Newsletter – 29 August, 2013


The Alleged Farm News – 29 August, 2013

This weeks share: Beans, Beets, Leaf Fennel, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Pepper, 
Blue Gold Potatoes, Tomatoes

I recently noticed how often I fail to finish something I have started. 

I am not talking about books, though I have only late in life learned to put down a book I don’t enjoy before I get to the end. I guess I felt I had some sort of intellectual obligation to read the whole book, plus giving up on it seemed a little rude to the author. It was like hanging up on someone. But I have better things to do than slog my way through prose that bores or confuses me, and so far none of the authors whose work I have set aside only party read have offered any objections. They are probably just grateful than anyone bought the book.

Nor am I talking about food. I was taught early in life to eat what was on my plate, which my English grandmother felt should probably include the bones and gristle. If we really could not choke that down then we were supposed to hide our failure beneath the knife and fork. Perhaps it was just a joke of hers, a little prank to play on the boorish American grandchildren. Probably not. In any event, I did learn to clean my plate, which is hardly a great hardship for someone who likes to eat a lot–in both senses. And who needs to eat a fair amount. You work up an appetite farming. 

Vegetable notes: The deer were kind enough to leave the leaf fennel alone. Perhaps they had had enough fennel by the time they finished destroying the first planting of bulb fennel. Perhaps they have an aesthetic sensibility that stopped them from destroying such an attractive patch of leaf fennel. Perhaps they just wanted to share. How kind of them. Such thoughtful pests.

Now that you have the leaf fennel, however, you have to figure out what to do with it. I am probably not the person to ask for suggestions. Unlike deer, I don’t particularly like fennel, and Liz  does not like it at all. She will notice a single fennel seed in a dish. But if you like it you could try it with beets or perhaps in a cold beet soup. And if you don’t like it you could try leaving it out for the deer. Maybe they will eat yours.

Either the outside tomatoes are never going to ripen normally or we will have one week in September when we hand out nothing but tomatoes. I am really not sure what they are waiting for at this point. Even the peppers are getting over the wet start to the season, and up until a few weeks ago they looked like they might just quit for the year. Perhaps their example will inspire the tomatoes to try a little harder.

Or maybe I should show the tomatoes some of the onions, which made the most of that awful weather. You may believe that you happened to get our one giant onion this week, and you are feeling a little sorry for all the other members who have to put up with their mere one pounders. That is kind of you, but don’t worry. We had plenty of giant onions to go round. And we have a lot more onions to go round. We have already run out of space on the drying racks and have tubs of onions stack up in the barn and  we have not finished brining in all of the ones in the field. If we don’t ever get that rush of ripe tomatoes, maybe we will do an all onion week instead.  

What I find I often don’t finish are simple tasks, every day sorts of things like making tea. Not that I forget to put the  tea leaves in the pot or the water in the kettle. I handle making the tea perfectly well. Well, I handle the first part of it, but then I have a pot of hot tea and a strainer full of wet tea leaves, and the easy thing to do is set the strainer aside and deal with dumping the leaves and washing out the strainer until after I have had my tea. Which makes sense at the time, but when I finish my tea I am highly likely to go off and do something else and leave the strainer sitting there in the sink, where it is doing no harm after all. Nor, however, is it cleaning itself. That will have to wait, probably until I am ready to make another pot of tea, at which point I have no choice but to clean the strainer, unless someone else has done it for me because they needed it or could not stand the mess.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with going about tasks this way, except that all the niggling little parts you have put off, usually because they are boring or inconvenient or involve bending down, accumulate, and soon you have dirty dishes piled up by the sink and stacks of newspaper on the kitchen table and tools left in random places and projects two steps short of completion.  And after a while you have accumulated enough unpleasant work that you just avoid it and hope someone else takes care of it.

But we have a moral obligation to clean up after ourselves, not pass the cleanup off to others or another time. And the easiest way to make ourselves clean up is to learn to think of the clean up as part of the original task, not a separate one.  We have to see that the mess we make is intimately related to the action that makes the mess–that cleaning out the tea strainer and putting it in the drying rack is as much a part of making tea as adding the hot water to the pot or pouring the tea into the mug. 

Of course, if you take this seriously enough you could easily find that one simple act connects step by step to just about everything else and making a cup of tea turns into a lifetime task as you dig the well to draw the water for the kettle and take some portion of responsibility for the people picking your tea leaves and looking after the dump where your used leaves end up. Which is massively impractical, but worth contemplating from time to time. It is so easy to turn on the tap or toss something in the garbage can and take it for granted that somehow clean water will come from somewhere and garbage will go somewhere and it does not really have anything to do with you and your actions so why worry about how much clean water you use and how much garbage you generate. But the things we do have consequences, and not just for ourselves. If you, at least in your mind, following those tea leaves from the plant to the tea pot to the dump, you cannot help but notice that your mug of tea connects you in a small way to other places and people. And if you expect the people that mug of tea connects you to to take responsibility for your well being–to provide you with a safe product and make sure your garbage is disposed of safely–then surely you too have to accept a little responsibility for their well being too. 

All of which might seem overwhelming enough to stop you from making another pot of tea, let alone cleaning out the strainer if you do. Or ridiculous enough–just a bunch of pointless, counterproductive liberal guilt–that you can just ignore it and keep on making your tea without a thought for anyone else. But it does not have to be either. It is not that big a deal. It is just the way things are. Your tea just passes through you its way from one place to another, and acknowledging that might simply serve to remind you to clean up after yourself right way so the mess does not pile up and so that nobody else ends up having to clean up after you.

Or it might cause you to forego conventional pesticides because the short-term benefits they offer your farm–as enticing as they might be when the potato and cucumber beetles are ravaging your crops–come with long-term costs for  you, for the people who eat your produce, for the people who produce the chemicals, for the people who share your water source, for the people who will farm that land after you, and for everything alive on your farm.