The Alleged Farm News – 23 June, 2022
This week’s share: Basil, Beet greens, Dill, Endive, Garlic scapes, Lettuce, Spinach, Hakurei turnips
Like many sports, rowing handicaps races for age. Technically, actually, it doesn’t handicap younger competitors. It does not require them to carry extra weight or spin in circles every so often or sing while they row. Older rowers get a time advantage. For every year over the base age, usually 30, you get a few more seconds taken off your finish time. Thus, for instance, you could come in last at the Head of the Fish in your single by well over a minute and still win if you are old enough and your rivals young enough. It is a simple acknowledgement, expressed in time, of what aging does to us. We are winding down.
So why no age handicap for farmers? It’s a pressing issue in this country as the farming population gets older. We are on average 57 years old. A third of American farmers are over 65. And if the normal course of aging takes a toll, farming just accelerates the process. Yes, there’s something to be said for an active life style. But actual farming is not a style. It’s a grind, like the wind and rain carving patterns in a cliff face.
Extra time would, theoretically, be a help. We could get more done with longer days. But farmers tend to work pretty long days as it is. And, more pertinently, it is the ability to work those long days that gives way with age. More time does not help on the farm when your stamina is diminishing.
Plus, as noted above, that would not actually be handicapping. I am not asking for an advantage to make me seem faster. I am asking for the things I am up against to be slowed down. I would like the deer to come in fewer numbers with less appetite. I would like the potato beetle larva to have to chew longer between bites. I would like the wind to blow a little gentler. I would like a limit on the number of holes groundhogs can dig. I would like powdery mildew to have to choose just one cucurbit crop to infest. I would like a cap on the temperature in July and August. I would like to make the weeds give my crops a bit more of a head start.
Since I am not completely daft I recognize there are some impediments to instituting this handicapping scheme. Farming does not have a single governing body to set the rules, and given how farmers tend to feel about being governed, it’s unlikely we will ever have one. Even if such an entity existed, I am not entirely clear on how you get all the parties involved to recognize its authority. Deer have their own rules (e.g., eat crops even if you don’t like them because it is funny to see the look on a farmer’s face when he finds you have cleaned out all the zucchini), and show little concern for our interests. The weather operates according to a system of logic beyond our understanding. And weeds wait for no one.
But just because it is hard does not mean we should give up. Fighting climate change is hard, but look at how we have all joined together to take real action to deal with that. Ditto for gun violence. I am not saying we have to force deer and weather and weeds to behave well all the time. That’s obviously never going to happen. They just have to cut us aging farmers a little slack. Acknowledge that we aren’t as spry, and that beating tired, achy, wheezy old codgers isn’t that satisfying. So why not make it interesting again and give us a sporting chance. Or just go bother some younger farmers, if you can find them.
Vegetable notes: Sunni has been enjoying eating the turnips raw. She will snack on one in the greenhouse while we are picking them. I should point out that as a kid she would nosh on a raw potato, so she might not be the perfect culinary guide. But in this case, she is right; you can enjoy these turnips raw. You could cut them in thin slices and use them as chips or grate them and toss them in lemon juice and olive oil. Not that you have to eat them raw. They are good sautéed or roasted too.
You don’t have to cook the beet greens either. You could use them as a salad green with a bit of goat cheese and maybe a few pecans and dried cranberries. Again, however, they are also tasty cooked. I like to steam them, squeeze out the liquid, and sauté them in olive oil with garlic (scapes), bit of hot pepper and a dash of vinegar.