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Buy Local * Eat Fresh * Live Well

The Alleged Farm is located in the Town of Easton, in the rolling hills of southern Washington County, New York. We farm on fields under continuous cultivation since 1788 and take our stewardship of the land seriously. For us, that means a commitment to sustainable practices such as crop rotation, controlled grazing, minimal tillage and the use of cover crops and compost in order to promote and maintain the health of the earth.

We are also committed to growing tasty and healthy crops. We believe that fresh local produce tastes better and that crops grown without the use of synthetic fertilizer and pesticide are better for you and for everything that lives on our farm. We do everything we can—from choosing varieties to choosing when to harvest a crop—to ensure that our customers receive the best possible produce.

If you want to try some of our produce—and we grow everything from artichokes to zucchini–you can join our CSA or visit our stand at the Glens Falls farmers' market. Individuals and businesses can also contact the farm to arrange purchases.

Thomas Christenfeld
The Alleged Farmer

The Alleged Farm News – 11 September, 2014

The Alleged Farm News -11 September, 2014
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This Weeks Share: Basil, Cucumbers, Dill, Eggplant, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Peppers, Hot peppers, Blue Gold potatoes, Squash, Tomatoes, Acorn winter squash

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Ten years or so ago I bought a John Deere bush hog. It has been sitting in the weeds the past two years, the gear box irreparably cracked, the whole drive shaft pretty well toasted. Apparently, however, that one purchase granted me a lifetime subscription to The Furrow, the Deere magazine. Actually, it is a pretty good tractor magazine. Well, I say that, but with no real basis for comparison. You see, and I am loathe to admit this, I only get one tractor magazine. For all I know Kubota puts out a totally kick-ass publication. Despite the fact that I have bought two Kubota tractors, a rather more substantial investment than a single medium duty mower, they send me nothing, the cheapskates.

The Furrow provides a number of pretty upbeat stories about successful growers of various kinds, but also some actually interesting pieces about no-till research, cover crops, market farmers, dinosaur bones and even the astonishing ability of life forms to develop resistance to almost any chemical we throw at them (not something you necessarily expect big ag to admit). Plus it always has a page of corny jokes and inspirational sayings at the back, which no doubt come in handy when you have to give a speech to Farm Bureau or the Elks Club.

Surprisingly, though, John Deere does not put out The Furrow purely as an act of kindness. In addition to all that editorial content, each issue is liberally larded with exciting news about the latest Deere equipment. And I often enjoy the ads as much as the articles, especially the ones for their biggest machines, huge, sleek, gleaming, iconic green triumphs of industrial engineering.

The most recent issue had a particularly fine centerfold that included the latest in cotton pickers, the brand new combination ripper and the redesigned 9R/RT series tractors. This is the sort of equipment that real farmers use to manage all those huge operations that keep us well stocked with corn syrup and cheap processed food at the small cost of disappearing aquifers, dead soil and the occasional few billions of dollars of subsidies, and it is pretty cool stuff. All those shiny machines bring out the little boy in me. They make me think of Sam when he was four and knew the names of all the implements and would chastise his grandmother when she got them wrong.

My gaze was drawn to the tractors, as just about anyone’s would be, except perhaps a cotton farmer. They are the ones so large they have to bend in the middle to turn. When I glanced at the list of features one in particular caught my attention. And it was not the 510 horsepower engine, though that kind of power is impressive and undeniably useful around the yard. Nor was it the 78 gallon a minute hydraulic system, which give the tractor the power to lift up to 10 tons on its hitch. It was not even the efficiency manager with thumbwheel control for the 18 speed transmission that, in conjunction with the ground radar module, allows the operator to maintain consistent speeds, or the ActiveSeat utilizing electrohydraulic technology and air suspension to create remarkable operator comfort.

It was, rather, the electric refrigerator. At first I assumed this must be part of the engine cooling system. But no, it is an actual refrigerator in the tractor cab. I used to joke that the big, fancy tractors my neighbors drive have expresso machines built in (which would not be that hard to do; the engine heat would be more than sufficient to boil water and steam milk, and with that ActiveSeat you would not even have to worry about spilling your cappuccino on your nice clean coveralls). I begin to think that may actually come to pass. I am not quite sure why having a refrigerator in a tractor cab seems slightly ridiculous. Given the hours farmers spend in their tractors it makes some sense. Maybe it’s really the hours farmers spend in their tractors that bothers me. When having the comforts of home in your tractor cab becomes necessary you should think about maybe spending more time at home.

I appreciate that these huge pieces of equipment–take a look at Deere’s 48-row corn planter–help increase farming efficiency, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But I am a trifle skeptical of the cult of efficiency. Not that I am a huge fan of the sort of Slow Food cult of inefficiency either. Maybe I am just not a fan of cults. Being able to seed 75 acres of corn an hour obviously has its appeal, otherwise nobody would be shelling out $450,000 for that huge planter. But that kind of farming comes with other costs too. The drive to increase farming efficiency is part of a national agriculture system that has helped make farming less accessible to young people, less profitable for everyone, less environmentally sound, and less likely to produce healthy food. You can get a 64 ounce soda at the corner store for about the same price as a red pepper, which is both a testament to the remarkable increase in farm productivity and a health disaster.

This may be a somewhat less pressing matter of national policy, but the drive to increase farming efficiency also seems to me to take some of the fun out of farming. Given my generally dour comments about my job, it may strike you as amusing to hear me talk about fun. And now that you mention it, perhaps that is not the right word. Maybe I mean satisfaction. Whatever you want to call it, farming can offer some compensation for its hardships. There’s pleasure in making something tangible, pleasure in work with your hands, pleasure in being close to the ground, pleasure in hearing a flock of birds whirr over your head, pleasure in looking up from your work to admire the late afternoon light on the hillside.

Not that any of this is necessarily unavailable when you spend most of your farming hours in the cab of a 500 horsepower tractor. It is just harder to come by. All that machinery and efficiency starts to get in the way. There’s not a lot of value in admiring the view when you have to get in all that corn to pay for that huge planter you bought to get in all that corn. And while I don’t mean to over romanticize the life of the peasant, that seems like a loss. But at least your drinks are cold.

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Vegetable Notes: We mostly grow one strain of garlic variously known as Music, German White or German Porcelain. It has good cold hardiness and tends to size up well, though it was a little smaller than normal this year. There’s no particular reason for me to grow another kind, except that having just one kind of garlic, no matter how reliable, seems a little boring. So I have been trying out a purple variety the past two years. It is pretty, and I like that it has somewhat smaller cloves, but so far it has produced really quite small heads, as you can see since you have one in your share this week. Let me know what you think. I am not sure it is worth trialing it another year, but if you like it I will keep trying.

I am not sure how you all feel about hot peppers, but I keep growing them anyway. We do grow fewer really hot ones, but they are still out there. And now here in your box. We have included a selection of small ones, including a jalapeño (blunt dark green) a cherry pepper (round red), a wax pepper (bigger and pale), and a Paper Lantern (wrinkly red). The later is the hottest of the lot (though not nearly the hottest we grow; that honor goes to the Bhut Jalokia). If you feel uninclined to try it you can you can just use it for its ornamental value.

You could enjoy the ornamental value of your potatoes too, with their handsome blue/purple skin. But I suggest eating them. They are pretty multipurpose potatoes. About the only thing I would not do is bake them, though they would be fine baked. I also suggest washing them. Once again, they come to you unwashed because we continue to have problems with the washed ones going bad. We tried washing potatoes last week and ended up throwing them all on the compost pile. We thought you would prefer to get them and clean them rather than have us clean them and throw them away.

The Alleged Farm News – 4 September, 2014

This Weeks Share: Bok choi, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Endive, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Peppers, Poblano hot peppers, Sage, Thyme, Tomatoes, Delicata winter squash

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The Germans must have a word for it: regretting losing one’s liking for something.

Just to be clear, I am not talking about regretting losing something, which is heartbreak or nostalgia or, well, regret. Nor am I talking about regretting liking something, which is chagrin. I am talking about the very specific feeling one has when one thinks of something one no longer likes and, while not regretting not liking it, finds one somehow nonetheless misses liking it. I suppose in a way it is a nostalgia for a former version of oneself that was capable of liking the thing one no longer likes, something one has outgrown or simply grown tired of.

It is a pointless, possibly asinine emotion. It is the sort of thing CEOs have beaten out of them in business school so they have more time for important activities like creating new tax shelters and writing opinion pieces about how hard it is to be rich. Unlike, say, fear or anxiety, which have their uses, it leads nowhere in particular. No catharsis, no planning, no retreat, no bold new step forward. Fortunately, it does not occur often, so it does not lead to nearly as much wasted time as traffic jams, videos of kittens or televised golf.

I cannot say I encounter this emotion often. But I do feel it at Fair time. When we moved here 20 years ago we took to the Washington County Fair enthusiastically. We would go several times during its week-long run in late August, walk through all of the many cow barns, study the farm dioramas, eat too much greasy food, admire the prize winning duck, and mostly just watch all the other people. It felt like the quintessential local event.

