Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In the Greenhouse-Status Report

This week we continue to seed lettuce and other things that need succession planting to keep a continual supply available. It is also time to transplant tomatoes!! The chiles are alive and well, basil is fragrant, lettuce is large and leafy.

The earliest tomatoes are large enough to go outdoors, unfortunately, is just isn't warm enough yet!

The next wave of tomatoes are just the right size to be potted up for their next stage of growth.

Basil looks and smells so good. There will be plenty before long, but for now it remains an early season delicacy. A number of basil plants have been seeded to add as a component to the spring CSA. Hopefully CSA members will receive a Tierra-grown basil plant in weeks to come.

Baby chile plants everywhere!

The first of the summer squash.

A beautiful Lewisia that Lee keeps around for color and inspiration, obtained from our comrade, Dan, of Flatland Flower Farm of West Sonoma County and vendor at the Ferry Plaza Market.

Friday, March 20, 2009

In the Field-Spring Transplanting

The first spring brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli) are nestled in the ground. The plants were brought out to the breezy field from their lush greenhouse environment. Wayne, Lee and myself proceeded to plant, exposing the seedlings to the more harsh conditions of the outdoors including wind, water needs, possible pests, etc... Utilizing the tractor to create furrows, the transplants are then placed in the ground by hand, immediately following the tines where timing and ease create an efficient and semi-large scale system of the project. My first exposure to this sort of operation, I am enlightened and delighted by the learning experience it offers to a striving young grower like myself. Immediately after completing the transplanting process, water became a priority, especially with the light spring winds drying out the soil.

To the right is an overview of the newest spring crop of brassicas placed next to the end of the cauliflower crop that was planted last fall and is still now being harvested for beautiful purple cauliflower sales.

Finally, thanks to Wayne for patiently taking the time to help me work in some initial tractor hours. Driving the tractor is not hard, but simply takes some time and experience to become accustomed to it's uses and capabilities.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Employee Feature: Natalia and the Chore of Cleaning Beans

Bean cleaning is not difficult, but it does take endurance. It can wear on your shoulders, your eyes, your mind, your behind-it depends on how you handle the time and what ergonomic position you chose to sort through beans for hours on end. Luckily, coincidentally, or due to some serendipity Tierra Vegetables stumbled upon the ideal figure to dependably and diligently keep the bean cleaning happening through the winter months. Supplies have never run short for market and diversity has been at it's peak all winter, big thanks to Natalia's willingness to work hard at this project...
This really was the perfect match and the perfect chore for Natalia. Just as the need for bean cleaning emerged in the early winter months, Natalia found herself on crutches following an achilles tendon injury that took place when she was out riding her bicycle with her daughter. Additionally, her regular work as tamale preparation assistant with our kitchen comrade Mateo Granados came to a seasonal hault along with winter market season. Even with this set of undesirable circumstances, she found herself faced with tons of work that required no use of her injured limbs.

In the future this work may become a mechanical job since cleaning equipment does exist. Tierra Vegetables is currently scheming the possibility of investing cooperatively with other other bean growing farms, like Eatwell out of Dixon, to make this sort of purchase affordable and sensible for the needs of all bean growers and the inevitable need to process them. For now though, a great thanks to Natalia for her reliability and ability to remove all those tiny undesirable pieces from all our beans this season.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

In the Field: Shaping beds and planting spring roots

This week amidst the usual scramble to get everything packed for market and keep the farm stand running smoothly, a bit of time was set aside for the second attempt at early spring seeding in the field. The first attempt was about a month ago and was unfortunately taken out by an unknown pest (perhaps slugs, perhaps earwigs, any ideas?).

This second time around the seeding focus was primarily on roots including beets and carrots to serve the earliest needs for the CSA and farm stand this spring and the never-ending demand for carrots in the city year-round.

Wayne even invested a few extra minutes of time into helping me to understand tractor operation-mechanics are still a bit mysterious to a grower like myself who might rather run around with hand tools all the time. It is proven and obvious that mechanics are necessary on a certain scale of agriculture to keep the operation sustainable. I believe there is a rational balance between doing things by hand and mechanically. Wayne proceeded to shape the recently tilled beds with precision in order to prepare them for the tiny seeds. A smooth and stable bed allows for consistent seeding and germination conditions and later cultivation and harvest convenience.

