Monthly Archives: August 2008

catching up is hard to do

Yesterday, for the first time in weeks, I didn’t post anything — not even a picture. Shame, shame.

To make up for it, I’m going to post a ton of pictures today, and try to teach you a thing or two about my arch-nemesis plant: the tomato.

I’ll explain why it’s my arch-nemesis in a sec, but in the meantime, I’ll give you a quick photographic recap of the time Emmett and I spent on the east coast visiting pasture-raised dairies and small-scale organic farms. Part of the reason I’ve been struggling to find time to post is the massive amount of catch-up we’ve had to do upon returning from our vacation. (That, plus the chicks who are growing rapidly but still ridiculously helpless, plus other work.) So it seems fitting that I catch up on the blog, too, and get a few of these pictures up! Here goes.

In upstate New York, around Hamilton — home to Colgate University, which actually does link to the toothpaste via trustee — local food is easy to find. Driving along a rural road, you might happen upon a cheese shop tucked right next door to the milking parlor and approximately 100 yards away from the cows that produce the cheese. (Yes, it really is this picturesque. Note the wind power being generated in the background.)

Or you might happen upon another cheese shop that’s home to New York’s largest reservoir of fine aged cheeses. You can buy 14-year-old cheddar here, no joke:

Jewett’s also has unbelievably delicious cocoa-coated-almonds (not like anything you’ve ever tasted — dusty, bitter, silky, sweet, in that order), and an excellent selection of local jams, honeys, and dry goods. And, of course, cheese — if you’re a sucker for flavored cheese like I am (think: dill, garlic, sun-dried tomato) or fresh cheese curd that squeaks when you bite into it, this store is the place for you.

But back to the cows. The photo at the top of this post is proof that dairy workers rise at O Dark Thirty (my family’s way of saying Way Too Early) every morning. The sky was still dark, but the cows were in the milking parlor, the lights were on, and the guys were milking! ‘Course, the pictures are better in the daylight — here, the cows are coming out of the milking parlor, udders drained, to find their way down the dirt lane to the pasture:

And finally, a contrast for you. This dairy used to be a conventional, confined operation. In the first photo, my arms are opened to the amount of space that each cow would live in — in the cement floor, you can still see the sockets where posts previously divided the stalls. (You can see why I’m looking a bit melancholy in this photo. A cow would live in this space her entire life, 24/7 — eat there, poop there, sleep there, and be milked there. She’d be fed at the end in front of me, and her poop would drain down the gutter behind me.)

The last three photos depict Emmett’s cousin’s cows, free-ranging in beautiful upstate New York.

I’ll put the tomato story in a new post, so that people looking to learn about tomatoes won’t have to scroll through my make-up pictures first!  Over ‘n out.

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off the vine, onto the plate

Emmett here, with a photo of last night’s meal (my first helping of it, that is.)

Nearly everything came from our fields: basil and garlic for pesto; tomatoes for sauce; kuri squash and cherry tomatoes for a sweet & nutty squash dish; armenian cukes and mint for cucumber salad; and tomatoes, basil and garlic for bruschetta.

Most of what we didn’t grow, we traded for at the market: peppers, onion, and bread.

What’s left came from the store: pasta, oil and vinegar, salt and pepper.

Yummm…

Lynda’s Two Cents:

At first, I was extremely skeptical about Emmett’s kuri squash & cherry tomato dish.  (It’s that weird-looking, semi-stew semi-stir-fry thing you can see in the middle of the plate).  He always has these strange cooking ideas — like combining winter squash with tomatoes (a clash of the seasons!), or making pesto out of our brassica mix.  (I’ll post that recipe sometime — it turned out quite well.)

Weirdly enough, his kuri-squash-cum-tomato dish was delicious — and somehow it tasted seasoned, possessing a mild curry flavor, with only salt and pepper added.  Simple directions:  sautee garlic and onions until tender.  Then add one underripe kuri squash (pre-baked in the oven, scooped out with a spoon) and a bunch of cherry tomatoes.  Even if you don’t have access to underripe kuri squash, I’d recommend throwing some farmer’s-market-fresh cherry tomatoes into your next stir fry.  I know, it’s practically heretical to cook tomatoes at this time of year — and it wouldn’t really go with an Asian-themed stir fry — but the sweet juicy tang of vine-ripened tomatoes will add zest to any curry (or mock-curry) dish.

