September 30th, 2010, by Lisa
September 27th, 2010, by Erin
(Liedeke helps out part-time. Last year, she helped on the farm, this year, she’s helping at a farmers’ market)
Background: As a wee child, I spent my time being home-schooled by my parents, attending home-school co-ops, and playing with my three sisters. That lasted for a few glorious years (up through 9th grade), when I went to a charter school in West Chester. I spent the last two years of high school at Octorara, and am now at Delaware Technical & Community College.
Why are you working at North Star Orchard? Mainly because I need a job while I am in college. That being said, I started working at the farm because I enjoy being and working outside. As of now, I am only working at markets, which is completely different work than at the farm, although no less enjoyable. Markets are fun because of the interaction with customers. Everyone is so relaxed and happy that they are getting delicious fruit. I look forward to market days because of the interactions with customers!
What do you want to do when you grow up? That’s a good question! I know that I love learning about science, and why the world works the way that it does. So, I’m aiming to get a degree in Quantitative Biology at the University of Delaware. I’ll see what opportunities arise after that, and figure it out as I go!
Least favorite farm job: Vacuuming harlequin beetles. Vacuuming beetles may sound like fun at first, but after a few hours of searching under Brussels sprout leaves for signs of insects, it gets pretty old.
Favorite farm job: Picking sugar snap peas. Also, at market stocking plums in the morning.
Favorite vegetable/ fruit: Tomatoes and White Lady peaches.
Favorite flavor of ice cream: Mint Chocolate Chip
September 19th, 2010, by Erin
There’s a word farmers use to describe the more unusual, rarefied varieties we get a kick out of growing: esoteric. The assumption is that such varieties are appreciated only by other plant geeks and hard core foodies (a word which has an unfortunately negative connotation in my mind – what’s wrong with caring about your food?). The cultivation of such esoteric varieties implies an impractical search for flavor, for the forbidden fruit, the holy grail of the garden.
I’ve always liked the word ‘esoteric,’ and could easily picture what it meant, in farming terms, but I wasn’t quite clear on its precise definition. So I looked it up:
Esoteric adj. a) intended for or understood by only a chosen few, as an inner group of disciples or initiates (said of ideas, literature, etc.) b) beyond the understanding or knowledge of most people; abstruse
(abstruse?!?… “abstruse adj. hard to understand; deep; recondite”… recondite?!?… “recondite adj. Beyond the grasp of the ordinary mind or understanding; profound; abstruse”)
This definition isn’t quite what I was expecting, but it leaves me with the dissatisfaction I was predicting it would. I say it’s not fair that the pursuit of really good flavor is limited to the chosen few. Shouldn’t we all enjoy our food? There is the conundrum that something cool inevitably loses its cachet once it’s gone mainstream, but I think that’s where the local food movement can step in. If small farms were well-supported enough so that the farmers had a bit more breathing room (with their time and finances) and could play a little, they could discover and cultivate all the unusual things that were well-suited to their microclimate. And differences in climate and ecosystem as well as appropriate scale would set natural limits to the spread of certain varieties and foods. So each farmers’ market, CSA, or local food store would have its own unique varieties (say, didn’t that used to be the case, once upon a time, but not so long ago?) We can all be in the inner circle – in our own foodshed.
This sounds like a great scenario to me. It’s a goal of many farmers I know (a few of us at North Star included) to grow things they truly enjoy growing (and eating!). There is, however, often a sort of tug of war between productivity and livelihood on the one hand and passion and creativity on the other. We can all relate to this, right? The need to make a living often leads us to do things that we don’t love to do, even if we’re not compromising our morals by doing them. Planting anything is a gamble, and the first rule of intelligent farming is to have a ready market for what you’re planting. Whether or not those new oddball crops will sell is anybody’s guess. The fruit CSA ameliorates this situation a bit, by providing an infrastructure in which we (the farmers) can grow unusual varieties and have a ready market for them, and you (the consumers) can try new and amazing things without going on a wild goose chase to find them. Just by signing up, suddenly, you’re in that inner circle, and the esoteric is becoming a bit more recognizable.
