The Alleged Farm News – 30 July, 2015

This week’s share: Arugula, Lemon basil, Beans, Chard, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Lettuce, Onion, Potatoes, Squash


Who is more authentic, Bob Dylan or Beyonce? I suspect most of us would choose the scruffy singer/song writer with the odd voice (just to be clear, I mean Dylan).

Beyonce is a sophisticated production number, all attitude and poses and orchestrated everything. The performance–and everything she does appears to be part of the performance–is calculated, controlled, choreographed. Someone–well, some army of people–has designed every step, every sequin, every waft of coifed locks, every puff of smoke and beam of light, even the sound. Oh yes, she sings. Not that it seems to matter profoundly. She could probably just strut around a stage with her backup dancers (which is mostly what she does) and satisfy her audience. It’s all an act, which is itself part of the act.

Bob Dylan writes his own–unmistakably his own–music, performs it as he pleases, wears what he feel like wearing, or maybe it’s just what he found lying around. His lyrics play with language like a poem and his phrasing plays with our expectations. It feels hand crafted, a little old fashioned, earnest, deeply personal. It’s real–art, not artifice.


But what about Yo Yo Ma? An authentic artist, of course. And yet, he plays other peoples’ compositions, often with a huge backing band, likes to blend popular genres, teams up with other stars, more like a classical Beyonce than Dylan with a cello.

And Donald Trump? I know that sounds like a joke. Maybe just invoking his name now counts as a joke. But, however you wish to interpret it, he has a real following, and his supporters frequently site his willingness to speak the unvarnished truth, to say it straight, to be honest. To them he is a welcome relief from the carefully scripted egotism and outrage the other candidates offer. He strikes them, in other words, as authentic, and that seems to count for almost as much as what he actually says.

And what of farmers? I think for the most part people grant farmers authenticity. Farmers do what’s usually known as honest work, meaning something palpable, physical and a little old fashioned–the sort of work you kind of wish you did but are damn glad to avoid on a day like today. They have a reputation–neatly tinged with admiration, sentimentality and condescension–for straight talk, for folk wisdom, for simplicity. They are salt of the earth, as opposed I suppose to those more corrupted by the modern world with all its cynicism and pretense, who might be the freshly grated pepper of the earth.

Farmers have to some extent bought into this image. There’s some truth to it and it makes for good marketing (it being more true about those farmers less interested in marketing, and less true about those more interested in marketing). But that does not mean all farmers accord authenticity to all other farmers. Here in Easton, for instance, those with more generations on the farm regard the new comers a little skeptically. Those with smaller farms often dismiss those with bigger farms as corporate. And they all agree that us first generation weird vegetable guys are a bunch of suspect dilettantes (in part because we use words like dilettante).

In fact, there’s a kind of low level constant, gossipy measuring of one another’s authenticity: who is letting things slide, who getting away with stuff, who drifting from the true ways. Too big? Too small? Too far in debt? Too lazy? Too likely to switch tractor brands? It is all noted, tracked, passed around. Even I, most questionable of farmers, get pulled into the conversation. Some local will stop by on business–do I need manure, do I have ground to rent, have I seen a couple of calves on the loose–and, that taken care, shift to chatting about the weather and the crops and, soon enough, other farmers. Such is the nature of local transactions. Not that I have much to add to the conversation. I am hardly in a position to judge the authenticity of farmers.

Especially since I don’t know what authenticity is, other than a conveniently nebulous means of excluding people from a group. Sure, you make music and attract huge audiences, but some ineffable thing about you just doesn’t feel quite true. You are not a musician, not really. Just a pop star.

It has proved a useful tool for the modern small scale sustainable farming movement, a way to add extra value to the food from certain types of farms. The patina of authenticity on the produce somehow makes it better–for the eater, the farmer, the community, the planet. To be fair, this authenticity stands for a number of things that do have value–ways of growing and selling, choices about varieties and inputs, a relationship to the land. But it also serves to evoke a life style or spirituality or moral stance that seems to me sometimes more marketing gimmick than evident benefit.

I find myself preferring something a little more tangible than authenticity–which, as my neighbor farmers would be quick to point, I in any event lack–such as the actual taste of the produce. I would be hard pressed to say what makes a cucumber authentic, but I know a tasty one when I meet it. That seems good enough to me.


Vegetable notes: As you have probably already notes, you have the produce in this week’s share to make either of the official farm cocktails. But perhaps the detail of one or the other escapes you for the moment. Let me refresh your memory. The original cocktail consists of lemon basil syrup (bring equal parts water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then add lemon basil and let steep until cool) and good bourbon in roughly equal parts over a lot of ice, with a slice of lemon. The second cocktail, the product of more recent experimentation, is a bit–but only a bit–more involved. Puree a whole cucumber with Pims, gin and lemon basil syrup (one part Pims to two parts gin and two parts syrup (I leave the size of the part, and thus the resulting drink, up to you)). Add the juice of a lemon or two and let sit for an hour or so. Strain and serve over ice with a splash of soda water.

Are there other cocktails to be made from the content’s of this week’s box? I will leave that up to you. I will however, recommend a nice bean and potato salad with a lemon basil mayonnaise. Or a salad with couscous or orzo and chopped steamed chard with thinly sliced onion and a lot of vinegar and perhaps a little hot pepper. Or cold cucumber soup. Or, well, anything cold.

or maybe just pour yourself a big Alleged Farm cocktail and wait for the heat wave to pass.