For those of you new to the CSA this year, for over ten years we’ve had a harvest party for CSA members and friends of the farm at our place. It’s been the last week of September for quite a few years. Potluck, music, farm tour, connections…it’s been great.
After many years we’re kind of burnt out – event planning stresses us out in a way that packing CSA boxes doesn’t. So, this year we chipped in with our fellow farmers in the Sustainable Farming Association chapter to do a harvest festival instead. Although I’m sure many of you are saddened that we will at Lida Farm on in two weeks for the potluck, hear me out because I think this may be the best of all worlds.
Called the Deep Roots Festival, there will still be good music, farm tours, food, and connections on Saturday, October 12 starting at 1 pm. You not only get the official farm tour of Lida Farm, but there are three other farms on the circuit including North Circle Seeds, Northcroft Fiber Farm, and Twin Oaks Diary. In addition, there are three hands-on food workshops in the afternoon to choose from before a catered farm-to-table dinner. No need to bring a dish, just show up and enjoy the show! I’m also excited that we’ll be hosted at Milt’s Barn near Pelican, which is a wedding venue. So, it’s not only a beautiful setting, but one which functions well for dinner – no blowing fuses and the whiff of manure as you would experience in our own barn 🙂
There is a cost, however, but I think it’s going to be worth it. It’s $35 per adult or $30 (if you become an SFA member) for dinner and all activities. We worked to keep it a family friendly event, so only $5 per kid 12 and under. IF you only want to stop by Lida Farm and pickup your pumpkin (free to all CSA members), you can certainly jump on our tour for no cost but I would love for you to consider signing up for the whole event. All proceeds go to our chapter to promote sustainable agriculture in the region. Please sign up at http://www.deep-roots-festival.com
We hope its the first of an annual event to celebrate the harvest season. I know that I’m looking forward to it.
In the box:
A few regular tomatoes – are you tired of tomatoes yet?
Little salad mix
Delicata winter squash: I bake these dry (the video below suggests using water, but delicata has a thin skin). I’m also a bigger fan of an oven than a microwave… I had to use this video as a shout out to my friends in Extension!
I used to wonder why our dad got so bent out of shape when we were slow getting into the car in the morning. My brother and I were tired so we just didn’t move so fast. Our dad would give the impatient, “Come on! Let’s go!” to cajole us. In times of desperation, he’d lay on the horn in the driveway. I think in the back of my mind I had the idea that middle-aged people were just unhappy. Now I get it. I have even laid on the horn in the driveway a few times myself. Have I become my dad?
Now 42, I don’t think that middle-age makes a person unhappy. I think few people would describe me that way. But with school starting, there is just a schedule pressure that makes everybody crazy. In some ways the school schedule is good because it forces discipline at the farm. I’m a procrastinating pusher in my work style. I will only do a job when absolutely necessary, but will run like mad to slug out any task on the docket. I admire people who have two weeks planned out and diligently take measured steps day by day so everything is done at least three days before its due. I think my adrenaline levels would be more stable.
The birds have something to tell us. As I said this to Jackie, I had no idea their message. They were keeping it to themselves at this point. All day, they had gathered – flocked together, if you will – until a gigantic conga line of them were draped across my telephone wire. It was quite a sight. People stopping by the farm stand were even taking pictures.
As I walked back to my harvesting, the phrase ‘the birds have something to tell us’ took on more meaning. I remembered the story my grandmother told of losing her eldest son. She was born in the Turtle Mountains in 1920 and raised by her Metchif-speaking grandparents (Metchif is a mix of Native languages and French). Even though she had spent her life trying to get away from the reservation and being ‘Indian’, the story of her son’s passing was every bit as mythical as stories told by the oldest and wisest of medicine men. She told me how a raven had perched itself on the window near the sink where she was washing dishes. As the bird turned its eyes to meet her own and pecked at the window, she said that she knew. Upon climbing the stairs, she discovered that Scarlet Fever had finally taken him even though Billy lived but 20 minutes before. She recounted this to me some 60 years later with the lingering pain of a mother’s heart, but also the wonder of a story that held great meaning. The raven was not a coincidence, but a messenger from another world. To my Catholic grandmother, a messenger from God.
For me, my grandmother’s stories pulls my imagination to a pre-modern time where people better heard the messages that nature provides. She could have told stories to me that illustrated the abject poverty she lived on an Indian Reservation, but instead she chose to share images of a supernatural America now lost to time. Toys purchased from a Jewish peddler who drove his donkey cart across the prairie from Grand Forks. Her devout grandfather who knelt before he planted each row of crops to perform the sign of the cross. Family members who freely walked across the national border to gather chokecherries, just as their ancestors did. Animals communicating important news.
I don’t think the stories of humans learning from nature are exclusive to Native Americans. We don’t need to fetishize Native knowledge as if it were the only tradition available to unlock some human mysteries. If you go back far enough, every cultural tradition has respect for nature and belief in the power of nature’s spirit. Even the most modern Western European can find an earth-centered spirituality in the not too distant past, whether you call it folklore or paganism.
So, again, what are the birds telling us? At this point, A HELL OF A LOT. Are we too distracted to listen? In our obsessive pursuit of consumption, we are passing the point where nature can repair itself. We owe it to our ancestors to at least listen to this message, whether given to us by our neighborhood barn swallow or a girl from Sweden.
In the Box:
New Orchid watermelon
Black Spanish radish and some red radishes
Regular red tomatoes
A sample of heirloom tomatoes: They are ugly but good
Well, I hate to break it to you…Labor Day’s in just one week. I think this time of year gives us all mixed feelings. We hate to let go of summer, yet are thankful for the slowdown that fall brings. Maybe we have that dreadful feeling we had as kids because going back to school was so painful. All I know is that as I sit here, I’m having mixed feelings about the transition+ from summer to fall.
