Farming – Freedom or Drudgery?

Americans tell themselves two different stories about farm life.

One is a narrative about the farm as a place to escape from because it’s a dead-end workcamp that will trap you forever. This is an old story told by many an escapee and found in popular media and films. Stuck under the thumb of his tyrannical father who runs a hardscrabble operation in the hinterlands, the ambitious budding actor runs off to find fame and fortune in California and leaves hard days of labor behind. We’ve all met many a successful professional whose parents wished them a better life, having told them to flee the farm…go and make something of themselves.

The other story is a romantic one that is pulled from our Jeffersonian ideal of the proud yeoman farmer. In some ways it’s the reverse of the first story. Instead of escaping the farm, our character escapes the chaos and loneliness of the city and wage-slavery of a 9-5 job to find real freedom through his own honest work. Instead of enriching some faceless business, this proud American builds his own and joins the ranks of other hard-working, honest farmers who are the backbone of our great country.

Of course, each is an ideal that is only partially true. I tilt towards the second as it fits my own romantic ideals and sensibilities, yet I have certainly lived days where I’ve felt the first down in my bones. If I were honest with you and myself, it’s a little of both and that magic gives the farmer his or her depth and heart. Only through hardship does the farmer or farm family find the well-earned freedom or strength of spirit so lauded by Americans.

In the box:

Each day when I stop after solid a 10-hour slog in the fields, I’m able to admire the tangible work of my labor and find a satisfaction no other kind of work can provide. Yesterday, as I finished a sit-down meal on the cabin porch with my farm crew of Marissa and Maya, a familiar peaceful, tired calm drew over me. As the Two-Hearted Ale kicked in and we engaged in lively debate, the sun set over the back hill. At that moment, my only wish in the world was that more people could experiece the same camaraderie and joy.

  • Crimson Sweet Watermelon
  • A Couple Ears of Corn
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Glow and Italia Peppers
  • A Couple Jalapeno Peppers
  • Garlic
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Eggplant
  • A Couple Leeks

One recipe idea we had as we were packing boxes was a grilled corn salsa to put these two ears of corn to work together with the jalapenos – https://minimalistbaker.com/perfect-grilled-corn-salsa/

Source: The Minimalist Baker (minimalistbaker.com)

Pushing Rocks Uphill

Man, this season has not been easy.

I’m used to abandoning crops that got lost in weeds or just didn’t turn out right. This is normal for a veggie grower. But this year, a person can do everything right and end up with a bad crop. The vegetable will end up stunted or misshapen – just not good enough.

A great example, I thought that I’d have some good cauliflower in the box by now. Planted at the right time, well fertilized, well cultivated and weeded. Irrigating through drip tape didn’t overcome the drought and the darn heat overstressed the plants.

But there are times that I’m surprised like this week’s Alpine daikon radish and cucumbers. Boom! Cucumbers were just flying off the vine and into crates. The radishes sized up beautifully. Thank God for these little wins. It’s what we need to buoy our spirits, but we need to keep our eyes open to look out for them.

In the box:

  • Sweet Corn: It ain’t pretty 🙂 See stunted produce above.
  • Bunch of Carrots
  • Alpine Daikon Radish: I do recommend doing a short pickling with carrots – https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/vietnamese_daikon_and_carrot_pickles/
  • White or Red Potatoes
  • Mix of Beans
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes: First of the ‘slicing’ tomatoes, but certainly an early varity that’s pretty small. We won’t see big slices coming off these.

Farm Flow

To other farmers, produce people like me are nut-zo. Most farm operator I know are super chill, especially those that work around animals. In comparison, I’m much more hyper and intense. This may just be me, but I’ve found that us produce people are a mostly high-energy, squirrely bunch. This derives from the nature of our work. We raise dozens of crops with many small plantings, all of which have their own little quirks and needs. In contrast, for most farmers, consistency is king. Think of a dairy operator who follows the same routine day after day to the minute.

This is why I say that vegetable farming is a lot like surfing. There’s a lot of little details to attend to and a person needs to just flow with it. I dunno, maybe I’ve done too much yoga or something, if I can get into the flow mindset, it really helps me do the switching of tasks necessary in this type of business. 15 min here, 20 min there. It’s a constant back and forth between tasks and crops and activities. Certainly there are days I can’t pull it off and every single task is like a huge mountain, but there are others when I get there and it’s magical.

