The Alleged Farm News – 13 August, 2015

This week’s share: Eggplants, Endive, Lettuce, Sun Jewel melon, Walla Walla and red onions, Parsley, Poblano hot pepper, Strawberry Paw potatoes, Squash, Tomatoes, Cherry tomatoes


What, I wonder, is the difference between making do and being a cheapskate? If they are different, are they fundamentally so or just points along a spectrum? Can you start out using common sense and self-control and somehow take it too far, tip over some fine line into miserliness? One day you are managing to keep that old truck running, patching the holes in the knees of your trousers and finding creative ways to reuse egg cartons, and the next you’re a kook hanging on to used envelopes because you never know and refusing to let anyone turn on the lights until it is completely dark outside.

Or perhaps there is no difference, the two terms merely expressing different views of the same condition. One man’s careful steward of his possessions is another man’s skinflint. The anti-materialist lauds his friend who lives in a shipping crate and does not bother with furniture; the builder and the interior decorator see a selfish crank. The stern ecologist proposes dumpster diving as the most ethical form of eating; the shop owner sees some annoying hipsters in the garbage. The asetic lives in a hole in the desert to praise god and just about everyone else sees a madman baking in a pit.


I know a farmer who still milks into the old metal milk cans and carries those down to the bulk tank. He’s not actually milking by hand. He has suction lines and milkers. But he’s making do with a parlor that would last have been up to date under Eisenhower. His tractors are not much more modern. He’s handy so he keeps them going, often scavenging parts from junk tractors he buys at auction. He’s been wearing the same red terry cloth hat, faded now to a pale pink, for as long as I have known him.

In part, he farms this way because small-scale dairies do not generally provide you with the capital to make significant improvements. He makes, apparently, enough to live on, but not nearly enough to set aside money to get a new milking parlor–or even, so it seems, a new hat. To upgrade his farm he would have to go into debt. A lot of debt. Milking parlors are not cheap, and anyway Farm Credit prefers to lend to farmers making major improvement. He would be under serious pressure to increase his herd size, put up a free stall barn and huge bunker silo, get a new forage harvester.

But that’s not his way, not any of that. He has an old school farmer’s distaste for debt and for change. And he likes making do. He takes pride in buying those junked tractors cheaply, knowing that the parts he will get out of them are worth far more (to him, anyway) than he paid. He likes keeping his farm small so he can do everything, even if he does not always get around to it. I think he even, in some perverse way, enjoys hauling the milk cans to the bulk tank. And, despite constant complaints, he likes having the cows around. He once suggested to me he might retire and turn the place into a cemetery, and then added that the cows would be useful eating the grass around the gravestones. Apparently retiring does not involve getting rid of the cows.

There’s something admirable about his perseverance, his handiness, his self-sufficiency. Sometimes I look at the big farms around us with their round the clock milking and fleets of specialized equipment and herds that barely ever set foot on grass and feel depressed. Something of value has been lost, and I wonder if those farmers, sitting at their computers tracking commodity prices and doing payroll taxes, feel it. Do they feel the urge to get outside and hammer something?

On the other hand, it is hard not to think that a few simple changes would improve that old farmer’s life, changes that would not really compromise his principles. Given his handiness, he could surely install a milk line, which he could probably get at scrap prices from some other farm around here. Those milk can are heavy and farming is hard enough with having to carry them the length of the barn twice a day, every day. And investing in newer parts would save him hours in the shop, time when he could be out on a functioning tractor actually farming. Much of what he does he does because being a cussed cheapskate gives him more pleasure than doing things easily. He’s not making do; he’s just making trouble.

I don’t know if farmers are particularly prone to this sort of behavior, both the good and the bad. It certainly exists in others. My father hates to spend money, still wears some of his clothes from college, has two twenty-year-old cars that strike him as perfectly good even though one of them has to be attached to a solar charger to start and drinks a brand of diet ginger ale that only has price in its favor, and he is unagricultural as one can be.

But acting like that does fit in well with farming. It is a basically conservative occupation. When you have to hack your workplace out of the forest and constantly keep the undergrowth at bay you learn to hang on dearly to what you have gained, and you are rooted to that place. Plus the economics often demand thriftiness, the independence requires self-sufficiency, the workplace rules out self-adornment, the weather punishes risk taking, the time commitment leaves few moments for critical assessment or special projects, and the literalness of the work creates a certain distrust for speculation. That does not mean being a cheapskate is an unavoidable fate for farmers, but for better and worse it certainly grants the art of making do higher status than it appears to have in most other occupations.

Perhaps if farmers really thought about this they would consider making some changes to their culture, teach themselves to adapt more easily, invest more heavily, learn new tricks. Probably not. Sure, that all sounds good, but it sounds expensive, and anyway we have been muddling along perfectly well this way for eons. It will do for now.


Vegetable notes: The Poblano (an Ancho is a dried Poblano) is a bitter hotter than a Newmex, but still not overwhelmingly spicy. It is the pepper used for chiles rellenos. You could stuff it if you want. Or roast and peel it and add it, diced, to some chopped tomatoes and red onion with olive oil, minded parsley and lemon juice, which you could have as salad (chunk), salsa (finely diced) or soup (pureed).

The frilly endive you have this week (escarole and radicchio are endives too) is best used as a salad green. If you really like bitter greens you could have a salad just of endive. Well, endive and dressing (I like a slightly creamy dressing, which counterbalances the bitterness) and maybe a little bacon or a few cherry tomatoes.

The Sun Jewel (bright yellow, slightly striped) is an Asian melon with crunchy flesh. It tastes a bit like a honey dew. Or maybe what a cucumber wishes it could be.

The Walla Walla (the large yellow onion) is fairly mild. I would not recommend you eat it (as people say about Vidalias) like an apple. If you want to eat something like an apple, have an apple. But the Walla Walla does lend itself to various raw uses. Actually, I like an onion sandwich, thin slices of raw onion on crusty bread with olive oil and vinegar, but I don’t expect more people feel quite as fond of onions as I do. Still, you could have it on a sandwich. Just add some tomato and mozzarella or grilled eggplant.

As for all the eggplants, if you are looking for something else to do with them you could consider eggplant mush. Grill or broil the eggplants whole (poke a few holes in them so they do not explode), turning occasionally, until they are charred and very soft. Scoop out the flesh and put in a food processor with garlic, onion, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, perhaps some poblano, maybe a bit of pomegranate molasses, salt and pepper, and process it to whatever consistency strikes your fancy.

The strawberry Paws are probably best boiled or steamed, but you can roast or fry them too.