Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Scrounging"

I'm reading a book called American Wasteland. It's about the amount of food that goes to waste. This is an important topic of discussion to me because as a farmer I've seen first hand a) the hard work that goes into growing each and every crop. b) the distribution of crops needs to be planned and precise for it to get to the consumer at just the right moment c) As a fellow human being it is a travesty for food to go to waste while others starve.

The chapter that I found most compelling is about a tradition at Reed College  in Portland, Oregon called "scrounging".
To save money, some Reed college students "scrounge" by standing in a  of area and eating the leftovers of their board paying classmates. It's an established custom, so students with meal plans know to drop off uneaten items at the two tall tables near the dish return... While saving money, not avoiding waste is the main motivation of the scroungers, the practice still minimizes the discarded food (and the school composts what isn't eaten by scroungers).  And some scroungers are particularly proud of their role in keeping food out of the college's waste stream by putting it into theirs...
After about ten minutes of scrounging, it feels completely normal. It's like asking your family member, "Are you gonna finish that?" - only with a family of, say, 1500...
 My lunch looked like this: one bite of a quesadilla, two cherry tomatoes from a ranch-dressing-drowned salad, four cucumber slices, numerous bites of pizza crust and one near whole slice, lettuce from a different salad, half a banana and the filling from an Asian chicken wrap...
When an item arrives, the modus operandi is to take a bite and pass it along. When everyone's had their fill, the plate is usually pushed to the middle. Scroungers will go back for a forkful when the donations slow. After items languish for 20 or 30 minutes though, one of the scroungers usually takes it upon him or herself (and it's often herself, unfortunately) to bring them to the dish return...
...someone dropped off an apple chewed on all sides. I mentioned that surely nobody would eat what was, essentially, a glorified apple core. "Give it time," Meyhew said. It'll get eaten. And within five minutes a female scrounger started working on it.
...the scrounge commandments are published annually in the school paper. Dictums such as "thou shalt not covet the trays of those who have not yet eaten" helps maintain the tradition from year to year.
...On the topic of scroungers' health, the ones I asked said they believed their exposure to a wide variety of germs sharpened their immune systems. And they rely on food donors not to overburden their in shape natural defenses. One of the Scrounge Commandments aimed at board-paying students reads, "Thou shalt protect the house of the scrounge from the great plagues." Boarders who are sick convey that message by covering their food with another plate as they head to the tray return, or by simply telling the scroungers that they 're sick as they walk by with leftovers. Some scroungers will risk it if it's a really slow meal. Sharing drinks, soups and cereal is generally avoided however, because it's easier to transmit germs via liquids.
 That last part about germs was convincing to me. When my kid's friends come over to eat I throw away their leftovers, as oppose to eating them like I would with my kids. I am more persuaded to eat them having read that. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A tip

The best way to cut bell peppers is to slice off the bottom, then, with it standing upside down slice down the sides leaving a core of seeds.  It's sooooo easy. And while I'm on the subject of peppers, one of my peppers had a baby pepper growing inside it.  Isn't that cute?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pizza sauce

The other night I wanted to make pizza (I had even just bought cheese for it!) but all the stores were closed and we were out of sauce.  I didn't know what to do, but then had the brilliant idea to make it out of our farm tomatoes.  I mashed them, strained the juice into a pot, flavored it with salt, sugar and the dried basil from our farm and then simmered it until it thickened.  It was so gratifying to know that the entire sauce was from my own hands.  Sure, not the salt and sugar, but none of the colonial women produced those either.  They traded for it.  Anyway, the sauce turned out great.  Next year I'll do much more.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Last Day

The organization which rents us the land and does all the training asked me to remove the black plastic and basically close up shop for the season.  Well, asked, isn't really the right word.  They told me if I didn't do it by Monday they would charge me for the labor to do it themselves.  When I got there and was harvesting the bountiful crops I thought that it wasn't exactly fair considering there was still a few weeks of harvest left, but then again, who am I kidding, now that I started my new job I'm at the farm rarely, if ever. 

Yesterday when we had stopped by we picked up a few of the bell peppers and jalapenos and on the way home Saphira, our two year old, was snapping them in half.  She thought it was a great game.  But then she stuck her fingers in her mouth and howled in pain.  We bought her a milk shake to ease the pain.  Then today, on the way to the farm she starts crying again and tears are running down her red face.  We couldn't believe she had done it again!  I'm not even sure where she got the pepper.  I assume it was on her carseat.  We bought her another milk shake and I spent quite a bit of time wiping her tongue and fingers with a wet napkin. 

