amaranth leaves at market. Our planting this year has been all but skeletonized; a type of striped flea beetle is at least partly to blame. Fennel has also suffered considerably from insect pressure. In that case, it seems to be the tarnished plant bugs that are doing the most damage.
That being said, at least we're not yet within the apparently widespread outbreak of Japanese beetles south of us. I've run across more than one article on these horrible invasive pests affecting vegetable and fruit crops in SW Missouri, and Joanna's parents report that they're all over the place in NW Arkansas. Apparently their garbage man has caught 35lb of beetles in pheromone traps so far at his own place. Joanna has seen only two or three here, but someone we know reported having trouble with them near Rocheport. Fingers crossed....
In general we're glad we're up here right now. As rough as the season has been for us and most farmers we've talked to, word from Arkansas is that everything is worse there. The local farmers markets are almost empty, CSAs are really struggling, and it's just generally disheartening. At least at the moment we can feel good about the items we have coming on, if nothing else goes wrong.
And at least we no longer have plagues of locusts in the Midwest. More on that soon.
Monday, July 12, 2010
We're always late to the summer produce party, partly because of our frost pocket valley and partly because we just get things in late because we're so busy with spring items. But we have lots of things coming on strong now and within a week or two (or three?) of market, such as:
Tomatillos, which are very slow to develop but surely will be ready soon. Those half-filled husks are teasing us...
Garlic, which in this poorly lit photo is filling the rafters of our barn. The crop was an overall success, with a good distribution of beautiful, large heads. The conditions have been on the humid side for the curing process, but we haven't detected any problems yet. We're thrilled to start bringing our diverse display to market soon.
Tomatoes, which are looking vibrant and loaded. Probably still several weeks from real production, as all the fruits are still green, but plants are healthy with no sign of disease so far. We're hoping it will dry out just enough to enhance the flavor as these begin to ripen.
Peppers, which like the tomatoes are healthy and productive, just need more time to mature. The variety in the photo above is Jimmy Nardello's Italian, an heirloom variety of sweet pepper that is good for drying, among other things. This is recognized on the Slow Food "Ark of Taste" list for its exceptional qualities. The upcoming week's heat and sun will do wonders for the peppers.
Edamame, which we'd already have at market if voles hadn't decimated our first planting. We have a few self-seeded plants in last year's beds which are maturing now; we ate the first fresh edamame of the season Sunday. The photo above shows pods at full size but not yet filled out; possibly a few this coming weekend, more likely the week after.
The cucumbers have been productive so far, especially these wonderfully sweet and crunchy Poona Kheeras. These are an Indian heirloom, and I had a nice young Indian-American woman double back to the stand in excitement when she saw them, as she was born in the Poona region from whence these came.
Selling these can be hard as the market is saturated in cheap cukes right now and we're not going to lower our price to a loss just because others are overproducing. I'm also a bit concerned about a similar dynamic on other "standard" items like tomatoes and peppers, so we'll see. We're also concerned about our ongoing cucumber beetle infestation and its long-term effect on cukes and summer squash, but for now we're getting good production.
So those are some things for customers to look forward to in coming weeks.
Friday, July 9, 2010
NEW THIS WEEK
Cucumbers, several varieties including Boothby Blond and Poona Kheera. These are both crisp, tasty cucumbers with unusual colors (pale yellow and yellow-brown, respectively). We will also have some purslane, possibly for one week only. This tasty and nutritious green has a slightly sour flavor, a bit lemony to Joanna's taste buds. The purslane grows wild (aka as a weed) among the vegetables. Even though it is a weed, the work it takes to harvest small amounts from scattered places usually means it's not worth harvesting for other than for personal use. But we have a couple of nice stands with leaves that currently taste great and show little insect damage, so we'll bring some to see if there's interest among customers without gardens of their own.
Fin de Bagnol filet beans, fennel, scallions, Swiss chard, multiple varities of basil, mixed summer squash. Many customers are drawn to the yellow and green squash, but make sure to try the pale green variety, Tender Grey. We've found these to have a wonderful flavor, as do the ribbed variety Costata Romanesco.
Garlic will NOT be available this week. Our harvest is complete, with all 2,000+ heads hanging in the barn at various stages of curing. This means we have no fresh green garlic, and none fully cured for sale. We don't like to sell it half-cured. Next week we should be able to start offering the first sets of cured heads.
