Tag Archives: vacation

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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the jungle

I’ve dug up a few interesting farming-related articles from around the web: how high food prices can hurt — or at least not help — third world farmers, what Wal-Mart, cancer, and organic produce have to do with local farming in my hometown of San Diego, and when agricultural conservation gets contentious in New Jersey.

And finally, as promised, the optimist’s version of our two-week vacation from the farm:

In our absence, the farm went from a vegetable patch to a vegetable jungle. The quinoa now towers as tall as I do, brimming with proto-grain. Remember when, three months ago, I dreamed of a bean thicket? Well, now I’ve got one — an impenetrable green mass whose weight has managed to partially collapse its fencing. And the winter squash field — oh, the winter squash field! Green jack-o-lanterns, three times the size of my head, lie casually in the dirt. A French variety of yellow pumpkin — which looks as if you took a bright yellow globe and squeezed it at the poles, so it’s slightly wider than it is tall — bursts through the green vines with an unexpected splash of color. The textures, colors, and sizes of the squash are all different, all energizing: the ribbed delicata; the smooth, ovular spaghetti; the pear-shaped butternut; the pleasingly round kuri. (There are also a few mysterious hybrids, such as the one that’s shaped precisely like a spaghetti squash but is ribbed and dark green, like an acorn. What will it taste like? Only time will tell.)

Yes, a few of the mysteriously diseased squash plants died, but a couple of them are reminding me of… oh, I don’t know, pick some great hero, Hercules in the Augean Stables myth, or Queen Elizabeth I resolutely refusing to wed, or Mel Gibson in Braveheart, or something.

This one could not be more gallant, stolidly hanging on just long enough to put all of its energy into a small-but-perfect kuri squash:

So these are the upsides. And more good news: at today’s market in Windsor, we made more money than we ever have before. We still haven’t added up all of our numbers to see if we’ve actually paid off our investment costs yet, but I’m not going to let that dampen my spirits! Instead, I’m going to drink a locally-brewed beer and toast to all of the wonderful customers who’ve helped us out — by coming back every week to see what we have, by telling friends, and for all the little things, too, like getting excited about purple bean recipes and armenian cucumbers.

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why farmers don’t vacation…

…at least in the summertime.

Coming back to the field this morning was, erm, ahem, <choke>, a bit of a shock. There was good news, and there was bad news.

I’m a realist. Let’s start with the bad.

First of all, in two weeks, dawn has changed noticeably. Emmett and I arrived on the field at 5 a.m. in the pitch black, figuring we were just a bit before the blue stage of the morning — and that, at any moment, dawn would grab hold of the horizon with her rosy fingers and illuminate the greens for our timely harvest.

Newsflash: in San Francisco on August 16, the sun doesn’t rise until 6:25 a.m. Which means that civil twilight (when the sun is within six degrees of the horizon, aka “bright twilight”) doesn’t get going until 6. Which means we were yanking, washing, and sorting beets, not to mention harvesting chard, when it was utterly, absolutely, one hundred percent dark. Also: truck headlights do not work very well as a light source. They tend to blind you, and cast all sorts of horrible shadows which make it exceptionally difficult to actually distinguish the vegetables you’re picking from one another. We only had one headlamp between the two of us. The going was slow.

The next bad news came with the dawn (aka, when we could actually see things). The salad we’d sown three weeks earlier has barely germinated. Where we had expected to see densely-packed, decently-sized leaves ready for next weekend’s harvest, there were only tiny, itsy-bitsy lettucelets sparsely strewn across the damp earth. And the only harvestable salad (one that had been in seedling stage before we left) was bolting.

Crouching down to the overgrown lettuce, Emmett announced, “I’m going to cut like there’s no tomorrow.”

I interrupted. “…because there isn’t one for the salad?”

Emmett grimaced. “Because it’s really big, and it needs to be cut back.”

I mentally estimated the cost of our lack of harvestable lettuce. For this weekend’s markets, we’ll have lettuce (salvaged from the patch that was partly bolting), but next weekend we won’t. We make, conservatively, $200 a week off our lettuce and baby brassica mixes. So by the time we get our salad rotation back up and going — it’ll take another three weeks minimum — that’s a $600 loss to tack on to the cost of our “vacation.” (We did some non-farm work on our vacation, and family reunions aren’t exactly “vacations” anyway…)

That loss was a lot to swallow that early in the morning. Still, the worst news came from the corn patch, when we tried to determine whether or not the corn was ripe.