Actually, it is the quintessential local event, part vacation, part show off time, part celebration of local life, part community meeting. The local business–feed dealers, maple syrup producers, apple orchards, loggers, butchers–set up their booths. The fire companies barbecue chicken. The kids parade their perfectly coifed cows and sheep and rabbits around the show rings. The Dairy Princess hands out ice cream. The farmers compete in tractor pull and mosey through the equipment dealers’ displays talking about engine performance and how the corn is doing. Toy tractors, vegetables, needlework, geese, place setting, horse riding, udders, brownies, pigs, all are judged, the winners beribboned. 50,000 people live in our county and this year’s Fair had 125,000 visitors. Just about everybody goes at least once.

But not us. Our attendance and excitement has diminished in recent years. At some point about a decade ago the idea of walking through a barn full of cows and spending $8 on a mediocre sausage and pepper sandwich started to lose its thrill. We continued to go at least once, but increasingly out a of a sense of duty. What kind of a local does not go to the Fair?

Well, maybe a not entirely local local. We have lived here long enough that the novelly of rural life has worn off. There are still moments and characters that catch my attention, but for the most part big guys in work pants smelling of manure, talking way too loudly (so you can hear them over the sound of the tractor) and scoffing at book learning are just a normal part of life. 20 years in Easton have done their job. We don’t need to go to the Fair to marvel at what strikes us now as ordinary.

Nor do we feel that deep need to go to the Fair that true locals feel, people who grow up thinking of it as the most important time of the year, who spent Fair week in the 4H dorm–a first taste of independence–and spent the other 51 weeks of their childhood years preparing the specially selected calf for showing, who run into their schoolmates and old sweethearts at every turn, for whom official recognition of their herd quality matters in all sorts of ways. I understand that deep need and appreciate it. I like living amongst people who grow up that way, who feel that need, who want to know their neighbors and what their neighbors are up to. But that does not mean I feel the need too. We missed the Fair entirely this year and never missed it.

In fact, I managed to forget all about the Fair this year and spent some minutes waiting to pull onto the road to the fairgrounds wondering what on earth could cause so much traffic on a random Wednesday afternoon. The site of the midway all lit up took me by surprise. I drove on perfectly content to pass it by, but I as it fell away behind me I felt an odd jolt of regret that I no longer cared about the Fair. And while this did not for one moment cause me to consider turning around and going to join the crowds, it did make me regret that I did not have a fluent German speaker in the car to at least give this feeling its proper name. Oh well, maybe next year.

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Vegetable notes: I am often asked if there is any difference in taste amongst the various eggplant varieties we grow. I have not noticed it, though I think I slightly prefer the texture of the long thin Asian eggplants when grilled. But perhaps I just lack the palate to appreciate such fine distinctions. You can try doing your own taste test with the three different varieties you have this week: Machiaw, the thinnest and most purple; Orient Charm, a little fatter, straighter and lighter purple/pink; and Orient Express, which is the black one. Feel free your conduct your test according to whatever rules strike your fancy.

I usually hold offer a little longer on handing out winter squash, in part because it seems to soon for anything to do with winter, in part because many years we don’t have great production and I want to keep it for later in the season. But production was not an issue this year. Well, actually overproduction may be an issue. I don’t know if we have space to store the whole crop. One way to deal with this is to start handing it out now. To ease you into it, we have started with the Delicata, a small variety. It has nice smooth flesh. The easiet way to cook it is to stick it in the over whole and bake it until it is soft. Then you can scoop out the flesh and puree it with a little cream, perhaps a touch of maple syrup and a sprinkle of hot pepper, a dusting of nutmeg and some sage. Thin that puree out with stock (vegetable or chicken) and maybe a little white wine and you have squash soup.

You can sauté any member of the chicory family, including endive. I like to steam it first and then squeeze out some of the moisture and chop it before I sauté it, but you can skip that. It is excellent cooked down with a good dose of garlic and some onion and some hot pepper (such as poblano).

The Alleged Farm News – 28 August, 2014

This Weeks Share: Beans, Cabbage, Cilantro, Fennel, Eggplant,
Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Peppers, Newmex hot pepper, Squash, Cherry tomatoes, Tomatoes

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Four years ago we moved Sam into his freshman double at the school I had gone to. It felt a little unsettling. And not because we were going to drive away and leave our kid behind. He wanted to be there, and other than the usual sorts of worries I was fine with that. I just wasn’t sure if I should be there. Looking at all the confident, well tailored adults around me dropping off their children, I had the feeling I didn’t really fit in in this little world of unquestioned advantage. It reminded me uncomfortably of how I often felt as a student there, a feeling I was not altogether keen to relive.

This Monday we moved Sam into his freshman double at the school I had gone to. It felt a little hot. Mostly because it was hot and we had to carry Sam’s stuff up to the fourth floor. I may have encountered a tinge of nostalgia too, but no teenage angst. It is not that in this setting I felt particularly like I belonged there amongst the throng of other sweaty parents. It is more that it was just a throng of sweaty parents, a mishmash of looks and behaviors and beliefs and attitudes. Belonging to it was not a relevant idea. There was nothing to belong to.

To be fair, the difference is partly just the difference between high school and college. The college kids are older, more defined, the parents less necessary–to the kids and the institution. They both have a financial interest in us, but otherwise don’t particularly need us or expect to see us around much. And in part I am just used to dropping Sam off, and he to being dropped off. We’re almost blasé about the whole experience by now, which is not conducive to feelings of angst.

But that only explains part of it. Prep school has a single dominant culture (still to a large extent the dominant culture in this country) that’s hard to miss when you aren’t part of it–and apparently nearly invisible when you are. It’s a monoculture. And like a vast field of cabbage, the neat rows of lush, dense heads stretching off to the horizon, there’s something beautiful and impressive about it. But when those cabbages look around, all they see are other cabbages, and that gives them a strange view of the world. The carrot that pops up in their midst, even if it is not weeded out, is going to feel a bit out of place. What good is a carrot in a world of cabbages?

College is a highly diversified, somewhat messy, slightly unkempt growing environment. Kind of like The Alleged Farm. The cabbages have to share space with all manner of crops, with roots and fruits and things they have never seen before, and sometimes they just have to make their own way because they could be sitting around for ages waiting for attention. There’s only so much to go around and everyone gets a little. You have to learn to make the best of what’s around you, thrive on your own, which can be hard. But there’s so much around you, so many things to take advantage of, so many things to cooperate with. It is tough, but it’s fair and it’s far healthier than that pristine, unnatural cabbage field.

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Vegetable notes: Sometimes we have to work hard to find enough crops to fill the box. And sometimes we have more than we can possibly fit in the box. The end of August is usually one of the more than fits times, and this end of August has easily met that standard. I did not even list all the available crops on the week’s picking list that I put up in the packing room this Monday, and we still had to take off a few to come up with a share we could actually pack. And then while we were picking the crops that made the list we had a hard time stopping ourselves from harvesting too much. We only went part way down two rows of peppers and ended up with twice as many as we had planned on. And we were sorely tempted to keep going. It’s not easy to leave all those other ripe peppers out there even when you know that you could not get them all in the box unless you start pureeing the shares before packing them. We generally prefer to leave the pureeing to you. Not that I would recommend pureeing all the vegetables in this week’s share. The beans, for instance, are far better steamed until barely tender and sprinkled with a good amount of salt (and butter and crushed garlic if want). And the cabbage might be better raw, sliced finely with the fennel and an onion, tossed with a light, lemony dressing. And the cherry tomatoes are best just eaten straight. But you might consider pureeing the (roasted and peeled) peppers with garlic, cilantro, some onion, olive oil, a tomato, a good amount of salt and pepper and a splash of sherry vinegar. You could leave it as is and use it as a sauce or thicken it a bit with bread crumbs and perhaps some walnuts and use it as a dip or thin it out with a little chicken stock to make a soup (good hot or cold).

The Alleged Farm News – 21 August, 2014

This Weeks Share: Napa cabbage, Carrots, Cucumber, Dill, Eggplant,
Garlic, Onions, Peppers, Jalapeño and Hungarian Wax hot peppers, Radicchio, Squash, Cherry tomatoes, Tomatoes

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I have seen a lot of cartoon frogs eat a lot of cartoon flies. But until last week I had never seen a real frog eat a real anything.

Not that there was any particular reason I should have seen a frog eating something sooner. While I do run into a fair number of frogs in the course of my work, I generally don’t spend a great deal of time observing them. After all I am in the course of my work–my list of tasks usually does not include watching frogs–and the frogs are mostly in the course of jumping into the nearest body of water to get away from me. Apparently I look like a heron.

I have on occasion paused long enough to count the number of frogs in a puddle or admire a particularly handsome specimen, and when Sam and Will were small we used to try and catch frogs in the pond. But I have never settled in for the long haul to observe our frogs doing all their frog things, whatever those are. I catch sight of them at random moments, and usually only for a moment, and in that moment most often disturb them from what they were doing, which might include having a snack but mostly seems to involve basking.

A week or so ago, however, I did something that actually attracted a frog. In the course of pulling the old dill plants in the small field house, I unearthed a worm. The good sized leopard frog must have been lurking nearby, keeping a bulging eye on me, smart enough to spot an opportunity, because as soon as the worm appeared the frog leap out and snatched it up in her mouth. She sat there, sleek and spotty, a foot a way, staring at me with what seemed like defiance, the worm dangling from her mouth, daring me to try and take it from her. Then she gulped it down and settled in on the spot, no doubt waiting for me to provide another worm.

