The Alleged Farm News – 6 August, 2015

This week’s share: Basil, Cilantro, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Onions, Jalapeño and Newmex hot peppers, Squash, Tomatoes


I am worried about my high school. I think it is addicted to money.

The school has always had a taste for money. But there was a time when it took money in moderation. It would find quiet ways to get its hands on not a unreasonable quantity and then it would make that last as long as possible. And it had plenty of other interests, other occupations, things it even preferred to turn its mind to.

In recent years, however, that fondness has turned into a craving, The school puts huge amounts of its time and effort into trying to get more money, and no matter how much it gets it just wants more. There seems to be no satisfying its need. And this constant desire for money has started to affect all its relationships. Like every other tiresome junkie, in the end it has one thing on its mind, one reason to interact with you, one desired outcome from every relationship.


Oh, my school can put on a good show. It has old school manners after all, and those never really fade, no matter how depraved you become. It will look you in the eye, shake your hand firmly, inquire after your health, ask about the kids, mention some mutual acquaintance, offer you a drink, even invite you to a party on Nantucket. But not because it really cares about you. All the pleasantries, the concern, the alcohol, they are just meant to lure you in and soften you up for the ask.

No doubt, the school would disagree vehemently with my characterization of it. It would say it only asks for money to pay for all the things it needs to do to improve itself. It wants to be a great school, and to do that it needs great facilities–greater than what it has now. The President of the Board, kicking off the latest capital campaign, described the school as the Little Engine That Could, gamely chugging on uphill with limited resources. By which he means a 350-acre Olmstead-designed campus with a six-floor library, a performing arts center, science center, hockey rink, basketball cage, squash and tennis courts, a vaulted dining hall, a student center and a $200,000,000 endowment.

Poor school. Obviously it is imperfectly equipped to create tomorrow’s leaders. Assuming tomorrow’s leaders are going to believe that the quality of an education can accurately be measured by the expensiveness of one’s surroundings, that the only way to learn to act is on a state of the art stage, the only way to understand the behavior of electrons is in a fully equipped lab, the only way to develop a sense of social purpose is to set oneself apart amidst 350 acres of gracious brick buildings, stately hardwoods and vast expanses of perfectly coifed lawn. Actually, that sounds a bit like today’s leaders.

There is nothing per se wrong with fancy modern facilities. But to be a top school you have to perform well, not dress well. Or maybe that is just a farmer view of the matter. Dressing well does not count for much on farms, unless by dressing well one means dressing functionally. And maybe it is also just a farmer view that part of learning is struggling and facing setbacks and figuring out how to do the best job you can with what you have on hand.

Sure, you dream of perfect weather, of early thaws and late frosts and twice weekly gentle nighttime rain, and faultless equipment, and deeply committed workers, and deer that send you a note of apology and pledge to live on weeds from here on out, and good germination, and effective disease control, and swarms of attractive beneficial insects flitting about picking off all the cucumber beetles and potato bugs, and no rocks, and good drainage, and cheap fuel, and a fair price. And then you get up and go to work.

Not that I recommend constant struggle. It is a terrible, grinding burden, and rather too common. Indeed, we should do all we can (which is far more than we do) to help people avoid it. But that would probably mean taking some of that money my high school so eagerly acquires and sharing it around a bit rather than creating these oases of wealth.

To convince my school to do that you would have to convince it that there are other ways to be a great school than by relentlessly acquiring money. You would have to convince that overcoming obstacles and making do has value too. That’s an idea the school’s rather stern Yankee abolitionist founders would have understood completely. Of course, it was easier for them. America did not have an urban majority until 1920. They grew up in a land of farmers.


Vegetable notes: Tomato season has taken its time getting here. But all three plantings (we have one in a greenhouse, which is bearing now, and two outside) look healthy and have a lot of fruit set, so I hope this is just the beginning of weeks and weeks of tomatoes. I would offer suggestions for things to do with them, but at this point you may just want to eat them straight (well, with a sprinkle of salt (so I guess I do have a suggestion)).

The Newmex is technically a hot pepper, but the ones I have had this year had only the faintest tinge of spiciness. I prefer them roasted and peeled. You could dice them and add them to a vinaigrette to sprinkle on grilled vegetables or put the on a burger. The jalapeño has more heat, but nothing scary (the scary hot peppers come later in the season). You could puree it with cilantro, lime juice, a little onion and some thick yogurt or sour cream and make a sauce that would go well with that Newmex-topped burger.