One more lesson learned from this meal:  next time you’re making bruschetta, use as many colors of tomatoes as possible.  It makes for an absolutely gorgeous presentation — yellow, orange and red flecked with bright green basil — plus, the yellow and orange tomatoes contain less acid, making your bruschetta that much sweeter.

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farm grace

For the latter part of our Wednesday “weekend” — I spent the morning freelancing for the Windsor Times, and Emmett spent it harvesting — Emmett and I have decided to indulge in a miniature Slow Food event of our own. After a lunch of four ears of fresh-picked corn (wormy ends severed prior to a brief boiling), we’ve decided to get creative with Foggy River produce for dinner. Riffing partly off recipes from Grub, we’re planning on bruschetta, green bean salad, some early, nutty-but-not-yet-sweet Kuri squash (from the plants that died — the fruit never did quite ripen fully), and some other dishes that will probably arise when we plumb the depths of the refrigerator to discover still more Armenian cucumbers, Lacinato kale, brassica greens, and Swiss chard.

I can’t wait to sit down to the bounty, and in anticipation of a feast, I thought I’d steal a post to talk about farm grace. By which I mean: I can’t quite express how lucky — but it’s deeper than lucky, more like blessed or gifted — I feel when things grow. Often, when Emmett and I sit down to a meal we grew and prepared, one of us will compliment the flavor of the food and the other will quip, “Thanks, I grew it myself.” But honestly, we had nothing to do with it. I mean, sure, we weeded, watered, and hoped. But really, the plant does the hard work.

I’ve learned about photosynthesis, the light and dark reactions, the xylem and phloem and all of the components of a plant’s cell — chloroplast, vacuole, mitochondira, ribosomes, endoplasmic reticulum. And yet somehow, sometimes, focusing on the specifics of how things work can take away a bit of the magic. How often do you stop and wonder how in the heck, with the same ingredients — soil, sun, water — you can end up with a potato or a tomato, a melon or a lemon, a butternut squash or a radish? Maybe I’m simple, but it seems to me that in this context even the formation of the lowly radish is something of a miracle.

And then there are the things that are obviously miracles. Have you ever grown a pumpkin? With very little help from you — just a bit of water and compost — one day you’ll walk outside and happen upon a gigantic green gourd three times the size of your head. (How does it do that?!) And even if you’ve been paying close attention to the plant the miracle is no less great. Watching a bright orange flower turn into a small fruit, which then gradually grows… and grows… and grows… into a monstrous squash is phenomenal, too. Whenever I wander out into the squash patch and see a snapshot of time progression — blossoms, tiny squash and bigger squash in the same frame (sweet dumplings pictured above) — I’m amazed. All this beauty and flavor, mostly made of air. (Funny aside: When Harvard seniors were presented with a block of wood and asked what it was mostly made of, the majority of students — even science students — said water and soil. In fact, the solid part of plants — including trees — is primarily derived from carbon dioxide, what you and I breathe out.  Somehow, it’s intellectually easier to attribute a redwood’s growth to water and soil, but even 150-foot-tall trees are made of air.)

So, to all of our hardworking plants at the farm, I say thank you. Because if someone gave me water, sun, and soil and expected me to make a butternut squash out of it, I’d be quite certain that they’d lost their minds.

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vive la green grocer

Farmflash:

  • A Merc reporter takes a Slow Food road trip along Highway 1, where the Pacific meets the Bay Area’s foodie culture.
  • A Post reporter documents Week Seven of her CSA.
  • Napa grapegrowers go organic.

Foggy River:

Here at Foggy River, we’re hittin’ it big. Our farm enterprise has moved beyond selling at mere farmer’s markets, forging ahead into the great big economic mainstream produce wild blue yonder…

We’re selling to grocery stores, baby.

OK, reality check: Better make that one grocery store. And we’re not exactly talking Safeway here. No, we’re officially selling to a delicious little deli-cum-local-food-seller called Green Grocer that recently moved in to Windsor. It sources 95% of what it sells within 150 miles of the store, and has gotten good press for the tasty delights that the two chef-owners cook up. We stopped by the store on Sunday, and one of the owners bought a few bunches of chard and kale on the spot. Emmett dropped off a load of Armenian cucumbers and beans at the store this morning.

