Harvest Day

Harvest Day
Winter crops

Saturday, January 21, 2012


I had a lovely reminder this week of why we do this. Our 5-year-old grandson, Caleb, came to stay for a couple of days and as always, we spent a bit of time in the garden with him.  He loves to work alongside us and he's been puttering in the gardens since he could walk.  While he was here, we harvested an assortment of vegetables for him to take home to his mom and dad.
He quickly mastered the use of our garden clippers and grasped which collards were best and went to work.  As I trailed him with a camera it struck me how few children in our society have this opportunity and it brought to mind one of the more esoteric motivations for what we do.
Understanding where one's food actually comes from is an inherent part of a lifelong healthy diet.  We are several generations in to living in cities and suburbs and buying our food in neat packages from supermarkets and are only now awakening to what we've sacrificed in the process.  Don't get me wrong, I do understand that for most Americans the food they purchase in supermarkets is the only thing logically available to them and for a growing number, even this option is on the wane.  But still, the sanitized and unblemished fare readily available for most is a far cry from what our great-grandparents ate when they were children.
Among our membership, we have a disproportionate number of individuals whose native country is elsewhere.  India, Spain, Syria, China, Ecuador, and The Philippines to name some.  And the refrain among them is similar:  where can I get real food?  why don't the vegetables in your supermarkets have any flavor?   what have you done to all your meat?  While Americans can be proud of a food distribution system that makes tens of thousands of products available to so many, again the question arises:  at what cost?
And so, we come back to OUR motivations and realizations.  We offer so much more than seasonal vegetables.  We offer an opportunity to taste freshness, to wash the musky crumbles of good garden soil from a carrot just before biting into its crunchy sweetness, to learn how to gently treat the subtle flavors of tender shoots so as not to overwhelm them.  We offer a place for children to learn not only the wonders of seed-to-sprout-to-leafy-plant-to-fruit magic but also the toil and heartbreak the earth can wring from you.  We offer a step back to realness, to awareness and to connection.
And as this great returning occurs, something truly splendid takes place: a new-old knowledge takes root and begins to grow and some faint genetic memory is awakened.  The taste buds remember, the belly recognizes, tastes, aromas, essences long forgotten.  Our relationship to our food begins to shift from an acceptance of the artificial and simulated to a demand for the genuine and pure.  As our bodies are nourished by authentic, unprocessed foods, we feel a tug for realness in other aspects of our lives and a desire for simplicity and connection to the Earth and her abundance.
Of all the many aspects of this work that I love, among the unexpected joys I've found is the enthusiasm our members express for these beautiful vegetables.  More often than you can imagine, I've been treated to beautiful photos of a just-prepared dish, the cook proudly reporting back to me how the fruit of my labor appeared on their table.  Young adults, finding their way and place in life, making a conscious choice to include high-quality food on their priority list, even if their budget demands they forgo some other desire.  And children, telling me how they liked the carrots, drawing me pictures of the vegetables they've learned to enjoy, reporting on the bean plant in a dixie cup they have growing on their windowsill.
Caleb will have many chances over the years to come and pick a bouquet of collards for his mama, and it is my fondest hope that his love for this earth and the growing things upon it will continue to flourish and when he's an old, old man he'll cherish the memories of learning to eat well from his grandma's garden.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wintry Thursday Afternoon

If one doubts that winter is upon us--despite the 70-plus degrees of mercury showing--one has only to glance outside to see it.  The sky has been mostly overcast today, that solid gray sort of overcast that seems to suck all the color out of the landscape.  Aside from the green of various conifers, everything is pretty much the same shade of brown today.  The wind has whipped in from the south all day, one of those rare fronts coming in gulf-side, bringing damp muggy wind.
I like these sorts of days though.  I love the way our pecan trees look in the winter, their leafless branches looking like lace against the sky and today as I was admiring this effect, I spotted so many small golden mounds high up in the tree--goldfinches!  A stray beam of late-day sun found its way through the cloud ceiling and reflected off their yellow breasts as they startled and flew away and I felt blessed.   There was a slight scent of woodsmoke on the breeze, the hens were cooing and humming as they went about their afternoon foraging, and I spotted a lone, red leaf clinging to our dogwood tree, the sole survivor of our previous windy frontal boundary.  There is so much to appreciate in this landscape, at every time of year.

I've been planting for Spring.  I sowed seeds for snow peas and sugar snap peas.  Will erected a stout trellis for me in each of their beds after preparing the soil for growing.  A healthy sprinkling of compost and a light application of fertilizer, tilled and raked.  I like to plant these peas thickly, scattering their seeds randomly yet evenly across the bed.  The little plants have such small root systems and they cling to each other as they grow, eventually finding the trellis and sending tiny tendrils, like wee green hands, to grasp and support themselves along the way.  All too soon it will become a burden to keep them picked.  Each pea to be cut carefully from the vine at just the right stage--too soon and they lack sweetness, too late and the fibers have toughened.  We'll pick baskets of them every day for weeks.  

