The Alleged Farm News – 25 June, 2015

This week’s share: Arugula, Bok choi, Chard, Dill, Garlic scapes, Lettuce, Savory, Scallions, Squash, Hakurei turnips,


A farm field may well be a great place to think, but do you really have to weed onions in order to enjoy the space? Couldn’t you just find a dry spot without too many pointy rocks and sit there and think? In fact, wouldn’t it be far better to skip the weeding and just sit there and think? Many people, such as my older son, would say it is. According to Sam, anything would be better than weeding onions. Even sitting on pointy rocks.

But then who would weed the onions? Well, in this country, mostly poorly paid migrant workers. My farm, however, is not really on their migratory route so I need to find other willing weeders. Curiously, there’s a small but steady supply of such people. People who are more or less happy to go out into my fields not to find a place to sit, but to work. Sure, they like the peace and quiet, the slight isolation, the unmoderness of Easton. They are not generally on the fast track to financial success, not plotting their way along any recognizable career path, happier to do their own thing than, say, make a decent living. But they don’t come here seeking refuge. They come because they like (or think they will) the actual labor. They come because they would rather spend a rainy day pounding in tomato stakes (metal stakes for the tomato trellis, not ones made of tomatoes, if you are wondering) than sit in a meeting.
Who, you may well wonder, are these weirdos? What happened to push them out of the mainstream and cast them up here in this odd backwater? Did they fail out of high school? Were they raised on a hippie commune? Did they get caught up in radical politics? Do they lack marketable skills? Are they being punished? Do they have any idea what they are getting themselves into?

There’s no simple answer. My workers have come from at least 8 states. They have ranged in age from 11 to 45. They have been conservative Christian, New Age, Jewish, agnostic. They have grown up in cities, in small towns, in suburbs, on farms, or not at all. They have had parents who are gay, straight, married, divorced, single, encouraging, baffled, indifferent. They have been neat freaks and slobs, The have arrived with somewhere between no farm experience and six years of farming. And they have gone on to farm, to nurse, to teach, to engineer snow boards, to work for labor policy think tanks.

After 20 years, however, I have started to notice a few things about people who choose to weed onions. They don’t have computer science degrees. A lot of them majored in art. None of them talk about their dreams of owning stuff. Almost all of them have traveled abroad. They don’t boast often. They already own appropriate clothing for the job. They don’t get fancy haircuts. They have hobbies.

Just about anybody can weed onions. It requires no special skill. I guess functioning fingers help, but other than that it is a simple task. The hard part is sticking with it and weeding all 2800 feet of onion beds, and doing it in all sorts of conditions that cause sane people to seek shelter. I don’t know that I would call the ability to do that a skill. Skill may be too grand a word. But it requires a particular attitude or disposition, a kind of pigheadedness mixed with a diminished susceptibility to boredom, a capacity for minor physical discomfort, and a strong desire to avoid office work. It is not a combination that proves particularly helpful in most realms, but it sure comes in handy in a weedy onion patch.

I offer up this insightful assessment of the basic characteristics of farm workers as a public service. Not to help you hire the right peons. To let you know the warning signs. In case you have any children you fear might be drifting into farming. It can happen gradually. They seem perfectly fine, and then one day you wake up and find them out in some guy’s field uprooting pigweed. If you know what to look for early on you can stop this downward spiral, which will only end with them on their knees, disheveled and muddy. Nobody should have to see their kids like that. So I am doing what I can to help. In the meantime, though I might as well give these poor lost souls something to do. Those onions do need weeding and nobody else is going to do it.


Vegetable notes: In case you are still puzzling over last week’s scapes (the curly green things), here are some more to ponder. Or you could cut them into roughly bean-sized pieces and sauté them in oil and salt over low until the are slightly browned and somewhat tender. And then you could eat them. Or you could sauté them with the squash and eat both of them. Or add that mixture and some samara) to a stock, simmer for ten minutes or so, and puree to make a nice early summer soup (it would be good cold, with a touch of lemon the brighten the flavor). Or you could puree your scales with enough olive oil to make a thick liquid and use it as a sauce (you can also freeze it in an ice cube tray and keep it for later). You can eat your turnips raw. Well, you can eat any turnip raw. but these are sweeter than normal purple top ones, so they actually taste good raw. You could cut them into thin slice and dress them lightly with oil and salt and a bit of rice wine vinegar or lemon juice. You can also cut the in chunks and sauté them in oil until nicely browned. You could add some scallion at the last minute to wilt it. You can stir fry your bok choi (the head of leaves with crisp white stems) or use it in soup, but I like it best steamed briefly and dressed with a little vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, hot pepper and garlic. It is good that way cold too. Apparently chard likes the weather we have had this season. It does not always grow this large. In fact, some years it never gets this large. The real advantage of large chard is not the leaves, which are more or less them same at all sizes and should, like escarole, be steamed, drained and sautéed, but the stems, which can be used as a separate vegetable. You can cook them in a gratin (cream, a little parmesan, salt, pepper, a dash of white wine, a little savory baked together until the stems are tender) or make a confit by dicing them and cooking them very slowing in oil to cover with salt, pepper and and garlic. Put the mixture in a jar, seal, and refrigerate for several days to let the flavors blend fully, It is tasty on toast with a little shaved parmesan.