It’s an awesome place in more ways than one. First of all, you can get a tasty, locally-sourced meal for under $10. (There aren’t too many places in Sonoma County where you can say that.) Secondly, it’s becoming a great community gathering space: a veritable revolving door of farmers and customers. Local farmers bring by a couple bushels of produce, saying hi to customers who can revel in the fact that the produce is really, truly, local and fresh. It’s another place to interact with your farmer on non-market days.

And of course, now that Green Grocer carries Foggy River produce, they’re clearly destined for greatness. I predict that within the year, the owners will sell rights to Green Grocer, Inc. for millions of dollars, and the store will become a national-scale household-name franchise, processing millions of tons of produce per year… oh, wait, that’s not the point. At all.

All joking aside, I hope that Green Grocer does well. The store is clearly a labor of love, decidedly dedicated to showcasing local farmers — and giving them a good price for their produce. I’m guessing they don’t make too much money off the produce part of the store, since the markup isn’t that high. (In another weird twist of vendor friendliness, Emmett actually talked Joe, the co-owner, down in price for our kale. Honestly, we’re grateful to have an outlet for our extra produce, and while they want to make it worth our while, we want to make it worth their while, too.)

The folks who own Green Grocer can also be found preparing the food, pickling Foggy River Armenian Cucumbers, baking, and manning the cash register. This labor of local food love clearly has a good heart — all the more reason to drop by the Windsor Town Green and go buy a tasty panini, maybe with a naturally fermented pickle on the side. While you’re at it, pick up some Foggy River purple beans or Lacinato kale.

Over ‘n out.

-Lynda

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chicks taking off

They grow up so fast! Just a few days ago, they were in eggs that would have fit neatly into this box. (Now they’re really free-range.) Only six days old, the chicks are already stretching their wings. The brooder has become a runway: the girls take turns racing up and down the box lengthwise, seeing how many of their sisters they can clear in one fast-flapping leap.

Note to potential future chick owners: Don’t give the chicks sphegnum moss as bedding. A couple of books I read mentioned moss as an ideal chick litter, but as soon as I put it in the brooder, the little sillies started eating it. I did some lightning-quick Google research, and one website mentioned that moss can expand twentyfold when wet. (Picture this happening in chicks’ stomachs after a drink. BAD news.) I quickly pulled out the moss, put down some interim paper towels, and raced back to the hardware store (where I’d just purchased the moss) to buy some pine shaving bedding. The reason I didn’t buy the pine bedding in the first place: on the label, it clearly states not to use it in an enclosed living situation. But hoards of other online chick-owners swore by it, so I trusted them — sure enough, the chicks are doing just fine. Ah, I love the American fear of litigation that leads every company to overstate potential hazards…

The only real hazard, so far, with the chicks: they take up a ton of my time. Sure, some of this is necessary — I’ve had to pick poop off a few pasty butts, plus they’re constantly filling their waterer with pine shavings, and they’re always on a mission to drench the brooder that’s supposed to stay clean and dry — but some of it is pure pleasure. If you’ve never chick-watched, a word to the wise: it’s like Desperate Housewives, only cuter. They scratch in the bedding, quibble over kibble, fall asleep haphazardly — on the feeding trough, under the feeding trough, or in adorable little chick-carpets, all the sisters intertwined — and beat their tiny little stumpy wings so hard they almost outsmart Bernoulli and fly.

The funniest thing happened when Emmett and I were playing with them this evening. His cell phone rang. All of the chicks simultaneously jumped up, then went silent. The phone rang again. A second jump, higher this time; then they went immediately into a duck-and-cover drill. Three quarters of them went to one end of the brooder, a quarter went to the other.  Moving as one, they dropped to the ground, packed tightly together, and pretended to be asleep. A few happened to end up on Emmett’s hand; he lifted his hand, and like stubborn little opossums feigning death they refused to move. It was the strangest thing — some evolutionary adaptation, I’m guessing. Perhaps the ring happened to be the same note as a hawk’s cry?

