This week’s share: Shell beans, Beets, Red bok choi, Garlic, Lettuce, Onions, Peppers, Poblano and Jalapeño hot peppers, Nicola potatoes,Sage, Tomatoes, Carnival winter squash
I have long been amused by the sign at highway work sites that says “end construction.” Who, I wonder, has staged this quiet protest? And what, precisely, does this somewhat enigmatic plea mean?
The location suggests it is aimed largely at highway repairs, which seem like an odd things to object to. Perhaps, though, it is a crafty way of taking on the highways themselves. Rather than fighting against new highways, which we do not really build that often any more, or demanding that we tear up the ones we have, which is not going to happen, the protester asks simply that we stop fixing them. It could almost sound fiscally prudent and might appeal to people who dislike public unions. And in time, of course, the highways would fall apart, and voila, no more highways (which actually is roughly where we are headed because we don’t seem to like paying for infrastructure maintenance). Read this way, the sign is a plea for a sort of benign neglect–assuming you find the idea of a country without passable highways attractive.
I am not sure how I feel about that. Or to be more precise, I am sure I have various feelings about that, some of which are clearly in conflict with one another. Highways obviously are enormously useful–so obviously that we mostly don’t even think about it anymore. We take them for granted as we do our bodies (which may help explain our failure to maintain either well enough), and tend to notice them only when they let us down, which is to say mostly when we are stuck in traffic or detoured off them because of construction (I am talking about highways now, not bodies). Modern technology makes it possible for me to order a new packet of green oak leaf lettuce seed without talking to anybody, and modern technology helps the seed company process that order and send it on its way, and modern technology organizes UPS’s operations to speed the flow of the packages it handles. But the UPS truck that turns up at the farm two days later with that packet of seed gets here on highways. Take that away and all that modern technology does not work so fast.
On the other hand, I choose to live away from highways. In fact, I would be happy if Easton closed the dirt road that runs beside our house. For a while, the state thought about building the Northway up this side of the river. It would have come straight through our town, and presumably it would have changed life around here as profoundly as it has changed life in Saratoga County. We would have the malls and developments and pavement and people and prosperity, and the farmers over there would be growing our food.
And we would not have moved to Easton. I understand that some people like a more developed environment. In fact, lots of people like it. Saratoga has maintained a remarkably high population growth for some time. Apparently, the more people there are, the more people want to live there. More people has meant more opportunities to prosper and own a home and amuse oneself and shop (I prefer to think of the latter two as separate activities).
It helps that Saratoga has welcomed this influx, making vast amounts of former farmland–and Saratoga had a lot of farmland–available for development. Build it and they will come, people say, but first comes let them build it and they will build it.
What happens if you don’t let them build? You end up with something more like Washington County, with its own advantages and problems. Washington County is actually losing population, and it is much poorer than Saratoga (twice the poverty rate, roughly 2/3 the per capita income). It is also still an agricultural county, with 300 more farms than Saratoga (a slight increase, whereas Saratoga has lost another 9% of its farms in the last 8 years) and more than twice as many acres of farmland (110,000 more). Life is different on this side of the river.
Backwards, some would say. There’s a tendency to think of less built up places as less developed in every way. And there’s some truth to that. Schools offering limited opportunities, lousy internet access, lousy pizza. In this view development is growth, and growth is good. But growth is just growth. Not everything gets better as it gets bigger. Think of waistlines and tumors and debt. And despite what developers and their booster club of public servants will tell you, the kind of growth they favor is not an irresistible force of history or nature. It is just a choice we make.
Or, more to the point, it is a choice some people–generally the people who prosper as a result–make for us. Even if you approve of those choices, you ought at the least to object to how little say you have. Just because you are getting what you want is no reason to cede your rights. And if you don’t approve? Well, then if you don’t start exercising those rights you are screwed.
Fortunately for Washington County, a small band of citizens decided they would like to do something to help ensure that their home remained the viable agricultural community that they wanted to live in. They were certainly helped by the county’s relative anonymity (it surprises me–pleasantl–how few people in the region know we exist), which kept developers at bay. But they made something of this chance, creating an agricultural land trust that has worked hard for a quarter of a century to protect good dirt (a seriously under appreciated natural resource) for farming through conservation easements.
With a lot of help, including from a number of enlightened public officials, the Agricultural Stewardship Association has helped landowners place easements on 16,000 acres of good farmland, and it plans to protect another 8,000 acres in the next 5 years–which gives you an idea of the size of the task and how much more effective ASA is becoming as it grows and continues to educated people about its mission (including helping to enlighten some of those public officials).
ASA’s work won’t solve every problem in this community or every problem farmers face, but the simple fact is that this good dirt is essential to farming and if we do not protect it someone will develop it, and once enough of it has been developed this won’t be a farming community any more. Some people may be fine with that, but I live here and I am not. This is where I choose to live and I like it and I intend to help hang on to everything that’s good about it for my own sake and for the sake of everyone who eats the food we grow, takes pleasure in this landscape and the life it supports, and believes that a country full of all sorts of different communities working actively to lead lives they choose is a better place because of that.
Vegetable notes: Shell beans are just dried beans that have not dried yet. Which means that you don’t have to soak them overnight or cook them anywhere nearly as long. And when you have cooked them they have a better texture and flavor. You can have them by themselves, but I would recommend adding them to soup or stew or maybe having them cold in a salad with roasted peppers, onion and garlic. If you are not sure what to do with the beans, you can always shell and boil them anyway, and then you will have them ready to use when you make up your mind.
Nicolas are another yellow potato that is better than Yukon Gold. They have a slightly firmer flesh than the Satinas. They are fine boiled or massed, but best roasted or fried. You could cut them into coins about half an inch thick, toss them with garlic, smoked paprika, a little sage and a good amount of salt and pepper and roast them in a hot oven until they go crisp and brown.
I don’t think the red bok choi tastes any different from the normal green one, but it is good looking. And there are far worse things than being good looking and tasting like green bok choi.
The Carnival squash is an Acorn type, so cook it the same way. That is, cut it onto pieces (even if it is just two pieces) and roast it with some butter or oil, maybe a little sugar or maple syrup and some spices. I like it with a little hot pepper and some Indian spices.
I don’t know if you have noticed, but summer has sort of, well, ended. Even if you have not, the tomatoes have. We still have a surprising number of them, but the taste is starting to fade. There’s just not enough sunlight to get that full summer flavor. But if you cook them it helps concentrate the flavor. You could, for instance, make a simple tomato soup. Cook down some onion in butter or oil until it’s soft, add chopped tomatoes, a splash of white wine, salt and generous pepper, perhaps a bit of rosemary or thyme, and liquid (it could be chicken stock or vegetable stock or just water) to cover. Cook another ten minutes or so, add a splash of cream and puree.