Newsletter – 3 July 2013



 The Alleged Farm News – 3 July, 2013

This weeks share: Basil, Frisee Endive, Garlic, Garlic Scapes, Lettuce, Scallions, Squash, Hakurei Turnips, Yukina Savoy 

We have become far more aware of food issues in recent years. We have learned to ask questions about sourcing and growing methods and labor conditions. We know about heirloom breeds and integrated pest management and food miles. We worry about additives and saturated fats. We seek out small batch, artisanal products. We supports local producers and organizations working to protect farms. And many of us eat much better. 

One food issue, however, continues to receive surprisingly little attention given how persistent and urgent it is. And it is not how humanely that Gloucester Old Spot whose shoulder you are smoking was treated before it was butchered. And it is not what ear worm control program the farmer used on the corn you are steaming. And is is not how far the cabbage you are slicing for cole slaw traveled to you from where it grew. And it is not how the migrant laborers who picked the strawberries on your shortcake were treated. And it is not even whether that quinine you are about to pour into your gin is just some boring commercial brand or a hand crafted mixer cooked up in a Brooklyn loft according to a recently rediscovered pre-Prohibition recipe. As crucial as all that is, the food issue that ought to demand our attention is that while many of us eat better, many others of us do not have enough to eat. 

It is tough to figure out precisely how many Americans suffer from what we old folks knew as hunger but now–and more accurately–is called food insecurity. For a start, given the scorn and shame heaped on the needy, people tend not to want to admit they lack the means to feed themselves and their kids properly. In addition, because they are more likely not to have a computer or even a phone or fixed address, they are harder to canvas. And what exactly do we mean by food insecurity? Depending on how you choose to define the issue, the number of people suffering it can vary quite a bit.

Vegetable notes: You may notice a white substance on your Yukina (the head of crinkly greens in the twist tie). Don’t worry, we have just been spraying it with clay. Not as a joke or strange voodoo ritual. The fine coating of clay helps deter flea beetles, which left undeterred would have destroyed the Yukina. The clay washes right off, leaving you to do in the Yukina yourself. To that end, I would recommend steaming it, perhaps with a little chopped garlic, and then dressing it with a splash of soy sauce, a dash of sesame oil and some vinegar. 

You could use another clove of garlic crushed in a vinaigrette with a little cream on a salad of lettuce and endive (the frilly head of greens). 

And another clove, minced, with some chopped basil and oil oil on slices of grilled squash. 

Don’t worry about using up your whole head of garlic this week. We have plenty more to hand out over the course of the season. It seems to be withstanding the deluge fairly well so far.

Just how well the other crops out in the fields hold up remains to be seen. We are beginning to notice some adverse affects. The cucumbers have had a particularly rough time (they are ridiculously fragile in the best of conditions), and any crops in poorly drained areas are stunted and pale. Plus we have been unable to do all sorts of work that would help the crops thrive. I have yet to hill one of the potato patches at all. We have no hay mulch, and what little tractor cultivating and hoeing we have had a chance to do has been largely undone by the rain (weeds like galinsoga and purslane just reroot in the wet soil). We are pretty well restricted to hand weeding the whole farm (and carrying all of the weeds out of the fields). I would love to offer a less gloomy assessment of the prospects for the growing season, but we are running out of time for some crops to recover from this rain. The growing season is not all that long. We need at least a couple of weeks of dry weather to get the plants growing properly again, and we need it now. Anything you can do to make the rain go away would be greatly appreciated

So we don’t know exactly how many Americans suffer from food insecurity. But here are some numbers that begin to suggest the scope of the problem. 25% of American jobs pay poverty wages. 15% of Americans–including 16 millions children–live below the poverty line (that’s just under $18,000 a year for a family of 3). There are over a million homeless students in American public schools. 48 million Americans receive some level of assistance through SNAP (what we old folks knew as food stamps). Despite that help, 21% of Americans in 2011 faced food insecurity, according to a USDA study. Approximately half of Americans will have received some form of food aid by the time they are 65. Due to the sequester, programs providing food to needy seniors will deliver 4 million fewer meals this year. 

Coming up with an accurate assessment of the scope of this problem is no doubt of value to policy makers. But for the rest of us, it should be enough to know that some tens of millions of Americans regularly face the prospect of going without enough food to thrive. Enough, that is, in order to remind us that as much as we have to celebrate about this country, we also have a lot to do to live up to our widely trumpeted ideals.

If we truly believe everyone in this country has an equal chance we had better make sure everybody has had enough to eat first so they have can, if they wish, make something of that chance. Kids who do not get enough to eat (and whose mothers do not get enough to eat while they are in utero) do worse in school and have more serious health problems throughout their lives, making it far more likely that they will have to depend on our help in the long run. 

We have to make sure our fellow citizens have enough food, and not just cheap, crappy food. We need to provide people with healthy, nutritious meals. That does not mean everybody needs esoteric cuts of pasture raised heritage breed animals and microgreens. It does mean actual fruits and vegetables and basic, unprocessed proteins. Achieving that is not cheap, and obviously it would be far better if everyone had the means to feed themselves well. But money and a naive longing for an ideal world are lousy reasons to forego common human decency and our fundamental patriotic obligation to look after one another’s basic well being.

There are plenty of things about this country to celebrate tomorrow, including a lot of great food. But a birthday is not just an occasion for chest thumping self-congratulation and pigging out at the picnic table. It is also a great moment for a little introspection, an opportunity to recall our principles and contemplate how well we fulfill our responsibilities. There is no shame in admitting we can do better as a country. Every country can and should do better. We shame ourselves, instead, when we turn away from our civic duty, cloaking unconscionable indifference in false virtues of thriftiness and self-reliance. Let’s feed the hungry.