First-timers walking up to our market stand or checking out the list of varieties that North Star grows won’t see many familiar faces. No Red Delicious, no McIntosh, no Granny Smith…. I think there’s one Fuji tree out there somewhere, and a number of HoneyCrisps for the enthusiasts. But Hudson’s Golden Gem? Esopus Spitzenburg? Adams Pearmain? A season or two, and these are old friends. And you CSA members get first crack, because the small amounts of the unusual varieties go right into the fruit shares.
“But what’s with the wacky names?” you might ask. Many are heirloom varieties, others are new varieties bred for disease resistance, some are North Star originals, some just needed naming – they might be a “numbered variety” (still being tested and not yet or not ever named and released for commercial distribution) or they might be a “mystery variety” that was shipped incorrectly by the nursery. Some of these varieties received the death sentence of “commercially unviable.” But viability looks a little different when you’re growing on only 15 acres, handling fruit by hand, and sending apples to market days after harvest. It also helps to have informed customers who appreciate a variety of flavors throughout the season. It might be humanly impossible to grow all of the hundreds of varieties possible in our southeastern Pennsylvania region, but with the inner circle on board, we can certainly try!
September 13th, 2010, by Erin
Could someone please tell me where the expression “easy as pie” came from? Pies are not easy. Like all skilled tasks, pie baking takes practice and repetition, usually a mentor of some sort, and a magic touch doesn’t hurt either. We’re talking about a very temperamental process that can be thwarted by humidity.
A life goal of mine is to make a good pie. Consistently. I’m getting there, but usually people of my generation are impressed with a pie of any caliber, so long as it’s made from scratch. Bumbling along on this assumption, I made a peach pie last season to take to a Backyard Fruit Growers’ meeting and potluck. Upon arriving, I discovered that there was some stiff competition in the pie department. I also learned a thing or two about the demographics of your average Backyard Fruit Growers attendee. Let’s just say there were some ladies present who had many long decades of pie-baking experience on me. They’d presumably had a lifetime of access to fruit fresh from their very own back yard, and they knew what to do with it. Humbled, I returned to my cookbooks and began my study of pie crust anew.
Now that fall is in the air, it’s time to bake. If you’ve got a solid pie crust up your sleeve, now’s the time to flaunt it. If not, don’t despair. There’s a whole world of baked goods out there waiting to be explored, and anything that involves fruit, a bit of sugar and butter, and arrives warm out of the oven will be more than appreciated. In fact, all those other baked fruit creations in the cobbler family are just as authentic to the heritage of our mid-Atlantic region. Pie, whether of the fruit, vegetable, or meat variety, is a solidly European creation, predating the cobbler by a few hundred years. It was when pie reached the far side of the Atlantic Ocean that it underwent transformation. According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, “without the resources of brick ovens… colonial cooks often made cobblers – also called slumps or grunts – and their cousins, pandowdies, in pots over an open fire. In these types of pies, a filling made of fruit, meat or vegetable goes into a pot first; then a skin of dough is placed over the filling, followed by the pot’s lid. As cobblers cook, the filling stews and creates its own sauce and gravy, while the pastry puffs up and dries.”
It also seems that pies and their kinfolk, before the late 19th century, were served with all meals and at all times of day. I point proudly to tales of pie breakfasts in my own family history and take this as an invitation to shed any last shred of guilt about eating peach cobbler for breakfast. I invite you to do the same.
So, here’s an incomplete inventory of all the things you might do with fruit, flour, sugar and butter. (I’ll leave the gluten-free, vegan, or any other finagling up to you.) I’ve included a sample recipe for each, some of which, for fun, are quite old. Luckily, while recipes and techniques may fade from style, the ingredients remain the same, so revive away…
From The Joy of Cooking: “Nobody remembers who Betty was, but a brown betty is both layered and topped with sweet buttered crumbs. The crumbs should be dry, so that they will absorb the juices in the middle and bottom layers and remain crunchy on the top. (For homemade breadcrumbs, dry sliced bread in a 225°F oven until firm to the touch and crisp, about 1 hour. Let cool, then break up the dried bread with your hands or chop with a knife into about 1-inch square pieces. Crush with a rolling pin to produce a fine meal or process in a food processor.)”
Apple Brown Betty
From The Joy of Cooking: “A buckle is another type of cake with fruit folded into the batter before baking and a generous crumbly streusel topping. The cake buckles, or crumples, in spots from the weight of the topping before the batter sets, creating pockets of caramelized sugar and butter.”