The first edamame have formed on the plants and are likely two weeks away, as are many other items including tomatillos and cherry tomatoes.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
The state Department of Industrial Relations has conducted inspections of at least nine Marin County farms in the past two years, resulting in two citations and one fine. Another farm, County Line Harvest on the Marin-Sonoma border, received an $18,000 fine for labor law violations in February...
State labor officials insist they haven't been targeting organic farms specifically, and that their criteria for farm employment is no different from that used for any other business. "If people are willing to work for less than society says is necessary, that has an impact on wages and protections in that industry as a whole," said Carl Borden, associate counsel for the California Farm Bureau Federation. "In addition, if you have a farmer complying with those regulations - at considerable expense - that puts that farmer at a competitive disadvantage with another farmer who is not complying with those requirements."
Though this is a difficult issue, I tend to think the above quote is right. Farms are businesses like any other, and need to operate within the law. If the law is changed to reflect the unique situations faced by small farms, great. We can all lobby for that if desired. But until then we're not special. And it often gets on our nerves to see other farms cutting corners that we don't cut, and getting a competitive advantage from it (such as selling cheese under the table, not remitting sales tax, or not paying workers properly). Another good quote:
"Small organic farms seem to have a particular mindset about the righteousness of their cause, and maybe they just don't think about such a thing as the employment laws covering their operation," Borden said. "Some of them said, 'This is the way we've been doing it, and if we had to treat interns as employees and comply with these standards, we wouldn't be able to stay in business.' But that's the cost of doing business. If they can't compete that way, then they can't be in that particular business."
It does seem harsh to take that stance, and it does make farming that much more difficult. But the proper answer to this sort of barrier is not to ignore the law, or to assume it doesn't apply to you, but to (a) work to change it if necessary, and (b) be creative and entrepreneurial about how you approach the problem. The latter is how we developed our paid-in-products employment model that meets IRS and state labor standards while not creating a serious cash-flow problem.
At the end of the day, the rule of law is part of what makes this country so stable and worth living in. None of us are so special that we should operate outside the law, no matter how righteous the cause. And I can only hope that by being responsible business owners and trying to do the right thing, we'll be rewarded in the end with more security, not punished with unfair competition.
That being said, I'll happily acknowledge that when rules and laws are written or interpreted in truly absurd or impractical ways, it becomes that much harder to expect compliance with them. The first case in the article is an excellent example; shared family labor should be an obvious difference from outside help. This is, I suspect, what turns many people away from faith in government; it's not just the complication or expense of laws, it's their evident absurdity or unfairness in many cases.
There are so many laws, at so many levels, and through so many different divisions of government, that it's really quite hard to be educated about all of them. All it takes is one person from one department finding one thing you didn't comply with or know about, and they can nail you for it, but there's really no credit given for good-faith efforts to comply. And there are some really obscure, pointless laws out there. Take, for example, this gem from the City of Columbia's code, attempting to exempt market farmers selling within city limits from needing a city business license (section 13-29):
Any bets on how many farmers at either market have properly filed a certificate of location? The sad thing is, we called the City years ago (before we found this charming piece of '30s nostalgia) to ask if we needed a business license for our market farm. We were breezily told that no, farms didn't need licenses. Nothing about the above rule. Unfortunately, some bureaucrat could come after us for this someday, and we can't claim ignorance of the law even though we were told otherwise by a city representative.
The terms of this article shall not be held to include persons selling for nonresident, bona fide wholesale establishments to retail dealers in the city, nor to milkmen, ice men or newsboys whose employers have been duly licensed by the city, nor shall it include or apply to farmers or producers or any employee of any farmer or producer who offers for sale or sells, or who peddles from house to house or in any market, fruits, vegetables or garden products produced and grown by such farmer or producer from lands cultivated by him within the state; however, every such farmer or producer who claims exemption from the license requirements of this article shall file with the business license administrator a certificate under oath, setting forth the full legal description of the land upon which such farm or garden products are produced and grown, and which certificate is certified to by the county assessor of the county in which such land is located; and, all attractions, devices, races or exhibitions under direct contract with the Boone County Agricultural and Mechanical Association (Boone County Fair) are exempt.