I am always happy to see frogs, but this seemed somehow like a different sort of encounter, something wilder and more authentic, as though I had caught a glimpse of the previously hidden true nature of frogs. It was like one of those moments in a nature film when the lions, having gotten used to the odd man in the Land Rover who keeps hanging around, let down their guard and go back to their unselfconscious cat ways, lounging and tussling and nuzzling before rousing themselves as the night cools to set a trap for some unfortunate wildebeest calf. Watching that frog eat her prey so matter-of-factly changed my view of frogs a bit, and not just because I did not know they eat worms. A creature that previously seemed purely benign, a little timid and faintly ridiculous suddenly appeared rather more savage, wily and bold.

I am not sure why seeing animals behave as though we are not there is so thrilling. Perhaps it is in part some primal hunting instinct. It is much easier to catch the unwary. But I think it is also that we really don’t see ourselves as part of nature. When we enter nature we disturb it. To see it as it truly is we have to become invisible. I wonder if grizzly bears feel the same way.

We certainly do some odd things to the world, and on a grand scale. But so does influenza. That we can make jet planes and computer games and reality tv shows may distinguish us from other life forms, but it does not separate us from the rest of nature. And the erst of nature gets that. Sure, a lot of it gets nervous when we approach, but that is the effect all big predators have on potential prey. And lots of them time we provide as much of an opportunity as we do a threat. Look at the swallows zooming around the tractor as I mow catching all the bugs I disturb. Or the groundhogs snacking on lettuce in the field houses. Or the bees on the buckwheat flowers. Or the crab grass and thistle taking over plowed ground. Or the potato beetles on our nightshades. Or the predator insects eating the potato beetle larva on our nightshades. Or for that matter, the occasional leopard frog waiting among the dill fronds for me to wrench a worm to the surface. Sure, we have enormous power over our surroundings. More, perhaps, than we can actually handle. But sometimes we are not the lords of nature, just the stooped peons toiling to provide for others.

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Vegetable notes: I am not in the habit of writing about the produce not in your box. But I feel I should say something about basil. We usually hand out a lot of basil, particularly during tomato season. In fact, it pains me a little to give you all these tasty tomatoes without basil. But we don’t have any basil . At least, not any that you would want. We have been planting it regularly all season, but the downy mildew has gotten worse and worse. At this point it seems not to respond to the fungicide (except perhaps to chortle demonically) and has started to infect the seedlings before we even get them in the ground. We will keep trying, but this new disease poses challenges that nobody has solved yet.

Fortunately, you can enjoy tomatoes without basil. Make some gazpacho with an onion, a clove or two of garlic, the cucumber and the jalapeño. Or an onion, zucchini and tomato tart (grill the vegetables and layer them in a pastry shell in that order, sprinkling each layer with a little grated cheese, salt and pepper, and perhaps some finely chopped herbs, and back until the crust is nicely browned). Or just cut the tomatoes into wedges and sprinkle them with salt.

The Jalapeño (dark green) and Hungarian (pale yellow) peppers are roughly equally hot, which is to say, noticeable but far from death defying. They would work nicely in salsa or cole slaw or in a yogurt sauce to serve with grilled vegetables.

The Alleged Farm News - 14 August, 2014

This Weeks Share: Lemon Basil, Cucumbers, Dill, Eggplant,
Garlic, Onions, Pepper, NewMex pepper,Potatoes, Cherry tomatoes, Tomatoes

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So many people have written in with questions about the farm that I thought it would be a good moment to go to the mail bag and try answering a few letters.

Dear Alleged Farmer, What is up with all the eggplant in the share? Buried in Parmigiana

Dear Parm, Actually, that is not anywhere near all the eggplant. I don’t mean this as a threat, but we could have handed out twice as much. Fred from Community Action took seven or eight tubs yesterday morning and we still have another five tubs in the cooler.

Dear Alleged Farmer, You have a new mascot, but the same old official farm cocktail. Time for an update? On the Rocks

Dear Rocky, I feel our official cocktail (roughly equal parts lemon basil simple syrup and good bourdon over lots of ice) has a timeless quality. But you will be happy to know I have been experimenting. No reason a farm cannot have more than one cocktail. A recent success involved muddling cucumber slices in a mixture of Thai basil syrup, lime juice, gin and Pimm’s Cup, straining, and serving over ice. I promise I will continue to do more work in this area.

Dear Alleged Farmer, How do you learn to live with deer? Struggling with Nature

Dear Struggler, I assume by “with” you mean “on.” There are lots of places to find good venison recipes. Our neighbor, DJ, is a good source. He and his family hunt and eat a lot of game. As a general guide, keep in mind that venison is extremely lean meat, so for the most part any kind of high heat cooking method will just make it tough. Not that I would actually recommend living solely on venison (though god knows there are enough deer to fill all of us). Why not at least add a few vegetables to your venison dishes for a more complete diet?

Dear Alleged Farmer, I cannot help noticing a certain amount of dirt on my potatoes. Is this the result of a water conservation plan or are you guys just lazy? Dirty Spuds

Dear Spud, Actually, this is the result of a potato skin conservation plan. At this early point in the potato season, we are still digging live plants, which means the tubers have not set their skins. If we ran them through the barrel washer we would take off the skins as well as the dirt, which would reduce their culinary and their storage quality. Also, we have so much dirt on the farm that this seems like a good way of getting rid of a little bit of it.

Dear Alleged Farmer, Did you ever get a rhino? Pachyderm Proponent

Dear Thick Skinned Correspondent, Sadly, I have not yet procured a rhino–and given what’s happening to them it may be too late soon. Not only have I failed to find any local breeders, but Liz insists rhinos would not enjoy our winters. I keep pointing out that they look pretty irritable about living in a hot climate and maybe cold weather is just what they need. But that’s a moot point until I actually get my hands on one.

Dear Alleged Farmer, It looks like you grow a lot of buckwheat, but we never see any in our box. Where does it go? Kasha

Dear Kasha, We do grow a fair amount of buckwheat. And it does turn up in your share. Well, sort of. Not directly. We grow it as a cover crop. The seed is pretty cheap and it comes up reliably and quickly. Quicker, in fact, that most weeds. And then it creates such a dense canopy that the weeds that do come up don’t get enough light to grow. But we mow it down and till it in before it sets seed so there’s no grain to hand out. However, as it decomposes it enriches the soil, and then the crops we plant use those nutrients.

Well, that is all I have time for this week. But tune in next week when I answer more letters and tackle such questions as “how come?”, “why not?”, and “if not now, when?” And keep those letters coming.

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Vegetable notes: If you don’t want to use the lemon basil to make cocktails, you could instead use it in tomato salad or gazpacho, or puree it with garlic and make a nice sauce for fish.

If you don’t want to use the cucumbers in a cocktail you could instead use them in a tomato salad or gazpacho, or puree them with yogurt, dill and lemon juice and perhaps a little hot pepper and make a nice cold soup.

If you don’t want to use eggplants to make a cocktail… No, just kidding. Well, so far. I’ll let you know if I come up with an eggplant cocktail. In the meantime, you might want to try Yotam Ottolenghi’s burnt eggplant and mograbieh (a sort of large couscous) soup.

The red onions are called Long Red of Tropea (Tropea is a Calabrian town). I have not grown them before. For some reason, I thought they would be fairly small. Maybe they are supposed to be. A lot of our onions seems to be quite large this year. Whatever their size, the Tropeas should be fairly sweet. You could roast or grill them and then drizzle with with a little olive oil, a little coarse salt, and maybe a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

The Alleged Farm News – 7 August, 2014

This Weeks Share: Cabbage, Cilantro, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic, Onions, Pepper, New Mex and Poblano hot peppers, Potatoes, Squash, Tomatoes

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I have been searching for a farm mascot ever since our huge pet pig, Mickey Boy, died. Well, pet may not be quite the right word. It suggests some sort of meaningful relationship between us. As far as I know Mickey Boy only had three meaningful relationships in his decade-long life: with a white hen, a feral kitten and food.

Though they had all been born and raised together, our other chickens at the time held a grudge against the white hen. She seemed unobjectionable to me, but the ways of chickens are mysterious. Maybe there was a condescending tone to her cluck. Maybe her religious views aroused their ire. Maybe they just didn’t like white. Whatever the reason, they attacked her constantly and viciously, to the point of nearly killing her. I tended her wounds at set her free, and she went and lived happily in the pigpen with Mickey Boy. It is hard to say precisely what they meant to each other, this somewhat scrawny, abused hen and this remarkably hefty boar. But they appeared at the least to abide one another, two grumpy loners hanging out together. Or hanging out, anyway, until the hen disappeared one day. Some predator probably got her, though there is a small change Mickey Boy at her.

As for the kitten, it was just another of the numerous strays around the farm, many of them born in our barns. Our neighbor was feeding a large herd of feral cats in her old milking parlor–I guess when you grow up on a dairy farm you feel like you have to keep a herd of something–and consequently we had a lot of cats wandering around the farm. We have taken in a few of the friendlier ones over the years, but we had a full compliment of cats when this kitten showed up in the pig pen. I made sure it had some food, but otherwise left it to fend for itself. I guess Mickey Boy took pity on it. Though don’t get too cute an image. It is not like he let the kitten ride around on his back. Mostly he ignored it, which for him counted as friendly, and he did seem to take some care not to step or lie on it, which for him counted as downright affectionate.

