Friday, November 27, 2009

What is waste?


I've been debating wether this is an appropriate topic to post on. I don't want people to see it as criticism, and it's not meant that way, but part of my intention with the farm, and the blog, is to lay open to folks the realities of growing food, selling food, and using food, at least in my little world. I feel particularly sensitive having just eaten one of the year's great feasts, perhaps my favorite holiday of the year, the food centric Thanksgiving. Not that much was wasted, but that's a subjective term.

I read mention of a study yesterday that claims, "about 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States is tossed out." This is particularly staggering in a world where about 1 billion don't have enough to eat, and in a country where somewhere around 7 million homes are classified as food insecure by the USDA. I'm guessing that the study was talking about food that had already been harvested and then trucked to wholesale and retail outlets before being redirected to landfills, or at best large scale composting facilities.

When I first started working on farms there was another kind of "waste" that bothered me, food that never got harvested and was left in the fields. This happens for all sorts of reasons; sometimes it's not cosmetically acceptable, sometimes there just isn't a market for it, sometimes weather destroys the crop, usually either heat, hail, or frost. Over the years I've gotten more and more comfortable, to the point where I don't think of it so much as waste anymore, it usually appears to me to be a crop that will be returned to the soil to feed the micro-organisms there that support production of future crops. We grow all kinds of cover crops on the farm for this express purpose. In fact, I frequently worry more about taking too much off the ground, depleting nutrients through over harvesting, than I do about turning crops, or portions of crops back into the soil.

On all of the CSA's I've worked at there are shares every week that don't get picked up for one reason or another. Ideally these are given away to someone else who can enjoy them, but always there are a few that end up back in the compost, ready to be turned back into the soil to feed the next crop. I've come to accept this as inevitable, although I'm always trying to think of ways to limit it. In my mind there's a difference in this sort of food waste than the type of waste I mentioned on a national scale. In a larger scale distribution system the waste is compounded. Food is harvested, then heavily packaged, shipped, sits in massive refrigeration or is processed into ready to eat items. By the time it is "wasted" many of the nutrients are gone already, and on top of that a significant quantity of un recoverable energy has been used getting it to that state before it goes into landfills or is flushed down drains where the remaining nutrients will not be recycled back into the food production system.


So here it is, above is one example of what happens to shares on our farm when they don't get picked up. Five shares were left at Near East on Tuesday. After they had sat for five days I brought them back to my house so that the contents wouldn't rot and make a mess in the bags. On Thursday, after they sat on my porch for two more days I finally got around to cleaning out the contents, and to my amazement more than half the items were in perfectly decent shape, the rest went into my compost pile. All of the roots and leeks were in perfect shape. Most of the greens were not salvageable, but some of the parsley was, as was about 1/2 of the frisee which had blanched beautifully in the dark of the bags. Thanksgiving dinner!

If you're a CSA member reading this, please don't feel bad about occasionally not picking up your share - they always get used in one way or another. If you know you're not going to be able to pick up your share please ask a friend to, or at least let us know so that someone else can use it while it's still at its peak. Any shares that haven't been picked up within two or three days are available to whoever wants them, so please take old shares if you see them and you want them (for yourselves or your friends), even if they're not yours. Just make sure to get the bags back to us!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Double Share

I got home this evening and picked up my share on the porch and here's what was in my bag. I'm not sure how it all went down, as I left Danny solo today while I went to a workshop on growing barley. Looks like he managed to dig the parsnips, remaining Hakurei turnips and a few Golden turnips. The Golden turnips probably aren't quite as sweet as the Hakureis so I'd suggest cooking them. He also broke into the first of the leeks, more of the broccoli raab leaves and Riccia frissee. On top of that there's a generous bunch of parsley in there. What an exciting share. The parsley and raab probably should be used soon but everything else should keep well if you can't use it right away.

