Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Shopping in Season

If there is one thing that gets predictable when presiding over a seasonal and local selection of vegetables and fruits, it is the customer habit of seeking what is missing. No matter the time of the season, it is noticed and questioned that items long passed or weeks away are absent from the current selection. What about all those things that are present, fresh and in season?

We have been conditioned in the grocery store scene for years to expect everything at all times. More so now, there is focus on seasonal highlights. People at least seem to realize summer is for tomatoes and cucumbers, but for a local production they often come seeking too soon. One day of hot sun and swarms of harvest season produce seekers are wandering the farm stands.

We started running out of strawberries by the end of the day this week, leaving the end of the day customers out of luck. Often, a strawberry seeker comes no further than the entrance of the stand and then quickly retreats in disappointment when the fruit they came for is no to be found. Other times, people come wandering with an eye only for tomatoes, corn, beans.....you can tell something is wrong and when starting into discussion on the topic it is a great challenge to get them to recognize all of those wonderful things that are there right before their eyes. Sure there are not a lot of tomatoes yet, no cucumbers at all, corn is a few weeks off at least.....but I stood in that farm stand all winter when we had no onions (now there are tons of freshly harvested and wonderful red onions), we had run out of winter carrots, committed weekly customers and I were experimenting with things like cardoon and trying a new dry bean each week. My point being, it could be a lot worse than it is right now as we wait for the summer bounty to kick in and have the full array available to our fingertips at all times.

There is a technique to shopping from farms and farmer's markets that defies expectations. Your experience will be so much more fun and rewarding if you enter these food outlets in search of what they offer rather than what you are expecting to find. You are certain to encounter something unique, likely to not find something that your predetermine recipe calls for, and it should not really bother you. Realize that what is on the shelf today may be gone tomorrow.

The seasons move on fast and crops pass us by more quickly with each year I work with this stuff, much like the years of life. Recently, I have been anxious for the end of peas. We have seen some incredible Asian greens come and go in recent weeks. As the strawberries respond to the weather and season, I anticipate the favored Chandler variety passing for the season and the permanent switch to the Seascape berry.

These are the small details of seasonality. If you are a hardcore farm stand customer who enjoys the detailed fluctuation of what Tierra brings to the table you are likely to notice these small shifts and also have confidence that one day the summer bounty will be there with plenty to enjoy in the meantime. There really always is plenty to eat, I have been with this farm long enough to know this fact for sure.

The message here.....when you come in search of a specific item, please don't neglect to observe all those other things that are available at a particular moment in the seasonal farming scheme. It could be that the item you come looking for next time was right there in front of you. It makes a lot of sense to adapt your cooking and planning around what is harvesting...this is absolutely how you ensure you ingredients are at the peak of freshness and flavor and offers a creative challenge in the kitchen.

If you MUST have fresh peppers in early summer, you can go to your local grocery big box source and find some that were grown hundreds of miles away down in the desert. The difference includes a lack of freshness, perhaps flavor and the fun of finding the seasonal diversity of those peppers and chiles found on your local farm.

How many weeks until all the other stuff is ready? Always hard to say, a couple of weeks (depending on weather)? What is coming next? I think the answer is tomatoes....keep your fingers crossed that this warmer weather holds out. Maybe a better question is "what won't be here anymore next week?"

Enjoy your seasonal and local bounty, whatever your shopping approach.

A late spring, early summer array during a tough season to get things going in farming....recent weeks have featured great seasonal products like peas, carrots, rhubarb, cabbages, abundant lettuces and other greens, strawberries and much more!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Potato Planting Per the Moon Phase in the Children's Garden

Lee suggested to Lisl (self motivated leader of the Children's Garden) that yesterday was the day to plant potatoes. The moon phase determined this decision more than anything else as it was time again to plant for root growth. Children were invited for a noon-time potato planting that included Lisl in charge, Wayne in support and whatever kids and parent's might show. A small initial group of participants and a beautiful day made for a great initiation and potato planting experience to a few young participants.

Bamboo bean trellis serving as a constant back drop to the setting of this plot, it will one day soon be walls and tunnels of greenery. Thanks to the small group who gathered at the farm yesterday, we will now have some spuds to dig up in a month or two. Potato harvest is one of the most exciting for kids and adults alike, such surprises to be encountered with each newly harvested tuber hiding under the earth. Now we have this to look forward to in the future.

Stay tuned for more events in the Children's Garden or come by the farm stand and visit the land and/or drop your email on the register so you will be contacted for future events.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Winnowing with Wayne

Enjoy the following short video, filmed and produced my farm friend and follower, Andrea who is a Sonoma County native and Bay Area local of my own generation. This is just the first of a series of films she intends to create, documenting various operations and people around the farm. Enjoy her expert eye, this is what she does for a living.

