For the love of chicory

chicory loveThis time of year we hear the same thing from most everyone we run into–the craving for fresh, green food is intense for those folks eating mostly what they grow themselves or from the farms around and about them.  There are greens to eat in the winter here if all goes well, but they are not really green, they are overwintered.  They sit through those cold, dark months of December and January, freeze and unfreeze often, and wait.  We harvest what grew before all of that, and it is usually not pretty nor tender.  They are greens that beg to be cooked.

By now, our desire for green is for fresh.  And new growth is happening, it feels like finally, after all that wait.  Fresh leaves are making there way to our plates again.  The greenhouse is fully planted and we are working arugula thinnings into our salad mix.  Before we know it, there will be lettuce again!

But while we wait for the traditional and tender lettuces to be in the mix, what is fresh in February and early March make me quite happy to eat.  More than happy…I almost don’t want to move on.  The inner leaves of sugarloaf chicory are as easy to eat as lettuce but with so much more to offer, I may love them more than anything.  And the smaller, spoon shaped inner leaves of radicchio are so sweet and bitter, royal and right. The mid -summer lettuce leaf salads really can’t compare with the mix of colors and textures of right-nows green salads, except that we love those for all the other fresh vegetables that are able to join in on the fun.

I sit down to eat this salad every day and the sight of it, its beauty, steals my heart.  And then I do bite into it and the flavor is almost too much, it is so good.  After roasted roots and meat, and cooked kale and collards, all winter, my body sings kind of like the rest of the animal kingdom outside.  The birds and the frogs and I are enlivened right now.

And I am over the moon in love with my plate.

Just as I am with one thing or another, each season,  in its turn.  Rapinis will come soon to sweep me off my feet, then peas.  Peas!  Then summer, the season that rarely offers itself monogamously, will bring so much to love it is ridiculous (and why we love it so).  Then come autumn-year after year after year–arugula will bring me to my knees.  And delicata squash, oh my!  Osaka purple mustard. Tat soi.  Even come next winter, I will sing, again, the survival instinct that cabbage and turnips inspire in me.  Then, the whole wild love-fest will begin again.

It has been seven years for us out here on this farm, that same length of time since we learned about our food allergies.  Our diet is so different now.  But it is also so simple and so good.  All the pleasure it brings feels like the same natural pleasure the earth itself takes in bringing it forth for us as it circles around the sun.

These love affairs I have, they feel so nourishing and healthful, that is how I dare say eating should be.  This is not to say I don’t have my weaknesses (coffee), and not to say that we don’t eat some things from miles away every single day of the year in bland repetition (bananas).  But the heart of all of our meals is this land.  And there is more joy in that than I think we know until we are experiencing it.

There are so many food movements, so much divergence in opinion.  There are external factors and internal ones.  I naturally shy away from dogma, I try to keep my vision clear and focas on myself…and those eating at my table each and every night.  There can be so much confusion about what to eat, guilt over what you are eating, and so much that does not nourish you to pick up on the cheap.

Whatever you choose, my hope, my own two cents on what it should do for you, is this–that it deeply feed your body and soul.  Not in any one night stand kind of way, cheap and wrong even if it seems right in the moment.  Deeply.

My argument for seasonal eating, aside from any social-economic-political-environmental reasons is that this will be the side effect either way.  And that this may just teach you, if you listen closely, how to eat as you need to in order to feel alive and joyful.

Because chicory is truly and amazingly healthy to eat; but that is not the reason I came to endear it.

the quickening

quickeningmoon

The quickening.  Can you feel it too?

That is the word that has been coming to my mind again and again  these past few weeks.  And lo and behold, it is also one (of the many) names given to this week’s full moon.

The beginning of things.  Or more accurately, the middle.  Almost the tipping point, but not quite.

The slow, gradual journey to fecundity, started with tiny seeds, and now itching our skin from the inside, almost ready to be found on the outside, in our bodies moving, full again.  Full of life, which of course we are all through these sleepy winter months, but still, full in louder ways, full and abundant–that is what we are now stepping foot after foot towards. It’s thrilling.  And the word on the tip of my tongue so perfect, so encapsulating of these feelings stirred in the blood by so little a thing as earlier sunrises and daffodil shoots.

When you feel those first few butterfly flutters of new life in your womb, the moment is a rush of excitement and awe, wonder and delight.  But everything is wrapped in the yarn of anticipation.  Don’t we love those little fingers and feet brushing against us from the mystery of inside out?  Even when all that is to come is still hidden.  Everything is unknown.

the mystery of seeds

Of course, we feel this way about a farming season too.  The eager anticipation that begins with making the plans, ordering the seeds. Germinating before germination. Cleaning up the seed starting greenhouse, mixing the potting soil.  And then, sowing.  Tediously filling up a large space with very tiny things.  It is all so good.  Good because of what it means, what it intends–because the real birth of a season comes much later when we see what kind of spring weather we’ll have, how much rain and when and for how long, and whatever other particular awesomenesses or challenges arise from the earth along with those plants.  A mystery teasing us now in its all promising way, quickening our pace bit by bit until soon it will require full laboring.