We drove past a lot of farms selling tons of pumpkins (literally. tons.) I was considerably envious because I had planted two dozen pumpkin seeds early enough in the season that I really should have gotten a few pumpkins.  Some of the pumpkins we passed were gargantuan.  Timmy asked if the farmers injected them with steroids or something.  Although there may be tricks of the trade that I don't know about I answered that there were certain breeds that grew extra large.  One of those breeds I had planted and, again, I'm resentful that I didn't get one dang pumpkin out of the bunch. The problem I've had all season is that my crops have been "out-competed" all year by the weeds.  The weeds have completed for room, for water, for nutrients, for sunlight.  But the pumpkins?  I've determined that the competition for the pumpkins didn't come from my weeds, it came from the trees bordering my plot of land.  They probably cut the hours of sunlight in half; particularly the pumpkins which were on the edge. This, I suppose,  is a good lesson in the University of Life, more specifically, my agricultural major in this university of life.  When choosing land for planting, in the future, I will be sure to choose land with nothing blocking the sun.  This lesson was hopefully, worth more than the $40 I'm going to shell out to buy pumpkins for my kids to carve.   And once again, the reader has been spared the expense and can learn via my mistakes.  (Which is the beauty of reading.  I do so love to read). 

At the farm, removing the black plastic was a lot of work.  I ended up having to use a variety of techniques to get it all: standing, on my hands and knees, pulling walking forward, pulling walking backwards, pulling the plants first, pulling the plastic right over the plants, pulling the weeds from the sides, pulling the plastic right out from under the weeds, digging the plastic with my hands when it got stuck, gingerly tugging, ripping and tearing with no regard.  It was back breaking work, but I did it.  It was the kind of work that made me think: Oh, this is sooooo not worth it. 

I got to thinking about my urban farming vision.  My vision of doing just what Will Allen did in Milwaukee: bringing the beauty of home grown produce right into the ghetto.  Showing people what good food is.  Inspiring a new generation of gardeners and farmers and vegetable lovers.  I got to thinking about my dreams for America.  A roof top garden for everyone.  Victory gardens commonplace once again.  And I got to thinking that the end result won't necessarily be a lessor dependence on foreign oil, as I had thought before, since we would be shipping less from overseas, but really, if we can get Americans hooked on fresh produce again, hopefully everyone will be eating more and, yes, importing more.  And so, the net benefit for America, may not be measured in oil but rather a reduced healthcare cost as we reduce heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes and countless other afflictions.  Besides, if we can support farmers around the world I am all for that. 

I thought about a lot of other things too.  Farming is such beautiful meditation.  Just you and nature and your sweat and your thoughts.  I thought about the two cats we had.  One of them had a litter of kittens.  Then the other one started breastfeeding them and just took over the mothering.  It was the most bizarre thing in the world.  But beautiful at the same time.

I remembered the time that we were asked by the cousins if we would like to join them on a group date to see a famous comedian in Boston.  Timmy excitedly agreed in his drunken state.  The next day when he had sobered up and realized that he had committed to buying two $40 tickets he called to back out but it was too late!  They had already purchased the tickets!  And so we had to go.  But it was a wonderful, memorable evening, so a happy ending to a funny story,.

Timmy told me the whole story behind the chicken stealing event.  He said that one day he had tried to buy a chicken from a farmer who was very rude to him.  So the next day,  he and the rest of the football team were all cruising around after practice and he coordinated a farm raid in which they all ran at the same time, grabbed a chicken  (a dozen or so in total), threw them in the trunk and then drove away in their respective vehicles.  And (this gets better) then he got pulled over for a broken tail light.  The other boys were alerted to drive ahead and wait.  Several other cruisers showed up because young minority boys, of course, always require backup.  They had their hands on their guns as they approached the car.  The officer asked if they could search the car.  Timmy said they could search everything but the trunk.  "What's in the trunk?"  The officer asked.  Timmy knocked on it and the dozen chickens all squawked.  He said they had just bought the chickens from a farm and were going home to cook them. The officer was still curious to take a peek so Timmy unlatched it and the officer slowly raised it an inch.  Every chicken stuck it's head out, squawking furiously.  The cop shut it, wrote Timmy a ticket for the light and then let him go.  The football team met up at Timmy's house and slaughtered the chickens.  I said that there must have been blood everywhere but Timmy said that, no they sliced their throats over bowls and it was contained.  He said all the white guys were plucking feathers.  They had a great time,  made a huge batch of chicken soup and ate every last drop.  A memory every boy on that team will never forget.

