Waxing Poetic (farm blog)
Tomato "umbrella" with tomato plants inside at Peregrine Farm
photo by Alex Hitt
I keep attempting to delude myself into thinking I’m still on vacation. But today came calling with fierce reality. First, we filled to maximum capacity both of our germination chambers in our greenhouse with newly sown seed (I hope you’re getting hungry!) And second, we received notification that our tomato umbrella is arriving this week (including a 1300 pound roll of plastic!) and will need to be unloaded from the tractor trailer it is arriving on. You might have noticed that we’ve had two less than stellar tomato seasons in a row. Tomato plants are a might bit wimpy and don’t like to be rained on. This wimpiness is the biggest challenge to organic tomato production in North Carolina. After two frustrating tomato years, we decided to explore our options. Option 1: move to California. Well, you probably can see the complications involved in that choice. Option 2: Spray the heck outta them suckers (You may also have noticed that tomatoes are one of the most sprayed crops). Well, you can also see the complication there, being that we grow organically and don’t like to sell things we wouldn’t feed our own children (or nieces and nephews in our case). Option 3: Bring California here (read: keep the rain off the tomatoes). Well duh! But Mother Nature just doesn’t tend to listen to my pleas (see 2009!), so how in the world are we going to do that? An umbrella! Or lots of umbrellas (like a 1300 pound roll of umbrella)!
Hence the title: big changes at Tumbling Shoals Farm. We are putting up a giant umbrella over the entire tomato field! This is both incredibly exciting (good tomato years, even if it rains!) and incredibly intimidating (unloading a tractor trailer in the road, screwing support posts 20 feet into the ground, erecting 15 foot high umbrella supports and pulling plastic over said supports, yikes!), but mostly exciting. Stay tuned for adventure stories on the progress of that project, beginning with the unloading of the tractor trailer.
Remember that we are in open enrollment for the 2011 harvest shares! A couple of changes happening in that department too (I promise to update the website this week!): we are offering a new pick up spot on Thursdays at Twenty One & Main in downtown Elkin. And we are offering again pick up points at McRitchie Winery in Thurmond (also Thursdays) and Western Carolina Electric in Moravian Falls (Wednesdays). Shares are selling faster than I anticipated, so if you’re sitting around thinking about it, you better get your registration in soon! A $100 deposit holds your share. We might not make it to April before selling out this year so if you’re hungry for fresh organic veggies, get on board. You can print the registration form here.
We’re looking forward to growing food for you this year!
Sam with a June Harvest Share in 2010
I know, you’re snowbound, it’s cold and you’re eating stews and soups (from this past season’s butternut squash and carrots I hope!) and certainly not thinking about the fresh bounty of spring. But I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” and it has me feeling all jazzed up for this coming season and I’m hoping to get you excited too. It is precisely this excitement that feeds my desire to plant those first seeds (in just two weeks!) to begin the season.
It may be that Pollan is driving the boat here, but all our cooking magazines (and quite a plethora of cooking magazines arrive here monthly) are talking about the same thing: eat local veggies! Here’s what Scott Mowbray, editor of Cooking Light, had to say on the matter:
The best news in healthy eating is the confluence between “delicious” and “good for you.” Lines and divisions blur: So-called health foods seem quaint; highly processed diet foods lack appeal. Whole foods, local when possible, globally flavored, cooked with joy, are in. And the rules are simpler: more plants, less meat, and get exercise.
In “In Defense of Food,” as part of a simplified map to better health, Pollan recommends joining a CSA (like the Tumbling Shoals Farm Harvest Share): “…buying as much as you can from the farmers market, or directly from the farm when that’s an option, is a simple act with a host of profound consequences for your health as well as for the health of the food chain you’ve now joined.”
On that note, we’d like to announce “open enrollment” season for the Tumbling Shoals Farm harvest shares! We are accepting deposits and full payments for shares on a first come/first serve basis (we sold out last year so get your registration in early!). For more information or to sign up, check out “Share in the Harvest” on the website. We have listened to you and have made a few adjustments this season (more on that on the website), but the structure is basically the same: 20 weeks (May 4th through September 14th) of a mix of fresh in-season produce for $500 (full share) or $300 (half share). That’s about $25 worth of fresh organic fruits and vegetables a week for 20 weeks!
Benefits of the Tumbling Shoals Farm Harvest Share (with lots of quotes from “In Defense of Food”):
Benefits to you:
- You support the local food chain and the local economy (it’s like voting with your tongue!)
- Shake the hand that feeds you: “[In the industrial food system] a wall of ignorance intervenes between consumers and producers and that wall fosters a certain carelessness on both sides. Farmers can lose sight of the fact that they’re growing food for actual eaters rather than for middlemen, and consumers can easily forget that growing good food takes care and hard work.”
- Eat more fruits and vegetables! (it’s like a pre-paid fitness club membership-if you’ve already paid, you’re more likely to use it, with all those fresh ripe nutritious veggies already purchased and in your fridge, you’re more likely to get more of them into your diet!)