I also planted spinach.  One row of 'Oriental Giant,' a sweet and mild Japanese spinach with over sized leaves that we've come to rely on for good performance.   A row of 'Bordeaux,' a red-veined fancy looking variety whose seed pack I couldn't resist.

Once the passing cold front has breathed out its most frigid air and moved away from us, we'll plant more beets, more carrots, more onions, more garlic.  These underground crops I like to plant on the waning moon, the above ground crops I plant on the waxing moon.  This is about the only nod I give to the old ways of "planting by the signs."  Some folks swear by it, I've never embraced it.  But when I have a crop that fails to thrive for no apparent reason, there is that nagging question:  "did I plant those beans on a waning moon?"  It's enough to keep me thinking I should pay at least a little bit of attention to it.

I hear purple finches fussing over their nest building under the porch eaves, the neighbor's cattle are lowing softly as they settle for the night, and another short January day calls it quits.  This rhythm seems right to me. This season seems balanced.  This life suits me.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Season Completed!

I'm sitting here sipping a second cup of coffee with a deliciously relaxed sense this morning.  Yesterday we completed deliveries for the Fall 2011 Season, an event that always gives such a wonderful feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
Once in the early days of operating our CSA, I had a conversation with another vegetable farmer who expressed amazement that we were willing to assume the "obligation" of providing enough produce to fulfill our seasonal contracts.  And while it is indeed a feeling of responsibility that I feel, I hardly see it as an obligation.  But then, the word obligation has sort of a negative tone, a bit like a mortgage payment or being indebted to someone who has done you an unasked-for favor.  The CSA, for me, is more like a partnership.  Our members do their part, I do my part.  We each play a role in the effort.  And THAT is a very positive responsibility that I take seriously.
Having said all that, I do relish the thought of no worries over the gardens.  Even though we still have a great deal of active growth and harvestable vegetables right now, if the worst happens and a horde of locusts descend or the next arctic blast finishes it all off, I won't lose sleep.  I won't cringe with the feeling that I've let our members down (though not a single one has ever intimated such), and I won't fret over how to pull a couple of hundred family-sized portions of assorted vegetables out of a handful of picked over radishes and a few limp turnips!
Now, onward and upward.  I will give myself a couple of days of relief from the stress then begin planning in earnest for Spring.  Or maybe I'll let a thought or two wander across my mind about which section would be best for the spring lettuce and did I remember to order seeds for the daikon radishes...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Better Year in 2012

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Well, my blogging efforts in 2011 seemed to have started with a bang and then fizzled as quickly as a New Year's Eve bottle rocket!  Wow!  I always seem to have so much I want to share about our life here at Breaking Away Farm and somehow I would get writer's block each time I attempted to write.  This year I resolve to get on track and STAY on track with this blog.

The most noteworthy topic for us right now is our continued amazement at the Fall garden.  In Decembers past we've been desperately grubbing around for another carrot or another few kale leaves to complete our CSA orders in the final week or two of the season.  This year however, the garden is still going full steam as we change calendars!  I'd like to take full credit for this but I must give Mother Nature kudos for making it possible.  The temperatures have been ideal for growing fall vegetables and they've certainly thrived.

But, all good things must come to an end and I'm concerned about this week's weather.  Though we expect a balmy 70+ degrees today, by midweek we are expecting lows in the teens.  Yikes!  This old barn of a house is gonna be COLD!  And even though lots of the leafy greens will survive, many will not.  So sad. 

On a brighter note about cold weather, I'm excited for soup weather to finally arrive!  We love soup around here (in fact, soup is Will's favorite winter breakfast food!) and with that in mind we stocked our freezer last summer with soup ingredients.  During the onslaught of summer squash season, we took many of the over sized ones and pureed them with plans to turn them into soup.  Cream of squash soup is such a yummy thing.  If you've never tried it you should!  I don't use a recipe, I just add chicken broth to my squash, along with an onion, and simmer till the squash is done.  Then season to taste and add milk till it "looks right."  You can add a bit of cornstarch to thicken it also.  If you want a heartier version, potatoes are a good addition and if you REALLY want to take it up a notch, adding bits of ham, bacon or sausage would be delicious. 

Another soup trick of mine:  when we have leftover southern greens such as collards or mustard that have been cooked with seasoning meat (ham hock or smoked turkey) I add a quart of chicken stock, dice 3 or 4 potatoes into it, add sausage or cubed chicken and an onion.  Simmer for a half hour or so and serve.  You can also add beans to this for a truly hearty one-pot-meal.

Well, now that I've made myself hungry, I'm going to have a snack and then go pick some collards to go with our New Year's day black-eyed peas.  I try to never miss this tradition--the black-eyed peas are for good luck in the new year, the greens are for prosperity.  I need all of both I can get, and I wish all of you the same.
Happy New Year!