Will post more tomorrow. After a long evening spent picking beans, I’m tired. Off to bed…

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poor in pocket, rich in food

Farmflash:

  • The Canadian government supports organic food. (Don’t even get me started on our Farm Bill.)
  • Baltimore jumps on the local bandwagon.

Foggy River:

At the Windsor Market today, we made $100 less than we did last week, but right now we are wealthy in food. One awesome thing about the farmer’s market: the generosity of the vendors and the after-hours trading that takes place there.

Although we’re technically competing with one another for sales, there’s a great sharing spirit among vendors. Hey, we’re all growing stuff (except for the bakeries, which are baking stuff, which is in the same spirit), and for one day each week we’re neighbors, so we’ve got quite a bit in common to begin with. Add to that the fact that I have a ton of beans burning a hole in my pocket (errr… trunk), and you’ve got some beautiful apples: trading is the natural next step.

We’re not talking a stressful auctioneer-style barter system here. It’s more like “Can I give you some beans? Please?” “Sure, but only if I can give you some apples.” Everyone is always urging everyone else to take more, not less. “Just one more pepper. Really. Don’t be shy.” Yesterday, our neighbor at the Healdsburg market declared, “I’m not taking home any of these table grapes. If I want more, I can go and pick them from the vine myself.” She then set out determinedly down the aisle to give the grapes away to other growers.

At the end of the day, I delight in the free luxuries of a farmer’s market farmer. A fresh baguette from a local bakery, a walnut-raisin loaf, a roasted garlic loaf, Gravenstein apples, pears, peppers, grapes, and someone else’s gigantic yellow heirloom tomatoes can make a person feel pretty rich… even if she doesn’t happen to have a particularly cushy bank account.

Above picture: our current currency, purple beans. (Other denominations include Armenian cucumbers, mixed brassica greens, cherry tomatoes, and chard.)

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farmer’s market economics: late August

Farmflash:

  • Farming still dangerous, years after Robert Frost wrote “Out, out–”…
  • Meet Rise & Shine’s CSA in Rome.  (That’s Georgia.  And not the one with the Russia problems.)

Foggy River:

Change is in the air at the farmer’s market; the customers and the marketers both feel it, but in different ways.

Walking down the farmer’s market aisles, customers are overwhelmed with the sights and smells of summer.  It’s a shock to the senses:  the orange brilliance of a squash blossom coupled with wafts of Genovese basil.  Tie-dyed tomatoes paired with the delicate scent of Italian parsley.  Summer squash — yellow crookneck, golden zucchini, pale green patty-pans still small and possessing that gorgeous acorn shape — and is that a bag of fresh dill?  (Yes, picked this morning.)  And then there are the peppers, long and skinny, fat and round — and the tomatoes that look like peppers, but aren’t.  (Gotcha.)  Green beans, yellow beans, purple beans, eggplant, chard, kale, onions, garlic:  ‘Tis the season of plenty, and there’s plenty to drink in — or bag up, as the case may be.  At this morning’s farmer’s market I watched many a customer fill up canvas bags to their tippy-top, then groan slightly when hefting the load to a shoulder.

The farmer enjoys this scene as much as the customer — except at the market’s end, when it comes time to tally up the day’s earnings, fill out the load list, and pay the stall fee.  Some of us have noticed our earnings stagnate or drop, and we have a theory:  Econ 101, lecture 1, Supply & Demand.

At the moment, everything’s ripe.  Supply has expanded hugely.  Demand — while it may have swelled a little at the sight of all those heirloom tomatoes — hasn’t.  So, first of all, prices have dropped, and second of all, people might be buying less at your particular stand — because new stands (selling only tomatoes, for instance) have opened up, making your tomatoes (commingled, as they are, with chard and salad and zuchs and cukes and such) less exciting.  Basically, while you have lots more to sell, everybody else has lots more to sell, too.  And in the midst of a production glut, the specialized businesses definitely have the edge.

It’s a bit of a bitter pill to swallow for Emmett and me, because we’re essentially doing a heck of a lot more work — harvesting all the time to try and keep our plants in production in addition to the usual maintenance — but not making any more money. (At least, we’re not making any more money at the Healdsburg market.  We had a record week at Windsor last Sunday, but we have a hunch that it was due to the fact that a major vendor was missing — hence, we were able to garner a greater share of the market.  Apparently this vendor’s truck got in an accident, and so he had no way of getting to market.)

