Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January 2011 Newsletter

A long shadow is cast by the great white oak in front the barn: a solemn reminder winter’s long in the passing. The same birds gather here for breakfast at the foot of the old tree, arriving each on time and trading stations on schedule, this hour bringing the cardinal and blue jay. The jay will by nature strut and eat and intimidate the new arrivals like some bullying senior cadet. The cardinal will live and let live, taking only what she needs. Her unprepossessing grace an easy extension of her drab coat – a scarce fleck of orange an outward murmur of her inner strength.

In the distance, beyond the checkered and chilled vegetable plot at the crest of the hill, the necks of Canada Geese bob up into view, each taking their turn to lookout, then back down to peck and scavenge amongst the corn stubble. There is a line of sleeping and skeletal hardwoods behind them, their white vulnerability set off by the evergreen virility of the occasional pine and cedar. Above that, a sky of such muted lavenders only a winter morning could produce.

It’s the kind of scene that dredges up some dormant and big gratitude, and, with a sudden turn of thought, a sadness brought by the realization that many are barred by circumstance from experiencing these wonders. And, many who do have access see it merely as something separate – land worth possessing for whatever profit it is most suited.

When we can relate, recognize and be lifted by nature in its many forms, we can enter unclouded by any estimation of its worth. We may accept the scene not as ours to mold, but as an extension of our physical selves, as family. Just as we do not own our brother or sister, nor do we truly own this land or its inhabitants, for it, like family, is bigger than the sum of any one of us. Its wisdom knows no bounds, and it is our constant forgetting of this wisdom that brings on the sudden sadness. Our juvenile refusal to coexist – or at least acknowledge – underlies our seperation. It’s like family: when mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. In other words, we’ve been strutting around like the jay much too long.

I suppose these thoughts are brought on by the prospect of acquiring more land near the farm and the attendant thoughts of land ownership and its meaning as other than a blank slate to be “written upon”. So much former farmland is being lost forever – the rate of loss is among the highest in NC (766,000 acres of prime NC farmland were lost between 1982 and 2007 according to the American Farmland Trust). I call this the “blank slate disease”. The greatest rate of return is to develop, and there are sometimes good reasons to do so. But, to develop is to inevitably lose the land’s intrinsic value, its many lifeforms, and lose it forever. So much attention is given to forest conservation (and rightly so), but farms are disappearing right alongside our wild brethren. Small farms are being swallowed by agribusiness and our country's lifeblood and food security right along with it. We cannot hinge our country's future on a wholly unsustainable food system. It will be up to small farmers and organic farmers to continue to protect the integrity and tradition of land stewardship. I'm proud to be a small part this movement, which is nothing really new at all.

The land we may buy lies just beyond the aforementioned line of trees and would significantly expand our potential vegetable production. Although we have enough arable land (about 3 acres) now to allow for a good bit of growth for our farm and CSA, our ability to allow for a proper crop rotation is hindered, particularly if we are to allow some tracts to lie fallow in cover crop and ensure a continued increase in soil fertility. Essentially, more land will allow for continual, sustainable farm growth (just as a greater tract of preserved forest would allow for sustainable animal populations). To sustain a diversified vegetable operation, variety and vigor of microbial soil life is everything

Winter’s shown little sign of letting up of late, so a day here or there in the greenhouse helps us chase away the winter blues. Most sunny days temperatures reach the mid to upper 70s under plastic, allowing for enough potential growth to justify early planting. We sowed onion seed and some herbs, while munching on some of the lettuce and mesclun mix we kept alive through the winter. We propagated some chard from last year’s side shoots, and it has held on nicely through the winter (pictured in pot). As soon as our organic soil provider can exchange out the overly wet medium they brought us this winter, we can really get sowing. Broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, lettuce, salad mix, kale, chard and beet seeds will be planted next week, along with a wide range of culinary herbs and some Spring-planted flowers.

Diversity is a key ingredient in any natural system. Where one variety may fail, another may flourish, and so we really try and mix it up out in the field. If I may, I’d like to profile some of the more delectable and interesting varieties that will color our fields this year:

Red Long Onion of Tropea

Italy’s most prized onion was born along the stretch of coastline between Capo Vaticano and Vibo Valentia in the region of Calabria. The Tropea Long is one of the sweetest red onions, and having the lowest lacrimal factor, it does not make you cry. It has a slightly elongated shape and a deep red, wine color. We will also grow the much-vaunted Candy as well as two more Italian heirlooms: Rosa di Milano and Bianca di Maggia.

Delicata Zeppelin Squash

As those who bought from us last fall can attest, this winter squash has fabulously sweet and moist flesh, and is great roasted or for pies. At about a pound each it is the perfect size to share between two people. It is the squash for lovers or just two squash lovers sitting down for a helping of squash.

Hillbilly Tomato

This tomato is quite large, sometimes 2 Lbs and colorful. The flavor is subtle as its name suggests. Mild and nuanced, just like a taciturn hillbilly.

Nyagous Tomato

This one is not only red, it’s Russian. I tried one grown locally last season and was intrigued. It is the dry white wine of tomatoes. There’s a range of Russian heirloom tomatoes, and all of them are quite strange.

Oregon Giant Snow Pea

This is a large podded, sweet-berried snow pea with possible extended harvests into July. We will grow loads of Snap Peas and try these on for more variety.


Popular in Thai and Vietnamese cooking, Lemongrass adds an exquisite flavor to curries, soups and sauces as well fish and chicken dishes. It also makes a great hot or iced tea.

Music Garlic

Music is large-cloved, porcelain hardneck garlic. Its flavor is very rich and musky, strong and robust and sticks around for a while. Last year we grew exclusively softneck varieties, trying not to venture too deep into the art of hardneck garlic culture. They can be finicky and the process demanding, but the rewards, chefs attest, are worth the trouble. Hardneck garlics, fresh or cured are truly an experience to be savored, as are the “scapes” or green tops that may be harvested in Spring…sautéed they are like garlicky asparagus.

I'll leave you with the Music growing in our field: