The Alleged Farm News – 21 July, 2016

This week’s share: Genovese basil, Beets, Broccoli, Cilantro, Cucumber, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Onions, Radicchio, Squash


People in the Adirondacks sometimes get a little grumpy that they cannot have everything we flatlanders enjoy. Like hospitals and prosperity and Walmart. It is a reasonable gripe. Well, mostly. I don’t know why anyone would actually long for a Walmart at any altitude. But I guess getting one somehow symbolizes that you matter in the modern world. What hope is there for a place that does not even merit a Walmart.

Plus pointing out that you don’t have a Walmart is a way to complain about the injustice of land use rules in the Adirondack Park. It’s the heavy hand of government that squashes economic development. Free the people and Walmart will come.

Putting aside the question of what sort of freedom involves the arrival of a Walmart, it is unlikely that regulations keep big box stores away from these northern mountains. I suspect the sparse population has more to do with it. Parts of the Adirondacks make Alaska seem a little crowded. And the population density has to do with the climate and terrain. Letting people build whatever and wherever they want does not change that.

We tend to forget the extent to which topography and weather shape our lives. We have come up with lots of ways to insulate ourselves from the limits they impose. But of course we have come up with those ways in part because we live in a country with vast amounts of space that make life relatively easy. Millions of acres of flat, fertile land, of manageable climates, of easy access to basic resources. There are all sorts of reasons life is as good as it is here (and despite the current angry gloom, life for the average American right now is about good as life has ever been for a human being), but it seems pretty clear to me that we would have had a much harder time achieving what we have in a harsher environment.

I thought about this when we went to Costa Rica this spring. It is a country of happy, helpful people who have chosen to put their money into education rather than an army. It has large coffee and tourism industries, a growing tech sector, high literacy, a good climate, considerable sustainable energy infrastructure and a stable government. But half of this small country (one third the size of New York) is also pretty mountainous. Mountainous enough to make many forms of human development incredibly difficult, especially in a country without huge financial resources. Tourism has been a great way to use this terrain to Costa Rica’s advantage, but the main route to one of the top destinations is still a 20 mile cliff-hugging narrow rough gravel road that makes you contemplate your mortality.

If Costa Rica were flat as Kansas it would no doubt still have its share of challenges. indeed, it might have more since its colonial past would have been different, more intrusive. But those mountains do get in the way.

We are a clever species, what with out freeze dried foods and rockets and Twitter accounts. We can build highways up and through mountains, terrace fields on steep slopes, move everything through the air when moving out the ground is too hard. But we do not have infinite resources, infinite will, infinite care. We thrive in the places it is easiest to thrive and then we are not always eager to share our toys. So where life is harder, it tends to stay harder, even when we have the means to overcome whatever obstacles the environment presents.

I am not advocating for human suffering, but it is not altogether a bad things that the earth sometimes makes our lives difficult. Perhaps in recognizing that not all things are possible–let alone desirable–in a norther mountain range, we will recognize how our environment helps shape us, and maybe even remember not just the limits it sometimes places on us, but also the opportunities it offers. Perhaps we will gain a little humility and gratitude and remember that we do rather rely on this planet we have to live on, and so maybe it is worth looking after it.


Vegetable notes: I feel like by now many Americans have encountered radicchio. That was probably not true when I started growing it. In fact, we could not even get reliable seed. Most of it bolted early or formed strange loose heads. It was a new enough and unpopular enough crop that nobody had bred better varieties. Not that it has become a staple of the American diet. As far as I can tell the USDA does not even bother to track radicchio consumption. But it turns up in a lot of salad mixes and it has a certain gourmet cachet. If you do add it to your salad I suggest using a slight creamy, richer dressing to balance the bitterness. You can also use the outer leaves as serving containers. Or you could cut the whole uncored head into quarters, dunk it in salt water, brush it with oil and grill it until it has some char marks and has wilted a little.

I doubt I really need to tell any of you what to do with a cucumber. But here’s something you might not have thought of using it for: a cocktail. Peel and seed the cucumber and puree it with basil, the juice of two lemons, a little simple syrup (or just use sugar and make sure it dissolves well), gin and, if you have it, a splash of Pimms Cup. Let it steep for a couple of hours and then put it through a fine sieve and serve over ice.