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Archive for August, 2009

…Faith in Renewal

Soil is the crust of the earth in which life is rooted – a porous medium between rock and air.  It is neither entirely mineral nor entirely organic; it is composed of sand, silt, clay, air, water, and the decomposed remains of plants and animals.  The simple act of digging garden soil in preparation for spring planting triggers strong emotions: a sense of connection to the earth, to the regeneration of life.  It is an act of nurturance and an expression of faith in renewal.

(Anne Winston Spirn, The Granite Garden, 1984)

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The appeal of a monocrop

Stupice, Black Krim, Orange Taxi, Banana Legs, Cherokee Purple, Brandywine,Peron.  This is just a short list of the tomato varieties that are growing.  It’s interesting to walk though the tomato house and see how the different varieties grow.  The colors, shapes, and sizes are fascinating.  Each variety holds it’s own characteristics.  A few days ago I was walking through the tomato house to see what was ready for harvest.  We pick our tomatoes at the red-ripe stage as opposed to the green stage that most commercial tomatoes are picked at.  Picking at red-ripe allows up to offer our CSA members the freshest possible tomatoes.  We can do this because once picked, the tomato will only travel 6 miles to get into the hands of the CSA members, rather than the average 1500 miles commercial tomatoes usually travel.  Because we grow so many varieties it takes extra time to harvest because each variety looks different when it is ripening.

I was showing another farm intern the difference between a red-ripe Black Krim and a red-ripe Cherokee Purple when a thought popped into my head.  “This must be one of the reasons some farmers grow monocrops.”  A monocrop is a field or farm that is growing a single crop.  Picture driving through Nebraska…corn as far as the eye can see.  Sometimes farmers will go one step further and grow a single variety.  I can see the appeal of that.  It takes time to recognize the differences between varieties.  It can be particularly tedious to mentally adjust what you are looking for every 5 or 10 plants.

This appeal also shows up when harvesting carrots.  Carrots can be particularly tricky because the desired part of the plant is hidden.  Carrots come in several shapes and sizes and colors.

If you are harvesting a row of carrots and and pull out a Scarlet Horn variety expecting a Nantes variety you will likely assume that they aren’t ready yet.  Then, if you assume you are waiting for a Nantes variety to mature you will end up with bolting, cracked carrots.

I can see the appeal of a monocrop in the sense that I would simply need to focus on a single crop and variety.  I could know that crop inside and out, vegetative and fruiting.  But I don’t see any place in the small farm, CSA system for a monocrop production.  Do you?

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The problem with peas

Yesterday I brought a bunch of peas home from the farm.  The peas we planted didn’t germinate very well and as a result we haven’t had enough to put in the CSA shares, so I’ve been gleaning from them throughout the year.  I normally pick sugar snap peas, with edible shells, to toss in a stir-fry or eat on their own, but I decided to pick some shelling peas this week.  I’m generally not a fan of peas because most peas that are in the grocery store are bland.  But like most veggies, if it comes right off the farm, or the garden, it tastes much better. 

When I got home I separated the snap peas from the shelling peas.  I had about 2 pints of snap peas and about 1 pint of shelling peas.  I started to crack the shells and pop out the green pearls. Minutes later I had about one cup of the most tasty peas.  As I was shelling the peas and noticing the amount of effort it took to end up with one cup of peas, I wondered how many people have shelled peas before.  I also wondered how many peas I would need to shell if I wanted to make split pea soup. 

As I’ve been thinking about our disconnect from the food we eat, I often end up thinking of this questions: “How would people’s attitude change toward food if they had to prepare a week’s worth of food for themselves?”  I’m not suggesting that people should butcher their own cow, or make their own cheese, or bake their own bread (Although I don’t see anything wrong with that).  That system, of self-reliance, is not a sustainable system for the majority of people nor does it draw people together.  More on these thoughts later.  I do think that it would change the way we thought about food if we shelled peas if we wanted split-pea soup.  I think that if we look at a package of frozen peas as a luxury (because we didn’t shell them) and not as an expectation (because someone else will do it for us), we would see our food in a different light.

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