As for actual, visible excitement and pleasure, Mickey Boy reserved that for food. Not all food, it should be noted. Pigs have a reputation for eating somewhat indiscriminately, but it is undeserved. When they like something they will go at it enthusiastically, it is true, but they don’t like everything. Mickey Boy loved tomatoes and melons. He would not touch peppers and celery. You could throw a huge tub of mixed vegetable scraps into his pen and he would, surprisingly delicately, pick out what he wanted and leave behind the undesirable produce untouched.

As for the people who supplied him with his food, he seemed not to give a damn one way or the other. Which, some would say, made him just like a cat. But cats actively scorn and ignore us in order to remind us of our place in the world. Mickey Boy really did not care. We had no place at all in his world. Our entire species could have been wiped off the planet and as long as something made sure he got his dinner he would not have spent a moment regretting our disappearance. An attitude that, I think, ruled him out as a pet. But he did live on the farm and he was notable, so I just thought of him as our mascot, which somehow sort of justified the effort to house and feed him and haul buckets of water of for him all winter.

Once you have had a mascot, you cannot really just give up on the concept. I suppose, like Yale with its bulldogs or Navy with its goats, we could have tried to find a suitable replacement to fill the roll, a Mickey Boy II. But I doubt he could be easily replaced. A smaller pig, even one with the same markings, would not have done. Plus, having spent a decade tending to a huge, grumpy hog, we were not immediately inclined to do it again. But who could replace him? There are the donkeys, but somehow they just don’t seem up to the task. We had an eggplant that looked like Nixon and a potato that looked like a bear, but in the end they were more curios than mascots. We might, in this post modern world, have gone something ironic, such as a deer or flea beetle or perhaps just a huge pig weed. But I like the hipster credentials to pull off that kind of irony. There is, of course, the question mark apple on the logo. But to achieve mascot status, someone would have to put on a full body question mark apple suit, and that is not likely to happen.

All of which left us searching for a suitable replacement for Mickey Boy. At least it did until last week when Sean was picking black currants and came across this handsome fellow in one of the bushes. Its a Cecropia caterpillar, and it is not just the biggest caterpillar we have ever found on the farm (it turns into the largest American moth), it is also the most remarkable looking one, with its blue and yellow and orange protuberances and blue feet. It is like a bulked up, pimped out tomato horn worm. And it showed no interest whatsoever in us even as we moved its branch around for a better view and tried prodding it with a blade of grass to get some sort of a reaction. Given its size, looks and attitude, it must be Mickey Boy reincarnated. And hence a suitable new mascot. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to finally have a farm mascot again.

Well, for the time being, because this caterpillar is already in its fifth molt and just about ready to wraps itself up in a mile of silk for the winter, and I am just not sure a cocoon cuts its as a mascot. Though perhaps as a winter mascot it would work. I had never really thought about the seasonality of mascots before, but it suddenly seems appropriate.
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Vegetable note: Some years the eggplants sulk and we pick hardly anything. Some years they flourish. Apparently, this is one of those flourish years, which I think is good news.

If, for some strange reason, you are getting tired of grilled eggplant you could make eggplant mush instead. Broil or grill the eggplants whole until the skin is well charred and the flesh soft. Scoop out the flesh and mix or blend (depending on what consistency you want) with onion, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper. For a slightly richer version, add cumin, pomegranate molasses and smoked paprika. Or whatever strikes your fancy, for that matter. You could also toss in diced tomato and pepper (sweet and/or hot), which makes it a little more like a salad.

Most people don’t think of cabbage as a grilling vegetable, but it is actually quite tasty grilled. Cut it into thick wedges (don’t core it, the core holds the leaves together on the grill), dunk it in salted water and brush it generously with olive oil, then grill it until it starts to char and soften a little. You can just eat it like that or chop it up and mix it other grilled vegetables or use it cold in a cole slaw, perhaps with some grilled onion and roasted pepper. You could also skip the grilling and just make cole slaw. I like it dressed with oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and hot pepper, and maybe just a little yogurt or sour cream.

The Alleged Farm News - 13 July, 2014

This Weeks Share: Beets, Cucumbers, Dill, Eggplant, Endive, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Peppers, Newmex hot pepper, Squash, Tomatoes

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It is possible I am becoming an old fogy. There’s the physical evidence. The little noises when rising from a kneeling position or getting out of a chair. The time it takes to get up to operating speed in the morning. The sense of excitement about a lack of pain. The inability to sleep late. The way fitness goes twelves times as fast as it is painfully gained. The squinting to read the ridiculously small type they use for crossword puzzles.

There’s the style evidence. I think I ought to be able to buy a pair of plain white sneakers in a normal shoe store. I don’t think shorts should go down to your knees (real shorts are a consistent source of hilarity for my sons).

But mostly there’s the carping about the modern world. About, for instance, texting. So many words, so little meaning. All those youngster babbling away at every opportunity. In the middle of actual conversations. In the middle of movies. In the middle of classes. Well, not even babbling. Babbling would be far better. It would suggest some actual human contact. Silently and remotely tapping their thumbs, sending out little pieces of stream of less than consciousness, pointlessly emotionally hyped up. Laugh out loud? Really? What about a snort of amusement or a small chuckle or just a wry expression to acknowledge the attempt at humor or a stone cold look to show it wasn’t actually funny at all.

About the way the internet has allowed us to stop compensating people for their creative output, and shifted the money to the people who grant us free access to others work while mining our personal information for their own profit. Not that creativity has ever been a particularly lucrative undertaking. But now that everybody can easily put their work out we seem to have decided there’s not much point in rewarding the people who do it well. You’d think that finding out what novel or film or painting all those people felt they had in them would make us appreciate the good stuff even more. But it just seems to have overwhelmed our critical faculties. Whatever.

About hipster foodies (or do we have to call them foodists now?) and their obsessive search for the authentic bitters recipe, the freshest fennel pollen, the true art of pig butchering. I like food, but a bar with 1800 whiskeys (sorry, a whiskey library) strikes me as a sign not of deep learning and true refinement, but of the sort of pointless, solipsistic erudition cultures develop on the upper decks after they have hit the iceberg and started taking on water in the hold.

About the ability of the younger generation to multitask. It sounds great. Who doesn’t want to be able to drive and text and watch a video of someone being attacked by a rutting elk all at the same time in the middle of some college lecture whose salient points you are soaking up like a sponge. The only tiny problem is that it doesn’t work. Almost unbelievably, the internet has not caused the human brain to evolve in wonderful new ways during the past decade. We have just found a nice way to say nobody’s paying attention fully.

Oh, I could go on, but you get the idea. Things are going to hell. It’s all down from here. I am a grouchy old fogey.

Well, that or I am a farmer. Farmer would certainly explain the physical symptoms and the way I dress (a style that manages to incorporate untidy mechanic, homeless guy, confirmed bachelor, escaped convict and day laborer into a single look). And the carping, too, I think. We are, as I have noted too often, a fatalistic bunch. It’s a necessary survival technique when a hail storm could pop up at any moment and wreck what you sweat and bleed to make. But it does leave you prone to a certain tetchiness. And what with this brave new world leaving us dirt workers, us actual producers, us practicers of civilization’s oldest art far behind, we’re apt to be particularly tetchy about modernity. So maybe I am just a farmer after all. Or both. I am not sure how you would tell the difference, and anyway I don’t give a damn what those young folks think.
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Vegetable note: The Newmex, which is only mildly hot, is the long, pale green pepper. I recommend blistering the skin over a flame, letting it sit covered for a few minutes (the steam helps to loosen the skin) and peeling it. And then eating it, unless you just want to admire your peeled pepper. Chop it up in salsa with grilled onion and tomato or sprinkle it over grilled squash and eggplant or puree it with garlic and herbs and pour it on just about anything.

As you can see, our main onion crop has started to size up. The white onions are fairly mild (the variety is called Candy, which suggests more sweetness that you will find–or, I think, would ever want to find in an onion). They are excellent grilled or baked (cut a bit off the top, pour on a little olive oil and vinegar, sprinkle with a little thyme, wrap in foil and roast until soft) or raw. I like onion sandwiches: some thinly sliced onion on good bread with oil, vinegar and a good amount of salt. But then I like onion everything.

You can make a simple and quick cucumber salad by slicing them into thin rounds (a mandolin makes it that task very easy) and tossing them with vinegar, salt and pepper, and a bit of dill. It is good right away, but even better if you let it sit for a few hours. Or you could make a slightly less simple and quick salad with chunks of cucumber and boiled beets, onion, macaroni and dill in a russian dressing.

The Alleged Farm News – 24 July, 2014

This Week’s Share: Arugula, Thai Basil, Cabbage, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Escarole, Garlic, Onions, Sugar snap peas,
Hot peppers, Squash, Tomatoes

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My younger son, Will, convinced us to watch Step Brothers with him a few days ago. I had low expectation, but the movie surprised me. I figured it would be poorly plotted and crude, and involve too much shouting and precious little deep thought. Well, it was all that, and yet somehow worse. It seemed as though they got bored of all the preparatory work and just started shooting before they had even finished the script. Before, in fact, they had even worked out the basic concept. Is it just another comedy about boys in mens’ bodies? About growing up? Or not growing up? Or is it a disturbing and slightly tragic depiction of families dealing poorly with their developmentally disabled adult sons?

