Tuesday, September 27, 2016

In the CSA box this week

Pie pumpkin, green beans, radishes, garlic, filed peas, peppers and arugula

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

In the CSA box this week

Malabor spinach, eggplant, butternut squash, banana peppers, okra, roselle (hibiscus), garlic, onions, and green pepeprs

Homemade Earl Grey black tea

Camellia sinensis (black tea) and Monarda (bergamot or bee balm)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Follow-up on food waste

   A few weeks ago we wrote about the things we do to avoid food waste on our farm.  We discussed several things we do with unsellable and surplus food, things that even most small, organic farms don't do or don't do to a significant extent.  By far the most important of those things is preserving food for our own family's later use, but all of the things we do to avoid food waste take time.  The question we aim to address this week is why you as a consumer might (or might not) want to deal with a farmer that takes the time to do these things, especially preserving food for his own family.
  And we think the most important answer to that question is that if you believe in pursuing a real alternative to supermarket ways of farming then we think it makes sense to look for a farmer that wants to eat his own food year-round.  We think the inverse is also true: a farmer that would rather focus more on making money during the busy season (instead of preserving food for his own family) and is content to take that money to the supermarket in the off-season is more likely a farmer that isn't so committed to a way of farming that's so distinct from the supermarket. 
  This begs the question of whether the products of any local farms really are preferable to the supermarket to begin with, especially when it comes to comparing something like home canned local tomatoes with fresh tomatoes from Florida or California.  Perhaps you'd rather eat fresh tomatoes from the supermarket when they're out of season instead of eating home-canned tomatoes or doing without.  And perhaps you'd prefer a farmer that shared and followed those same priorities, concentrating on bringing the best of everything he can to the market during the market season instead of getting distracted with things you wouldn't even really care about for yourself.
  In theory those fresh tomatoes from the supermarket in the middle of winter could even be certified USDA organic, but in practice shopping at the supermarket almost always means substantial compromises to even the USDA organic label, to say nothing of all that the USDA organic label leaves to be desired.  But one could trust in and patiently wait for the USDA organic system to improve and offer more and better options, focusing in the meantime on the certified organic things one can buy, and taking comfort in mostly meaningless alternative labels ("all natural," "non-GMO" olive oil, "hormone-free" chicken, etc.) for all those things for which there aren't certified organic options or for which the certified organic options seem like a rip-off.  One could trust that ultimately it's going to be supermarkets, the far-away farms that supply them, and government programs that fix the problems with our food and agriculture.  Lots of people don't believe that abandoning responsibility for our food and farms to unaccountable corporations and government programs was at all to blame for how we wound up with so many problems in the first place.  Pretty obviously, we believe consumer disconnectedness is at the root of our food and agricultural problems, but if you'd just as soon buy what you want to buy when you want to and leave it to corporate and government specialists to think about and take care of all the details, with or without an organic label to help that process, then you'd surely think (if you took the time to think about it) that how we farm is generally a pointless and inefficient waste of our time and your money.
  Even in that case, if we happen to have something on the farmers' market table that looks good for a price that looks good, you might still want to buy it, but that might just not happen very often.  We would probably have compromised too much of what you'd be looking for for the sake of things you don't really care about at all.  And you almost certainly wouldn't want to make any commitment to our way of farming (like a CSA involves.)  Fair enough.  Thanks for looking.  On the other hand, if you'd rather not trust the supermarket or the USDA organic label to answer all your food and underlying farming questions for you (present and future), and if you'd like to support and eat from a source that's a lot more than just a nearby version of that same system, and especially if you'd like to build and grow a comprehensive alternative to the supermarket system such that the homegrown alternative amounts to more than just token supplements to your diet, then we'd encourage you to consider getting to know and partnering with a farm like ours.  If you share that perspective, you might actually prefer that we spend significant time preserving tomatoes (and all sorts of other things) for ourselves when we might otherwise be putting more on the farmers' market table for you, precisely because there's no better guarantee of good farming than what a farmer would choose for his own family.  And if you get to know us and decide to partner with us, you may come to find that we're actually providing you with good things you didn't even know you were missing.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Food Waste on the Farm

  The reality is not every cucumber is perfect.  Neither is every tomato or potato.  And there is no doubt about the carrots: so many of them grow extra legs or twist around each other, you start to think they want to look funny.  In the vegetable garden, and in fact, all over the farm, perfection is rare.  Over-sized, under-sized, bug bitten, rotten spots - there are endless opportunities for something to fall off the perfection pedestal.  So what is a farm to do?  The most common option on farms in America, even small organic farms, is to  leave it in the field, pick it and drop it.   If it doesn't meet market expectations, it's often not worth the time to do any more with it.  But for us, leaving it in the field is the last resort.  Waste is painful to the bottom line and to the morale of the farmers.  So we farm in a way where things rarely go to waste.
  One option is to sell it anyway.  While we want to give our customers really good food, the truth is many imperfections have little effect on the quality of the product.  In a blind taste test, people probably couldn't taste the difference between a crooked cucumber and a straight one.  So while we put out the prettiest produce at the market first, if we run out of those, then we may bring out the others.  It's always reassuring to us at the end of the tomato season when the tomatoes are small and full of character, how eagerly you all still buy them, quickly dismissing our apologies and saying "at least they are homegrown."  How it was grown outweighs how it looks, especially when other homegrown options are scarce.  So sometimes we bring ugly things to market. 
  We also sell seconds through the preserving share option of the Full Farm CSA.  Through the season, members receive preserving quantities of produce, typically at a reduced price.  These are often second quality, most often for cosmetic issues.  But sometimes we pass along preserving shares of things just because we have too much of them.  On farms abundance can lead to even more waste than blemishes.  Even with the most careful planning, you just can't sell everything you grow. 
  Another outlet, for both seconds and simple surplus, is our neighbors without whom we wouldn't hardly be able to farm.  A bag of cucumbers at peak season seems a poor offering to say thank you for countless favors, but that's the way of neighborliness. 
  But sometimes, things aren't second rate; they are third or fourth rate, i.e. animal quality.  This is where the beauty of diversity on the farm comes into play.  The cobs of poor quality field corn get fed to the chickens for them to turn into eggs -- if there are a bunch of bad kernels on a cob we're not going to peck out the good ones one by one, but the chickens don't mind in the least -- the pumpkins with bad spots get fed to the hog to be turned into bacon (and also provide balance to acorns, which could otherwise be constipating), and the sweet potatoes that are too small get fed to the goats for them to turn into milk.
  But more than any of these other uses, imperfect produce becomes what we call "farmer grade," meaning it goes to our kitchen for our use and especially for us to preserve for later.  We ambitiously eat in season: meal times right now feature some kind of squash and some variation of cucumber salad on the side, with other fresh-from-the-garden vegetables as well.  And once on the table, no one notices/remembers that we're eating less than the best quality.  Even our four year old, looking for a snack, knows to ask for an "ugly" cucumber.  And then when we've eaten our share and know there's more to come from the garden, we heat up the kitchen and get things preserved!  These days, the odd yellow squash have been canned for later squash casseroles, the pointy-end cucumbers are in a crock fermenting, the slug punctured cabbage has been carved and is turning into sauerkraut, and the tiny beets were perfect for pickled beets.  If it weren't for odd things such as these, we might be tempted to sell everything we grow.  And that is the opposite of what we're trying to do.  First and foremost, we farm to feed ourselves, both in season and out of season.  We feast on what would otherwise be waste.

Saturday, June 18, 2016