This Weeks Share: Broccoli, Garlic, Lettuce, Mustard greens, Onions, Peppers, Newmex hot peppers, Red white and blue potatoes, Radicchio, Shallots, Acorn winter squash, Scarlet Queen and Hakurei turnips
Has this ever happened to you? You grow up near a big shopping mall, a charming, scenic place where you happily spend hours of your childhood just playing around with your friends, enjoying the sights, discovering things, exploring the unnatural world. It’s at the mall you see your first pierced nose, at the mall you sneak into your first R-rated movie, at the mall you first shoplift, at the mall you discover acid-washed jeans, taste fried wontons, spend the first money you earn, go on your first date.
Grown up and moved away, you still find yourself thinking of the mall at odd moments. You see a food court, smell scented candles, hear the squeak of sneakers on a tile floor, and your mind goes back to all those great times at the mall. You can picture it perfectly, practically feel it still, the stale air on your face, the echoing cries of bickering families, the lingering taste of cheap Chinese food. Oh, the times you had at the mall.
And then you go back to your home town one day and find the mall is gone, leveled, erased. The vast, oil-stained parking lots. The giant light poles that created a glow visible for miles. The run-off catchment basins full of plastic bags and god know’s what other detritus, home, so it was rumored, to huge mutant flesh-eating frogs. And the hulking mass of the mall itself, that vast utilitarian concrete box placed in its surroundings like a packing crate set out at the curb. Oh, but such wonders it held within that grim exterior. No more. All gone. And in its place now, acting as if the mall had never existed: fields, streams, barns, neat fence lines, herds and crops and coppices, a clapboard house on a small rise beneath towering maples, a flock of wild geese on a reed-ringed pond. And as you drive slowly past, staring forlornly at this monstrosity, you see the sign at the entrance, the name like a slap in the face; Galleria Farm. Alas poor Mall!
How did this happen? Who let it occur? Someone choose any entirely new use for this vital part of your community and voila, a piece of your town, of your life, of the life of your town, destroyed, grassed over, opened up. Carried out as if it did not really make a difference, as if undeveloping land and changing the suburban character of a place were just an economic decision, as if land use planning consisted of little more than geometry–of looking at the map and figuring out how many fields you can fit in where a housing estate now stands.
Well, that’s progress, people will say–as if change and progress were the same thing. As if we could identify progress. Towards what? If you don’t like it here, move somewhere else, people will say. That’s the American spirit. If undeveloppers come along and wreck your community for their own profit, just jettison your history and move on. No reason to stay. It is just community. That or sue the the undeveloppers since a hostile courtroom is clearly the best place to talk about how to cooperate to create communal life, and it’s always best to put off that conversation until everyone has lawyers.
There are other options. You could take over government and create strict land use laws and regulations. Or buy up all the land and do what you please with it. Or accept the inevitability of progress and learn to live with the new ways. Or build a huge fence and never go out and give the neighborhood kids something to be truly scared of on halloween.
Or you could decide what sort of a place you want your community to be–what defines it now, what works, what is worth changing, what will change willy-nilly, and craft a thoughtful, adaptable plan for how to hang onto what you want and respond intelligently what will come. Sadly, this does not happen often, though it ought to. But we are lucky. 24 years ago, a group of locals formed the Agricultural stewardship Association. ASA uses the legal power of conservation easements placed on good soils–and agriculture needs good soils–to protect them from development and keep them available and affordable for farming. This helps sustain our rural economy and way of life. As added benefits, this also preserves open space, maintains the beauty of this worked landscape and ensures a reliable local source for food, benefits that those outside our community can enjoy too.
Begun as a tiny, largely unfunded volunteer organization, ASA has become a well staffed enterprise that has worked with donors and government agencies to place easements on over 15,000 acres in Washington and Rensselaer counties–so far. It hopes to protect another 8,000 acres in the next 5 years while also upholding its obligation to ensure the easements it already holds and offering an array of programs . It has been remarkably successful, and will, I trust continue to be. But to ensure that and thus help ensure the viability of farming here, ASA needs all the support it can get. You could just send some money, but on Saturday the 11th from 2-6 p.m. you can support ASA and enjoy–and maybe even purchase–some art. ASA will be holdings its annual Landscapes for Landsake show just outside the village of CambridgeIt is a great show in a great setting for a great cause. I hope you will come. For more information, go to Agstewardship.org.
But what does ASA and its work really have to do with you? Well, your CSA share is grown on land protected by a conservation easement that ASA holds. We donated an easement on part of the farm over a decade ago, and added all the rest of our acres this past winter. This is not going to save the world. Who knows, it may not even save agriculture. And I have no idea if this land will be farmed after I have stopped using it, and if it is, by whom and how (though I think I can safely rule out my sons as futures farmers). But I do know that with that easement in place nobody’s going to come along an build a mall here. And that is good enough for me.
Vegetable notes: the Newmex peppers look almost exactly like Carmen sweet peppers, so we put the Newmex in the bag with the potatoes. As for the potatoes we put in the bag with the Newmex peppers, they are a mix of Nicola, Blue Gold and Strawberry Paw. I call the mix red white and blue. Red, yellow and purple would be more accurate, but perhaps a little less catchy.
You have a mix of turnips too. I don’t know of any blue turnips, so we just went with white and red. The red ones are about as mild as the white ones (you can eat them raw), but they need to be peeled.
The small red onions are actually shallots. They are fairly large for shallots, but they look small next to the onions. We are not going out of our way to give you huge onions as some sort of strange joke. We have a lot of huge onions. Of the seven varieties of yellow onions we grew this year (the ones this week are either Varsity or Expression), five produced huge bulbs, and the other two got pretty large as well. I don’t know why, and there is not much we can do about it now.
As for the shallots, you can use them just like onions, but they are a little different. They are a little milder, a little sweeter, a little more complex. I often use them raw in salad dressing (on, say, a mix of lettuce, mustard greens and radicchio), though they are also good cooked in a simple sauce or roasted with root vegetables (such as mixed potatoes and turnips).