Monday, July 17, 2006

Organic Farming is Hard and Other Reasons to be Blogging

Blogging is quite Newtonian. A blog that stays in motion stays in motion and a blog stuck in inertia, well no one goes there any more. It’s not like I have been away from the Internets. I wrote long takes on Las Vegas high and low, and I made by contribution to the LTHForum GNR program here. Still, it has been almost two months between blog posts. But Farmer Vicki and her farm, to the blog!

It’s been two years since I last visited a working farm. As I noted then, if you are a chowhound, if you love to eat and live to eat, you owe it to yourself to visit a farm. Your tasty dinner has to start somewhere. Genesis Growers enjoys none of the scenery of Henry’s Farm. This IS what Illinois looks like. Flat. Parcels of land divvied up long ago. Conventional farms, soy and corn surround Vicki, and if she is concerned enough to irrigate with tape, across the street they use a very big sprinkler—my lawn obsessed neighbor would really be jealous. Ok, this was not about the view. It was about learning how to farm, organically.

What you learn: it’s hard. There are weeds. Weeds battle the crops. Always. A dragging tractor gets about all the weeds. That is a percentage, however, that farmer’s cannot handle. Vanquish weeds. Work. Vicki and her crew take daily to the fields with special European hoes, square rings on the end of long poles, and hoe, hoe, hoe. Try it. We visitors did. Twenty minutes and I had my workout of the day. Do that all day? Beyond the weeds, what about what’s left. Wander a field of, say cucumbers, and you see there is no easy way to get those things beyond stooping. On top of that, there are prickles. With so much effort involved, organic vegetables are a real bargain.

I did learn a bit more about organic farming (beyond that: it’s hard). I learned that there are bands of yearly shifting weeds. The whole field cannot be turned over to crops. Keeping some weeds is necessary for various botanical purposes, but they also serve as resting spots, spas, for the other pests. In other words, they are temptations for the bugs so they do not eat the real crops. Of course, with organic farming you can eat the weeds too. Already a couple of times our weekly box included a big bag of lamb’s quarters, seen at Green City Market as “wild spinach.” We were promised purslane soon, which we munched on after we got tired of trying to hoe. An organic farm is very alive. There was catnip growing near the stream and wild raspberries and elderberry for this guy. I picked up one weed that looked edible, mint-like, and I learned that I was right; Vicki’s Mexican farmers knew it and used it. They gave me the name in Spanish but I forgot already.

What else.

Do not take the lack of blogging to mean that I have given up on eating local. Perhaps, when something becomes so natural, so innate, the there is less thrill in writing about it. Our Spring CSA took through June. It was not a great Spring for crops. Vicki had bad maggot problems that ate into a lot of crops. We actually had to rely a bit more than expected on freezer stuff and local potatoes found at odd spots.

June began a very abundant new CSA from Genesis. As promised, we are getting more each week than we can possibly eat. The only problem, a few things are not right for the freezer. Can you say too much lettuce. On the other hand, I mistakenly made a salad of escarole this week. We supplement the box with Oak Park Farmer’s Market, better than ever and trips to other farmer’s markets. Take a recent dinner. First, bruschetta, the ciabatta bought at Wednesday’s Green City Market; tomatoes from Genesis Growers hoop house, meaning ground grown; snips of arugula from Growing Power Farm, only the condiments not local. Second, sautéed chicken livers from the market, mushrooms from the market, over pasta not from the market. Last, market raspberries and teeny-tiny strawberries. If you enjoy eating well, you need to eat local.

The best thing: we recently purchased a freezer. We purchased some canning supplies too, but the freezer, that we can do. We are starting now, now. Plenty of asparagus has gone in the freezer, blanched first as has some rhubarb (also blanched) and berries, many berries. My other method of saving, infused vodkas. Strawberries work especially well for this as it only takes a few days to produce a gorgeous liquor.

Another best thing: Thank you Ann Fisher in the comments. If you ask Tony at the Scotch Hills farm stand (Oak Park Farmer’s Market), he might have some five pound bags of Wisconsin grown soft wheat. Makes a great clafoutis. His eggs are pretty good too.

More soon.

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