Leaving all of the beautiful pepper plants to be mowed down broke our hearts.  We started pulling them with dreams of planting them inside pots and keeping them in the house.  Giving them to our friends.  Giving them away on craigslist.  But we eventually realized, as the pile kept growing and the knowledge sunk in that we had no pots at home or much room in our small house, we faced the truth that we'd have to let them go.  It was very hard.  Just like thinning seedlings is very hard for me to stomach.  I had to remind myself that farmers every year harvest their crops and then let their plants die.  It's the circle of life.  It's how it works.  It's the very nature of farming.  

Someday I will live in a glass house.  This isn't some random fantasy.  I decided this after visiting a friend who had a "three season porch" which is basically a glass room.  It was just one room in their large house, but, they admitted, they spend 90% of their time there.  It was just so beautiful and inviting.  They even slept in there, on the couch.  I would be in heaven in a place like that.  Why even build the rest of the house?  It doesn't have to be large.  I'm content in small (uncluttered) quarters.  Give me a Kindle and a computer and a mattress and I'll be happy.  So then my idea progressed into this plan to have an indoor garden in there too.  I thought of this when I was inside the green house- how I could just live in there.  It would be so nice.  So, I  combined my two dreams.  It wouldn't have to be messy and chaotic.  Just have some sort of shelving on the top in which I grow raspberries.  And a ladder with which I can pluck them every morning for my breakfast. 

We wrapped up and drove away with barrels of peppers and tomatoes and basil.  A decent season.  OK, a disappointing season.  But I don't regret it because I learned a lot and that was worth more than what I put into it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

basil

Earlier in the year, when I purchased trays of seedlings from a local non-profit, I had ordered one tray of basil.  I don't remember this, but apparently it's true because I have a whole row of basil.  Unfortunately the CSA has plenty of basil so can't purchase it from me.  But I go through a lot of basil at home in spaghetti and pizza sauce, which we make at least every week, so keeping it is not a problem.  I went to the farm today to cut and collect my basil so I can hang it to dry and put it in jars.  There is so much of it.  It's wonderful.  I foresee personal, homemade Christmas presents.  I hope it is the right variety for the flavor I'm looking for (that classic flavor you buy at the store). There was so much of it I filled a wheel barrel to overflowing and there's still a third of the crop left!  The SUV smells so good.

While I was at the farm I gleaned the other ripe crops and decided to grab some carrots, too, for the week.  Problem was... and this is the most stereotypical, city-slicker, hilarious-yet-humiliating mistake... I had just gotten a manicure.  Yes.  A manicure.  And pulling the carrots made me chip the paint on one of my nails.  ha ha.  So that endeavor came to an end.

I brought my dog with me.  OK, OK, it's not really my dog.  It's my neighbor's dog but I pretend she's mine.  I bring her to the farm as often as I can.  She just loves to romp around the fields.  It's like doggie heaven.  Plus she's nice protection.  Not that I'm really afraid.  OK, who am I kidding.  I'm never afraid.  When the acclaimed  Zogby poll called and asked me, amongst their survey questions, if I felt "safe in my neighborhood"  I replied "yes".  Even though there are drug dealers outside my back window.  ha ha.  I digress... One time another farmer was working in his field next to me.  We worked peacefully next to each other for hours and then out of the blue my dog starts barking at him.  I try calling her back and walk toward her to, hopefully, grab her collar, but she keeps moving forward until we were a few feet from that poor other farmer.  I started backing up and that did the trick.  The dog was trying to stay between us.  I locked her in the car and apologized to that poor other farmer but he was totally cool about it.  He said, when the sun went down it probably made the dog more wary, or maybe her vision wasn't great in the dim light.  Anyway, I learned my lesson.  I wouldn't let her roam free near other people again, though the situation hasn't arisen.

At home I grouped the basil into small bunches with rubber bands and then hung them upside down to dry.  The hanging required some real ingenuity.  I used a 60ft extension cord, because it was strong and I didn't have any twine.  Then I clipped the stems to the extension cord with tie-wraps.  There is quite a bit of basil there.  It's in the garage and when we open the garage door I almost wonder if the neighbors think we are harvesting marijuana or something because it looks like a mass production of herbs.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I had promised some jalapenos and tomatoes to the CSA I am a part of, yesterday.  So after work, at dusk actually, I took my 2 and 6 year old with me to the farm to collect jalapenos and tomatoes.  I knew it was a crap-shoot taking them with me.  They could enjoy it.  More likely they would make my peaceful-nature-savoring-enjoyment-all-to-myself  time absolutely miserable.  Of course they did the latter.  But I had to take that gamble because now that I'm working  at my new job the kids don't see me all day and I'm a firm believer that children spell love: T-I-M-E.  I had actually had a horrible day at work but I didn't want to take it out on the kids because that's not fair to them, so we sang songs on the way up.  We sang the old Sunday-school song: "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart. Where? Down in my heart...."  And then I explained to Dimitri that that song is particularly fun to sing if you are Cambodian (which he is) because in Khmer (Cambodian language) joy means the f-word.  ha ha.