From In The Sweet Kitchen: “Easy, fresh, light, very country, but also very elegant, clafouti is a traditional rustic Provençal dessert somewhere between a baked custard, a light pancake and a cakey soufflé. Traditionally made with cherries, clafouti is also wonderful made with apricots, berries, fresh figs, pears or even peaches or apricots…”
Black Plum Clafoutis
From The Joy of Cooking: “Cobblers are simply deep-dish single-crusted fruit pies; the crust is usually on the top, though occasionally it is on the bottom. Cobblers used to be made with pie dough, but a sweet, rich biscuit dough is more common today. For a tender crust, do not overmix the dough; stir in the liquid quickly and knead gently a few times to form the dough.”
Crisps, Crunches, & Crumbles
From The Joy of Cooking: “These simple and popular desserts consist of sweetened fruit – usually lightly thickened to produce syrupy juices – baked with crumbly toppings of flour, butter, and sugar and sometimes oats, cookie or cake crumbs, nuts, and spices. For a crisp, the flour, butter, and sugar are mixed together like pie dough before the liquid is added, and the mixture scattered over the top like a streusel or crumb topping. An approximate ratio of three parts fruit to one part topping makes a perfect crisp. A crunch is fruit sandwiched between two layers of sweetened, buttered crumbs; it is served cut into squares, like bar cookies, but is a bit more fragile. Keep the butter cold for crisps and crunches and handle lightly to assure that the toppings will be both crisp and tender… Crumble is the British name for a crisp or crunch with oatmeal in the topping.”
Harvest Pear Crisp with Candied Ginger
From The Joy of Cooking: “Any pie dough, puff pastry, or biscuit dough can be used to make fruit dumplings or turnovers. Dumplings are formed by gathering the edges of the dough up around the filling like a purse or pouch; the resulting packets may be baked or boiled. (The texture of baked pastry contrasts particularly nicely with the filling.) Turnovers are made by folding the dough over the filling and can be formed in any size from miniature to large. The dough can be made well ahead and kept chilled until ready to use. These little ‘pies’ are best eaten the day they are baked.”
From The Penguin Companion to Food: “… a flat, round cake; the word being derived from galet, a pebble weatherworn to the shape that is perfect for skipping…”
From The Joy of Cooking: “A galette – or in Italian, a crostata – consists of a flat crust of pastry or bread dough covered with sugar, pastry cream, or a thin layer of fruit… They are, in effect, dessert pizzas. Since galettes are baked on a flat sheet rather than in a pie or tart mold, they may be made in any shape that appeals to you. If the filling is juicy, bring the edge of the crust over the filling to catch drips; otherwise, simply double up the crust edge, then crimp or flute if you wish.”
Grunts & Slumps
From The Joy of Cooking: “Grunts and slumps, both descended from puddings cooked in pots over the fire, are steamed fruit topped with dumplings. Grunts are steamed in a mold inside a kettle full of water and inverted when served; the result is something like a warm fruit shortcake. Slumps are cooked in a covered pan and served dumpling side up in bowls – more like a hot, sweet soup or stew under a dumpling… Grunts are best steamed in a soufflé dish, but pudding molds or heatproof bowls work as well; metal molds are not recommended, as they may overcook the fruit and impart a metallic taste. Cook slumps in stainless-steel, enamel cast-iron, or glass saucepans, but make sure the vessel has a tight-fitting lid to contain the steam. If the pan is uncovered before the dumplings are done, they will collapse into toughness.”
From The Penguin Companion to Food: “An old-fashioned deep-dish New England fruit dessert related to cobbler, grunt, and slump. Sliced or cut apples or other fruits are tossed with spices and butter, sweetened with molasses, maple syrup, or brown sugar, topped with a biscuit-like dough, and baked. Partway through the baking time, the crust is broken up and pressed down into the fruit so it can absorb the juices. This technique is called ‘dowdying’. After the crust is baked, it becomes crispy. Pandowdies are served warm with heavy cream, hard sauce, or a cream sauce flavoured with nutmeg.”