All told, a person can never get bored doing this work.

In the box:

  • Sweet Corn
  • Tomato Mix
  • A Few Beets: A mix of gold, chiogga, and regular red.
  • Red Potatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini
  • A Couple Onions
  • A Couple ‘Islander’ Purple Peppers

Surprise Vegetables

Sometimes it’s a surprise. Like last night and I was doing my usual ‘What can we get in the box for tomorrow?’

Graham in Corn

I had checked beans a few days ago and had written them off. But, when Mar suggested that I check them out just in case – Boing! – out jumped all these fully-grown beans. They didn’t actually jump out at me, but I was super surprised how many were there. So, 8 pm last night, I called an emergency picking. I sounded the alarm, “Tally-Ho, people, we’ve got to get moving!” Willem’s response was “I’m good,” which meant ‘count me out.’ Graham was little more forthright with a ‘No way – are you crazy?’ Sylvie, the stalwart gardener joined me, Maree, and Marissa and we pushed on through by 9 pm. It felt good to get done and good to get them in the box for the first time.

I’ve had this experience of surprise veggies many times before, but I found this most rewarding simply because this season of drought has not been generous. Let’s hope the land has more good surprises yet this year.

In the box:

  • Sweet Corn: There are a couple of varieties of bi-color corn here. I tried my best to give everyone a mix – see if you can taste a difference between one variety and another.
  • Provider’ Green Beans
  • Onions
  • Fresh Parsley Bunch: With red rubber band
  • ‘Norland’ or ‘Austrian Crescent Fingerling’ Potatoes
  • Cherry Tomato Mix
  • ‘Tigress’ Zucchini
  • Green Pepper
  • ‘Suyu Long’ Cucumber: OK, I know this is a weird-looking cucumber, but trust me that it’s good. We did have about 200 ‘regular’ cucumber plants in the ground, but they croaked in the frost at the end of May or I would have set you up sooner.

People, People Everywhere

Farming seems like such a solitary activity. Early morning coffee. Calling in cows to milk. Corn harvest before the heat of the day.

But, in reality, no man is an island and that’s true with even stubborn and anti-social farm operators. Milking is tough if the milk truck guy doesn’t come to pick up. Weeding is hard alone. Done with another person, not too bad; done with a party of 10, it’s downright swift and easy. Even if you think about the supply chain needs, there are a lot of people who help make any single farm operation successful. Seed dealer, equipment supplier, and local banker and accountant.

I’ve been thinking about the efforts of teams lately and know that things only work when a trust can be built between them. If members of a team have only their own interests in mind, the mission just won’t be missed, but others on the team can get hurt as well. You may have seen this in your own line of work, but it’s certainly been a theme in the farm economy. The salesman who will sell not what you need, but what will line their pocket. A banker pushing farm expansion for a bigger loan, even if risky. Or even a fellow farm operator who turns against others out of spite.

In contrast, others can choose to be partners for the long run. This is what we need to keep growing the food movement.

In the box:

  • Mixed Cherry Tomatoes
  • A Few Ears of Sweet Corn: This is very
  • Broccoli
  • Sweet Onions
  • Norland Potatoes
  • Garlic
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Zucchini
  • Pattypan Summer Squash

Summer Succotash from Land O Lakes:

https://www.landolakes.com/recipe/20001/summer-succotash/

1 Half Stick (1/4 cup) Land O Lakes® Butter

1 medium (1/2 cup) onion, chopped

1/4 cup sliced green onions

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh garlic

4 medium ears (2 cups) fresh corn,  husks removed, cleaned, kernels cut off cobs

1 small (1 1/4 cups) zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 small (1 1/4 cups) yellow summer squash, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 cup grape tomatoes  

1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, oregano, thyme, etc.)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground or coarse ground pepper

  1. STEP 1Melt butter in 12-inch skillet until sizzling; add onion, green onions and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat 3-4 minutes or until tender.
  2. STEP 2Add corn, zucchini and squash; continue cooking, stirring frequently, 8-10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  3. STEP 3Add tomatoes; continue cooking 2 minutes. Add herbs, salt and pepper; stir.
  4. STEP 4Serve hot or at room temperature