I understand I am not the target audience for this movie. In fact, it would probably disturb the producers if I enjoyed it too much. They do like farts, but not old farts. But I still know a shoddily made movie when I see one. And this is about as shoddy as any. I don’t mean the production values. It is a marvel of modern technology. But to no end. Aesthetically, intellectually, morally, even comedically, it makes no discernible effort. There are bad movies that try. And fail, but at least they tried. Step Brothers can’t be bothered.

And why should it? It has Will Ferrell and John Reilly more or less doing their thing (well, less). Give it a good trailer, a big promo budget, and send the stars around the talk shows to goof off and share carefully crafted off-the-cuff remarks, and it will make a hundred million bucks. If the package sells that easily, why bother too much about what is in it? Just fill it up with enough airy substance so it does not clearly look like you are cheating people and get it out there.

In other words, it is kind of a processed food of a movie, a Hot Pocket in cinematic form. The effort that went into making it–and even a film like this requires significant effort–was not put towards creating quality. It was spent on turning out an easily marketable product for a specific audience. Rather than salty, cheesy and convenient, it is star driven, juvenile and comes in loosely connected comic scenes for easy snack viewing.

It seems remarkable that anything this crummy could make it out of production. At so many points along the way someone, anyone, could have pointed out how bad it was and insisted on improvements or shut it down. There’s simply no way that everyone involved who had some say in the matter–writers, director, producer, cinematographer, cast, designers, editors, studio representatives, marketing folks–failed to notice they were turning out something half-baked.

But then taking pride in the quality is not really the point. There is plenty of pride involved. Pride in making a movie at all. Pride in getting something complicated done, maybe even getting it done on schedule and budget. And pride, mostly, in making something that earns a lot of money (at least for some of the people involved), which is, after all, the true measure of value. I suspect, too, there’s also a kind of patronizing, cynical, self-aggrandizing insider pride in pulling one over on people–a we’re Hollywood titans and look what we can get away with suckers kind of pride. Investment banker pride, one might call it. You’ll take my asset backed security, my frozen microwaveable snack pocket, my lousy Will Ferrell comedy, and you’ll like it. Or, well, pay for it anyway. Who really cares if you like it, let alone whether or not it does you any good.

No wonder farmers seem a little out of touch with the modern world. We actually produce real stuff, simple stuff, stuff you can pick up and judge with your eyes and tongue and nose and hands, stuff that can’t easily hide lack of quality behind a marketing blitz. Sure, there is plenty of bad produce in the world, produce designed for shipping and packing, tomatoes that survive a sixteen foot drop unscathed and turn bright red in controlled atmosphere storage. But put one of them next to a real tomato, ripened on the vine, fresh from the field, and even a Will Ferrell character could tell the difference.
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Vegetable notes: Slowly, a little grudgingly, the summer crops are starting to bear fruit. Our impressively lush outside tomato plants won’t produce anything for a little while longer, but the ones in the house have deigned to ripen a few tomatoes for you.

We also put a row of cucumbers in the tomato house, which have wound their way up their trellis, spread into the abutting row of tomatoes and started to climb out the side the house, heading for the peas. They have also started to produce some of the best looking cucumbers I have grown in years. Further evidence that I need to put up more field houses.

Then I would have space to grow eggplants indoors. As you can see, they do fine outdoors, but they would thrive in a field house. Unlike me, they dislike cold nights. And then we would have even more eggplants, which strikes me as a good thing. I think one of the reasons they don’t have a better reputation is that too many people have only encountered old, seedy, bitter ones that go unpleasantly mushy. But a fresh eggplant, sliced and grilled, might changed their minds.

Especially if it were topped with some chopped tomato and onion, and a garlicky vinaigrette with Thai basil. Of course, they might prefer to use the basil for other dishes. Added at the last minute to spicy chicken broth. Or on a vegetable (cabbage, cucumber, hot pepper, onion, arugula) slaw with cold grilled beef. Or perfuming a creme brule. Or infused into simple syrup used to sweet limeade or mixed in equal parts with good bourbon and served over lots of ice.

The Alleged Farm News – 17 July, 2014

This Week’s Share: Chard, Cilantro, Black currants,
Garlic, Lettuce, Onions
Sugar snap peas, Squash, Turnips

I know a guy who by the age of ten was certain he wanted to study birds. 40 something years on he is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology at Yale and still as passionate about birds as an avid ten-year-old. He showed us around the collection once, pulling various rare and exotic specimens–passenger pigeons, an ivory billed woodpecker, a cassowary–out of drawers, his enthusiasm so infectious that after an hour of looking at dead birds, and with no previous inclination to do so, we all wanted to take up ornithology too.

It is unusual to meet someone like Rick who loves his work that much. Mosts of us get deflected from our enthusiasms at some point, and usually long before we start our working lives. I know plenty of people who like their jobs fine, even some who claim to enjoy them most of the time. But hardly anyone who is so deeply and joyfully engaged with what he does that he cannot help but show it, and those around him cannot help but feel it.

I envy Rick that. It must be wonderful to head off to your job every morning thinking, gosh, today’s going to be great. I don’t know if he actually sings as he walks jauntily through New Haven on his way to his office in the Peabody Museum. But I like to imagine that at the very least he hums quietly.

And yet I bet even Rick encounters all sorts of minor annoyances in the course of a work day. No matter what you do or how much you enjoy it, they are almost impossible to avoid. It is just one more of those things they don’t tell you about when you are a kid: the prevalence of annoyances.

I bought a power mister from another farmer this winter. It is great for putting fungicide on tomatoes because it covers all the leaves of even dense plants quite thoroughly, which you need to do to make fungicide work. And you want fungicide (we have four different organic ones we rotate through so the diseases don’t get used to them) to work, especially when late blight is around. It has been found in two counties already, so it could easily spread. If it comes here that would quite likely do in all our tomatoes and potatoes.

When I bought the mister it started up right away. And when I used it this spring it started. And when Sean used it last week to spray the greenhouse tomatoes it started. And when he went to spray the field tomatoes immediately after that it did not. Annoyance number one. We let it sit for a while and I tried starting it. The pull cord snapped. Annoyance number 2. Yesterday I tried to fix it, which seems like an easy task. Just put on a new piece of cord. The housing is held on by three bolts. Three, as it turned out after I had tried a number of wrenches and sockets, 10mm bolts. Anyone care to guess what wrench I could not find? Number 3. Getting to the cord only required removing 11 small, greasy parts, including two ridiculously tiny snap rings. 4. Have you ever encountered the recoil spring on a small engine? You really don’t want it to uncoil. Half an hour of cursing. 5. Or tried to reinstall two ridiculously tiny, greasy snap rings. 6. That seemed like the moment to switch to another task. So I put the cultivators on the Allis Chalmers G and headed out to the carrot patch. Well, half way out to the carrot patch. Then the engine quit. An hour and a half of work resulting in a still broken mister and a dead tractor.

Not that every hour and a half on the farm goes like that. Annoyances often seem to come in clusters. There may be some kind of mutual attraction, a sort of annoyance gravity that causes them to cluster in certain spots. I just had the misfortune to wandered into a little annoyance galaxy. And to be fair, annoyances tend to arise whenever I try to fix engines. Tools and repair played a minor role in my upbringing. We spent our time clustered around reference books, not engines. I can find Bulgaria on a map. Changing spark plugs tests the limits of my mechanical ability.

I really out to learn how to fix things, maybe even learn how to weld. Or hire a skilled valet who would take care of the grocery shopping, fold my laundry and tend to the machinery.

That or switch to a job involving fewer different sorts of occupations. Farming requires that you do a lot of not necessarily related things. The more things you do, the more chances for annoyances to find you. And when they do you are less likely to be equipped to fend them off. Or that is what I tell myself. I may be making excuses for my incompetence. Other farmers probably own snap ring pliers.

And anyway, who am I kidding. Farming is full of annoyances mostly because life is full of annoyances, no matter what you do. You can spend your days weeding carrots or happily contemplating the evolution of feathers, and either way little things will go wrong. I am pretty sure the universe is not designed to make our lives easy. Otherwise, string would not tie itself in knots.

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Vegetable Notes: We tend to use chard as the backup green. It keeps producing all season, so it is generally their waiting for us if we need it. But that also means we don’t feel the same urgency to use it that we do with other greens that decline quickly after reaching their peak. Consequently, we don’t often get around to handing out chard. Plus some years the bugs and diseases and deer get to it, and we cannot hand it out even if we want to. But so far the chard has had a good year. In fact, it looks so nice I felt we should hand it out no matter what. Plus, it tastes nice too, and you can treat it as two vegetables if you want. You can just cook the leaves and stems together (the stems add so good texture). I steam them in salted water, squeeze out as much water as possible, and them chop and saute the chard with garlic and hot pepper. It is good on its own, even better with pasta or on pizza. but you can also use them stems separately. Italians make chard stem gratin. I have also had tasty chard stem confit–diced stem cooked long and slow slow in a lot of oil with garlic and salt.

Speaking of cooking long and slow, do not do that to the snap peas. Please. Far better to eat them raw than to overcook them. And by overcook I mean steam them more than about two and a half minutes. They should still have some snap when they are done. I am sure you can add them to all sorts of dishes, but why bother? Just sprinkle on a little salt and eat them straight.