And if that isn’t enough to inspire you, take heed:
“It is utterly insufficient (to eat pie only twice a week), as anyone who knows the secret of our strength as a nation and the foundation of our industrial supremacy must admit. Pie is the American synonym of prosperity, and its varying contents the calendar of the changing seasons. Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can ever be permanently vanquished.”
from The New York Times, 1902
(In response to an Englishman’s suggestion that Americans should reduce their daily pie eating to two days per week.)
Regan Daley, In the Sweet Kitchen
Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food
Kim O’Donnel, “American as Cobbler,” (A Mighty Appetite: August 11, 2006), The Washington Post
Irma S. Rombauer et al., The All New All Purpose Joy of Cooking
Linda Stradley, What’s Cooking America.
September 11th, 2010, by Lisa
When I gave one good friend the news that I was going to be working at an orchard, he laughed at me. Not to disparage my choice of career in agriculture, but because I’m short. I told him: that’s what ladders are for! And it’s true – there’s nothing I can’t reach with the use of a ladder or the Brownie (the hydraulic lift built for orchard use). Sometimes, I think it’s even helpful to be small – I can squeeze between crowded branches or the the wires in the trellis system, climb under limbs and find all of the lowest fruit. But, yes, usually, it would be to my advantage to have several more inches to work with or the coveted long fingers and wide handspan of the natural-born apple picker.
Today I felt especially diminutive in the orchard. To be honest, I felt like I was in a cartoon – a small character in a world of magical, supersized fruit. I was picking the Royalty apples in the young orchard. The advice I got before I headed out to pick: Use two hands for the big ones! The Royalty apples are freakishly large, some weighing in right around 2 lbs. They’re more than a meal; they’re an entire pie. Royalty is a large apple to begin with, but the trees in the first few years of production give especially large fruit. Last year, we dubbed them “SuperRoys” and separated out the largest to appeal to customers who go for that sort of thing.
Notwithstanding my 5’3″ reach, even the Royalty trees – topping out as some of the tallest apples after three seasons in the ground – can be mostly harvested from the ground. This might defy your image of an apple orchard, but commercial apple trees these days tend to be shrinking. The trend toward dwarfing rootstock means that apple trees might top out at 10 or even 6 feet. Every grafted apple tree has two components: the rootstock and the scion. The rootstock controls the size of the tree (as well as many other qualities), and the scion contributes the variety (eg Royalty, Gold Rush, etc.). A smaller tree means that it’s easier to reach (less ladder work), but also, as with most agricultural research of late, the development of these dwarfing rootstocks is an attempt to increase productivity. To produce apples, you need sunlight. The most sunlight reaches the outside edges of the tree, and there’s less and less light as you travel toward the inside of the tree. This shaded interior is what one of my teachers fondly referred to as the “zone of firewood production” (as opposed to fruit production). Smaller trees have less “inside,” with more outer edge relative to interior than larger trees, thus they can produce more apples per acre. (This is an oversimplification of some pretty complex interactions, but you get the general idea.)
At North Star, the youngest orchard is at the home farm near Cochranville. The apple trees are noticeably more dwarfed than the apple trees at the two other leased properties the farm grows trees on; in fact, their size and resultant weaker root system means that they require a trellis to withstand the strongest winds. Most of these trees are on “Bud 9″ rootstock, which means that they’re 30% the size of a standard tree and will offer a crop only two to three years after being in the ground. (Officially, that’s Budagovsky 9 in the tradition of naming rootstocks after the research station where they originated, and then shortening them to a confusion of M’s, MM’s, Bud’s, and random numbers.) At North Star, the apple trees in this orchard are in their third year and producing a surprisingly large crop for such young trees. At maturity, we’ll keep them at about 12 feet tall and continue to see a lot of apples in the first tier of branches that’s easily reached from the ground.
Maybe the orchard is a cartoon world after all – shrinking trees, gigantic apples… An orchard is not a wild place; it’s very much shaped by the human touch. From breeding to grafting to pruning, the trees themselves are human (co)creations. The orchard at large is also engineered, the tree spacing carefully considered for optimum production, the rows and alleyways designed around the tractor the way Los Angeles was designed around the automobile. It’s a planned endeavor every step of the way, a conversation with Mother Nature, but one where she always gets the last word.