There's no penalty for mistakes on the government end, only on the private business end. They can give out all the misinformation they want, but we'll be the ones paying the fine if it ever happens. Revenue departments work the same way; we've been given many different answers on certain business tax questions, but will still get in the same amount of trouble if we get it wrong.
The whole system is screwy.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Thankfully, the garlic harvest is nearly complete with only one variety to go, and most varieties look fantastic. Expect to see cured garlic at our stand from mid-July through the rest of market season. Garlic times itself perfectly to need harvesting and processing toward the end of our June lull; a few weeks later and we'd go insane trying to handle it along with everything else.
Our squash have been performing well, supplying Cafe Berlin with up to 30lb a week along with market sales. We're fighting a major outbreak of cucumber beetles, which chew up the blossoms & plants and spread disease; for the past week we've been spending around an hour a day hand-squishing hundreds of beetles a day. This is the reality of organic farming, especially on our farm which refuses to use any sprays at all. Demonstrating the necessary optimism in the face of evidence to the contrary, we just transplanted out another 180' of young squash plants which will hopefully take over when the first set finally succumbs:
Many things are hard to photograph this time of year, as close-ups tend to look like a sea of green. Here's a look at our cucumber plantings, lush and flowering heavily but also attractive to cucumber beetles. We hope they last long enough for good sales:
Sunday, July 4, 2010
I obviously like to complain about and criticize regulations and bureaucracy in the US. However, whenever I research or read about similar rules and situations in other countries, I'm reminded of just how much freedom we do have here. America isn't perfect, but I don't know where else we'd be able to pursue our dreams this way with equivalent security and legal protection. We take for granted just how possible it's been for us to make this choice, and how free we really are. I'm glad we were born American.
Missouri has its faults, but so many other states have worse governments and tighter rules. We're exceedingly grateful to be out of Virginia, for example. Here, the state government is reasonably functional and financially responsible, and the laws are online in an easily searchable and readable format. If I want to know something about Missouri law, I can find it. It's a beautiful state with a lot of opportunities for people like us. I'm glad we've chosen to be Missourians.
Farming has its downsides, and we'll see how we feel about its financial viability in the long term. But the independence we've gained is truly meaningful for us. We work for ourselves, can choose how we spend our time (within reason), are not tied to commutes, cannot be fired, eat better and tastier food than could be possible in a different life, and in general are able to pursue the American dream of building the life we want.
It may seem strange given how tied we are to the farm (little to no vacations, no evenings off, year-round work, etc.), but in some ways I feel more free than I ever have. And for that independence, we're grateful for our country and our opportunities, and for all the people who made it possible.
Happy Independence Day.
Friday, July 2, 2010
AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Last of the beets, a few pounds of Fin de Bagnol filet beans, fennel, Swiss chard, summer squash, fresh garlic heads, scallions, parsley, chives, multiple varieties of basil.
We're especially pleased with the Lime Basil; it has a really nice flavor that goes very well in Asian dishes and desserts. We made a delightful dessert, consisting of a lime basil-infused sugar syrup, poured over sliced fresh market peaches. Heavenly. Give it a try.
DONE FOR NOW
Peas and carrots are definitely done now. Possibly more of these in the fall.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Doing a side-by-side comparison of all of these at once overwhelms the senses. Comparing two at a time generates >60 pairings, and given that different preparation methods (raw, sautéed, roasted) bring out the strengths of different varieties, there are around 200 paired combinations worth trying. So, we need help!
We've been discussing various options for doing this. One is hosting a garlic-tasting event on the farm for those brave and serious foodies who want to explore many of these at once; we'd prepare the varieties in different comparable ways, such as in batches of garlic-flavored goat cheese or as roasted cloves, and have people attempt to note qualities and characteristics before their taste buds burned off. This would be similar in structure to our last tasting event, which seemed to be well-recieved.
Another idea involves recruiting customers to purchase multiple varieties and do controlled tests at home of certain preparations (roasted, salsa, raw pesto) which they would report back to us; participants would receive some reward like a discount on future garlic purchases, or an invitation to a private event on the farm later in the year.
So for now, I'm looking for feedback from readers and customers. Would you participate in any of these? Have other ideas? Comment or email so we can move forward on this; we're thinking of hosting a tasting event on Sunday July 18 and starting to arrange the customer tests around the same time, when all the varieties are cured and ready to go.