Next we attached the seeder to the tractor, seeding 3 rows at once with efficiency and consistency. As the seeds are sown, Lee and I follow along to ensure seeds do not run out, weeds to do catch in the furrows, parts do not fail on the seeder, to make decisions about what goes where, and to keep detailed records of the activities. From this point on the seeds are left to be watered and watched and hopefully not eaten by nasty little pests this time around.

Planting will continue on the farm from this point on as broccoli, cabbages and lettuces are nearly ready to be transplanted into the fields and leafy greens are planned to be sown in the coming days-weather dependent as always. It only gets busier as a new growing season is upon us....stay tuned for more planting news.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Seasonal Product: Tres Perros Dried Hot Chile Mix

Tres Perros (also known as a 3 Dog Night) is a night that is so cold that one must sleep in the company of three dogs in order to stay warm. It is also an Eskimo saying and belief for surviving a very cold night.

This mix of hot chiles has obtained this title due to its ability to have the same effect-to keep you warm at night. All kitchens ought to have a bag of out Tres Perros chiles around as a staple-just in case you need anything warmed up and because-like dogs and other pets-spicy foods warm you up and make you happy.

A blend of some of the hottest chiles grown at Tierra Vegetables, Tres Perros includes…
•Fogo-a long and thin, golden European chile
•Cayenne-long and thin red Cayenne and golden yellow
•Aji-Peruvian in origin with a distinctive fruity flavor, our Aji selection may include Panca (black), Amarillo (yellow) and Rojo (red).
•Costeno-a small red or yellow Oaxacan chile

***It is a known medical fact that eating spicy foods makes you happy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Greenhouse Activities: Sowing Summer Squash and Rain-Watering

The earliest summer squash seeds are now situated for growing with soil, water and temperatures conducive to their life cycle. Plans and schemes are underway to have summer vegetables back on the menu as soon as possible this spring.

Since I had been to the greenhouse last week, the watering and sprinkler systems have been completed and enacted. Thank goodness all of this does not require extensive use of the watering can any longer. Utilizing rain water reserves, the sprinklers are keeping the seedlings moist as evenly and efficiently as possible in order to preserve one of our most precious resources (water!!). Hopefully an overview of the entire greenhouse construction will be made available for your reading pleasure before too long. It is all still in progress as we plant and work this spring.

Monday, March 9, 2009

In the Field: The Seasonal Muddy Harvest

The reliable and diligent hard working efforts of Jose and Javier during these recent winter months has allowed the farm operation to continue in the field in tip-top shape. The weekly harvest is accomplished, rain or shine. New fruit trees made it into the field recently, taking the place of an overhwleming spot of poison oak and wild blackberries. The onions have been well weeded, the strawberries carefully watched for optimum health and and assured spring crop. The weekly harvest is always an event to supply the farm stand, perhaps the CSA, the Ferry Plaza Market in San Francisco. Between the two of these guys, this can become a lot of muddy work to supply all of these market outlets. I don't know one person who is not grateful for the recent rains, but I also know it makes a sticky and slimy job out of digging up leeks, sunchokes, parsnips, carrots, beets, celerey roots, rutabagas, all that yummy root stuff. Prior to field washing, the roots are covered in the remains of that precious mud that has provided their home for the months of their growing season.
Even if it is not a rainy day at harvest, the muddy ground presents an extra obstacle to the harvest challenge. Let us rejoice in all of this hard work by gobbling it up each week! As much as I cannot wait for tomatoes and strawberries as spring and summer roll in, I think this year I will really miss that steady supply of parsnip, celeriac, leeks, brussels and other flavorful roots and veggies that make up the winter months.
The constant stream of fresh vegetables never stops despite some people's under-appreciation for winter-type vegetables.
Don't hesitate to come out for a walk in the fields even in the winter and spring. This is a beautiful time of year as we transition from winter to spring and there is always plenty to see in the farm fields even if you cannot see it from right off the road side by the farm stand. Take a little stroll and see where your winter bounty has come from!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Farm Stand Upgrade: A Brilliant New Sales Building is Erected

Any regular farm stand customer will notice this innovation from a distance when approaching the farm stand in the coming weeks. It is time to adjust our eyes to the bright new sales building that was recently constructed to improve the counter space and shelter at the farm stand (especially during these colder months). This upgrade is just the first of many grand ideas the farm has to expand function and utility at the farm stand in years to come. One day, Wayne dreams of a fully sheltered historic-style barn structure to provide shelter and optimal storage and shopping conditions for both veggies and customers. Every year it gets better and innovative schemes are never-ending. Come see Evie's bright new Sales Shelter if you haven't already and keep watching as Tierra Vegetables improves and grows each season.

