I feel a little odd appearing before you looking like this. I am, after all, a bit of a Luddite. Not hardcore, for sure. I have never felt any desire to trade in my tractors for work horses. I like tractors–and have less warm feelings about horses. I would be happy to have more tractors (in case any of you are wondering what to get me for Christmas).
In fact, I would like to have more equipment in general. What sane farmer does not dream of machines that will take over at least some of his tasks? I have friends up in Argyle who farmed for years with horses, but they put a lot of money and effort into adapting a wide array of implements for use with the horses. They even rigged up hydraulics for the equipment. It would probably also be worth noting that after 15 years of this they got just one small tractor to help with a few tasks, and a year later they had a couple of busy tractors and a couple of horses with a lot free time.
I could use a decent potato digger, a flail mower, an aerated greens washing tub, a Pixall one row bean harvester, a mechanical transplanter, a three row flamer with adjustable shields, a spader, a 3-point hitch boom sprayer, a root vegetable undercutting blade, a rock picker, a small excavator, an ebb and flow irrigation system for the seedling greenhouse, motorized thermostat-activated roll up sides for the field houses, a wire hoop setter, a strawberry mulcher, an automated flat seeder. And I have long dreamt of a machine that would clean, count weigh, sort, bunch, bag and pack the vegetables for your shares. We would simply pick everything and load it into tubs at the top of the device, and it would take care of everything else, delivering neatly packed boxes to us as we sat sipping iced lattes in the comfort of the plushly redecorated former packing room.
So I clearly have no trouble handing over my labor to a machine. But these are all solid objects, labor savers wrought in steel and rubber, tangible hunks of utilitarianism. Well, except, sadly, for the wondrous CSA machine. I am still waiting for Sean Horning, who worked for six summers on the farm before going off to engineering school, to deliver it. Unfortunately, he has taken up snow board design, which apparently does not leave him enough time to work on farm equipment. I don’t know when I will get my hands on it. But at least I could, literally, get my hands on it if Sean ever made it.
And being able to get my hands on something matters to me. I suppose I am just a bit literal. I prefer the actual to the virtual. It is one of the reasons I find farming appealing. When we produce something it is not a concept or a brand or feeling or a look. It is an actual something you can sink your teeth into. Just about everything we do is a basic physical movement with basic physical consequences. Sometimes even the consequences we intended.
We shovel compost onto a bed in the field house and turn it in with a pitchfork and toss on lime and organic fertlizer and rake it smooth and pour seed into the hopper of the seeder and push it down the row and lay a piece of row cover over the seeded bed and attach sprinklers to the
irrigation line and roll up the sides of the fieldhouse on warm days and five weeks later on a cool Wednesday morning we take tubs and knives out to the field house and pull aside the row cover and slice off the leaves and carry them in the tubs back to the packing room and soak them cold water and shake them dry and parcel them out into bags and pack the bags into boxes and load the boxes onto the trucks and drop them off at our sites and that is how you come to have mustard greens in your share.
I don’t deny that organic farming as amovement involves all manner of beliefs and philosophies and lifestyles and sensibilities. And sometimes when the mood strikes us we talk of such things as we weed (after a while you will do just about anything to get your mind off the weeding). But its the hoes in our hand and the muscles in our arms that clear away the crabgrass and purslane, not ideas. I don’t mean to suggest that I scorn ideas (though many farmers do; they talk of derisively of “book Jan and Amelia harvesting mustard learning”). I like a good idea almost as much as I like a good tomato salad. But I find at the end of the day there is something satisfying about tangible results, especially if they taste good.
And yet here I am in the virtual world, and in a spiffed up new version of it, as returning members will probably notice. There’s color and photos and something like an actual layout. And clicking on the underlined vegetables in this week’s share will take you to the relevant recipes on our website. On our new brand new website. It has been up and running for a day so it still needs a lot of work. But now I can update announcements and add photos and recipes (as always, I encourage you to send me your favorite recipes for the crops you get from us so that I can add them to our collection). And once Sam has finished inputting the data you will be able to check your balance and possibly change your pickup location online (should you need to).
Actually, for all I know, there are all sorts of things you can do on the website. I have only managed to figure out about 4% of it so far. I have no idea, for instance, what it means to segment a customer database or why I would want to forecast anything other than the weather. I doubt a great deal of what the site can do will ever apply to the farm (I certainly hope it won’t; I have no plans to delve deeply into ecommerce). But I hope that the small part that does improves the share a bit by giving you a better way to get information about what we are doing on the farm, what you can do on the farm, and what you can do with the weekly box of produce. In other words, I hope that this virtual work will have actual results, such as enticing you to come to the farm this season and giving you some new ideas about how to prepare the vegetables.
One thing the new site will not do yet is tell you what to do with garlic scapes, which are the curlicues in the share. Many of you may remember how to cook them (and if you have come up with some interesting and tasty new ways let me know), but for those who have forgotten or never knew in the first place, here is a quick scape primer. They are the flower stems from hardneck garlic, and like every other part of the plant they taste like garlic, though they are milder than the bulbs. You can cut them into pieces and saute them in a little olive oil and salt until they are slightly browned and tender and eat them by themselves (hot or cold) or add them to all sorts of dishes. Or you can puree them with olive oil, salt, pepper, perhaps a little hot pepper, a splash of lemon juice or vinegar and some nice fresh herbs. Do that and you will have a pleasantly garlicky green sauce for meat or fish or vegetables or pasta or just to dunk some bread in.
The site also seems at present a little short on information about mustard greens (the bagged greens). You can steam or saute them, maybe with a little vinegar or a bit of soy sauce and sesame oil. But I would recommend using them raw in a salad with a dressing that includes soy, sesame oil, mustard and honey and perhaps a bit of heavy cream.
Of course that is only a suggestion, a mere insubstantial idea. What you actually do with the greens and the other produce in this week’s box is up to you. But however you choose to eat them, I hope you enjoy them because that is ultimately the outcome we hope our actual work results in.
Thanks for joining the CSA, and welcome to the 2011 season. We look forward to providing you with lots of fresh food and to seeing you on the farm.