Tag Archives: farmer’s market

growing fancy: quinoa

It’s not something I ever would have thought of growing myself. But when Emmett and I were wwoofing on a small family farm in New Zealand, our hosts had a few quinoa plants going. They were healthy, bushy, beautiful things, and their grains were just starting to dry.

So, when we were on our online seed-spending spree a few months ago, we thought ‘why not?’ and ordered some Temuco Quinoa. It sounds fancy — and I went most of my life never having heard of quinoa — but it’s pretty practical stuff. It’s one of the few plant-based complete proteins — a protein that has all 8 amino acids. As such, it’s especially useful for a mostly-vegetarian like myself. (Other sources of complete protein include: spirulina, amaranth, soy, buckwheat, and hempseed, but I’m really not too sure how to serve some of those guys, besides blending them into some disgusting protein shake.) Quinoa’s also really pretty when cooked. The little hard seeds, once boiled/simmered sufficiently, burst open into tiny white spirals. They’re a pretty and healthy addition to soup–just throw ’em in 15 minutes or so before your soup’s done–and can make a nice side salad on their own, with some seasoning and veggies thrown in.

But back to the growing side of things. So far, so good: the plants have proved quite hardy. Sure, the cucumber beetles munched the leaves a bit, but let me tell you these plants looked absolutely wretched when we transplanted them. They were victims of our seed disaster–stunted, tiny things with only a couple of leaves apiece–and it was only Emmett’s deep-rooted sense of optimism that led us to put them in the ground at all. Good thing we did! They’re now hip-high bushes, vigorous and a pretty shade of grey-blue-green, and they’re starting to form buds. We’ve barely had to weed them–once they got going, they quickly shaded the weeds out–and water them about once a day. They haven’t minded our slightly soggy clay soil one bit. My only complaint: the stalks are on the brittle side, and break easily. But really it’s our fault for planting them too close to the chard row, which we harvest a lot (which means I sometimes back into the quinoa while trying to snip chard leaves and avoid stepping on the chard’s floating row cover, which we take off and put on the ground).

I’m excited for a quinoa harvest. If it’s successful, this might be something I plant in bulk in future years. It’s not too often you see grains at the farmer’s market, and I’m guessing people might be excited at something unusual like locally-grown quinoa. (I also have a hunch it might make an awesome protein supplement for chickens, but I’ll have to try that out first.) It’s a good storage crop; we’ve kept store-bought quinoa for close to a year without any sort of problem. Since most of our sales right now are in salad and chard, I can’t wait for something that doesn’t have to be harvested day-of-market!

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farmer’s market recession

For the past 6 weeks — since we first started attending the Windsor farmer’s market — we’ve made more money each subsequent weekend, because we’ve brought more (and a greater variety of) produce each time. Every weekend, we sold out of our pre-bagged baby red-and-green leaf lettuce mix before the market closed. We kept telling ourselves, Gosh, we really need to bring more!

This weekend, things changed.

It started yesterday, Saturday, at the Healdsburg market. Now last weekend we brought several harvest-tubs full of Bright Lights rainbow Swiss chard to the Healdsburg market, and sold every bunch but one. This weekend, we brought the exact same amount of the exact same quality produce, and we sold maybe 1/3 of what we brought.

We were pretty shocked, not to mention distraught over the thought of all of this highly perishable food–well, perishing I guess, and in particular perishing without doing anybody any good. Emmett ran the excess chard over to the local food bank, only to learn that it’s open just 2 days a week: Mondays and Fridays. Then he did a “drive-by charding,” leaving his office refrigerator full of chard. (His boss, an environmental writer and publisher for whom he works part-time, has pigs & chickens, so anything not eaten by humans will still find a belly-home.)

But one refrigerator can only fit so much. A pile of sad, sad chard still sits on our kitchen floor. (See above picture, taken last night. It’s still there, only it looks even worse. We’ve been too busy to pick it up.)

Then came today. For the first time, we were prepared for our red-and-green salad onslaught. We brought 49 bags of the lettuce mix….

…And sold considerably less than we’d sold in previous weeks. At the end of the day, we had a bit under thirty bags left.

We drive-by lettuced fellow sellers at the farmer’s market, giving away $3 bags of salad mix to neighbors, volunteers, and people we’d never met before. Still, it was depressing: all that lettuce bed weeding and early-morning-snipping-and-bagging and hoped-for income just disappearing into thin air.

To make matters worse, it was just one of those days. Over the course of my 14-hour workday, I stubbed my toe twice. I slammed my finger between a car door and a support beam. I whacked my head getting into the pickup truck. Even caffeine couldn’t seem to rouse me from my stupor.