Anyway, we came home today utterly exhausted.  I flopped onto the couch and kept thinking “Must… bring… cucumbers… to… fridge…”, falling asleep, waking up, remembering the cucumbers, and falling asleep again.  Emmett (normally the upbeat, optimistic one), pronounced:  “It’s not working.  It’s too much work and not enough money.”  Part of this was simply tired I-was-harvesting-before-dawn-again talk, but there’s some truth to his statement: it’s a strange world where one works harder, brings more to market, maybe even sells more, and yet comes home with less cash in hand.  It made us both seriously consider starting a CSA.  (We realized that we could make the same amount of money by supplying approximately 25 people with CSA boxes, a system which seems infinitely more sensible than attending two farmer’s markets in a row.  But more on that later.)

On the bright side, it’s an absolutely awesome time to be a buyer.  You can nab heirloom tomatoes for $2.50 a pound, fresh-picked organic corn or huge gorgeous squash blossoms for 50 cents apiece.  Basil’s flying off tables like hotcakes and zucchinis are practically free.  So I encourage all of you to go out and buy — for your sake, and for the farmers, too’!

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growing fancy: chioggia beets

Farmflash:

  • Food = Expensive.
  • Kenya questions value of organics. (But did the study they cited test pesticide residue, or just nutritional content?)
  • Even England (not exactly renowned for its cuisine, and I say this with all due affection for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding) is jumping on the local food bandwagon: an author solicits help for a book about local food in Leicestershire.
  • The Times features salt potatoes, an upstate classic — among other local Finger Lake faves.

Growing fancy: Chioggia Beets

I’m going to make an effort to post about some unique veggie at least once a week, with more details than I’ve previously given. For the newly-revised “Growing Fancy” section, expect to learn about the veggie’s history, nutritional content, growing tips, and cooking tips, too! Take one: Chioggia Beets.

History:

Beets are thought to have originated from wild species in the Mediterranean area of Southern Europe. Their botanical ancestors have been cultivated just about as long as anything — as far as historians can tell, since prehistoric times. Those botanical ancestors are also known as chard, a bulbless beet that Aristotle wrote about in the fourth century B.C. (I’m hoping that if I keep writing about chard, maybe I’ll become extraordinarily wise and famous, too.) Early Romans ate only the greens; the root — still hard and fibrous at this point — was considered medicine and only used for treating illness.

In the third and fourth centuries A.D., Roman food writers started to babble about beta vulgaris — a plant that apparently possessed the fleshy, sweet root we’re familiar with today. (It was probably found growing in the wild and subsequently cultivated, but nobody is not too sure about that.) Anyway, not too much was written about the beet for a while after the Romans. (I harbor a sneaking suspicion that beets were largely a peasant food, and peasant diets aren’t often recorded in the history books.) Fast-forward to the fourteenth century: the beet entered European consciousness vis-a-vis written English recipes, where it clearly “took root.” (Groan.)

Linguistic note: as some of our customers have pointed out, Chioggia is technically pronounced key-oh-ghee-ah. The “Ch” in Italy is pronounced as a hard “c,” whereas an Italian “c” is actually pronounced like the English “ch.” Still, I really haven’t heard too many Americans say it this way. (I did take a year of Italian in college, but I’m going to stick to the colloquial parlance on this one.)

Botany:

Any gardener knows a beet seed when she sees it — unless, of course, it’s a chard seed. Chard and beet seeds are pretty much identical, and look a little like extraterrestrials destined for Martian soil; each “seed” is actually a multifaceted seed pod containing multiple viable plant seeds. As I mentioned before, chard and beets are closely related, and will in fact cross-pollinate with one another if given the chance. Ditto goes for sugar beets. Be forewarned: beets are wind-pollinated, and the pollen can travel great distances. If you want to seed-save and get true-to-type Chioggia beets next year, make sure your beets aren’t flowering at the same time as your chard (or at the same time as another beet variety, such as Golden or Bull’s Blood).