And then, reaping, always abundantly, one way or another.

But for now, I will stir that word around in my mouth a while longer.  I know too well that the cycle goes by faster and faster with each breath.  The quickening.   For now, while we are still able to pause and savor it all easily, without too much weight or worry, we will revel in the magic that is the unknowing, in the promise.  Spring is magic.  And hope, faith.

All things sweetly anticipated and reverently moved towards are more graciously received.  The whole process is a joy, each part inseparable from the whole.

My pulse quickens at the thought of those long, ripe days of summer; I seriously long for hot and sweaty skin, I do love the sun so.  But when it arrives, it will be all the better because of this season of calm.  Watching those perky daffodils grow without any hurry, their greens a cheery sight, there yellow bonnet flowers so much the more, I attempt the same myself.

It is the quickening, but that translates to slow and steady, inch by inch.  It is a happy pace, and definitely a picked up pace.  But not rushed, nor wild.  It is that special place between worlds.  It carries movement towards, healthy, sure growth.

Like an expectant mother, we wait.  But like her too, we nourish ourselves while we can.  We prepare for the birth of the season.

the quickening

Simple Pleasures

It probably isn’t a good idea to star the mushroom in this weeks CSA newsletter-blog post since there weren’t enough for everyone today; but when you are walking out of your front door to harvest shiitake mushrooms your husband “grew” to bring inside and saute with the spring green garlic–or perhaps with the fleetingly appearing garlic scapes–to start your meals, then it is hard not to stop and snap a picture and get a little excited.

Growing our own mushrooms has been a bit of a trial and error deal, but we have started getting some every year now, so that is definitely a step in the right direction.

And of course, it is really nice to gorge on all the funky or slug bitten ones ourselves.  It is a lot of fun and the whole thing is so different from growing vegetables.  The flavor, too, is a special and wonderful thing.  I have never–not even when I have bought mushrooms from local producers–tasted mushrooms like these, eating them right after plucking them off the oak logs they were grown on (except of course when doing the same with mushrooms in the wild).

All of that is part of the beauty of choosing small and local.  A farm member remarked today that she barely ate any salads through the winter when CSA harvests were off, the flavor of the farm’s salad mix lingering in her memory with nothing available at the store quite the same.  I know what she means–it is hard to find produce that comes close to what you are going to receive from your CSA or find at your local farmer’s market–or better yet, grow yourself.  Even market shops that hope to include truly local produce in their selections have a hard time finding farmers who want to go that route.  Although there have been a handful of times when we have sold extra produce to our local market, this is definitely our last stop.  We prefer selling things directly to the eater, it is much better for us and a lot funner for them.

As I found myself mentioning to anyone looking curiously at our green garlic on the farmer’s market table these last few weeks:  there are foods that are “farmer’s market only”  kinds of things.  In general, anyways.  I don’t make it to the city often, so I don’t know what markets offer there; but for the most part, green garlic is a spring treat you are only going to see at your local farmer’s market or in your CSA harvest.

And there’s a lot to say for that.  As simple and humble as what we offer is, it is as equally gourmet and foodtastic and unique and special.  The amazing flavors of things as mundane as lettuce and the offerings as special as ultra fresh mushrooms and spring pulled garlic are a small bit of what makes this adventure–for all of us–pretty awesome.

What I love about this the most is that these are all simple, tiny pleasures we bring to the table, but they really do add such an inordinate amount of depth and beauty to our lives.  Food is the most basic of human needs and human pleasures.  For very little and with very little effort, we can magnify the delight and joy of “eating” a hundred fold.

Another farmer that we know–probably not the first to do so–turned the old phrase “dirt poor” on its head when he was being interviewed about his life as a farmer by claiming that yes, he was poor, but not dirt poor…he was dirt rich.  It is true, there are things a farmer is rich in beyond measure.  We, alas, would also probably be classified as the stereotypical poor farmers because even though this model of farming can be quite lucrative, we have many extenuating factors that keep our bottom line lower than we would like.  Still, besides being rich in land, we are also exceedingly rich in food!  Those mushrooms!  So good.  All our meals, really.  We can’t even go out to eat except for at a few special places because with the ingredients we have access to, we are eating like kings at every meal, even if we aren’t living like them.

But really, that all depends on how you define living like kings…because I think that we are.  And I hope all of our farm members and market customers are enjoying their food this much too.  I hope that these humble vegetables and our weekly interactions around them ultimately result in happy tongues and full and fulfilled bellies.   I hope that for all of us, our meals bring us the most simple of pleasures.