You can add black currants to all sorts of dishes, savory as well as sweet. I usually add them to anything–summer pudding, pie–I am making with mixed berries. They are excellent (cooked down with a little water and sugar until syrupy) on the bottom of a creme brule or over ice cream or on pancakes. I also use them in red wine sauces and stews. And because they have a lot of pectin they are useful (and tasty) in all sorts of jams and jellies. And you can pick out the stems, freeze them on a tray and keep them in a bag in the freezer for months to put in whatever you want long after their season has ended.

Newsletter – 10 July, 2014

This Week’s Share: Basil, Chinese cabbage
Garlic, Lettuce, Onions
Peppers, Savory, Squash
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Next Sunday a bunch of guys from Argentina or Germany will win a soccer game and hoist possibly the most coveted and ugliest sports trophy. And they will be hailed by many as the world champions. But of course they won’t be. There is no such thing.

To be fair, the FIFA World Cup champions will at least have had to make it through a tournament that includes teams from nearly every country. It is a legitimately global enterprise. As opposed, for instance, to the World Series, which has considerably less to do with the world. Baseball is played seriously in maybe eight countries, and only two of those field teams that qualify for the World Series. Not that this stops people from declaring the winning team the world champions. But that is patently hyperbolic and parochial.

Soccer’s near global popularity and the broad participation in the World Cup tournament, however, do not make the eventual winners champions of anything but this specific tournament with its particular rules and structure. Change some element–and there’s no reason you could not–and the outcome could change too.

Imagine, for instance, that FIFA set up the World Cup like a tennis tournament, with the top seeds carefully distributed throughout the draw. Or that they gave up on penalty kick shootouts as tie breakers and made teams actually play soccer to determine a winner. Or that they decided that it is not worth suffering brain damage for any game and outlawed heading the ball. Or came to the conclusion that amping up nationalism does not serve mankind and randomly assigned the top players from each country to mixed teams with self-effacing anthems. Would we still be watching Germany and Argentina play for the title on Sunday? Hard to say. But we would certainly be watching a different tournament.

Of course, if your team wins the World Cup you want to imagine them world champions. And for sports writers it’s more concise and has far more flair. And for the rest of us it is satisfyingly and simplifyingly definitive. There’s a logical system for sorting out international soccer and FIFA has applied it and we have an answer.

Isn’t that one of the points of sports? They offer us a neatly enclosed world of simple, self-referential rules and clear, fair outcomes that recognize superiority. In order to understand the game we just need to know the game. Not that it leaves no room for argument. It clearly leaves room for almost endless argument–about the enforcement of the rules, about luck and timing, about tactics, about skill, even about some of the rules so long as tinkering with them will improve the point of the game, not alter it. You can argue about the existence or placement of the three point line, but not about whether players should get extra points for dressing up as eggplants or reciting verse. You have to accept the basic rules, arbitrary though they may be, as they are, as if nature or some ESPN god had decreed them.

I am not immune to the pleasure of sports, but there seems to be ac problem. Whatever we want to think, the individual results are entirely conditional. When you win a tournament or a game or a set or chukka, you win only that thing played at that precise moment in those precise conditions. In order to be able to sort out competitors in any meaningful way, you have to have them play one another over and over again until the accumulated results begin to take on some actual statistical significance. But we don’t seem to like that way of arriving at knowledge. After amassing the results of 2430 regular season games to sort out major league baseball teams, we resort to a far more arbitrary playoff system to choose the one true world champion. For some reason, that seems more definitive to us.

Which does not really matter when we are talking about baseball. But sports, instead of enhancing our ability to hone our perception, play to our misleading desire for simple drama and clear answers. And that does matter when, for instance, we are talking about climate change. Sure, there are years (thousands of years) of data pointing to some very real changes and trends in our planet’s climate. Enough to convince pretty much every climate scientist not on the payroll of an oil company that there’s something real happening. But the statistics strike as somehow unconvincing. They’re niggling little things, too wimpy to stand up by themselves and boldly declare the truth. They travel in swarms like insects, buzzing about our heads irritatingly, almost impossible to catch, distracting and confusing us. Sure, they add up to something, but what precisely? Nothing that really gets us up on our feet, chanting, clapping, adrenalin coursing through us, caught up in the one true moment. We need that winner take all climate change event, that definitive world champion 600-foot-tall tidal wave washing over Manhattan.

We can go ahead and get caught up in the drama of Sundays soccer match and celebrate–or bemoan–the outcome. But it might help us to recall, once we have put away the flags and washed off the face paint, what we witnessed: not the revelation of a world champion; just a game bound by its own rules to come to a conclusion that tells us only who won and lost at that one moment. And perhaps if we learn to accept the conditional nature of that single event, however glorious or heartbreaking, we might in time learn to appreciate the rather quieter and more compelling force of accumulated facts. And then maybe we won’t have to have that tsunami at all.

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Vegetable notes: Herbie told us a couple of weeks ago that we would have a dry summer. He said that’s what the Farmer’s Almanac predicted. Maybe he misread it. Maybe they just got it wrong. Too bad. I like a good drought. But we have had multiple (I have lost count) torrential rain storms this week. It messes with our schedule. We cannot cultivate or sow crops when we should. And it is having a bad effect on the basil. Actually, downy mildew is the real culprit, but it flourishes in humid conditions. It turned up early this year (it comes in on the wind) and now it is running amok. Our basil looked fine on Friday and awful yesterday when I went to pick it for you. I got some acceptable side shoots, but mostly I just ripped the tops off the plants and threw them away. That is not very satisfying picking.

Fortunately, most of the other crops are putting up with the wet conditions well enough so far. The squash has slowed down a bit, but that is not a bad thing. The garlic needed some water. Maybe not this much, but it should help the heads size up before we need to pick them in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, we pulled some green because I don’t want you to go a week without garlic. At this stage is is still quite moist and mild. If, for some reason you don’t want to use it right away just put it somewhere cool and dry and it will cure. But be warned that we have another few thousand heads where this one came from. You will be getting more. So you might as well just use this one up now. Squeeze a head into some salad dressing. Saute another with the Chinese cabbage. And puree the rest with the basil and a little savory (the other bunch of herbs, which also makes a nice addition to a squash soup or roast chicken or roasted potatoes) and put it on your grilled squash and onions.

Newsletter - 3 July, 2014

This Week’s Share: Basil, Beets, Cilantro
Garlic Scapes, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Radicchio,
Radishes, Scallions, Squash, Yukina savoy

________

We went to a local tavern to watch the US-Ghana soccer game a couple of weeks ago. We were the only people in the place watching soccer. As one of the men at the bar pointed out, “god gave us hands so why did someone make a sport you play with your feet?” Hard to argue with that, though it does make one wonder who gave us feet. In fact, it raises some interesting questions about human anatomy in general. Were various beings involved in the design? That would certainly help to explain some things about us. We definitely show signs of having been engineered by a committee. And I do not say that to praise committees.

Sadly, the men at the bar, an odd assortment of Monday night drinkers, chose not to pursue this line of enquiry, fruitful as it might have been. They had bigger fish to fry. Such as what has gone wrong with this country. That something has gone wrong is apparently a given. I didn’t hear anyone speaking up for the US. But what precisely ails this country? What has led us from the good old days, when a man understood the value of hard work, and decency ruled, to the sorry mess we see before us now? The culture of dependency, filth, disrespect, our standing in the world shot to hell, and a farmer can’t even make a living any more.

Well, what do you expect with those people in charge. The whole lot of them down in Washington. Moochers. Grifters. So much damn corruption. No idea what is going on the country. Or just don’t give a damn. And Obama, he just hates this country.

And what is the evidence for that hatred? Well, just look at what he does. Things the men at the bar don’t agree with at all. Like, well, slyly convincing a lot of Americans to support the incompetent things he does. Apparently if Obama liked this country more he would use his evil to make everybody see that he has set us on the wrong course. Fortunately for us, there are still a few guys out drinking on a Monday night who have resisted the evil magic, who can still see the truth and tell Patriot from foe.

There’s nothing wrong with sitting at a bar grousing with your fellow drinkers, and there’s no surprise that around here that grousing would be about liberals and their kooky desire the make society a little more just. But these men were not simply disagreeing with the President’s policies. They were declaring him un-American, illegitimate, other. And doing so in the name of patriotism.

Well, they have a point. In many places refusing to admit the legitimacy of your political opponents does count as patriotism. Places like Turkmenistan, which is certainly a country to emulate. People in Turkmenistan know what’s what. Well, that or are they are in jail, which is where people who don’t agree with right-thinking people belong. Actually, our local paper gets a number of letters to the editor suggesting Obama belongs in jail. I wonder if the writers are all Turkmen. But, no, I believe they are all ardent American patriots.

But perhaps as we go into our annual celebration of patriotism we might pause to reconsider the notion and recall that our system functions not simply because we have the right to believe those we disagree with are fatheads, but also because we accept the legitimacy of those fatheads when against all reason they win elections. No matter how unhappily, we peacefully transfer power to our opponents, even ones whose electoral victories seem a little dubious. We may spend their time in power opposing their policies, marching in the streets, burning draft cards and grousing about them in bars, but we accept that sometimes we must cede power no matter how unquestionably in the right we know we are, because they have as much right to it as we do.