Emmett wrested an ear of corn from its stalk, and gently pulled back the silk. The kernels were still slightly transparent and watery-looking, suggesting the ear wasn’t quite ready yet. Emmett shucked the rest of it anyway just to try a taste — revealing two fat green bastard worms chowing down on our pre-natal, organic, well-watered, well-tended, well-fertilized corn.

We went to a different plant, a different ear, and pulled back a bit of its silk — revealing another fat bug.

“Well, I guess this is all chicken feed,” Emmett said. He shrugged. “Crop failure.” Matter-of-fact destruction: It was just that kind of morning. (Our chicks, by the way, will arrive Wednesday. Perfect timing, right?)

Emmett flicked off the green bastards off the first ear, and we each gingerly took a bite far away from where the grubs had been dining. Not even Emmett — a true king of eating disgusting things — would eat the rest of the damaged ear. I don’t have a problem with buying spotted apples, cracked tomatoes, or funky three-legged carrots. But there’s no way I would buy wormy corn, so there’s no way I’m selling it.

Was there good news? Right, I’ll get to that part tomorrow.

-Lynda

p.s. — OK, this morning I mentioned I was going to snazz up the blog. Here’s the plan: I’ll comb through the daily online media onslaught and try to find relevant articles about local food, organic agriculture, pastured poultry, integrated pest management — whatever seems relevant. Then I’ll post links for you guys to peruse, so this blog won’t just be about Foggy River Farm, it’ll also be a portal for all kinds of interesting farm news.

I’m also going to (once I plant some salad, stake tomatoes, and generally catch up on the farmwork) try to offer more complete, detailed instructions for planting and maintaining some of my favorite, most successful crops. Which, as of now, does not include corn!

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growin’ up

The best way to appreciate a farm, I think, is to spend three days away from it.

Emmett and I recently took a three-day weekend (not on the actual weekend, mind you, because that’s when we sell at the farmer’s market), and left someone else in charge of the veggies. I might be overstating my case here, but I think that we felt some semblance of the paranoia that new parents feel upon leaving their infant with the babysitter for the first time. While we were, occasionally, able to forget the vegetables and simply enjoy our mini-vacation, we were also prone to having worried, whispered, just-the-two-of-us conversations in the middle of a crowd. (“I wonder if anybody’s squished the diabrotica lately. Do you think the little leek seedlings are getting enough water?” “I don’t know. I was wondering if that creature dug any more holes in the salad bed.” “Yeah, what do you think it is, anyway? A rabbit?” “We’ll have to camp out in a tent overnight to figure it out for sure.” Jokes were made — by others — about veggie garden nanny-cams. I admit, I had a moment of serious consideration before laughing.)

When we got back from our Southern California mini-vacation, you can bet your bottom dollar that we didn’t go home, unpack, and crack a few beers to ease the transition from rest to reality. Nope: we headed straight to The Patch, desperate to check up on the babies.

The good news: everything was absolutely, one hundred percent fine. Better than fine, in fact. Many of our vegetables (having been planted about a month and a half ago) are now at the adolescent grow-like-weeds phase. Sure, you notice the growth when you’re out on the farm every day, but you REALLY notice it when you come back after three days sans veggies. Suddenly the beans, which only recently latched on to the wire fencing, are two feet taller. One greens bed has gone from proto-choi to healthy, hole-free baby bok choi (thanks to a crop cover). I barely recognized the quinoa, which (I swear) more than doubled in size to a small bush. The squash plants are now calf-high green monsters, crowding one another out, in dire need of thinning; even the corn is starting to look respectable, and you can almost imagine it growing up over your head in the near future. The Bright Lights chard, which we had been previously eying in a borderline-harvestable kind of way, is now totally ready for market on Sunday. The cukes are flowering in earnest. We have a few baby beets (one-inch diameter, perfect for thinning) with magnificent, tender beet greens. Heck, Emmett even thought that the week-and-a-half old radishes were ready for harvest, before realizing that, in his joyous stupor, he was getting a little ahead of himself.

So the babies, which we left with the sitter, learned a few words in our absence. Were we sad that we missed the big steps? Sure — but let’s face it, we needed the break, and there will be plenty other moments to come.

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