Growing Connections

Week three into our summer farmer’s market and week two of CSA harvests!  We have been harvesting in  the rain this week, something we get used to during our late fall and winter harvests but don’t love in the spring.  Really, I should say the farmer gets used to working wet since he does most of those harvests himself; spring always finds me slowly working my way into harvesting again and quickly back  into washing and bundling all this growing food again and regularly back at the market again working the booth, all things I love to return to but am always fumbling with at the start.  At any given moment, there are a hundred and one things we need to do; not all of them farm related of course, but you know, all the regular old things that we always have to do with and for the children and in the house, as well as our own gardening and flower planting too, on top of the crazy amount of things on the farm to do list.  May begins and we hold to our winter-school routine for a week or two and then spring on the farm eclipses everything and in some ways life stops and we don’t get a hold of it properly for the next month and a half.  Right now, some of the projects in the house seem impossible to get to and really, although I want to do them, my mind is on the outside to do list just as much as that outside to do list is needing to be done.  Luckily, the weather has been nice for the most part and everyone is happy to spend time outside–swinging, playing, planting, weeding, running and learning to run, or what have you.

We need to plan our open farm potlucks for the year, sooner than later,but it is hard when we are in the thick of getting all of our ground worked and planted.  Even though we get an early chance to spring clean for our May day girl’s birthday/may pole celebration, after that it is a slow process getting the non-food growing spaces under control.  In addition to that, we decided to use the summer and all our time spent out of doors as a time to work on this little old house of ours.  So, with a living room full of ripped out carpet waiting to get disposed of and a beautiful pile of cedar in the lawn waiting to be turned into a deck, it is hard to imagine how to negotiate our usual potluck space until these projects are out of the way.

I jokingly mentioned the other day that I had my eyes set on July; in so many ways it is true.  By July, we will be fully settled into our summer routines.  We will still have harvests and markets and field work to dictate our schedule, but we also then have more time for those other important parts of summer, the farm potlucks being one of those parts.  As it stands now, social time feels like a luxury while we get everything in shape for the year.  After this weekend we should have the rest of our tractor ground prep done on the farm, the rest of our one time summer plantings in and summer succession plantings done.  From that point on, we start to consider the next round of plantings for fall and winter, and although that means we really are just continuing to plant all the way through September, there is a difference  and a huge sigh of relief once this spring work is done.  We can then get things tidied up and get folks out to the farm and have some fun!

We are leasing two acres of ground just down the road this year.  The land has been fallow for a while, but at one time it was the spot of a small, organic farm much like ours.  Although we have been actively looking for a space of 5-10 acres nearby to lease, this spot is really close and will give us two more dry acres to grow winter crops on which is probably our top priority for more space anyways.  Besides that, we love the history of the space and are completely smitten with our neighbor who lives there.  He grew up on the road, ran a duck hunting club on our very own farm during his college years and was also here the day they put in our well.  He has loads of stories to share, not only about our land and the surrounding space, but from his own full and well lived life.  He has experimented with growing wild rice on some of this wet bottom land that all of the properties along our road slope down to, and has been trying to convince us to give it a go too.  We are researching it, and the farmer, who is always game to try to work with what the land naturally wants to do if he can, is definitely curious.  But the processing, oh my!

Anyways, even though farming this space will mean taking time to listen to these stories, we have come to lean on our neighbors more than ever since starting this venture.  We find that the more time we spend with them, the more comfortable and significant we feel in our “neighborhood” here.  Our very next door neighbor is helping us with the mechanics of keeping our tractor running now that we have one, and has become an important part of the work of our farm through this role.  And just this week, while Andre was in the field harvesting for Thursday market and CSA pick-up, he was stopped by another neighbor driving by with one of her friends, a man who works with draft mules.  Through the course of their conversation, he excitedly offered to disc and cross-hatch those two acres down the road for us with his draft team!  All for some “real” tomatoes later on in the season and a small part on the old draft plough that our mailbox sits upon, a part he has been hoping to acquire to use in his draft work for some time and finally got the chance to stop and ask about.

When the farmer came back to the wash station with his bok choy harvest that night, he told me the story and ended with this–“I think we have landed in heaven!”

All of these wonderful connections, all a gift of this little bit of land we call home and our chosen line of work.

So, even though I am wishing to get over the hump of the spring rush so that we can maybe sneak off to the beach and then have all of you fine folks over to watch the sun go down across that river valley our property sits on the cusp of, I really do relish all of the seasons of the farm life.  As I try to pencil in dates for this summer’s social events and think about the growing relationships we are building with our neighbors, as I get back in the groove of summer market and see the friendly faces of our customers and CSA members and other market vendors that I only see regularly in this most busy time of the year, I keep reminding myself to stay in the moment.  The season of the farm right now is one of connection.  Day by day, minute by minute, we are sowing the seeds for the season, connecting with the community around us more and more with each planting.