It is a bit like my relationship with fennel. I don’t like fennel. I don’t like the taste. I don’t like the smell. Picking lots of it sometimes makes me feel a little queazy. I am not convinced it should exist. In other words, I ardently disagree with fennel. It’s a fathead. But other people feel differently about fennel. And while they may not convince me to like it, they do remind me that it has a purpose. So I put up with it. In fact, I continue to grow it because no matter how I feel about it it is still a vegetable and this is a vegetable farm. It is sort of my patriotic duty to accommodate the crops I don’t like, though I draw the line at okra. Picking it makes my arms itch. And who likes okra anyway? To hell with it.

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Vegetable notes: I don’t know if you have found the previous vegetables this season at all mysterious. But here’s something that may stump some of you: yukina savoy. It is the rubber banded head of crinkly (savoyed) dark green leaves on crisp stems. Think of it as a bok choi with its own hip sense of style. In other words, its another sort of mustard green, a pleasant combination of tender sweet leaves and crunchy stems with a bit of that mustard bite. Steam it. Saute it. Stir fry it. Toss it in a soup. Put it in a vase.

For some reason, beets get bad press. I think in part it is because a lot of people first meet them as mushy canned vegetables with an odd, off flavor. That is a shame, because a good fresh beet is excellent. True, it tastes a bit like dirt, but really good dirt. And you can do all sorts of things with beets. They are good boiled, baked, roasted, even raw. You could just peel your beets and julienne them, dress them with some good oil, a little lemon juice, a splash of soy sauce and a healthy pinch of salt.

You could have your squash raw, too. I am not a huge fan of large chunks of raw squash. But you could cut it into pieces the size of thin french fries, salt it, and let it drain for a few hours. Then squeeze out as much moisture as you can and toss it with a garlic scape-basil pesto.

You could have your radicchio (the dense red head of leaves) cooked. Most people just add it to a salad. But you can quarter it, brush with oil and grill it, or cook it down like escarole (and add the beet greens too). It is good hot with some spicy sausage and garlic, maybe some white beans, and it is good cold with a splash of vinegar.

Newsletter - 26 June, 2014

This Week’s Share: Arugula, Basil, Bok choi, Dill,
Garlic Scapes, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Radishes,
Scallions, Squash, Turnips
________

I was actually going to write something nice about the weather. I have no idea what came over me. Surely I know better. I had not even put anything down before the deluge arrived, sending kayakable streams coursing through our fields and sinking a fair portion of the vegetable beds behind the house in a sizable pond. I am not certain, but I may have seen a hippo surface somewhere near the celeriac.

But we really had been having praiseworthy weather up until my stupid decision to praise it. Far, far better than what we had to contend with at this time last year. We were just coming to the end of a crushingly long rainy period that had kept our ground more or less saturated since early May. We had abandoned many poorly drained portions of our fields and given up on cultivating anything. The pepper plants looked a little smaller and a lot sadder than when we had put them out a month earlier. And by the time, our neighbor, DJ, was able to mow our hay fields they were so seedy we could not use the bales for mulch.

The weather has not just been better than last year’s, though. It has actually been good. For us and for the crops. It started with the real winter. For the first time in several years the frost got deep in the ground, which helps to loosen the soil, and the bitter cold helped to diminish pest populations and disease pressure (and the peach crop too, but you don’t get anything from the weather without some cost). Winter stuck around perhaps a little longer than necessary. We got our latest start ever on field work. But not so late that it actually mattered. Crops don’t really grown in upstate New York until some time in May, not even in the field houses. An early spring lets us put things in the ground, but usually they just sit there, huddled up, waiting for more sunlight and warmer nights. And every time we have had a warm, dry April, we have had a cold, wet May, which sets back everything. It does not really help to get the plowing done by the middle of April when it snows three straight days in late May, as it did in 2001. An extreme example, perhaps, but effectively not that far off from what we have contended with many years.

This year spring actually progressed in an orderly, and mercifully dry fashion, and we have squash a week earlier than normal. I won’t claim that the weather necessarily deserves the credit (or blame, depending on how you feel about squash) for that. The healthy greenhouse-grown transplants, raised beds, biodegradable mulch, hoops, row covers and fish emulsion-laced transplanting solution we deployed may have had something to do with it too. But we have been using all those things to grow squash for some years. Perhaps I have learned to use them more effectively, honed my timing, found better varieties, bought better equipment. I doubt I have improved enough to make a week’s difference. As always in farming, the weather is almost certainly the crucial variable.

That is just the nature of the farming experiment. We do everything we can to create a controlled environment in which to grow our crops. Hence the raise bed and row covers, the field houses and drip tape, the chisel plowing and weeding, the compost and drain tile, the straight rows and crop rotation, the fertilizer (composted chicken manure) and cultivating, the trellising and variety selection, the deer fence and flame weeding, the rototilling and hoeing, the hay mulch and fish emulsion, the bug netting and hand weeding, plus the weeding, of course.

We sustainable farmers get a lot of credit for being natural. That is merited up to a point. There’s a field of Roundup-ready corn across the road that is more like an industrial production facility than any of my land. But we grew eight of the crops in this week’s share in steel-framed, plastic-covered structures with drip tape and micro sprinkler irrigation. Yes, we used organic potting soil for the seedlings, and tons of compost in the soil, and super fine meshing netting to keep the flea beetles at bay, and pulled the weeds by hand. But there’ s still plenty of engineering involved, from the commercially bred varieties to the careful spacing in the rows. I don’t know that that counts as natural (natural, anyway, in the sense of not manmade, an odd but common distinction).

Were I truly natural I would probably just forage, and hand out, somehow, little piles of found objects. There’s plenty out there to eat, as my worker, Sean, keeps showing me. He has harvested ramps and chickweed and locust flowers and cattail pollen and lamb’s quarters and even some nettles (supposedly the stems are tasty, if a little painfully labor intensive to prepare). I don’t doubt I could find a market for such a CSA. In Brooklyn. But until that particular strain of artisanal hipster culture takes over everywhere (which cannot happen because broad popularity kills it; what’s the point of an earnest passion for craft pickling if everyone shares it?) I will stick with growing vegetables. And to do that at all successfully I need to take some steps to shape the conditions in which in which I grow them.

And hope the weather cooperates because I cannot do much to control it, and it can do a lot to change my growing conditions. Fortunately, so far this season it has not displayed its usual inclination to mess with us just for fun. I don’t know what has put it in a good mood–certainly not anything we have done–and I am not going to ask too many questions. Far better to leave it alone and be silently grateful (you see, I have learned my lesson) and get on with our work. Which this year includes using a lot of round bales to mulch our crops.
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Vegetable Notes: This week you just get the garlic scales, not the whole plant. We are hanging onto the rest of it so that it can grow some nice bulbs to be handed out later in the season. In the meantime, you could slice the squash into sticks and sauté them with the scales, and top with chopped basil at the end. Or chop the scales finely, cooks them until tender, mix with hot pepper, soy sauce, sesame oil and vinegar and use that sauce on lightly steamed bok choi (the small, rubber banded heads of tender leaves and crisp stems). Or you could puree the scales and basil (and perhaps the arugula too) with oil, a little lemon juice, salt, pepper and a touch of hot pepper and use it as a dip for the kohlrabi and radishes. Or make a different dip by pureeing the scapes with the dill, a couple of scallions, lemon juice and thick yougurt.

Newsletter - 17 July, 2014

This Week’s Share: Chard, Cilantro, Black currants,
Garlic, Lettuce, Onions
Sugar snap peas, Squash, Turnips
__________

I know a guy who by the age of ten was certain he wanted to study birds. 40 something years on he is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology at Yale and still as passionate about birds as an avid ten-year-old. He showed us around the collection once, pulling various rare and exotic specimens–passenger pigeons, an ivory billed woodpecker, a cassowary–out of drawers, his enthusiasm so infectious that after an hour of looking at dead birds, and with no previous inclination to do so, we all wanted to take up ornithology too.

It is unusual to meet someone like Rick who loves his work that much. Mosts of us get deflected from our enthusiasms at some point, and usually long before we start our working lives. I know plenty of people who like their jobs fine, even some who claim to enjoy them most of the time. But hardly anyone who is so deeply and joyfully engaged with what he does that he cannot help but show it, and those around him cannot help but feel it.

I envy Rick that. It must be wonderful to head off to your job every morning thinking, gosh, today’s going to be great. I don’t know if he actually sings as he walks jauntily through New Haven on his way to his office in the Peabody Museum. But I like to imagine that at the very least he hums quietly.

And yet I bet even Rick encounters all sorts of minor annoyances in the course of a work day. No matter what you do or how much you enjoy it, they are almost impossible to avoid. It is just one more of those things they don’t tell you about when you are a kid: the prevalence of annoyances.

I bought a power mister from another farmer this winter. It is great for putting fungicide on tomatoes because it covers all the leaves of even dense plants quite thoroughly, which you need to do to make fungicide work. And you want fungicide (we have four different organic ones we rotate through so the diseases don’t get used to them) to work, especially when late blight is around. It has been found in two counties already, so it could easily spread. If it comes here that would quite likely do in all our tomatoes and potatoes.

When I bought the mister it started up right away. And when I used it this spring it started. And when Sean used it last week to spray the greenhouse tomatoes it started. And when he went to spray the field tomatoes immediately after that it did not. Annoyance number one. We let it sit for a while and I tried starting it. The pull cord snapped. Annoyance number 2. Yesterday I tried to fix it, which seems like an easy task. Just put on a new piece of cord. The housing is held on by three bolts. Three, as it turned out after I had tried a number of wrenches and sockets, 10mm bolts. Anyone care to guess what wrench I could not find? Number 3. Getting to the cord only required removing 11 small, greasy parts, including two ridiculously tiny snap rings. 4. Have you ever encountered the recoil spring on a small engine? You really don’t want it to uncoil. Half an hour of cursing. 5. Or tried to reinstall two ridiculously tiny, greasy snap rings. 6. That seemed like the moment to switch to another task. So I put the cultivators on the Allis Chalmers G and headed out to the carrot patch. Well, half way out to the carrot patch. Then the engine quit. An hour and a half of work resulting in a still broken mister and a dead tractor.

Not that every hour and a half on the farm goes like that. Annoyances often seem to come in clusters. There may be some kind of mutual attraction, a sort of annoyance gravity that causes them to cluster in certain spots. I just had the misfortune to wandered into a little annoyance galaxy. And to be fair, annoyances tend to arise whenever I try to fix engines. Tools and repair played a minor role in my upbringing. We spent our time clustered around reference books, not engines. I can find Bulgaria on a map. Changing spark plugs tests the limits of my mechanical ability.

I really out to learn how to fix things, maybe even learn how to weld. Or hire a skilled valet who would take care of the grocery shopping, fold my laundry and tend to the machinery.

That or switch to a job involving fewer different sorts of occupations. Farming requires that you do a lot of not necessarily related things. The more things you do, the more chances for annoyances to find you. And when they do you are less likely to be equipped to fend them off. Or that is what I tell myself. I may be making excuses for my incompetence. Other farmers probably own snap ring pliers.

And anyway, who am I kidding. Farming is full of annoyances mostly because life is full of annoyances, no matter what you do. You can spend your days weeding carrots or happily contemplating the evolution of feathers, and either way little things will go wrong. I am pretty sure the universe is not designed to make our lives easy. Otherwise, string would not tie itself in knots.

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Vegetable Notes: We tend to use chard as the backup green. It keeps producing all season, so it is generally their waiting for us if we need it. But that also means we don’t feel the same urgency to use it that we do with other greens that decline quickly after reaching their peak. Consequently, we don’t often get around to handing out chard. Plus some years the bugs and diseases and deer get to it, and we cannot hand it out even if we want to. But so far the chard has had a good year. In fact, it looks so nice I felt we should hand it out no matter what. Plus, it tastes nice too, and you can treat it as two vegetables if you want. You can just cook the leaves and stems together (the stems add so good texture). I steam them in salted water, squeeze out as much water as possible, and them chop and saute the chard with garlic and hot pepper. It is good on its own, even better with pasta or on pizza. but you can also use them stems separately. Italians make chard stem gratin. I have also had tasty chard stem confit–diced stem cooked long and slow slow in a lot of oil with garlic and salt.

Speaking of cooking long and slow, do not do that to the snap peas. Please. Far better to eat them raw than to overcook them. And by overcook I mean steam them more than about two and a half minutes. They should still have some snap when they are done. I am sure you can add them to all sorts of dishes, but why bother? Just sprinkle on a little salt and eat them straight.

You can add black currants to all sorts of dishes, savory as well as sweet. I usually add them to anything–summer pudding, pie–I am making with mixed berries. They are excellent (cooked down with a little water and sugar until syrupy) on the bottom of a creme brule or over ice cream or on pancakes. I also use them in red wine sauces and stews. And because they have a lot of pectin they are useful (and tasty) in all sorts of jams and jellies. And you can pick out the stems, freeze them on a tray and keep them in a bag in the freezer for months to put in whatever you want long after their season has ended.

Newsletter - 19 June, 2014

The Alleged Farm News – 19 June, 2014

This weeks share: Arugula, Cilantro, Escarole, Green garlic, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Mustard greens, Scallions, Hakurei turnip

Owner’s Manual – The Alleged Farm CSA Share, Model Year 2014

I considered writing this entire newsletter in that special instructional pidgin English that makes everything from setting up a TV antenna to boiling rice noodles so much harder and funnier than it ought to be. But it would simply have added to the effort of producing the newsletter–at the last minute as always–and the joke would have worn thin about 3 sentences in. So I will stick to my own idiosyncratic, meandering prose style, which should produce enough confusion as it is.

In any event, congratulation on your decision to purchase a 2014 CSA share from The Alleged Farm. We are confident that you will enjoy the many features of your new share, and that with proper handling and care it will provide you with weeks of sustenance and the occasional pleasant discovery.

In order to get the most from your share, please familiarize yourself with the instructions, safety warnings, snide jokes and fatalism in the owners manual. Failure to follow all of the instructions and obey proper safety precautions could result in serious injury to the box or the the loss of leafy greens.

In order to get anything at all from your share, you should probably get your share. And to do that you should go to the site you signed up for after the delivery time and take one of the share boxes. It does not matter which box. They are all the same. If you are having trouble choosing I suggest you take the one third from the left. Or maybe the bottom one on the right. Though, come to think of it, that one over closer to the door looks tempting. No, really, it does not matter. As long as you are at the right site, you can take whichever box you want. Note that “signed up for” above can mean the site you chose when you purchased your share or a different site that you have requested (through the web site or via email) we send your share to for whatever number of weeks during the season.

If you cannot get your share on delivery day it will probably still be there waiting for you the next day. A little glum, a

little resentful, but waiting anyway. At some point, however, your site host is going to take pity on it and find it a good home. If you cannot get your share at all you can always have someone else pick it up. The vegetables won’t mind. They just want to be eaten by somebody. And if you cannot find someone to take your box, please let us know. We will send it Capital City Rescue Mission.

Should you manage to get your box home, I would recommend opening it and taking the produce out. It is a lot easier to deal with the produce once it is out of the box, and it is much easier to undo the box and flatten it for return to us (leave it at your site and we will pick it up) when the box is empty. Not that it is as easy as it should be to flatten the box even when it is empty. To do so without tearing the bottom, pull the shorts sides back to disengage the tabs rather than pulling them straight up, which tears the tabs.

As for handling the produce, I leave that up to you. I do suggest that you dunk the leafy things in cold water to refresh them and put the herbs in a glass of water (don’t wash basil unless you are going to use it right away). Most of the other crops can go in the refrigerator, though onions and garlic should not (too cold and damp for them). There is an ongoing debate about refrigerating tomatoes. It may not be as disastrous (for the tomatoes) as claimed. Feel free to conduct your own experiments. If you want root crops to last longer, take the greens off (and eat them). Not that you should really be aiming for long term storage of anything because you will be getting another box of produce in a week.

I would suggest, instead–and keep in mind this is only a suggestion–aiming to eat the produce. Unless it is something you don’t like or work is just crazy or it is too damn hot to move, let alone make food, or you lose track of it in the bottom of the crisper drawer or you have such a busy social life you are just never home or …. Well, or all those things that get in the way of making food. In which case the vegetables can make a lovely gift or excellent compost or a make the rabbits in your yard ridiculously happy.

Perhaps you are hesitant to do anything with some of the produce because you don’t know what it is. I try to offer basic identification tips and cooking suggestions for unusual crops in the “Vegetable Notes.” I don’t give specific recipes. Some day if my web guru figures out how to do it, there will be recipes for lots of the crops on the website again (and I will solicit recipes from you to add to the collection). When in doubt about how to prepare a particular vegetable, just sauté some garlic in olive oil and add it. Hard to go wrong with that.

Even if you don’t eat all your vegetables, even if you eat none of them, even if you never get your box, you are still supporting a local, conserved, sustainable farm. You are helping to create jobs (the governor thanks you, though my son, Will, is a little less thrilled about the work), keep land open, improve the soil, feed the hungry (in addition to the unwanted CSA boxes we send to the Rescue Mission, we also donate about 3 tons of produce a year to Community Action) and protect farmland (we donate 1% of receipts to the Agricultural Stewardship Association, which holds the easement on our farm). Plus as a member, you get these scintillating newsletter and the chance to visit the farm and do our work for us. Oh no, wait, Liz told me I should not threaten you with farm work. I meant, you can visit the farm and participate in exciting and educational agricultural activities.

So I guess you don’t have to get your box in order to get anything get all from your share.

Still, I really would recommend getting your share and eating the vegetables.

Vegetable Notes: Why, you may wonder, have we given you several young garlic plants. Perhaps we expect you to transplant them and grow your own. You could do that, but you don’t need to. We have a lot more garlic growing here. I would recommend, instead that you eat it. You can use the whole plant. The dark green leaves are a little tough, but you can use them for flavoring in a soup. As for the rest of the stalk, from the curlicue scape at the top down to the bulb, you can chop it up and cook it. And there are small cloves you can use too. Because it is still young it has a milder, almost sweet–though distinctly garlic–flavor. You could sauté it in oil, perhaps with a little hot pepper and wilt the mustard greens (in the bag) in it. Or make a garlicky broth and add chopped escarole (the large green head). Or add a crushed clove to a vinaigrette. Or puree it with the cilantro or arugula and serve it with, well, just about anything. Including slices of kohlrabi (the spaceship-like, dense object), which has mild crunchy flesh.