(Rootstock info from The Apple Grower by Michael Phillips)
September 6th, 2010, by Erin
(Lisa is co-owner of North Star Orchard)
I caught the farming ‘bug’ while attending Penn State and working on the student farm one summer. Although I was in college for education (I wanted to teach high school chemistry), I found working on the student farm to be very challenging and rewarding work. As I was dating (and soon to be married to) a guy whose plan was to farm, the decision to switch majors was a fairly easy one. I’ve enjoyed the best of both farming and teaching careers, as I’ve homeschooled our son Jay straight through from K to 12. (Although I never did teach him high school chemistry!)
Why are you working at North Star Orchard?:While this answer is fairly obvious (because I own the business), I will say this: when Ike and I started North Star Orchard in 1992, we had absolutely NO idea what we were in for! Challenges like extreme weather, taking on debt, managing an ever-increasing pool of employees, working 12 to 15-hour days during harvest time, and figuring out our goals/marketing plan have been both tough and sometimes awesome to figure out. Getting to know so many great people, including the aforementioned employees as well as our CSA members and farmers’ market customers has been a joy – and a most excellent reward for all of our hard work and worry!
What do you want to do when you grow up?: I think I’ve mostly hit this one already. Some things I’d like to do in the future: find more time to do artwork and writing. At least most winters I can squeeze a bit of each in! I’d also like to do some on-farm educational programs in the future, as well as add a few chickens and a pig or two to the farm.
Favorite farm job (so far!): Thinning Asian pears. I get to listen to a lot of great audiobooks when I’m in midst of thinning mode. This year, I went through most of Charles Dickens’ books. Previous years were focused on history, the sciences, philosophy, etc.
Least favorite farm job: Thinning Asian pears! Ok, that job is a love-hate relationship. The task is completely daunting, as there’s so much to do. For the first half of thinning season, I get stressed that we’ll never get done on time. During the second half of thinning season, I get stressed that we’re not doing a good-enough job. Ugh!
Favorite vegetable/fruit: Veggies: Swiss Chard and beets. Fruit: just about any plums, plus Golden Russet and Gold Rush apples
Favorite ice cream: Espresso Chip (although I’ll take anything that I can add chocolate syrup to!)
September 4th, 2010, by Lisa
If you were wondering how the North Star crew spent their Labor Day, they were, well, laboring. Farmers don’t get to commemorate all the legal holidays. The peaches and the pears don’t stop; neither do we.
Although, in the interest of full disclosure here, I was not laboring on Labor Day. One of my closest friends decided to get married smack dab in the middle of Hosui harvest, so I snuck away for a few days. It felt strange to leave – farmers don’t get “summer vacation.” Farming (at least full-time on a small-scale diversified farm) is more than a job – it’s a lifestyle. Instead of finding happiness in a week on the beach, you had better be content with your daily routine. Farm jobs are unique in other ways as well. In today’s world, what other job opportunity would you find that advertises to hire a couple or that provides you with your housing and most of your food? Where your work week might fluctuate from 70 hours one month to zero in another?
What is Labor Day after all? I know it’s supposed to mark the end of summer, but the true start to fall isn’t for another two and a half weeks. In any case, the historic Labor Day seems like much more of a morale booster, created by politicians and management, than a holiday of and by the workers, like May Day. Along those lines, I certainly don’t mean to begrudge anyone their eight hour work day or any other hard-won benefits, but I would like to point out that farm work is a special case and has never really enjoyed the conditions won by the other professions. (For example, from the U.S. Department of Labor: “Certain small farms are exempt from the minimum wage and overtime requirements of the FLSA. Workers engaged in agricultural employment (as defined by the FLSA) are exempt from the overtime requirements.”) And if you own and operate a small farm, any hourly wage or time requirements are out the window. Making a living without supplemental income is not easy. According to FarmAid: “In 2008, the average household income for farmers generated by their farming businesses alone is projected at $5,900, which is down more than 30 percent from 2007 estimates and accounts for less than 10 percent of total income projections for family farmers.”
I realize that I’m lucky in the agricultural world – I feel well-compensated for my work and “even though” I have a college degree, most of the people that I know think that it’s cool that I work on a farm. They’re fascinated by learning about what sort of work I actually do (What do you do all winter? Do you drive a tractor? What time do you get up in the morning?). I benefit from the last few decades in which certain farmers have worked hard to rebuild relationships with their customers and to raise awareness about agricultural issues.
But I know that for the vast majority of people laboring on farms in this country, there is not quite the same cachet attached to their work. Farmers have long struggled with negative stereotypes and farm workers with mistreatment. As a nation, we’re out of touch with the reality of farm work, because so few of us do it. According to the EPA, less than 1% of the population claims farming as an occupation. We’ve forgotten things that our grandparents likely understood: what it’s like to work on a farm and how much skill and determination it takes. Perhaps more of us are at least familiar with a farm or two than was the case a decade ago. CSA memberships and farm tours are much more common now, so that consumers have more opportunity to step foot on a farm. Books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma have taught us a lot about our food system. But this still doesn’t mean that we’re in touch with the reality of farm labor for the majority of farm workers in this country. And how can we appreciate or value something that we know nothing about?
I was privileged a few years ago to spend one morning working alongside (well, mostly lagging along behind) a crew of strawberry pickers in central California. My group (a bunch of mostly college graduates studying organic farming) was warned that we were not to talk to the guys – our presence alone would already be slowing them down. A humbling thing to hear when you’re aspiring to be a “real” farmer worth your salt. Well, it certainly didn’t seem like we slowed them down, because they lapped us in no time, all the while teasing us in Spanish. Meanwhile, we did the best we could, at least while preoccupied with commiserating about how much our backs hurt us only a half hour in. Faster than you could imagine, the entire field was picked, and everyone was piling into their cars to drive to the next field, about twenty miles away. The whole experience was humbling; these guys (and yes, they were all guys) had skills.
Other than this one morning, my knowledge of the reality for most farm laborers in this country is next to nil. A reality that might include being paid piecework, lacking health insurance while performing one of the more dangerous jobs, and never having any contact with the people who eat the food you grow. Issues of farm labor are something that doesn’t get talked about as much as environmental sustainability or the organic vs. local debate. So, start by thinking of us working away at North Star (and, for the most part, enjoying ourselves) while you’re having your barbecue – you’ve seen our smiling faces on the website, so that shouldn’t be too hard. But then, just maybe, try to envision all those farm workers out there whose faces you’re not seeing.
September 3rd, 2010, by Lisa
You might think by the title of this essay that you know what I’m going to talk about. Here we are, after all, a small farm being directly (and positively) impacted by the ‘Local Foods Movement’. But our journey into the Local Foods Movement (LFM) might be a little bit surprising.
My journey into the LFM didn’t begin with a childhood background filled with sandals and hippy-trippy flower power (although there was a little bit of that, surely). Nor, surprisingly enough, did it begin with the start of our farm back in 1992, nearly 20 years ago now.
I am actually loathe to tell you about some of my very non-local-foods past. I do this as a means of encouragement….if I could do it, so can you! Back when I was in college (and remember, I was a cash-poor college student, after all), my lunch of choice for about – dare I admit it? – two years was a can of Coke, a package of those Lance brand wheat and cheese crackers, and a Tastycake brand chocolate chip cookie bar (or, better yet, the fudge bar!). I kid you not; that’s what I ate for almost every weekday lunch. Eeuuwww!
Not that my breakfasts or dinners were much better, really. I remember eating ‘Life’ cereal daily for years, and dinner could be spaghetti (not too bad, perhaps) or – wait for it – Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli (yep – that delectable stuff from a can). But hey, if I can not only survive, but make so much progress, so can anyone, right? Happily, now I eat greens nearly daily, plus lots of other veggies, fruit all the time, my meat has to be sustainably- and humanely-raised, and I do my darndest to avoid high fructose corn syrup in anything. So, I do think I’ve made some major progress on the food front!
Back in those processed food-eating days, Ike and I were newly married and starting our senior year of college. Perhaps my routine diet was crap, but I did like vegetables and fruits when I had them. The only ‘good stuff’ Ike would eat, on the other hand, were carrots, sweet corn, potatoes, lettuce, and beer (beer counts as a grain, does it not? Ok, forget it). And although the ‘adults’ in our world always stressed the importance of eating wisely, we were still in the 20 year-old “We’re free and out on our own, and we’re going to eat whatever WE feel like eating!” phase of quasi-adulthood.
