17. April 2014 · Comments Off on CSA: THE FRESHEST FOOD… · Categories: Farm Thoughts

It is the time for marketing our CSA. Marketing is tough these days. As the wider society begins to recognize the importance of healthy food, the options for purchasing it are multiplying. We find ourselves asking, if people can find can naturally grown products in the super market, why will they want to accept “potluck” of the locally available produce we provide?

Our answer is freshness. The only way to beat the freshness provided by the CSA model is to pick it yourself.

Food you buy off a shelf may have traveled thousands of miles and sat in a warehouse or on the shelf for who knows how long. Even local food purchased at a market or farm stand must stand on a shelf until you buy it, often under less than ideal storage conditions. The key to CSA is that you’ve already purchased the food when it is harvested from the field. By committing to buy in advance the need to store until a purchaser is found is eliminated.

Freshness matters. The fresher the produce, the better the flavor, texture and aroma will be. For many vegetables, the freshest food is also the most nutritious. Some have argued that frozen foods are more nutritious than fresh produce, because the nutrients are locked in when the food is frozen. That analysis only flies if the fresh food is sitting in a warehouse or store shelf for days before you eat it. CSA food can go from the field to your table the same day.

And finally, because CSA farmers can get produce to the consumer fresher than anyone else, we can offer varieties of vegetables that are chosen for their flavor rather than their shelf life.

While the “potluck – take what we give you,” model isn’t for everyone, some find it to be an adventure that can transform their eating habits toward a healthier lifestyle. If the model does work for you, the rewards of eating the freshest food money can buy are abundant.

For more information visit huntersgreens.com

29. March 2014 · Comments Off on BEHOLD THE IDES OF MARCH · Categories: Farm Thoughts

The soothsayer’s warning for Julius Ceaser turned out to be about a specific peril, but I wonder if his “beware” might be considered more generally.

The ides are just a week before the vernal equinox (was this true in Roman days?). Diane’s Grandmother used to blame volatile weather on this moment in our annual revolution around the sun.

Jim finds the ides equally turbulent in his emotional and work life. A weather book he read a while back supports the notion that at our latitude, the arctic and the equatorial forces are fighting for control as our earth comes about in its revolution so that it’s northern pole begins its path into the light.

We used to call it the time of twirling, but as our minds and bodies build memory of the changes of the annual cycle for farmers we recognize what is happening. There is a rhythm of rest and energy that ebbs and flows with the intensity and duration of light and warmth.

As the light fades in October, and the plants shut down their growth, we too slow in our movements, enjoying an extra half hour in bed, allowing ourselves to stop our efforts in the darkening cold of the afternoon.

The long list of winter “catch up” chores is ticked off very slowly as the days begin to lengthen in February. Guilt is the first motivator, as we wonder if age is catching up with us, and we will never summon the energy of spring days past. By June we will be a well oiled machine, but now lethargy and creativity whipsaw us with the undulating highs and lows, warm fronts and cold fronts.

Along comes a warm week in March and the tendons begin to loosen. We recognize that a rare opportunity could be lost. Diane, Chief Aesthetics Officer asks if Jim has sharpened the mower blades yet. Jim, the Chief Utility Officer, asks if Diane can find a moment from mowing to set out the Walla Walla starts in the bed Jim has shaped in the mud. He has waited as long as he can for the drying sun, but the forecast is for the return of the seemingly incessant rain, and we can wait no longer.

And it comes, and our souls are plunged back into the darkness. The dog has contracted giardia, our favorite cat has a bladder infection, refusing to yield to antibiotics. Diane calls last year’s subscribers, a dear and generous member drowns in our produce as professional pressures steal time and energy.

Putin’s artillery masses on the Ukrainian border, the middle class still doesn’t feel the recovery coming, Diane returns to her spring time refrain that subscriptions will never come.

Will summer ever come? Will we ever feel young again? Is history just a larger light/dark revolutionary cycle? Behold the ides of March!

21. March 2014 · Comments Off on Diane’s Tractor Fetish · Categories: Farm Thoughts

DIANE’S TRACTOR FETISH

We have often heard farm women accuse their farm men of enjoying playing with their “toys”, i.e. their tractors. But as with many other things, the relationships between Diane, Jim and our tractors is a bit more complex. In this story, we’ll focus on how Diane convinced Jim to make our most recent and “radically conventional” four wheeled purchase.