- Eat the freshest organic produce around: “Recently a handful of well-controlled comparisons of crops grown organically and conventionally have found appreciably higher levels of antioxidants, flavanoids, vitamins and other nutrients in several of the organic crops. Of course, after a few days riding cross-country in a truck the nutritional quality of any kind of produce will deteriorate, so ideally you want to look for food that is both organic and local.”
- Improve the diet through diverse, seasonal eating: “[When purchasing locally] you automatically eat food that is in season, which is usually when it is most nutritious…eating in season also tends to diversify your diet-because you can’t buy strawberries or broccoli or potatoes twelve months of the year, you’ll find yourself experimenting with other foods when they come into the market….The CSA box does an even better job of forcing you out of your dietary rut because you’ll find things in your weekly allotment that you would never buy on your own.”
- Planning meals made easier: “What’s for dinner” gets easier when you are eating seasonally because you begin with what’s in your box and build the meal from there. Instead of “what in the world should I make for dinner,” it becomes, “Let’s find a good recipe for squash (or carrots, or broccoli, etc)”
- Build a food community: attend Tumbling Shoals Farm events and meet others on the ark of local food
Benefits to us:
- We get to know who we’re feeding: “Accountability becomes once again a matter of relationships instead of regulation or labeling or legal liability. Food safety didn’t become a national or global problem until the industrialization of the food chain attenuated the relationships between food producers and eater.”
- Because you’ve purchased your share ahead of the season, we have income right at the time we are purchasing all our seasonal supplies
- Knowing how many families we’re feeding ahead of time makes planning how much of each crop to grow a lot easier!
- Building a food community: We love getting together with other people interested in food and cooking and eating. Let’s eat together!
For more information on Tumbling Shoals Farm Harvest Shares, click here.
An old friend of mine, in asking how to feed his family better food, told me that some days it would be 5:00 before he and his wife would look at each other out of the haggard chaos of family life blankly and ask, “dinner?” My aunt spoke of the same thing. “It’s not the cooking that’s the problem,” she laments, “it’s the figuring out what to cook!” This winter I realized that I understand this problem. Being bad at food preservation (or not bad at it, per se, but bad at accomplishing it at all), we, too, struggle to decide what to eat in the winter. After the hard freeze that finished off even the hardiest kale in the garden, we suddenly had to think about what to eat “from scratch.” What I mean is this: during the growing season, our menus are dictated by what’s coming in from the fields. So the thinking about “what’s for dinner” begins there: with the ingredients. Then it’s only a matter of looking for a recipe containing those ingredients. Easy. Sometimes the sight of the veggies themselves will spark a memory of a tasty recipe. Or there are lots of websites, including ours, that allow you to search for recipes by ingredients. Or sometimes the ingredients do just fine by themselves (sungolds anyone?) And if you become a Tumbling Shoals Farm CSA member, we also provide all our favorite seasonal recipes.
So this is one of the many benefits of a CSA (which is what I recommended to my friend as a way to feed his family better). They are the building blocks of your meal planning. Another is this: you have all the freshest vegetables in season already there in your refrigerator each week so you’ll automatically be eating more fresh fruits and veggies than you probably would have otherwise. The other day I read in a fitness magazine a recommendation to "purchase in advance" because if you've already spent the money, you're more likely to do it! It was referring to gym memberships, but I think the same thing applies to eating more veggies. According to all the research, this is precisely what all of us need right? So paying in advance for your veggies makes you more likely to eat more of them! For more details on our CSA, click here.
Probably not a world record, but definitely a farm record!
If the mist didn’t set off the orange and red colors on the maple tree outside my office window, I’d say today was gloomy. But it does, and it isn’t. Besides, I’m here, inside, cozied up to my computer with a cup of tea, gazing absentmindedly out the window at the brilliant colors changing slightly in the subtle undulation between cloud cover, mist and fog. This is what it means to be November. This and early morning gunshot echoes, hollow call of crows, scurried scolding of squirrels and a kind of mid day stillness that seeps through the skin like the moment before a memory with eyes glazed and her head cocked. But today it is the rhythmic tapping of rain on leaves that sifts through thoughts, soft as flour on my fingertips. This is the pause before the pause. Tomorrow will bring sunshine and cold fingers in the dew and wash water. Memories of my grandmother, whose hands were short, fat and nail bitten like mine, and evidence of a lifetime of hard work. Days like these I can almost touch the rows of jars in the root cellar, lined up like soldiers, protecting the seasonal bounty.
Speaking of seasonal bounty, this is the official last week of our season here at Tumbling Shoals Farm. We will have produce available for pick up here at the farm on Friday, November 19th from 4p.m. to 5p.m., and we’ll be at both the Hickory farmers’ market (7a.m. to noon)and the Boone farmers’ market (10a.m. to 2p.m.)on Saturday, November 20th. After Saturday, we call it a season! Thanks for your support this year and happy holidays!!
I do declare I have a thing for hats!