So, there we went getting into growing fruits and vegetables both during and right after college. An oxymoron, perhaps? Nonsensical maybe? Easily explained, really. Ike had always grown produce while he was growing up, loved doing it, and wanted to do it for a living. Nevermind that he didn’t like actually EATING much of anything he grew. The fruit, yes – but veggies? Icky-poo.
For my part, I hated helping with the family garden growing up, although I loved eating the results (remember, they say opposites attract) – so I could never see myself wanting to work in a garden for a living. But, by my junior year of college, I was starting to develop a mortal fear of going into the workforce. Training in chemistry and secondary education, as I was, the notion of graduating and being ‘stuck’ in a building day in and day out for the REST OF MY LIFE was terrifying. Working on the student farm for two summers opened my eyes to a different opportunity, and I went for it.
One thing and another led us to starting our own farm. But it wasn’t because we were into local or sustainably-grown or organic or anything. It was because HE liked growing, and I liked being outdoors to work (except in winter, that is, when I was and still am a complete weather-weenie). I am happy to say that we had, at least, shed some of our evil ways in regards to poor food choices by that point. Now there were (hardly ever) any cans of Chef Boyardee in the house, and when there were, they were HIS – honestly!
Fast-forward a couple years and I stopped eating all meat, because the notion of unnecessary hormones and antibiotics in my meat grossed me out. Over time, more of the processed foods went, too. I’ll happily note here that our son has never eaten ANY Chef Boyardee (or Twinkies). And veggies for Ike? It was still a long, slow struggle over this period.
And then, soon enough, the LFM was upon us. Of course, we were wrapped up within it from the start, as we sell all of our fruits and veggies to folks at farmers’ markets and through the CSA. But we saw mighty changes, both in the minds of customers and in ours, as things continued to change.
GMOs, CAFOs, water and fuel shortages, food-borne illnesses, etc. All of those have had impacts, as have many outspoken people who have reached the public consciusness, such as Michael Pollan (‘Omnivore’s Dilemma’), Barbara Kingsolver (‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’), and even Michelle Obama (backyard gardening). The web brought us localharvest.org, consumer demand brought new farms into existence, demand for CSAs and producer-only markets increased almost exponentially. There were amazing things to think about, talk about, do about.
I’m now eating meat again, but only from people I know, and only pork and chicken, as I feel they are more in keeping with a sustainable future (they eat scraps to give us food, whereas cattle eat food (or potential food) to give us food). And my veggie quotient is through the roof. Ike, who took up cooking several years ago and is mighty good at it, is eating all kinds of veggies (even greens like Swiss Chard and arugula!) – pretty much everything we grow, really. He may never be able to choke down a plain raw tomato or a serving of peas, but that’s ok, as I’m likely to never enjoy radishes. But, who’s counting?
The point is, we’ve managed to go from just about as bad of a diet as one can have to the opposite – and it wasn’t that hard! The trick is to keep trying things…even those you’re not familiar with. Growing up, my family NEVER made greens or beets. Since I discovered how yummy they are some years ago, I’ve been making up for lost time. It’s all a matter of trying things in different ways – and thank goodness for the internet for offering a seemingly never-ending supply of recipes!
You’ve gotten into the Local Foods Movement too, one way or another. And for most of you, it has likely made for a fantastic change in your own food habits, hasn’t it? Admit it…there’s probably crap food in your background that you are glad is now gone.
We can hope that more and more people hop on board. Great food and good health await!
September 1st, 2010, by Lisa
What kind of ‘stuff’ do you have? I’m not talking ‘just any old stuff’, nor the ‘stuff’ that’s overflowing from you closet or attic. I’m talking about the ‘stuff’ you have which may have started out as an interest or small personal collection, but quickly grew as others helped enlarge your collection by giving you more similar ‘stuff’.
For example, I know a couple of different people who decided to get some ‘pet’ chickens. Before they could say ‘cluck’, their friends and extended family members started giving them chicken bath towels, chicken pot holders, and chicken soap dispensers, just to name a few.