On the topic of Winnowing with Wayne, I recently finished reading the book Fields of Plenty by Jonah Raskin. The book contains a small chapter with the same name and excerpt describing his own experience cleaning beans and visiting the farm. A wonderful Sonoma County-local farming read that I highly recommend to others.

Wayne did build the vertical winnowing device in the video below. A huge part of finding efficiencies in the details of farming is the modification of tools to suit the circumstance and location specific to the farm. This farm is large enough that is does rely on mechanical assistance to a large extent, otherwise it would never be able to provide for so many households and survive. In addition to the winnower Wayne and others around the farm have constructed farm specific planting equipment, a recently developed harvesting cart (more coming soon), the smoker that makes all those chipotles, and much more. This is all part of the fun of farming!

Winnowing fava beans in July from The Seedling Project on Vimeo.

A low-tech method of winnowing fava bean pods from fava beans, which is demonstrated by Wayne James of Tierra Vegetables. Tierra is located just outside of Santa Rosa and they are famous for their chili peppers and delicious pepper products.

This is an excerpt of a larger documentary about Tierra Vegetables—I've been following them for almost two years.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Beautiful Rhubarb

There are those who adore rhubarb and those who ignore rhubarb, myself admittedly one of the latter types. Why do I ignore rhubarb? I have little use for it in my little experience with it, I do not make time to learn to use and enjoy it, in my growing experiences it has proven invasive in smaller garden spaces, in my sales experiences it is a long and tangled hassle to weigh and pack off to a customer home. I remain in an under-educated and oblivious position with the joys of rhubarb, but I realize not everyone is like me. I watch and help many a Tierra customer select and tote home small arm loads of this wonder fruit/veggie each week, awkwardly packing the tangled stalks of rhubarb into their bag loads of seasonal fare. Just a day or two ago, a regular CSA customer stopped in the farm stand on her way out to tag rhubarb onto her order, a sensual pleasure she could not go home without as long as the season lasts.

When I asked her to further explain what it was about the rhubarb she went into a sensory list that included four of the five senses. She adored the look, smell, taste and texture. I am sure if it made any noise she would love the way it sounded too. She certainly made me stop and look twice at the stalky fruit/vegetable that I have been passing over the scale and out the door of the farm stand for weeks now. It is quite beautiful. Our field manager, Pablo, agrees as I saw him carrying around a stalk of a new variety we are producing this season in admiration of it's visual beauty and quality. Our customers in San Francisco seem to agree too as we have continued to sell quite a bit of rhubarb in the city each week. I am certain farmer Lee is proud of the results of her hard work to select a successful variety and bring it to fruition on the farm too. So, take it from someone who neglects the availability of such a resource right in front of me, people are loving our rhubarb and if you are at all interested in such an ingredient I suggest you try some too. At least come indulge in a few of the sensory pleasures it offers and come and see it growing if you like, I can point you in the direction. Additionally, grow some yourself! We still have a couple of gallon pots for sale.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Children's Garden

Weeks ago I was en route to the Petaluma Seed Bank with Wayne and Lee. With all of us cooped up in a vehicle for a small off the farm field trip it was a good time for idea-sharing. This was way back when Lee revealed to me she wanted a Children's Garden area this season. I connected with the idea with enthusiasm....it seemed a natural course of action for the people and visitors I have learned so much about with recent time spent in the farm stand. A destination just for the little ones would be perfect!

As time progressed, random ideas came together here and there in addition to all of the other things we are always trying to accomplish to improve and maintain the farm. What it would be and how it would operate were questions that challenged us. It could not be too much work for us or for kids, it should be interesting and fun and not cause too much extra work for us, who would manage it when there was no spare time as it is?

Adjacent to and east of the farm stand is a section of land (we call it SE Section 9 in the planning and record-keeping scheme) that has now been designated as a destination area for the little ones this season. It may not have it all as there are so many potential ideas with a project like this....what it will have is pumpkins, a tunnel of pole beans, ground cherries and cherry tomatoes for harvesting, opportunities to weed and engage with cultivation (parental supervision required), flowers for aesthetic enjoyment and perhaps some picking, potato planting and harvesting, and who knows what else.

We have rennovated a back corner of the farm stand as a registration and check point for the Children's Garden. This chalk board has had my handwriting from over a year ago permanently chalk-inked to promote a 4 for $20 on dry chile packets....it is now re-painted and transformed into an info center for smaller sized farm visitors. Please stop in if you fit the previously mentioned profile. What you will find? Suggestions for what might be done in the Children's Garden that day, baskets for harvesting, flowers for taking, a sign up sheet where you may drop an email address to receive updates about events that will occur (an upcoming potato planting will be the first of these), and a binder where we ask that a picture or write up of your child's experience might be inserted to share with others and serve as a memory book for the 2010 season for us all. We must give great thanks to customer and educator Lisl Christie who has taken an active interest in contributing time, ideas and resources towards organizing. This allows us employees of the farm to focus more closely on our jobs (and the reamining 20+ acres of the farm) while still being able to afford to offer land for fun and education to all those interested visitors, large or small.