And besides, if I mistakenly wished away June by looking ahead towards the surety of July, I would miss out on the sweetness of this month with its Strawberry moon and its small bit of time out of the year to enjoy the smell in my kitchen of my second to favorite fruit of all–because blueberries are the one to really rock my world, but my most favorite fruit of right now.

Catching up

Hello everyone!  It has been a quiet month here on the interwebs, a month busy with ground prep, planting, thinning and weeding.  Today marks the start of another CSA season!!  And so, it seems like a good time to catch up with one another, to take stock of the happenings on the farm so far this spring  and those still a-happening!

We went into this spring feeling like we had made three decisions that would ease some of the problems that the last two long, cool, and wet springs had given us.  We purchased a tractor (finally!), we built a field hoophouse (finally!), and decided to rearrange the length of the CSA to by-pass spring, encouraging CSA members to drop by market and shop during the late winter and spring with their CSA discount instead of offering shares during the seasons when harvests are less predictable.  Most significantly, we didn’t want to feel pushed to harvest things before they were fully mature to fill shares in the spring, thereby lessening our overall yields  for the season.

And we have been happy with all of these decisions, immensely!  We just can’t help but chuckle at the never ending surprises of each season and realize, for the millionth time, that we won’t ever be fully in control of this ship!

The tractor has served its purpose and we have more land worked up and planted than ever before… but we also have to deal with the reality of an old machine that needs a lot of tinkering and love and coaxing to keep running.  And the hoophouse has lush tomatoes growing in it with blossoms already…but it was also put in a field that has only just been amended for this first year of growing on it, and as with most first year soil, it hasn’t lovingly turned into a loamy, lush dirt that produces even growth and blissed out plants.  The bok choys that we wouldn’t normally even have in spring because of pest damage are growing without flea beetles on them in there, but looking down the rows of them shows some barely growing and others full size.  We should see more consistency from this soil by fall and even later this summer as the organic matter breaks down and the soil loosens more, but still…

By far the biggest contender we have towards predictability on the farm is, of course, the weather.  This spring has been all over the map.  The truth is that it was extremely wet, cold, and even snowy in March!  We had to wait longer than usual  to get into our fields.  And even though the last two years we were able to work some soil early, we then had to wait for so long for things to grow well in the cool and wet weather.  This year, since it has dried out, it has been actually, beautifully warm!  We have been swimming already…in May!  We have worked sleeveless and in sandals and the sun has felt so good!

But even this brings with it complexity.  Last year, despite the delay in harvest of heat loving crops, the overwintered crops like rapini and purple sprouting broccoli lasted into June because of the cool weather, leaving us with some overlap in the seasons.  This year, those crops have burst into flower, unstoppable, in response to the warmth.  Certain crops that got a late start aren’t yet harvest-able, and certain crops that would normally thrive in the spring aren’t producing well…our first round of radishes got soft in the center because they matured right during a particularly warm week.

And so, we laugh, to think we had taken steps to have it all under control.

Still, awesome things are happening this year too.  Because we had the tractor, we were able to work up so much more space than we have in the past.  Time has always been one of the factors limiting our growing space, as it took so many man hours for the farmer to prepare space with our little rototiller.  We have planted out our propagation greenhouse twice, which for us is a win!  We usually, again, run out of time and space for all of our starts, so this is exciting.

And the starts were beautiful this year!  The farmer created a d-i-y heated space for germinating seeds and growing our warm weather crops that involved christmas lights and plastic (instead of heat maps designed for this purpose but remain out of our tight investment budget); it worked wonderfully!

The main space we have planted this year is our lower field, bottom land with great, fluffy, healthy soil!  The crops that are on their way are growing daily in an even, consistent manner…we love to walk down there every morning to see the growth and the beautiful cell structure of these healthy plants, it certainly puts a smile on our faces.

And even though we couldn’t have foreseen this, not starting the CSA six weeks ago was literally a lifesaver!  Because of the weather this year, for the first time since we started harvesting for market year round, we had a gap in things to harvest.  We took the middle weeks of May off because we literally had nothing to bring to market.  The stress of that would have been terrible had the CSA been in full swing since April as it was last year (although to be honest, had we planned on CSA harvests during that time we would have managed our winter harvests accordingly).

In the end, all the decisions we made for 2012 in response to 2011 and previous years have been good ones and just like with any other year, we will also face new challenges and respond to them as they come and in our planning for next year. We look forward to the harvests to come, and are happy to taste that which is ready now:  the first lettuces of the year, those first mouth watering strawberries!  Green garlic and green onions to replace stored onions in our skillet, a fourth child discovering the joy of spring peas!  The kids can go outside now and pick a snack from the garden again and we all all are ready to stretch and grow a little in the sun after digging in our roots in a little deeper through the quiet of winter.