Likewise, I know other people who have a similar collection of ‘stuff’ related to cows, cats, and golf. For all of these folks, the ‘stuff’ came along with some interest or fascination with a particular item or hobby. My father has a large collection of Beatles memorabilia (which recently happily become mine as he was downsizing), which he largely accumulated on his own, but was certainly added to by others. Sometimes, getting more of this ‘stuff’ is just wonderful, and the people who want to give you a gift are relieved to be able to give you something that they know you will like.
There are other people (doctors, teachers, farmers, etc.) who often get ‘stuff’ related to their occupation. Generally speaking, this ‘stuff’ may be cute, but not necessarily wanted. Just because you work with something all day doesn’t mean you want to look at it all evening and weekend. Some folks definitely do not want job-related ‘stuff’, such as your friend the proctologist or the friendly neighborhood coroner. And, come to think of it, I’m sure Paul McCartney wouldn’t be too keen on filling his house with Beatles ‘stuff’, either.
I remember back over twenty years ago now, putting a moratorium on ‘apple stuff’. As soon as Ike and I were married, out of college, and working for an orchard, we started getting ‘apple stuff’ from everybody. We quickly realized that we’d get appled-out if we didn’t say something. It’s one thing to grow and eat apples…it’s another thing to see them everywhere in your house and on your clothes! So, we put the word out: “no more apple stuff”, and generally people listened.
Several years later, as we started our own orchard business, some ‘apple stuff’ started showing up again. Not too much, but a bit. Have you ever noticed that the ‘apple stuff’ tends to have the traditional red (ie “Red Delicious”) style apple motif? Yuck! We don’t even grow those darned things, so I definitely didn’t want them all over inside the house. Evidently, there’s not a big market for ‘apple stuff’ with apples of other colors (there also does not seem to be any ‘Asian pear stuff’ available) So, we politely put the word out again, and the ‘stuff’ stopped coming. Of course, that put folks in a bit of a bind as to what to get us for gifts. Thankfully, it didn’t transmute into us receiving ‘tractor stuff’ or ‘bee stuff’, which it easily could have.
We could feel a sense of relief from those well-meaning folks however, when we suddenly started getting ‘grape stuff’, as the wine grape operation we managed got up and running. We squashed (so to speak) that trend fairly quickly too.
So then our friends and family were really stumped. What to get Ike and Lisa for Christmas/Birthday? Sometimes, I’d put the call out for cash – like the year of the tractor seat. We had absolutely no money at the time, what with a new baby using it all up. So I asked folks to contribute money towards a new tractor seat for Ike, so his butt wouldn’t get numbed with pain sitting for long periods of time on the old one. Other years, it was a headboard for our bed, or a keyboard to play. Lately, I haven’t put the call out for specific items, yet the ‘apple stuff’ has not returned – hurray!
My mom took a big leap of faith several years ago when she chose, as a 20thanniversary gift for Ike and me, a European-style pear sculpture. Now that, I must say, I do actually like, and I’m happy to display it in our home. It’s different, it’s lovely, and it’s not a Red Delicious apple. It’s also really appropriate. For 20 years, Ike and I had been a couple growing fruit in one way or another…so it’s a nice way to commemorate that. It’s also the last European-style pear sculpture (or hand towel or bar soap or sweatshirt or carpet) that we need in our house, just in case you were wondering.
As to ‘Beatles stuff’, however, bring it on! ‘Star Trek stuff’ would be cool too. Or ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Monty Python’ or – oh, maybe never mind that all anyway, or I may regret it.
(Submitted by CSA Member Beth M.)
They have captured the sun of high summer,
All reds and golds and sticky warmth.
And their fragrance stirs a blood memory
Of things I’ve never learned but always knew.
The knowledge of my mother, and her mother,
And generations before,
Who had to save the sun of summer for winter’s stingy light.
As the sweet aroma fills the room, they come to me–
These woman who share my blood
And my need to hold back the dark.
I feel their presence — their hands guide mine,
I see my eyes in their eyes, feel their hearts in my chest.
Their hands know these tasks and their touch is true and sure.
I abandon myself to the memory of this work that I was born knowing.
I am cradled in the arms of this unending line of women
As we work together to preserve the sun.
When the days shorten they will come again,
Because I have preserved their memory,
Along with these peaches,
To nourish myself in winter.