I’m elated that the tomato season has just started in earnest, yet frustrated that melons are only now getting ripe. I’m looking forward to fall crops, but way too pressed with summer harvest to even deal with planting these crops. I think about getting some of these plantings in only at the end of the day when everything seems so unbelievably daunting. Every day counts this time of year as the days get shorter, so either I get those fall greens planted or forget about it.
However, if I set the worry aside, I’m simply grateful to let the season unfold however it will. Every season has its pace and my role is to surf along. We all want to feel like we’re masters of our destiny, molding the present and charting our future like some resolute ship captain. In reality, the forces of nature are so much greater than ourselves. I’ve learned that I can toil for hours, yet, if the season is against me, the efforts matters little. What to do? Plant nothing and lazily watch weeds grow? No. I can only give my best effort and then simply trust in the season:
“I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.” Deuteronomy 11:14-15
In the box:
Yellow ‘Sunshine’ Watermelon
Yellow ‘Satina’ Potatoes
Eggplant: Appetizer idea in video below – basil and eggplant are a nice pairing.
Just yesterday at our farm stand… I had a great conversation about Canadian history with a family from Quebec, learned about a neighbor’s organic diet to assist his cancer treatment, talked tomato varieties many times over, and threw up about two dozen waves to customers who stopped by.
When we built the stand in 2010, I had intentions to sell our ‘overflow’ produce there – stuff we were long on and couldn’t move through a farmers market or the CSA. But in the past three seasons, we’ve witnessed a total explosion in popularity that has us running to keep up. I routinely see three and four cars at the end of our driveway nowadays and the stand attracts a true cross-section of America. Rich and poor. Professionals and rednecks. Guys with MAGA hats and ladies driving hybrids adorned with ‘coexist’ bumberstickers. No matter their walk of life, neighbors and passers-by alike always express how grateful they are for our work and the farm stand. Yesterday, I even had a guy shout “You the man!” at me while I was out harvesting in the tomatoes.
That last one got me thinking…why do people so love this little farm stand at end of our driveway?
Yes, the produce is fresh and certified organic. Sure. But I think something bigger is at play. Our farm stand acts as an authentic holdout in a world becoming more and more virtual and disconnected. Lonely big box stores and daily corporate grift. Endless political wrangling with strangers online. The Kardashians!? In this world gone nuts, this strange fever-pitch drama we now live online, our 30 square-foot farm stand screams out forgotten Midwestern values at their finest. An outpost in total opposition to the sleek and dishonest future into which we’re all being pulled. There’s nothing fake or contrived about it. We’re a single family working hard in fields but 50 yards from the storefront. We labor innumerable hours with our own hands to feed neighbors quality food, one tomato at a time.
I don’t know…maybe I’m just getting overly dramatic. I do know, however, that the role we have the privilege to play in people’s lives feels good and we’re happy to play it.
As I sat down on my haunches and appeared beneigth the canopy of tomato vines, I got the first glimpse of a monster crop. I crept further down the row, now examining a new location on my back, “Man, that’s a lot of fruit.” Walking through the whole trellised area where the 3,000 plants grow, I surveyed nothing but really healthy leaves and a lot of green tomatoes. I’m pretty sure that we’re looking at the biggest tomato crop I’ve ever seen. In saying that, I feel like some old miner who came across a huge gold vein. Eureka!
Now, however, the question is whether this is a blessing or a curse. Only now are we starting to get just a touch of color on the tomatoes, a time we call ‘break’ as in ‘the tomatoes are starting to break.’ It would be best if we have some gentle weather…mild and with small swings in temperature. This will allow the fruit to ripen slowly and we can keep up on picking tomatoes as they go from green to orange to red. IF we find ourselves at 90 degrees during the day and 50 at night, these puppies are going to go fast and we’ll be running to keep up. Also, there are only so many tomatoes we can sell use each week in the CSA boxes or sell at the market or farm stands.
Let’s see what happens. One thing I know for sure is that tomatoes are in our future.
We had a small but hearty group on Saturday for the Lida Farm tour. I think when it’s 90% humidity at 7 am, only the most motivated decide to walk around farm fields in the heat listening to me talk about organic agriculture. Thanks to all who made it out and thanks to OCIA (our certification agency) for sponsoring refreshments.
When doing the tour, one thought came to me which I’ve had many times before. Boy, every season is the same, but different in so many ways. I know that sounds like politician-speak, so let me explain.
THE SAME: When I look at ‘what’s in the box’ on our blog back to 2006, the vegetable season is pretty much the same thing over and over. Spinach is in the first box with some radishes and then spinach re-appears in the last couple boxes. Green onions go in early-season boxes and then I transition to regular onions (which we started last week). Same pattern over and over. This makes sense because there are only so many crops that grow in MN and everything has its season.
DIFFERENT: Even with the same pattern of production, the quality and yield of crops is different year to year. I’m staring down the biggest and best tomato crop I think I’ve ever grown in my life. Maybe I’m jinxing myself by writing it, but I’ve never seen so healthy a stand of tomatoes with so much fruit on the vine. When these things ripen, look out! Last year, in contrast, I had these sad little plants. Early heavy rains in June beat down the tomato vines and they were set back for the whole year.
The differences come with weather, certainly, but the differences also come with the workflow of the season. Juggling 30-some crops, some years I get celery weeded at a good time and other years it becomes the forgotten crop. As I told the tour this weekend, some plantings are abandoned each year – I’ve let go about four so far this year. It’s nothing personal, plants 🙂