Interesting side note: if you leave the pods on the plant too long in a rainy season, you might find tiny little beet plants sprouting mid-air from the parent plant, like rainforest epiphytes. It’s not particularly useful, but it’s pretty cool to see!

Growing:

We follow Johnny’s Seeds’ instructions for these little guys: directly sow them one inch apart, half an inch deep. Water regularly (we drip irrigate every day). Since each seed pod will sprout multiple plants, you’ll have to do a bit of thinning pretty quickly. But since beet seeds aren’t cheap, I really try to get the most out of each sprouted seed: We wait to thin as much as possible until the greens are big enough to use in a salad (yum) — and even then we only thin them to, say, a two-to-three-inch spacing. We thin again for baby beets, which are so tender and tasty and have good-sized greens. Approximately two months after planting (depending on weather — hotter is faster, cooler is slower), the remaining beets should be nice and plump, the bulbs easily visible from the surface. (If you want a perfect-looking beet, you can mound dirt over the bulbs so the skin quality is more uniform. But when you cook it, you end up peeling off the skin anyway, so I don’t bother.)

Chioggia beets have been summering our ninety-degree days quite well, and haven’t found themselves too put out by our clay soil. While some of our other beet varieties (specifically the classic dark red variety) have suffered from mild bouts of beet scab — an unattractive but not fatal condition — Chioggia has proven more resistant. The tasty beet greens haven’t been particularly plagued by pests, either — despite the fact that they’re grown out in the open, without a row cover, in a field rife with leaf-eating cucumber beetles.

Eat It:

Roasted! This caramelizes the beet’s naturally occurring sugar (which is about 8% of the plant), bringing out the root’s innate sweetness. It also preserves the Chioggia’s striking colors better than boiling, which tends to fade the characteristic candy stripes, at least on the areas most exposed to water.

To maximize the wow factor and minimize the cooking effort, simply slice the beets in half, place them on a cookie sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sea salt & pepper — maybe some balsalmic if you feel the urge — and put them in an oven until they’re nice and tender. (Cooking length depends on size of beet.) Then simply peel the skins off and serve. (Or, like we do at our house, simply serve and warn people about the skins. Our kitchen is a do-it-yourself operation.)

Chic Chioggia:

  • Doesn’t stain the heck out of everything like the classic purple beet.
  • The stripes are truly stunning, especially for peppermint fans. (Also: Can trick unsuspecting kiddies with promises of ‘candy cane beet’.)
  • It’s Italian, and those people really know how to cook, so chances are they developed a darn good — sweet and succulent — beet variety, too.
  • A good way of getting fiber without becoming The Prune Eater; you’ll also benefit from beets’ high levels of folate and potassium. (Beets contain some calcium, too, but be sure to eat the greens for an extra dose of calcium and Vitamin C.)

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the chicks cometh!

Farmflash:

  • American man can keep farm in Saskatchewan, after all — although his children won’t necessarily be able to inherit it.
  • Prince Charles called GM foods the world’s worst environmental disaster; echoes in India agree. (Sad fact of the day: in the past decade, 200,000 Indian farmers have taken their own lives.)

Foggy River News:

At 7:45 a.m., I received a call from the post office: “Lynda?”

“Yes.”

“Your birds are here.”

With that, Emmett and I took off for the post office — which isn’t technically open at 7:45 a.m. Per the postal worker’s instructions we went around back to the loading dock, where dozens of post office trucks lined up, their drivers just beginning to trickle in for the day’s deliveries. I found a friendly truck driver who bustled through the “Authorized Postal Workers Only” doors to locate my chicks. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself holding a rather unusual cardboard box — one festooned with breathing-holes and cheeping loudly.

As Emmett and I smiled over the noisy box, the helpful truck driver asked, “What kinds of chicks did you get?”

I rattled off the names: Rhode Island Reds, White Leghorns, Araucanas.

“Rhode Island Reds will eat you out of house and home,” the woman informed us. “White Leghorns will lay their hearts out for you. And Araucanas will be your friendliest, nicest birds.”

“I take it you’re a chicken fancier,” I said, a bit surprised by the deluge of advice.

“I used to be,” the lady responded. “Now I’m a truck driver.”

