Newsletter – August 16, 2012

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The Alleged Farm News
Issue Number 9 | August 16, 2012

This Week’s Share
Basil, Carrots
Garlic, Lettuce
Mustard greens mix, Onion, Ancho hot pepper


For the first few weeks of the season I had to take  a small detour on the delivery route to pick up my son from his summer job. Thus I got to drive along Broadway from Menands into downtown Albany on several occasions, which gave me a chance to take note of what I was passing. I cannot say it is the loveliest streetscape I have ever encountered (really, I cannot; not even for money). But I rather enjoyed the drive. It is like going on a short urban archeology expedition. 

Like most American cities, Albany has moved away from its industrial past. Mostly, of course, because industry has moved away from it. But also in part by choice. Cities usually think the sorts of people they ought to attract are going to be drawn to a post-industrial rather than an actual industrial setting. It is much cooler to turn a former factory into an art gallery than into another factory. Not that Albany has really championed post-industrial chic. It has generally taken the more common route of simply obliterating the past. I believe this was called urban renewal in the 1970s. The Empire Plaza, like some shard of an of extraterrestrial metropolis that unfortunately crash landed in the middle of Albany, stands as a fine symbol of this.

But you cannot get rid of all the gritty parts of a city. For a start, it just takes too much money to destroy every sign of the past. Plus, even modern cities need some place where people still do some of the old actual work. In Albany, Broadway is one of those places. 

Vegetable notes

The rain god remains unappeased. We have had a little rain, but only a little. More soil moisture would not only help all the plants, it would make digging carrots easier too. The soil gets quite hard when it dries out. We cannot get the chisel shanks in deep enough to free up the longer carrots. We left a certain number of carrot tips behind in the field. Still, it is much better than last year, when we had so much rain the carrots rotted. I far prefer to lose a few tips than the whole crop

The lack of rain has also had a serious effect on our potato yield. The plants grew well early on a and set a lot of tubers, but without rain the tubers never sized up. They still taste good–these Satinas are good boiled or roasted–but they are small. 

The dry weather seemed to delay the tomato harvest a little, but production picked up this week, and the low moisture and sunshine have helped make some excellent fruit. You don’t really need to do more than put a little salt on these to enjoy them, though I still like them best in tomato salad with onion and basil, good olive oil and a splash of vinegar.

The dry weather had no effect on the mustard greens–because we grew them in a greenhouse with sprinklers. It is a lot easier getting things to grow when you control the rain. 

Your Ancho pepper is probably fairly mild–I had one the other day with almost no heat–but sometimes they can be hot. You might want to test a little piece. However hot it is, it is tastiest roasted. You could roast and peel it and add it to some chopped tomato with grilled onion and basil and maybe some minced garlic for a nice fresh salsa.

Well, some of it is where people do work. There are a number of places where people did work–large, abandoned factories that remind the passerby we were once (not so long ago) the industrial powerhouse of the world. Intriguingly, these profoundly utilitarian buildings, giant brick production sheds, have a certain amount of ornamentation, including one otherwise fairly grim one with two almost elegant towers. The only surviving large scale industrial site is Albany International, a name that appropriately by modern corporate standards gives you no idea of what the company does. Even more appropriately, despite the name it moved its corporate headquarters from the Broadway site, where it had been since 1902, to New Hampshire last year.

Though large-scale industry is largely a thing of the past in Albany, there are a surprising number of small manufacturers and businesses still operating along this stretch of Broadway. On your way into Albany you could pick up some cut stone, industrial foam, carpet, a meat slicer, fasteners, a lube oil mist eliminator, can-making equipment, dust-collecting filter bags, a fire truck, an outboard engine, tires, sodium hypoclorite, made to order sheet metal heating vents, a golf cart and roofing supplies, as well as whatever it is they make in the Albany International complex–all that before you get to the federal and state offices, investment companies and law practices downtown. 

Interspersed with these businesses (and the former businesses) are blocks of simple row houses no doubt built for the people who worked in the factories, with the occasional grand brick church or small park or shop. They are the sorts of working class neighborhoods nobody would dream of building any more, the houses too close together, too close to the industrial area, too urban, and without garages–remnants of a pre-automobile life when work and play and worship were in walking distance.  

You would have to undertake real archeological exploration to find traces of whatever existed along this stretch of ground before the factories and houses and roads and rail lines of the industrial era erased it more thoroughly than any urban renewal. Any sign of the Dutch and English farmers who must have used this land once, or of the Mohicans before them, is buried beneath the tarmac and brick and steel. It is a landscape built on the belief that the new takes complete precedence over the old, and certainly the people who built it would be puzzled to find that it stands now as an artifact of a disappearing age. They would probably want to knock it all down and build something new.

I think I find Broadway interesting not just because it offers a view of our rapidly receding industrial past, but also because in Easton so little has really changed since the first European settlers turned up two and a half centuries ago. The industrial age simply never came here. There have been changes. There are fewer people, fewer sheep, far fewer farms, a few new houses and giant freestall barns and trench silos and some paved roads. But none of this has fundamentally altered the way of life established here by those early Quakers. 

Not that we are locked in the past like some sort of historic reenactment. People are more than happy to have their cars and satellite television and self propelled forage harvesters. But there’s a deep reverence here for the past. You occasionally hear talk that we need a Walmart or housing developments, and there’s a vague defensive understanding that much of the rest of the region has moved on. But most of the people who longed for a modern life moved away to work in those factories (hence the  50% population decrease in the last century). The folks who stuck it out here are more inclined to, well, stick it out–to stick with the way we do things because that is the way we do things. 

Broadway offers a stark view of history. It is a testament to a once thriving way of life that has largely been left behind to moulder. The world has moved on and has no use for the edifices of the industrial revolution, which seems fair since the industrial revolution had little use for what preceded it. As the old factories fall in on Broadway the nanotechnology center expands across town. We have just as many relics of the past here as there are along Broadway, but we live in them.