The Alleged Farm News – 8 September, 2016

This week’s share: Chard, Cucumber, Dill, Lettuce, Onions, Pepper, Adirondack Red potatoes, Shallots, Squash, Tomatoes


Maybe having both kids in college has turned my thoughts to my own undergraduate career. Or what I can recall of it. Which is not intended as a less than totally subtle comment about my wild college days. I just don’t remember a lot of it. For instance, I cannot account for nearly a quarter of the classes I took. And by cannot account for them, I mean I have no memory of them whatsoever. Not even the course title or the area of study, let alone what I might actually have learned. As for the ones I can bring back to mind, there’s often little left of them. My class on Russia has been pared down to the facts that they had small domestic animals they could keep in the bottom floor of their houses to help heat the house, that the temperature zone and fertility zones don’t overlap in ways conducive to feeding the population, and that they had some internecine struggle, though who precisely or when or why I cannot say. My course on justice, if I remember correctly, centered largely on the question of which track workers the conductor of a run away train should hit. And all I can come up with from the psychology class I took–was it on personality?–is an anecdote the professor told about a psychologist convincing his son to jump off a chest of drawers trusting that he would be caught, letting the boy fall, and admonishing him not to trust people. It is a good story, but I cannot help feeling that we may have covered other topics too in the course of the semester.

So much knowledge lost (note that I am giving myself undeserved credit for having gained it in the first place). Not that much of it had a direct application to what I do most of the time. The loss probably does me little professional harm. But still, it is nice to know things, even when they have no purpose. In fact, sometimes that just makes the knowledge more satisfying. You come out with some odd but pertinent fact and somebody asks, “how do you know that?” and instead of tediously explaining its application to your work, you can just shrug modestly, suggesting that you know all sorts of things just because.

I don’t mean to say there’s no point in knowing things for work. I really prefer to deal with people who know what they are doing, and ideally care enough about it to have a deeper and more engaged understanding of it than strictly necessary. And that applies to pretty much every job. Obviously, someone designing a bridge should have a solid grasp of structural engineering, and someone working on your brain should really know anatomy and surgical techniques. But I also prefer car mechanics who are really into engines, hardware store owners who ask what I am trying to do help me figure out which fasteners I actually need, bee keepers who are passionate about insect behavior, carpenters with an architectural sensibility, welders who enjoy building equipment, seed dealers who breed their own varieties.

I even, I now know, want suit sellers who take their work seriously. I had to buy a suit the other day. No, I have not changed the dress code on the farm. I need it for a wedding (of a former farm worker). I do not like shopping or suits so I was really looking forward to the outing. I told the woman helping me what I needed, she immediately pulled a jacket off the rack that fit, and then pants that fit, and a white shirt that fit, all the while chatting pleasantly, no choices offered or needed, everything on sale, and in less than 15 minutes I had escapes with exactly what I had come for. In a few seconds she had gauged my size and temperament and found the clothes and demeanor to fit them. I would not say I enjoyed the experience–after all I had to spend money and ended up with a suit–but I deeply appreciated her craft.

Still, there’s only so much I want to know about suit or bolts or intake manifolds. To make that suit shopping truly enjoyable would have required something more than professionalism and pleasant chat. The suit lady might, for instance, have recommend a book, leading to a discussion of modern novels, leading to a discussion of the publishing industry and then perhaps the history of printing, including some observations about its role in Moorish Spain, leading to a chat about Arab influences on Europe, leading to various Balkan recipes, leading to a discussion of Slavic history and then of the teaching of history and the quality of history text books in this country, and of books in general, leading to a book recommendation. Then she would have rung up my purchase and sent us on our way with a suit and some interesting new knowledge.

But perhaps I am inclined to this view simply because almost everything I was ever taught has little to do with what I do. I took biology 35 years ago, and while a remember understanding photosynthesis, I can’t explain it now. And since them I have taken not a single class related to my job. No plant physiology or soil science or engine repair or construction or meteorology or mechanical engineering or marketing or management.

And what I did study hardly makes for a coherent body of knowledge. High school was the usual array (minus chemistry, thank god, and plus a certain amount of extra English). College veered from the novels of Defoe, Richardson and Fielding (don’t bother) to African history to American architecture to the symphonies of Beethoven to Shaw to the history of Darwinism to the history of the history of Literature (yes, you read that correctly), to, well, whatever those other classes were that I took. I know bits and pieces about a random assortment of things.

Would I be a better farmer with a well schooled understanding of agriculture? Probably. If I were a better farmer would I have gained a more coherent understand of what is going on out in my fields? Certainly. Do I wish I spent more time thinking about my work? Good god, no. There are so many other interesting things to ponder. Why would I give them all up to think about fertilizer, kohlrabi and oil changes?

And anyway, the ability to keep yourself amused while you toil is a fundamental skill in farming. A hell of a lot of what we do is remarkably tedious. If, like some agricultural yogi, I actually lived in the present all the time on the farm I would probably have to give it up. Thinking about other things is what allows me to get through weeding the carrots. If I thought about weeding carrots while weeding carrots I would plow them under. So maybe college did prepare me for farming. That would be good, I never have figured out what else it prepared me for.


Vegetables notes: That’s it, summer is officially over. Time to hand out the rutabaga. But hang on, the peppers just decided to start ripening and we have more tomatoes than ever. I guess we will put those rutabagas away again and stick with summer a little longer.

Speaking of tomatoes, I thought I would introduce you to some of the varieties we are growing this year. Well, perhaps introduce is the wrong word. I don’t want to make it awkward for you to eat them because you have been introduced. I’ll just offer a brief description of some of them. Brandywine: large, flattened pink. Cherokee Purple: same shape, but purple. Cherokee Green: same shape again, but (you guessed it) green. Large Barred Boar: largish red with metallic stripes. Pork Chop: largish, flat yellow with stripes. Solar Flare: largish red with yellow stripes. Green Zebra: small green with yellowish stripes. Carbon: medium, slightly flattened, dusky pink. Chef’s Choice: medium small, round, bright orange. Japanese Black Trifele: medium small, pear shaped, brown. Valencia: largish, flattened, orange. Pink Beauty: smallish, round, pink. Carolina Gold: medium, round, deep yellow. Black Prince: small, round, brown. Marbonne: medium, ribbed, red. Pink Berkeley Tie Dye: largish, deep pink, metallic stripes. That is not the complete list, but those are the most notable tomatoes

Your potatoes are red all the way through. They are pretty much general purpose, though I think they are particularly good roasted. But the current weather does not perhaps make roasted potatoes seem so appealing. You can wait until summer actually ends, and in the meantime make some more potato salad with dill and onion.

The shallots are the small red onions. Well, actually, they are the large (by shallot standards) red shallots. But they look like onions, and more or less taste like onions, except they are a little milder and have an excellent, somewhat more complex flavor. They are an excellent addition to salad dressing or, softened in butter and salt, an omelet.

You have an extra crop in your box. We had a mix of smaller quantities of various odd things so everyone got one of them. In some cases it should be easily identifiable; in others, perhaps less so. If it has a papery husk covering a small yellow berry it is a husk cherry. Just pop off the husk and eat it. If it has a slightly hairy pod containing a few green beans it is edamame. Shell the beans, steam them briefly and toss with salt. And if it looks like an artichoke, well it is an artichoke.