And the insult on top of the injury: I’m pretty sure that today I made the same amount of money as the young girl with the lemonade stand at yesterday’s farmer’s market. How do I know this? Having sold out of her lemonade, the little girl walked by our stand to bring 10% of her day’s earnings to the manager for her stall fee. (It was an adorable sight, and even without knowing her, I felt proud of her.) Clutched tightly in her little hand I could make out a $10 bill and several ones — less than I paid to the market manager yesterday, but about what I paid to the market manager today.

(Let’s not even go into how many more hours it takes to grow organic vegetables than to boil lemon juice, water, and sugar to make lemonade. Clearly, I’m in the wrong business for working a sane amount of hours while still earning money, and this depresses me. Ah, if only I were cute and young, maybe with freckles, I’d totally jump ship and get into the lemonade business while the gettin’s good!)

One more sad story, and then I promise I’ll draw this tragic tale to a close: at the end of the day, when we were pretty beaten down at the thought of all our un-purchased bags of lettuce, Emmett was told by someone what he would be paid for our produce. This person, a well-dressed older woman with coiffed hair and pretty necklaces, said, “I’m only paying $1 a pound for zucchini. That’s what they’re selling them for at…” [At this point, her voice trailed off; neither Emmett nor I could figure out what she said. Whole Foods? Safeway? Wal-Mart? Who knows.] Then, a command: “Here, weigh these.”

This, despite the fact that we don’t have a scale and do have a sign posted with fixed prices for “small” and “large” zucchinis. We price the really small zucchinis higher than $1/pound, because they’re more tender, are tasty eaten raw, and are harvested as a special item, sometimes with blossoms attached. There’s an opportunity cost associated with these guys: we could let them grow into ginormous one-pounders and get our money’s worth out of each female blossom, but we like to offer customers a variety.

It seemed a little absurd to watch the woman walk away with 6 beautiful, perfect baby zucchinis (a couple with still-fresh, edible blossoms!) for a dollar. At that price, it isn’t really worth my effort to harvest them, let alone grow them. But honestly, we were too tired to fight it. And $1 is better than nothing… although I’m not so sure about that, actually.  Sometimes dignity is better than $1.

Sigh. We got home after 7 p.m., having left the house in the 5 a.m. range. We cooked our classic Sunday dinner, which is (if it isn’t burritos from the local Mexican joint because we’re too pooped to cook)… drumroll… whatever’s left over from the market!

Over our dinner of market leftovers (lots of salad!) we discussed ways of genuinely making money as a farmer. I’ll keep you updated if any actually work.

Now, it’s time for bed. As always, tomorrow’s a new day.

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table, check. umbrella, check. quarters, ones, check…

Today [June 22] was our first farmer’s market, and I’m exhausted.

We’ve been preparing for the market for the past three days. We managed to locate, borrow or create most of the necessities: a wooden sign with our farm name, paper signs identifying the veggies, a table, tablecloth, coolers, ice, baskets, chairs, umbrella. We packed everything in the Subaru the night before to make sure it all fit. (Yes, barely.) We wanted a scale, too, but local stores quoted us $300 for a certified, farmer’s-market-approved scale. ($300?! We decided to wait and keep an eye on eBay.)

Then, this morning, we rose at 6 AM. We spent two-plus hours harvesting and washing. First the radishes — the oblong, pink-and-white french breakfast ones and a traditional deep fuchsia spherical variety — which were double-washed. One bucket to get the gobs of mud off; one to make them shine. Then we moved on to the bok choi, which only took one rinse — a bath that was mostly intended to rid the greens of flea beatles. My little brother identified our bok choi as a Swiss variety. As in holey, like the cheese. (We didn’t realize the flea beetles were bad guys until it was too late… actually, we didn’t even know what to call them until we read about them on the seed packet two days ago. They’re tiny, iridescent little black beetles, and the name “flea beetle” made perfect sense. For our second round of bok choi, we’re going to try and use a row cover to confuse/deter them.)

Then we turned to the baby brassica greens that we were selling as a lettuce mix (one that could also be tossed into stir fries or soups). We snipped, soaked and, lacking a salad spinner, shook them as dry as we could before bagging them. Emmett was the official Salad Dancer, and will likely continue to salad dance until we’re really rich and can afford a gigantic, commercial-sized salad spinner — which judging by the cost of the scale will probably set us back at least $150.

Then, off to the market! It was satisfying to set up our little stand and put our hard work out there for others to enjoy. While Emmett and I were a bit embarrassed by our bug-eaten produce — the arugula and bok choi were a tad on the green lace side — many of our customers didn’t seem to mind at all. “As long as it tastes good,” one lady said. A man sympathized: “Oh, I’m in the grape business, trust me, I know how it goes.” We’re grateful for their understanding — and were thrilled when people complimented our produce or bought multiple things. Two bags of greens, a bunch of radishes, that’s almost $10 in one fell swoop! For us, that’s a dinner out — two burritos and a shared drink.