Which is serendipitously good since
A farmer has to wear many hats.
Though I never intended, I sometimes find myself clad in a plumber’s hat;
The same could be said for the electrician’s cap.
It’s the nature of the job, these accidental hats.
Once a week I like to try on a photographer’s hat,
A writer’s cap-
(A tweed beret I’m sure),
And in the office on a cold and rainy day
I need my thinking cap!
Why, I need a whole shed for all these hats!
Today, it was a rain hat for me,
Tomorrow, I’ll don a sun hat with glee!
When the season begins as well as when it ends,
A wool cap fits best.
But Saturday afternoon, once we’ve bid each other a temporary goodbye,
I’ll put on the best hat of all:
My beach vacation hat!
See you at Thanksgiving!
Jason harvesting those gorgeous carrots
It’s hard to work in October. Not because the work is more difficult, or because it’s colder or hotter, or because it’s my birthday or our anniversary, but just because it’s hard to muster up the want to. Self discipline has gone on vacation: already lazing around at the beach, its nose buried in a book. The days are shorter, the alarm clock silent, we sleep longer, prepare meals longer, and just sort of dilly-dally around until time is wasted and we feel guilty for not having put in a twelve hour day. With our minds at the beach already, we just simply fail to put new things on our “to do” list so rather than getting longer, it’s just getting dustier. Every task is herculean. The weather has been approaching perfection for days now and the fall crops are the happiest I’ve ever seen them, but even so, my motivation rocks itself to sleep on the porch where I sat to put on my shoes for the day. This is October. It’s the prolonged sigh that signals the end of the hustle and aching hamstrings and backs. The slow slide into fireside winters.
Shiloh harvesting giant napa cabbage
Reading is seasonal as well. Winter brings technical books, or deeper “thinking” novels. I never thought I’d get so into popular fiction. But reading during the season requires this sort of reading. Sometimes we find ourselves just thinking too much. By this time of year it gets to be a bit overwhelming and the mind just desires a little repose. So I’ve been reading lots of novels lately: face paced page turners that suck me into their worlds completely so I can’t think about farming or anything else. I’ll read a little over tea and breakfast in the morning. My mind will stay partially in the novel while out in the fields all day until I jump back in before bed. It’s a great relief valve from the cumulative exhaustion we feel this time of year: plentiful and beautiful veggies still happily coming out of the fields, while our minds and bodies are ready for the onset of winter and the end of the season. Last night this paradox really came to a head in my dreams: I had the characters from the novel planning meals around what’s coming out of our fields!
Nature at work: ladybug larvae eating an aphid on butterfly weed
I heard it again the other day: “I mean, these are doctors and lawyers we’re talking about.” The two occupations most thrown out as examples of, not just wealth, but intelligence. Why is that? While I’m sure that doctors and lawyers, having endured some of the most rigorous years of academic and practical study and testing, are quite intelligent, I can’t help but wonder about the most proper examples of smartness for the rest of us. When it comes to working around a problem, farmers are some of the most incredibly intelligent people I’ve met. I’m not talking about myself, of course, I have years to go before I get as creatively brilliant as some of these older farmers I’ve met. But challenges and problems arise all the time on a farm that farmers, not often able to just throw some money at it, have to think around creatively. In Africa, they call it “bricolage”. It’s an art, reflected in the twinkling eyes, lit by pride, of the farmer who shows it to you. Like a small child giving you a crayon drawing, saying, “look at what I did!”
This year's okra stand-last week stading before the mower gets it!
There is a steady “plink, plink, plink” somewhere nearby. My mind scrambles around the sound but it’s just water dripping onto metal somewhere. I try not to begrudge us this rain. We really needed it-all those disassembled fields waiting for rain to germinate their freshly seeded cover crop. But I’ve grown used to the happy crinkles around my eyes and the daily quick shedding of the early morning layers. Sunshine is a happy habit for me. I’d never survive in Seattle. Like skin wrinkled from wetness, I shrink into myself with the rain. My mind curls up on the bed with a good book and a hot cup of tea and refuses to budge. So my body sort of stumbles blindly through the haze of tasks that can’t be put off. I’m like a tomato plant in this way: I hate to be rained on, but I need the water at my roots. Such a paradox.
Our farm worker modeling session with the track hoe-but that's another story for another time
It’s 8:00p.m. and we’re stumbling out of the fields in a fit of irony singing “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere!” Or at least we were for most of the season. These days, five o’clock comes and my feet stubbornly go on strike. Sunday afternoons have become disjointed distractions of food preservation that embody that “light at the end of the tunnel” hope, but also conveniently keep us in the house and out of the fields. The last few weeks of the luxury of an employee upon us, we take steal these little subtle moments-just here and there to tidy the house, or cook a complex meal. We brand this onset of laziness “cumulative exhaustion.” Like we’re just making up for those earlier long days. It’s probably a euphemism, or perhaps a rationalization, but either way, we’ve arrived at the seventh inning stretch before we head into the closer.