Tag Archives: slow food

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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is slow food expensive food?

The end of August is going to turn San Francisco into a foodie haven (more so than it already is). Even the New York Times, which was a little slow to pick up on the CSA trend, is taking notice.

They‘re turning the front of City Hall into a Victory Garden full of food. They’re taking citydwellers on local food trips throughout the Bay Area. And while some of the events are free — including a concert that appropriately (for SF) features a Grateful Dead band member — others are a tad on the pricey side. $160 for a “slow dinner” in Walnut Creek, $140 for the “bounty of the Russian River,” a “slow journey” in our area. That sort of thing.

On one hand it’s a little annoying that as a local farmer growing heirloom varieties of produce, I can’t afford to fully participate in the “largest celebration of American food in history.” Slow Food Nation trips and dinners, at those prices, aren’t in my budget. On the other hand, I charge my customers at the farmer’s market more than Safeway does because I’m trying to earn a living. So am I really allowed to complain? (Please note: it would not cost you $160 to cook yourself a lovely slow dinner from my farm stand. I’m just pointing out that I do benefit from higher prices for local, farm-fresh, organic produce.)

This little conundrum begs a bigger question: Must slow food necessarily be expensive food? What about the expanding grow-your-own movement? I wholeheartedly support it, especially for people who can’t afford to throw down $30 at the farmer’s market every week. (Not to mention, it’s a great thing for people to be outside in their gardens, and a great form of exercise.) But what if the grow-your-own movement grows such that it drives down farmer’s market prices — can small farmers survive on lower prices for fresh organic produce? At the same time, this might be a far-fetched idea (it would require a lot of Americans to change the way they live and how they allocate their time), especially with costs of conventionally-grown food rising thanks to higher fuel prices. At some point in the future, there might come a time when the local food economy expands even further because it’s actually more cost-effective than transporting produce from Argentina and trucking it in from the nearest American port.

Also, when it comes to farmer’s market prices: if you’re really shopping on a whole food (not Whole Foods) basis — no processed, added-value stuff — I find that you can eat pretty cheaply… and even spring for organic, most of the time. Emmett and I pretty much live off a few basics that we buy in bulk: beans (various types), lentils, quinoa, rice, flour, sugar, salt, oil. We make our own bread (and bagels!), except when we trade for it at the farmer’s market, but we do buy pasta. One of these days I’m going to have to add up the cost of weekly groceries at my house (including the value of the food we grow ourselves) and try to compare it to a more processed diet. (OK, so we’re not perfect: we don’t make our own soy ice cream.)

But back to the big themes. Is it possible to have a Cheap Slow Food movement? How much do farmers need to be paid for it to be worth their time?

(I don’t have the answers, I just ask the questions.)

(The picture above is a mix of our beans, with some of the garlic we grew tossed in, and a bit of olive oil. The yellow ones aren’t quite ripe yet, but the purple ones are beautiful! They’re kind of like the turkey that comes with the little pop-up button: when the purple beans turn green, you know they’re done.)

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