Wednesday, August 29, 2007

bear envy

Let's see. A whole bunch of little things to write about.

Maybe next week I'll write about the peahen that walks back and forth across the farm with her daughter watching and following each and every one of her steps.

And then we could speculate what happened to the other peahen. The one that went out about the time they usually do in the spring to lay their eggs and instead of returning with a daughter or son, was never seen again.

And then I could spend an entire newsletter describing Wenonah's bear envy.

Wenonah, I'm sorry you have never seen one of the bear's that roam up and down our valley. I know its not right that while you have lived back here longer than anyone else that you haven't seen even one of our local bears.

(yes, I know you once lived at the foot of Old Rag and bear sightings were an everyday occurrence, but that's not the same thing as seeing a bear here relatively close to the city).

If the world was fair you would have seen a bear back when you were a little girl carrying the water bucket down to the spring behind the house to collect water for your family.

The truth is, Wenonah has lived in this valley longer than anyone, she goes on longer walks, gets up early before work and walks a couple miles down the valley. She lived here before there was electricity or before any of the other houses were built yet only...

only she has never seen a local black bear.

Not once.

Last week one of our neighbors, a woman who has lived here just a few years, looked out her door just before we came over for dinner and saw a smallish (but fat) black bear up around their orchard eating apples.

But Wenonah has always been somewhere else.

She was reading when I went out to chase the bear out of the delivery van earlier this summer.

And she was at work when I saw the mother and her large son eating ants on the power line cut.

Or last year when the bear was dismantling the beehive in our front yard she was asleep.

Or she was at work when I saw the bear harvesting our corn.

I'm sorry Wenonah. Someday, when you least expect it, when you are probably thinking about some work problem, there will be a bear, probably stepping out of the woods right next to you as you pass by on your morning walk.


But now for the real news of the week.

It rained on the farm last night. Maybe not as much as in the city (I understand that DC received 2, maybe 3 times more rain than we did). But enough rain to allow me to stop irrigating for a few days.

Right now my gauge says we received 1.63 inches of rain for the month of August.

It looks like for the entire month of August it only really rained on four days.
.63 of an inch today.
.47 yesterday.
.10 last Thursday
.40 on August 9th
and .03 of an inch spread out over the rest of the month.

Hopefully, though, the drought will now be broken with hurricane season approaching, even if no rain is predicted for the remainder of the week.

Tomato Misinformation.

Last week the Post's food section ran an article by a freelance writer which among other things gave advice on selecting tomatoes.

DO NOT follow this person advice.

He's an idiot (at least when it comes to picking out tomatoes he gives bad advise).

His rule of thumb is to "Handle tomatoes before purchase"

He wants you to pick tomatoes up and, well he doesn't say what you are going to do with it then, but the implication is to 'squeeze'.

I shuttered when I read his words. I had visions of all the ruined tomatoes (and fruit, the same is true of tender fruits) following in his wake.

The author goes on to mention that he did once get in trouble when he applied his technique to the tomatoes at an Italian farmers market.

"Market vendors may be wary of customers pawing their wares (I learned that lesson the hard way in Italy)."

And rightly so!

He didn't say what happened but I can imagine.

If I was that Italian farmer and I saw him mistreating my tomatoes I'd want to have a switch behind the counter just for American tourist (in this case, apparently, a cooking student) and others just like him.

I can see it. The author/cooking student is meandering through the vegetable stalls. He comes across a beautiful tomato and reaches out for it.

Picks it up and...


Before he can squeeze it down comes the switch on his fingers.

'Destroy my tomatoes will you.' I start yelling (obviously in Italian.) Smack! 'That'll teach you.'

But I'm not an Italian farmer and I'm not going to hit offenders with a switch (though sometimes when I see peaches or tomatoes being mistreated I get a very strong urge.

So, let's just count this as another example of not believing everything you read in print.

I've said this before but I'll say it again.

Do not pick up and squeeze fruit and vegetables you aren't putting into your bag.

Instead, think. What happens to that fruit or vegetable when it's squeezed? What is happening to the insides of that tomato when it is squeezed?

The answer is easy. It is being damaged.

And, to that the author/cooking student might answer, 'So what? I didn't want it. I didn't like it. it wasn't good enough.'

Which might be a great answer if this was a grocery store and the tomatoes are bred and grown and harvested and displayed to take a lot of abuse. And anyway, a heavy percentage of waste is built into the system and price structure.

But this isn't a grocery store, its a CSA.

And a CSA is a fundamentally different creature.

Those vegetables in the boxes at the pick up day aren't 'their' or 'his' vegetables, they are 'our' vegetables.

All of those vegetables that are our unloaded from the van on your pick up, and all of the other pick up days are, in a very real sense, your vegetables.

With a CSA (even look at the name, a Community Supported Agriculture farm) we're trying to set up a different relationship between people and their food. To look at it as something different than a box of widgets to be sold and traded.

The members of the farm aren't customers but shareholders. Instead of buying a tomato or bulb of garlic you are getting your share of the harvest.

Your share of your harvest.

Those tomatoes are really 'our' tomatoes. When a tomato is damaged by someone squeezing it really it is one less tomato for all of us.

Those numbers on the white board reflect the size of our harvest and what your share of that harvest is.

I mean, look at it this way, if everything had gone to plan this season, if the bears hadn't knocked down the fence, if the deer hadn't gotten in the fence, if there hadn't been a drought (there are a lot of 'ifs' in farming) those numbers on the board, in fact the variety on the board would be quit different.

A great example of this is this year's basil.

I'm sure everyone will vouch that we are having a real bumper crop. We've been having 'all you can eat' basil for ever and it looks like we will continue for the rest of the season.

But think about it this way. What I could be doing, instead of giving out all you can eat basil every week, I could instead hand out just enough basil each week. A couple sprigs, something Giant or Whole Foods sells for $8, $9, $10. Enough to make people reasonably happy.

But consider, I could, instead of dividing the rest of that bumper drop with the shareholders I could be driving the rest of it up to Jessup and selling it at the commercial market.

At the current prices of basil I'd be making a fair amount of extra money.

But that's not how a CSA works.

Consider it this way -- at the same time we're having the bumper basil (and garlic) crops, we're having a fairly small tomato crop. I had planned for each shareholder to be getting over half a dozen tomatoes each week. That didn't happen. Instead, we have, what we have and I've been trying to divide that fairly among the shareholders.

That's why I get upset when I see someone pick one a tomato, look at it, squeeze it, damage it, and then throw it down.

I know what that means for someone else. It means there is one less tomato to go around.

(if you missed it, the newsletter that tells you how to pick your tomatoes, here it is, on our farm blog).


Leigh Hauter

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