Newsletter – June 20, 2013


 The Alleged Farm News – 20 June, 2013


This weeks share: Arugula, Beet Greens, Cilantro, Dill, Escarole, Garlic Scapes, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Radishes, Scallions

I have been feeling gloomy about the weather recently. Of course, I have been feeling gloomy about the weather pretty much since the day I started farming. Gloomy, that is, in the special fatalistic agricultural sense. Not just upset about specific meteorological events: the rainy day when you want to have a picnic, the snow storm that cancels your class trip, the heat wave that saps your energy. Gloomy in the sense that you have put yourself squarely in the way of a massive, uncontrollable, often vindictive force. 

So gloomy is nothing new for me. But I think my gloom has evolved in recent years. Rather than simply bracing for whatever nastiness the weather has in store for me at any moment–regularly scanning the horizon, even on the loveliest days, for building thunderheads–I have begun to worry more about what it has in store for all of us in the long run. Perhaps this is just an older guy’s gloom, a feeling that surely life is not as good as it used to be and an uneasiness about my legacy. Perhaps, though, it is also a growing sense that the weather might actually be getting meaner.

Knowing full well that human beings are apt to privilege the present moment, which tends to hamper historical perspective and thus make real trends hard to see, I hesitate to assert that the weather is getting worse. Sure, it has been lousy and weird. I started plowing this year two weeks later than ever before (after having started two weeks earlier than ever before last year). But by the middle of May I started to worry about how dry the fields were. And then almost instantly about how wet they were. And then they got wetter and raised beds disappeared into puddles and you could have kayaked across the winter squash patch on a couple of occasions.

Just because the weather has been bad, though, does not mean that it is worse. That it feels worse surely is in large part because it stands out depressingly clearer in my mind than all the other bad weather during the previous years I have farmed. I know perfectly well that we have had wet and cold years before, snow in late May, hail, huge storms that tore the plastic off the greenhouses.  But none of that old weather, as bad as it might have been, affects what I am doing now directly so I discount it. I can remember feeling gloomy about past weather, but remembering feeling gloomy does not feel anywhere nearly as bad as actually feeling gloomy. The present matters more.

Vegetable notes: As usual, the CSA season is starting off leafy. You have salad greens–lettuce and arugula (the spicy thin green leaves in a bunch); cooking greens–escarole (in the twist tie) and beet greens (the red leaves in a bunch); herbs–dill (the tall lacy plants in a bunch) and cilantro (like parsley); and scallions, which are really just onion leaves. Or stems maybe. Or something in between.

Speaking of stems maybe, we are not quite sure what part of a plant kohlrabi (the heavy round thing) is. But we do know that it is tasty simply peeled and sliced thin. Or cubed and tossed with yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and perhaps some dill or cilantro. You could also add some scallion and arugula.

Garlic scapes (the curlicues) are another stem maybe. They grow on the top of hard neck garlic, and eventually straighten up and carry a cluster of tiny garlic bulblets. We take the scapes off the plants so that the bulbs can get as much energy as possible and size up. We also take them off because they are delicious. I like to chop them into pieces about the size of a green been and saute them over medium low heat in a little olive oil with a good amount of salt until they brown and go tender. You can also puree them with olive oil and herbs (the cilantro would be good) and vinegar or lemon juice to make a garlicky sauce for, well, almost anything. You could, for instance, stir it into some sauteed escarole.

If you cannot decide right away what to do with all the greens, you should at least soak them in very cold water to refresh them, dry them almost completely and put them in the refrigerator in an open bag (they can get slimy in a closed bag). And if you are saving the radishes take the tops off or they will lose moisture through the leaves and get soft. As for the scapes, they can last for weeks in the refrigerator, though not in our house. We have eaten long before then.

To be fair, the present probably does matter more. Even if I concern myself deeply with past weather, the soil and plants still have to live with what happens now, which means I have to live with what happens now. It makes sense that we care the most about what we are up against immediately. Memory and planning are lovely, but first you have to make it through the day.

Of course, it can be a lot easier to make it through a bad day when you can recall that you have survived its equal or worse before. I think of my sons, when they were younger, behaving as if they had some fatal disease when the got colds. And then behaving as if they were completely cured as soon as the aspirin kicked in, only to be plunged back into despair as it wore off. Understanding the course of the common cold would not have made their symptoms vanish, but it might have made them easier to withstand without so much moaning.

A longer view does not just afford you a comforting perspective on your present. It also allows you to spot the course and pace of change (or, probably more often, the lack thereof). Nineteens years of contending with the weather has given me some general idea of what to expect. I do not trust a warm April enough to start putting the tomatoes and eggplants out. I tie things down when the wind blows hard from the north. I know if I want late peas I have to seed them by the middle of July.

But, having learned these things, I now find the weather becoming a little more unpredictable, given to wilder mood swings and more violent outbursts. We seem, for instance, to get hail far more often.

A say find, but to be fair this is hardly a finding, not in any rigorous scientific sense. It is closer to a mood, and moods are hardly solid evidence of anything beyond hunger and lack of sleep. Climate scientists should not rely on my gloominess about future weather to prove anything.

On the other hand, climate scientists probably should keep track of how farmers as a group feel about the weather and what we say makes us feel that way. We live live with the weather in a way that most people, quite sensibly, do not. That odd, intimate relationship with the weather may make us a bit like canaries in the coal mine. Grease stained, calloused, ornery canaries in work pants, but still canaries of a sort. 

At the very least, farmers could testify to the power of the weather, to the need to take it deeply seriously. Most people seem surprised by what it can do; most farmers expect nothing less. And if climate scientists are even just partly correct we are all going to have to start taking the weather a lot more seriously. We are going to have to get a little gloomy. 

Not that being like a farmer is all bad. You get a lot of fresh produce, which helps compensate for the lousy weather. I find a good salad and some crunchy radishes with salt and a little sour cream lifts the gloom a little. How bad can the weather really be when you are eating a nice Boston lettuce straight from the field? A lot more people should probably start trying to do that too.