Other things of note: The radishes were a suprisingly big hit. I thought Emmett was silly to plant them, since I consider radishes to be a fairly dull affair. And to add insult to my radish injury, when we were re-reading the seed packet yesterday, we noticed that both varieties suggested that children plant them. “Fun for kids to grow! …almost disease free.” (In other words, our most successful crop so far is one that’s pretty hard to screw up.) Radishes: was it the color that attracted people? The fact that they’re so mundane, they’re rarely seen in the farmer’s market? We also put out fun radish recipes courtesy of the Radish Council, including a hot-and-sour-soup and a southwestern cobb salad. Maybe our customers were impressed by their versatility.

Did I mention I’m exhausted? My body is tired from harvesting, watering, and hauling all of the farmer’s market “stuff.” I’m a bit sunburned from several hours sitting in the half-shade of our too-small umbrella. (It was me or the salad greens, and being a true farmer I let the greens have the shade.)

Total market proceeds: $98. $9.80 went to the farmer’s market to pay for the use of the space and the organization. Another $25 went to pay our annual dues, since it was our first time at the market. Which leaves us with $63.20.

Considering that we’ve worked (between the two of us, extremely conservatively), 80 hours a week for 3 weeks, and Emmett put in a couple of 60-hour weeks before that, our earnings come to about 17 cents an hour. (And that’s not taking into account our significant start-up costs: seeds, irrigation, soil amendments, manure. But I don’t feel like going there right now, so I won’t.)

And besides, we also got one beautiful red onion, one butter crisp lettuce head, two squash seedlings, and two bowls full of lovely orchids (of a species from Madagascar) from our neighbors at the farmer’s market, so really, we’re doing pretty well.

I may be tired, but really, I feel great.

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farmer’s market-ing

We have, approximately, 3′ x 4′ of baby salad greens, a host of summer-spicy radishes, and exactly nothing else.

We’re going to the farmer’s market, baby.

(Quick note: I recently moved this blog from blogspot to wordpress, so there’s going to be a bit of a glut of posts today. And, since I started this blog after we started the farm, there’s going to be some catch-up to do anyway… so for a while, a least, there will be flashbacks interspersed with current events.)

For a while we’ve been stressing out about when to start going to the farmer’s market. How much produce do we need to have? Will we look like fools if we only bring 10 bags of salad and a few radishes? Or is it better to show up and start building a customer base (perhaps a foundation of pity or sympathy), so that by the time we have — hopefully — heaps of corn, tomatoes, beets, winter squash and zuchs, people will be primed to buy our stuff? After much internal debate among the farm’s proprietors, Farmer Number One (Emmett) called the kindly Farmer’s Market Coordinator, who heartily advised us to start this Sunday. (This weekend, she pointed out, is some kind of garlic party for the farmer’s market, so there should be lots of customers. In honor of garlic day, Emmett’s advocating bringing a few of our garlic heads to round out our produce — but the garlic, which was planted six months ago before we knew we’d be starting a farm, was only ever intended for personal consumption. I keep pointing out that if we sell our garlic but then have to buy garlic later, we might end up losing money, because garlic won’t be in season and it might cost more than we sell it for. I’ll let you know who wins the garlic fight.)

For the past couple of weeks, as we debated the date for our farmer’s market stand grand opening, we’ve also been frantically looking around for other things to sell, to assuage our feelings of inadequacy. Rosemary from Emmett’s parents’ garden. Tarragon from Emmett’s parents’ garden. Ditto on their sage, until we learned that Mexican Sage isn’t in fact edible. (It’s a deer deterrent.) Prickly pear patties from a prolific cactus hedge, until Emmett’s dad informed us that you can only eat tender new growth, and have to cut the cactus back in order to encourage it. We’ve been praying that the blackberries, which run rampant along the Russian River, would ripen. (They’re starting to turn pink, but are in no way edible right now.) We even considered foraging for the wild garlic that grows in the vineyard, a blatantly silly endeavor because the cloves are t-i-n-y and usually buried in the dirt without an obvious stalk. I advocated buying chickens so we could sell eggs (and I want chickens, anyway), and Emmett’s dad advocated selling old grapevines for barbecue firewood. (Apparently it has a nice fragrance when burned.)

But I think, when push comes to shove, that we’re just going to be sitting at our little stand with some lettuce, radishes, a bit of rosemary, and maybe a garlic head or two.

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