 So we get there.  It's getting quite dark quite fast.  I've got zip lock baggies and I'm collecting jalapenos in bags of five.  I get 25 or 30 bags of them so that was a great success.  Then some cherry and sungold tomatos in the cute little pint containers I buy at the restaurant supply store for $.25.  I was supposed to pick up a dozen full sized tomatoes too, for the drop, but I accidentally left them at the farm.  It was for the best though because they were not of the quality that I would want to (figuratively) put my name on. 

 So, as I said, the kids were miserable.  Saphira cried some and made me hold her a lot- which is perfectly understandable given that the weeds are up to her shoulders (embarrassed blush).  Dimitri kept trying to steal my keys because he wanted to turn on the car and practice driving!  He got them on two occasions and I had to chase him once and I hit him the second time, which completely goes against my discipline views, so I spent the next half hour debating, in my head, as to whether spanking/hitting is ever appropriate in discipline and if I crossed a line, or is it necessary in the same way that you may need to slap a baby's hand when they try to touch something hot.  (Of course, in that situation, you would always remove the temptation.  But in some hypothetical situation in which you could not remove the source of heat.  Say, you live in a cabin and cook on a fire and have no fencing.)

I finished harvesting the crops.  I drove to the drop off point.  At this point it is pitch black outside.  Thankfully there were other farmers there making drops so it didn't seem so eerie.  Dimitri, at one point dropped a pint of tomatoes.  I thought they all had fallen (thankfully only some did).  I wanted to cry.  But I remained calm.  I got to show the kids the walk in refrigerator, which is pretty cool.  It's inside a small feeder truck.  If you could see it, you would die.  It's loaded with fresh organic fruits and vegetables from local farms.  It smells so good.  There are crates and crates of peaches and cantaloupe.  You can almost taste them. 

I left the tomatoes in the outside drop off point because it's not good to refrigerate or wash those. 

And with that, we were off, to hit the hay and start a new day tomorrow.  Hopefully a better one. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Just my luck

The cherry tomato crop has been abundant and wonderful.  It has inspired me to plant much more of them next year.  And these little orange ones called Sungold tomatoes are so sweet.  They are absolutely heavenly.  I could sell a million of them easily. (With some free samples to hook the customer).

I started fantasizing about planting rows and rows of tomatoes next year and making tomato sauce with it.  We make a fabulous tomato sauce.  We don't even buy tomato sauce for our spaghetti.  We make it with plain tomato sauce- or even paste and water, a pinch of salt and sugar and a secret ingredient*, ground beef, also browned with salt, sugar and secret ingredient... mmmmm.  Imagine if I used fresh basil from my farm too? It would be to-die-for.  I saw canning jars at the store and it got me excited. 

In the mean time, we have three overflowing trays of cherry tomatoes on our kitchen table.  I've been eating them for breakfast and snacks.  Just constantly.  I even bring bowls of them with me in the car.  Here is where the title of this blog post will start to make sense.  You are not going to believe this... I think I am allergic to tomatoes.  I mean, really???  Could I have worse luck???  My face is breaking out like crazy.  Why, oh why, couldn't I just go into anaphylactic shock like normal people?  Why do I have to look like I'm going through puberty again?  I am also allergic to corn which does the same thing to me, but I've been avoiding corn- more specifically corn syrup.  I had a (new) McDonald berry-smoothie, which I thought could be the cause, but I looked at the ingredients online and there is no corn-syrup.  There is only one explanation.  (I mean, I know I'm not pregnant.  That would be the other explanation). 

Why did I have to come to this realization at this moment in time?  When my tomatoes were the saving grace of my farm?

Well, on the bright side, I may never have figured out this allergy if it weren't for this scenario.  Eating tomatoes 24/7?  That would never have happened were it not for my farm. 


*OK, I'll fess up.  The secret ingredient is MSG.  I can see the horror on the faces of my crunchy readers.  But I've researched it a bit and just can't see the proof that it's harmful unless you have a personal reaction to it.  My husband's family cooks with it and it really does make everything taste better.  And, anecdotally, the people of their culture are incredibly healthy.
Sun gold tomatoes