Bean Resource

This is a really good book! If any of you are becoming big followers of the bean selection and creative uses for them on a regular basis, or just a better understanding of how they grow and are best prepared, this book will serve you well. I highly recommend it as my best resource when researching quite a bit into dry beans this winter. Thanks to Evie for letting me borrow it for a couple of weeks and for always bringing it to the farm stand as a reference for customers who drop in. I suggest seeking this book out at the library or adding it to your personal library to enrich your understanding in the realm of preparing dried beans (this does seem to be a mysterious process for many folks who have had little exposure thus far in life).

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Issue of Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are everywhere, hence their usefulness and the problems they cause. They are the perfect tool to transport your greens from market to home and they are just as commonly found blowing through the streets and waters surrounding your local marketplace. As consumers, we may take responsibility for these bags in order to maximize their utility to serve our needs and to lessen their impacts on the environment.

Do you really need a bag? This is the primary question to ask yourself when confronted with situation of selecting your produce. Sometimes you do. When the object of purchase is small like dried beans or perishable like cut baby greens it is hard to imagine stuffing these items right into your market basket. Reconsider whether you really need a bag to get home a bundle of carrots, a head of cabbage, a small load of potatoes, a couple of apples, etc... There are a great number of vegetable items that really do require no packaging between harvest to the refrigerator at your home. This requires some responsibility on the part of the consumer and the sales representative. In San Francisco on Saturdays, Lee and I have innovated a "shuttle" to get the produce from our bins to the scale in order to complete the sale. For customers who have already thought in advance and have their large market basket, cart or supply of recycled plastic bags this really works and each time it works we have eliminated another instance of single use waste in the form of plastic bags. Once you wrap your head around all of the plastic bags floating around out there already it is hard to imagine having to send off brand new ones to hardly worthwhile purposes. Most produce will move just fine in your large basket without plastic to your home where you must have a great stash of bags for various shapes and size of veggies.

At the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market plastic bags are soon to be against the rules coming up this May. As vendors, soon we will be unable to simply offer you a free plastic bag even if you think you require one. We are working with our market management, CUESA, to phase out plastic by offering compost-able or biobags in place of plastic and at a small additional fee. This places the responsibility on the consumer's side of the transaction. You are encouraged to bring your own packaging ideally. While the more environmentally friendly bags are a good last resort option, they really are a band aid for the larger issue of our behavior. Single use waste needs to stop in whatever form it occurs. We have plenty of packaging existing in the world already, let's use it again and again!

On that note, Tierra Vegetables does a lot of jar-packaging. Jams, sauerkraut, and hominy corn are a few of these items that come in jars on a regular basis. We hope that these re-useable containers will come back to us and we offer you a dollar rebate on your next purchase as incentive. They are washed and re-used in the commercial kitchen, cutting back on costs to the farm and additional packaging needed in general.

Tierra Vegetables' markets are quite responsible in the world of re-useable bags already. The farm stand has existed off of donated re-useable bags as long as I have been around and at the farmer's market now we hardly give out a handful of bags to those who cannot yet seem to "think outside of the bag," mostly tourists who come completely unprepared.

Thank you for being such responsible consumers. I hope that it is a benefit to each of you as customers to not come home with a pile of plastic and have to wonder how to get rid of them. Perhaps you can come up with a home recycling system where these same bags come with you each time you shop-see how long you can get them to last! Consider additional plan-ahead shopping measures including bringing old yogurt containers to fill full of dried beans to get them home or dried fruit at the market stand down the way from us. Sometimes it can be fun to discover new ways to make use of what we already have in our lives.

I admit to becoming personally militant about this issue as I have been enable by the Ferry Plaza market's goals to eliminate plastic bags and by the common sense the issue encompasses. It just makes sense. Sometimes we get caught up in cultural habits that we can easily change for the better with a minor adjustment of our perspective. However you chose to go about it, please learn to take responsibility for this issue alongside us so we can contribute to improving our world a little bit more. Be creative and innovative and share your ideas with us!