Category Archives: Farm Philosophy

if I had a million dollars

even samples couldn’t sell all our cucumbers today.

Today at the Windsor Market, we had the fine fortune of experiencing an accidental double-booking of musicians. So the market was forced to put one group where they always do, at the far opposite end of the market — and one group in an entirely new location, right next to us. It was one of the few times we’ve actually been able to hear the music, and I ended up dancing or tapping my foot a good deal of the time. (We liked them so much, we tipped them in tomatoes and chard.)

At one point, the band — a father-son shenanigan named “Generation Gap” — played “If I had a million dollars,” by the Barenaked Ladies. It seemed a fitting song, since the day’s sales were extremely s–l–o–w. In the end, we made less than 2/3 of what we did yesterday… and of course, we spent just as much time harvesting, preparing, and selling.

Anyhow, after the band finished playing that particular song, Emmett cracked a joke that I’d never heard before:

Q: What does the farmer, who’s just won a million dollars, do with the money?

A: Keep farming until it’s gone.

On a slow day like today, that joke seems fitting. But despite the slow sales I’m still in a good mood, because when I came home from the market and peeked in the rooster’s infirmary pen, lo and behold, the lame had risen to walk! He stands up and flaps his wings self-importantly; without the boots, his feet are straight, not curled; and he walks, albeit a bit nervously. He’s now in a shipping crate where he can see a light brahma and a silver laced wyandotte through breathing-holes, so he has some company. When I put his lady neighbors in his side of the pen for a visit, he only made one rude lunge, and then graciously permitted them to polish off the rest of his chick feed. (I think that, faced with two hungry females, he knew instinctively that he was toast if he tried to get between the girls and their lunch.)

Updates on our fall planting tomorrow.

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of beans and forgiveness

After writing a post about how much I hated beans — and after thoroughly hating beans for the past couple of weeks — yesterday, I found myself strangely at peace with them.

Now don’t go thinking that I’ve gone all mushy and overly optimistic and glass-half-full-y.  What I am about to describe is one half-hour of beanpicking only — and may not, under any circumstances, be extrapolated outwards to reflect an earth-shattering change in my typically cynical worldview.

Emmett and I had just dropped the chicks off in the coop and headed down to the field to water the plants.  While the drip-tape dripped and the misters misted, I found myself noticing some small, tender Kentucky Wonders tucked into the bean thicket amongst the gigantic podded-out monstrosities.

Now please note:  at no point did Emmett say “we really need to harvest beans today.”  I, completely of my own accord, picked up a lug bin (aka harvest bin) and started tossing beans into it.

And rather than focusing on all of the woody, podded-out beans — which were present in a three-to-one bad-to-good ratio — I focused on the nice, tender new ones.  I left the large beans to nab later for soup beans, and let my fingers scour the vines in search of narrow beans to pinch and pick.  And, having given the beans up for dead-and-done, I was amazed by the amount and quality of the second-wind crop.  I didn’t really end up with very many beans — the purples, Kentucky Wonders, and Blue Lakes together just filled the bottom of the bin.  But when you aren’t expecting much, a little is a lot.

OK, that’s purty gosh darn lemons-into-lemonade-y.  In fact, standing there picking beans, I must confess that I felt a little like Pollyana, Mary Englebreit, Hallmark, Ann Geddes and Precious Moments all rolled into one.  So pardon my corny moment.  This is not my normal M.O.

But sometimes, just sometimes, it’s good to pay attention to the small, tender beans in the world, and not the irritatingly humongous ones.

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stretching their wings

I was always perplexed by the way a bitch (as in, female dog) will eventually turn on her pups — snarling as the little ones (who are, by then, not so little, with not so little teeth) try to continue nursing from her. Some dogs, it seems, will simply run away to leak milk in private somewhere the pups can’t find them. Other mothers growl and snap at the pups, sending a crystal-clear ‘it ain’t gonna happen, sweetheart’ signal.

It seems cruel — after all, what could be cuter than a puppy? — but it makes sense. Eventually young creatures outgrow the need for coddling, and past a certain point, coddling actually hinders them.

So it was with the chicks. Since we picked them up from the USPS that fateful August day, they’ve been kept in the garage in boxes. At first, thirty chicks fit handily in one 90-quart Rubbermaid container. (At this stage, for a sense of scale, three chicks also fit handily in the palm of my hand.) But after a week, they needed two boxes. And after two weeks, they let their dissatisfaction with their two-box living quarters be known by pecking one another. More space was needed: I started putting chicks in cardboard boxes, Jasper’s cat carrier, whatever I could get my hands on. And let me tell you, thirty chicks in six different containers is a heck of a lot more work than thirty chicks in one container.

That’s twelve dishes constantly in need of refilling — because as the chicks have quadrupled (maybe quintupled!) in size, they’ve developed the klutzy-teenager habit of knocking over anything that contains something useful. Water dishes are a particular favorite, and knocking them over can create a serious chicken health hazard.

People talk about toxic mold growing in wet litter, but I didn’t find any visible mold. No, my biggest problem with constantly upended water dishes: Wet chicken litter smells not like manure, but like ammonia — a component of their excretions, and a known lung irritant. Given birds’ sky-high rates of respiration, they’re especially susceptible to lung irritants. (In fact, pet parrots can die just from being exposed to a hot non-stick pan, which releases toxic gases during cooking. Word to Polly: don’t cook the cracker in Teflon.)

The chicks’ propensity to knock things over meant that I spent a good portion of the last two weeks scooping out wet, ammonia-rich litter, drying it in the sun, replacing it, and then watching the chicks — the moment they had fresh litter — knock over another water dish and wet the litter again.

So, the point is, I can empathize with mama mutt. I promise: I didn’t growl at the chicks, bite them, or even run away from them, exactly — but it was quite gratifying to drop twenty-five of my not-so-little brood off at the coop this morning. And even more gratifying to watch their delight and terror at suddenly finding themselves in so relatively vast a space. We started them out in the top level of our two-level coop condo, and it was hilarious to watch the first pioneer — a bold little Leghorn — press into the undiscovered territory of the ground floor. (She alternated between curiosity, bravado, and abject terror at suddenly finding herself alone, without any of the protection afforded by her flock.) Eventually she was joined by an Araucana. After an hour or so, I tossed a few ears of sweet corn onto the ramp between the levels; about half the flock took the plunge and followed the corn onto the ground floor.

Also gratifying: the chicks’ waterer is now a large five-gallon bucket. (Good luck knocking that one over, guys! Er, knock on wood.) Their feeder is also a five-gallon bucket. This means I have just two vessels to refill for twenty-five chicks — and hopefully I won’t be refilling these large containers that often.

Okay, so I mentioned that I only moved 25 chicks this morning. The other five are still here, but they have the run of the brooder: one large box houses just two birds, the other just three. They’re still under mama-watch until their peer-inflicted scabs heal — at which point they, too, will get the boot. And I’m trying to keep them outside as much as possible, where they seem to revel in the sun, spreading out their wings to luxuriate in it, dust-bathing in the pine shavings, and eying the yard’s greenery with considerable curiosity.

It’s 5 p.m. Now, the only question is: can I resist the urge to drive over to the field and check on the little ones just one more time before morning?

Ducky, the biggest Araucana (named after the uber-happy character in The Land Before Time who says “Yupyupyup!”) surveys the brooder box.  You can see she’s almost as tall as the box itself.

Ducky surveys her new home — and, presumably, deems it quite satisfactory.

A pioneering White Leghorn is the first to explore the coop’s lower level.

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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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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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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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