Farm friend, customer and frequenter Sara brought her boys, Radly and Finn, by to "work" in the garden last week. This is a rough time in the season as weeding and cultivation tend to be high on the list of "things to do." There is some sparse, early harvesting to be done in the ground cherries (harvesting has much more immediate reward than weeding, obviously). Attempting both weeding and harvesting, the farm stand proved a lure to the boys who are well trained to know that strawberry samples are available back under the awning they know so well. Focusing on weeding takes some real personal investment and perhaps these guys will get there by the end of the season. For now, they have removed a small share of "bad" plants to make more room for "good" plants and have already discovered the bean tunnel that is just made up of tiny bean plants at this time. Watching these items grow, change and live out their annual life is what the experience is all about.

So what is the Children's Garden at Tierra? It is a destination, a demonstration, and at times an activity area. Please be careful, have respect for the farm, the land, other visitors, the plants and enjoy a small slice of food production that welcomes your periodic visits.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Strawberry Side By Side Comparison

The larger berry on the left is the Chander, our June-bearing selection. This is the moment of the season when the berry on the right, Seascape, comes on at the same time. The result? Lots of strawberries! Also, a chance to compare the two varieties for a few weeks before the Chandler disappears for the season.

Physical characteristics include a difference in shape. The Chandler often produces a large and bulbous berry...perhaps less of a perfect strawberry heart shape whereas the Seascape seems to be coming out almost to perfection in little heart shape size.

Flavor? I prefer the Chandler for the moment. Apparently this changes as time wears on, but for the moment there is a maturity to the Chandler berry that just seems to produce a sweeter flavor. The Seascape is still just beginning to ripen.

Come to the farm stand and ask to try both. Compare for yourself before it is just Seascape for the remainder of the season.

Monday, June 7, 2010

30th Anniversary Celebration

Wayne, Evie and Lee pose with the strawberry filled cake made for them by Dominique (of Dominiques Sweets and Macaroons-she rents and works in our commercial kitchen).

See cake and icing details....Dominique really put some effort into the farm theme here. It is always challenging to cut into work like this.

A second creative vegetable-themed cake was presented by farm friend, Ina.

This group shot captured all past and present employees who were present at the moment of this photo session. There are a few figures I am not sure about from the past, but left to right the approximate identities include: Wayne, Katya, Evie, Jesus, Roxie, Callahan, Ellery, Lee, Erica (self), Paige (behind my head), Linda, Dominique and daughter Marisol, and Zeni.

Scene from the front of the hay ride tour on the farm. Wayne gave us an overview of the farm field in general, this season's crops and whatever else we happened upon along the way. Slight sprinkler spritzes were a feature of this tour.

This is Marisol. She knows a good strawberry and this was a good day for her to stroll down the rows of the strawberry patch and check out what was good, or not so good. I was impressed by her ability to sort out the bad ones and toss them away, savoring the perfect berries. Marisol is Dominique's daughter (that is, Dominique who is now working with the farm stand and CSA, not the Dominique who made the cake shown above). Two Dominique's now.

Here Roxie and Brian gossip away (they can't help it) next to Roxie's spinning demonstration. Brian is a handy man around the farm these days, formally our master welder. He also was the driver of the hay rides during this Sunday event so that Wayne was free to lead the tour.

This kids enjoyed the pinata and respectfully took turns....smaller children were not required to wear blind folds. No candy as a reward, there may have been a few disappointed reactions at first, but once they realized their prizes of popcorn and strawberries, I think there was some sweet relief.

The farm stand served as a wonderful shelter and gather place for the pot luck and social center for all of our guests an friends.

A big thanks to all for coming. It is the people and community who make an event like this. I know your farmers and friends greatly value the support and interest all of us invest into the hard work that goes into farming, not to mention 30 years of it. Looking forward to many, many more years of Tierra Vegetables.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wayne's Feet

Here is a topic people cannot seem to get enough of. Young and old, informal inquiry and local news publications, people are always caught in fascination with your farmer's bare feet.

WHY?! He just prefers to be this way. Exceptions? Muddy days I find him in a pair of garden-type Crocs and middle of winter you might find him with woolen slippers crafted by his sister.

Pros: No need to worry about the proper footwear for a given situation. Whereas I will often juggle boots and garden shoes for different activities and settings, Wayne is always set to go whether he is indoors or out.

Cons: I have more than once observed significant foot splinter events as a result of the heavy bark mulches around the farm. You'd think a painful lesson like this might provoke change, but as I mentioned previously, he just prefers his feet remain bare.

I'm sure there is much more to say to this topic if I wanted to go into a full interview, but it seemed worth a mere mention as I stole a photo the other day in the farm stand. Maybe more action shots of Wayne's feet in the future this season, but he does admit it is a topic that has been over-publicized as it is.