With that, we rushed the babies home, anxious and excited. Did they all survive the trip? Would they be healthy? Were there really thirty chicks in this small cardboard box — was the noise, which flowed intermittently from the trunk of my station wagon, really 30 chicks’ worth of peeping? We pulled into the garage for the moment of truth:

We slid the cardboard box out from between the harvesting coolers, gently put it on the garage floor and knifed through the tape.  Ta-da:  we were, indeed, hearing 30 chicks’ worth of peeping. Thanks to Belt Hatchery (a family-owned operation with an extremely friendly and helpful staff), we are now the proud owners of 30 happy little chicks: 12 Rhode Island Reds, 6 White Leghorns, 10 Araucanas, one mystery chick (which we think is a Buff Orpington), and one Rhode Island Red cockerel (helpfully marked with a daub of paint on his noggin.)

One by one, we moved the birds from the cardboard box into the brooder, dipping each chick’s beak into the waterer so it would know where to get a drink. We didn’t have to tell them where to find the food — they immediately starting attacking the miniature trough, pecking like their little lives depended on it. At first, none too shy, a few of them squeezed the greater part of their little bodies into the trough’s feeding holes like little burrowing chick-gophers. We quickly learned to fill the trough up to the very tip-top so they wouldn’t wriggle themselves in and get stuck.

We also checked each chick for pasty butt, a rather rude procedure that was met with more than a few disgruntled cheeps. (Note: if, five years ago, you’d have told me that one day I’d be parting the butt-feathers of baby chicks to see if poop was causing their vents to stick together, I would have laughed in your face. But today there’s irrevocable proof that I have, indeed, inspected chick-butts.)

Now some of the babies are sleeping, others are clambering on top of the sleeping ones, still others are eating or drinking or exploring the farthest reaches of the brooder. Already I can tell that the different breeds have slightly different personalities. The leghorn chicks (yellow) are pretty laid back. The Rhode Island Reds (ruddy) are feisty, sassy little things, prone to climbing right over the other chicks and/or trying to eat their sisters’ wingfeathers. (Within fifteen minutes, the chicks had managed to upset the waterer, forming a paper towel swamp and forcing me to transfer all the chicks to our back-up plastic tub. I blame the RIRs.) The Araucanas (black & brown beauties) are somewhere in the middle, and seem particularly content to be hand-held.

The little ones seemed a bit chilled after their journey from Fresno and huddled under the heat lamp for a while before spreading out across the brooder:

I’ll keep you updated on their progress over the next few weeks, and offer any tips or lessons learned in case you find yourself ordering some baby fuzzy butts in the near future. (Warning: they’re addictive. Watching chicks is kind of like watching TV, only better.) For now, I just hope they get big enough, soon enough to eat our surplus crop of chard and beans while the plants are still producing!

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farmer’s market etiquette

Farmflash:

  • Sonoma County‘s Press-Democrat dives gradually into Slow Food.
  • In California, farmworkers continue to die of heat; OSHA law not helping workers due to lack of enforcement.
  • American man forced to sell Canadian farm that has been in the family for 99 years.

Foggy River Philosophy:

A word of warning: for a while, I’ve been debating whether or not to publish this particular post. I’m a bit afraid I’ll alienate some of my readers here. Some of you, I imagine, will feel the way I do. Others might actually be farmer’s market “offenders.”

But heck, the internet is so blissfully anonymous, I figured why not? Even if you’re one of these people who, in my mind, infringes upon common-sense farmer’s market etiquette, I’ll never know who you are! And maybe it’ll be refreshing for you to hear a farmer’s perspective, even if you dismiss me as easily offended and somewhat huffy. Regardless, I hope you’ll pardon my attempt to lay down the law.

(Translation: My inner sass won the to-post-or-not-to-post battle.)

And now, a few farmer’s market rules of the road:

1. Don’t steal. This should be obvious, but on Sunday I watched people sneak cherry tomatoes out of our selling basket — and then slink away guiltily when they noticed I noticed. We do have samples of cucumbers and apples out for customers to try, bristling with health-code-required toothpicks in an obvious sample bowl. If you ask to try a tomato, I’ll absolutely respond with an emphatic yes. But don’t take them without asking. You wouldn’t bite into an unpaid-for apple in a grocery store, would you?