But let’s go back to the beginning and start with Jim’s philosophy regarding tractors. As Jim studied agriculture as an outsider, the environmentally radical writers he read convinced him that on a small sustainable farm, a tractor was an unnecessary luxury. In fact one of the causes he seized upon for the 1980’s farm crisis (his master’s thesis topic) was that young “progressive” minded farmers ground themselves into debt purchasing the largest and fanciest farm equipment. Some called it “new paint disease.”

So, in 1996 when Diane opened her home and pocket book and invited Jim to explore agriculture from an inside perspective, he had no plans to spend any of her dowry on a tractor. He never had to argue with Diane about it, because the land we ended up purchasing came with a 1958 Ford NAA tractor, known as the Jubilee model.

Jim’s dream machine had always been a walk behind rear tined rototiller, which appealed to his “small is beautiful” sensibilities, and evoked the Oriental wisdom of “the best fertilizer is the farmer’s footsteps.” Over the years he has learned that the tractor and walk behind each have their place. Diane pointed out that the tiller propagates perennial weeds into thousands of little starts by chopping them into tiny bits. Meanwhile neighbor Bev Adams introduced Jim to the spring tooth harrow that pulls perennials like thistle, dock and Johnson grass out without chopping them up.

It is when breakdowns occur that Diane’s tractor fetish comes to the fore. One spring the Ford’s engine seized up. Jim thought he could carry on with the tiller, but Diane pointed out that he had no way to mow the fields. Jim’s solution was a walk behind field mower, but about the same time Diane espied a 1952 Farmall Super M, which she said had, “nice lines.” Apparently she has a good eye, because the Farmall’s engine had recently been rebuilt and this over-sized tippy tricycle wheel based machine has provided us with years of trouble free service.

But last fall, another breakdown triggered Diane’s tractor lust. At the end of the season Jim blew the transmission on our rototiller. It had been leaking oil, and in the fatigue and rush to finish the fall farm tasks, Jim ignored it too long. Suddenly we heard a crunching sound, and the engine ground to a halt. Jim disengaged the tines and wheeled the tiller back to the barn. A cursory investigation showed the bottom of the gear housing full of little roller bearings. Jim parked the tiller in the corner and continued with other tasks, planning to dig in further during the winter months.

Diane immediately took a pessimistic view, certain that the tiller was totally ruined.  She pushed Jim to find out and began pestering him about what we were going to do for a tiller next year.  In late November she found her answer.  Our favorite estate sale brokers, A Estate Sales out of Rainier, advertised an estate sale including a John Deere tractor with tiller.  

Diane immediately called Dana at A Estate and started quizzing him about the tractor, Dana made a special arrangement for Jim to come and see the tractor. Jim is overly sensitive to human interaction, so immediately he began to feel committed to the purchase despite a number of misgivings, one being the probable price. He moaned enough that when they got there Diane began telling Dana why Jim wasn’t interested. But the tractor had a hydraulic loader bucket that piqued Jim’s interest, so he told Dana he’d like to fire it up, another slip down the slope to commitment.

By now Jim was emotionally feeling he had to buy the tractor, but his rational side recognized that basing a decision on such emotions would be silly. He decided to compare the cost of the tractor to his absolute fantasy machine, the Italian BCS walk behind tractor that supported multiple exchangeable attachments. It turned out that to get the BCS with enough attachments to add to what he already had, he’d spend almost as much, and not have the loader bucket. Reason shoved him a good way further down the slope.

The next morning Jim ran from the sale entrance and slapped a sold sign on the tractor. It was the largest non-real estate purchase we have ever made. Diane’s tractor lust had been satisfied once again.

Now Diane’s tractor fetish turns out to have nothing to do with driving the powerful machines, what she likes is to watch Jim drive them. So as the sun comes out and the soil dries, she looks forward to Jim mounting the growling beast and moving some dirt.

Meanwhile Jim frets about whether he has compromised his “Small is Beautiful” ideals. In his defense he argues that it is his first diesel engine, which is more efficient and might be adapted to burn bio-diesel. The lift bucket will help him manage his manure better, allowing him to turn the pile more often as food safety standards are demanding.

Jim has always moved manure in a wheelbarrow which has kept him fit, but perhaps its time to give the aging body a break. The larger tiller should save a lot of time that can be spent growing larger quantities of a greater variety of vegetables. So maybe it’s o.k.

Yes, Diane’s fed her fetish, while Jim is still pondering whether dropping such a big pile of green for a big green machine is really “green”.

p.s. Jim is proud to announce the he completed rebuilding the transmission of his walk behind tiller today.