2. Control your kids. We love children, and I think it’s awesome that parents take kids to the farmer’s market — what a great way to get them excited about eating healthy foods! (I bet you didn’t know this, but I was on a pretty strict picky-eater diet of meat and potatoes until I went to college. When I became a vegetarian as a sophomore, my mom asked pointedly “What are you going to eat?” Anyway, the point being: it’s taken me a long time to learn to eat a healthy variety of vegetables, and if your kids are eating them now, I applaud your parenting skills.) Still, it isn’t okay when one kid eats the entire sample bowl’s worth of apples…. or starts popping cherry tomatoes into his mouth like it’s candy, when we said feel free to take one. So: keep an eye on your kids, encourage them to use ‘please’ and ‘thank-you,’ and we promise to shower these healthy-appetited children with attention and free samples.

3. Don’t treat us like Costco. In my family, “Costco” (or Sam’s Club) basically translates to: free lunch. We hit up all the samples, sometimes a couple of times. But Costco operates on a slightly different scale than we do; it should come as no surprise that the farmer’s market ain’t a bulk warehouse store. Obviously, samples are still free. There’s no requirement to purchase a cucumber once you’ve tried the sample. But it’s not entirely friendly — or in the farmer’s market spirit — to beeline for all of the market’s samples in a slap-dash taste-and-run. Think of farmer’s market sampling as an event along the lines of a fine wine tasting. Hold the Armenian cucumber morsel up to the light, examining the color and consistency. Take a deep whiff, looking for notes of caramel and bouquets of citrus. Swish it around in your mouth five times before swallowing. OK, so you don’t have to take the cucumber that seriously, but a little “mmm, that’s tasty!” or “huh, interesting” goes a long way to making your farmer feel good. And a farmer who feels good is more likely to put out more free samples!

4. Don’t roll your eyes. Ever. Even if my radishes cost more than radishes cost in New York City, it’s not okay to roll your eyes as though you are way too good to buy my ridiculously overpriced, exceptionally unworthy radishes. Remember, I’m not a used car salesman who happens to be hawking roots at the farmer’s market. I grew these things, and growing (e.g., sowing, sprouting, weeding, watering, and harvesting) is hard work!

4a. Don’t mention that grocery stores may be selling Vegetable X cheaper. Safeway’s Vegetable X probably traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles to the store, is probably a week old, and was definitely grown by some highly mechanized corporate behemoth. Yes, my vegetables may cost slightly more than Vegetable X, but you get what you pay for: freshness, organic growing procedures, and environmental sustainability. I’ve got photos of the farm on display, and you’re also welcome to visit Foggy River Farm at any time to see where and how your veggies are grown… can you say the same for Vegetable X?

5. Don’t pee on buildings. Walk the extra five minutes to the nearest public toilet. I’ll admit: the person I think I caught doing this was a fellow seller. I won’t repeat who it was — but still, come on, people.

6. OK, time to tone down my sass. How about introducing yourself? I love knowing your name, and I love repeat faces at the farmer’s market. In fact, Emmett and I get ridiculously silly about repeat customers — we’ll save extra beet greens for a regular we know who really likes them, we’ll throw in an extra cucumber destined for the salad of a regular lettuce-buyer, and if we know you have kids, we’ll inquire after them. Be friendly to us, and I guarantee we’ll be friendly in return.

–Lynda.

P.S. I had a great “weekend,” mostly spent grocery shopping, writing, and catching up on errands. We still haven’t unpacked our luggage from the trip, a load of laundry still sprawls across the living room floor… but there are Cheerios in the cupboard, and O.J. and beer in the fridge, and that’s pretty much all a twenty-something needs in life, right? I did enjoy a delightful swim in the Russian River this afternoon, and most excitingly of all, the brooder is ready to go for the arrival of 30 chicks tomorrow morning! (Expect a deluge of cute baby chicken photos in the near future.)

P.P.S. — Gosh, I wish the color quality of uploaded photos weren’t so awful. In RAW format, or even in iPhoto’s exported JPG, these Sungella tomatoes are a brilliant deep orange — picked at the pinnacle of ripeness, I swear!

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