We'll be taking next week off and enjoying a big meal, lots of vegetables shared with friends, and a little pie, but we'll be back with more shares in December.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dealing with Deer


This spring our biggest challenge seemed to be digging beds fast enough to plant. As we moved into the summer months germinating seeds turned into our challenge. Now it's deer. For the most part it's not been a huge issue, just a little nibbling around the edges. As a short term fix for this year we've been using salvaged row cover and simply covering the crops when we're not at the farm. Occasionally we come to the farm after a bit of wind to find that the wind has removed the cover and the deer are taking advantage. About 1/3 of the kale was eaten last week. The deer are kind enough to leave the growing tips so the plants will regrow, but they do an effective job of removing all of the leaves, as is apparent in the photo above.


Chicories seem to be their favorites. Unfortunately these don't really grow back, especially when they tear them out of the soft ground. How to solve deer issues is not clear cut for me. They live on the island too, and it's a bit arbitrary that we claim a certain little chunk of space for ourselves and ask the deer, mice and slugs not to eat from it. Fencing is the surefire approach but there are a number of drawbacks with fences. A proper deer fence needs to be about 8' to really be effective and fences are expensive, especially if you care what they look like and how long they'll last. The floating row cover is inexpensive but not particularly reliable and it also makes takes time to put on and take off all week. Nita suggested laying plastic deer fencing directly on top of the crops, and we'll be experimenting with that (thanks for that suggestion, Nita). This would have a few advantages over row cover, it probably doesn't blow off, and you can actually see what's happening underneath, but we'd still have to take it on and off so I'm not completely sold. I've got a handful of other ideas and techniques that will bounce around for a while, things like dogs, blood meal, fishing line. Some day we might even settle on one. Meanwhile I'm ok with a little damage if it means we can leave the space open and still have enough to go in the shares for the next five weeks.

PS Danny is harvesting solo tomorrow, and hoping to put out a slightly oversized share to carry folks through Thanksgiving week. All of this to allow me to head down to a meeting on small grain production. This also means there probably won't be a blog post on the share until Friday - you'll just have to wait for the bags to see what's in them.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Carrots and Greens

We cleared about half the remaining carrots in the field today. We also found that it's a little tough to know what's underground until you start digging. We dug from three different plantings. The first one, fortunately a small one, had lots of yellowing carrot tops sticking out of the ground but as soon as we started digging it became obvious that there were no roots attached to the tops, thus the yellowing. Some rodent had eaten all but two or three carrots, right up to the base of the stems.

The escarole was also very ready so we cut most of the remaining heads, and usually chard succumbs to frost before this point in the fall so we picked the remaining leaves. We've only had a couple of light frosts to date so many of the marginal fall crops are still alive and growing. We pulled the remaining cilantro, also usually dead by this point, and that rounds out the shares.

Fall seeded favas are just starting to poke up. We're worried about deer browsing so I hoed between the rows to loosen the rain packed soil and set back any weeds and then we covered the bed with floating row cover. I also hoed the fall planted onions, and raked the tops of the garlic beds, a quick job when the weeds are small, and beneficial for letting more moisture into the beds. Next spring there should be some good early crops.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


We went ahead and harvested more chicory today, it looks so beautiful right now. Today's selection is a riccia frisse. Like the escarole the most prized parts are the thick, sweet ribs and blanched hearts, but it's all good in the end, especially if you like the slightly bitter tones of the green parts. Frisse is frequently paired with fruit, like apples or pears, and maybe a little fresh goat cheese. There's more celery in the share, as well as beets and some rainbow lacinato which has been growing huge with all this warm weather. We'll see how much longer that lasts but I'm actually looking forward to the possibility of a little freeze at some point which would sweeten some of the greens and roots.

We had originally planned on the CSA going for six more weeks, until the week before Christmas. As Thanksgiving falls on a Thursday this year (I suppose it does every year really) we're planning on not harvesting that week, but giving a double large share the week before (if we can fit is all in the bags). The produce should keep well this time of year so as long as you have room in the refrigerator (or a cool cupboard) the produce should last two weeks. Depending on the weather we should have enough produce to get us through December but we may combine the final two weeks as well. We'll keep you informed here, as well as with e-mails.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Around the farm


I stopped at one point during the harvest day last week and looked around me. It was raining and cold. I didn't realize how cold my hands were until I got in the car and couldn't turn the key in the ignition. But this season is really, really beautiful and I had this overwhelming feeling of gratitude that the work of the day had gotten me out in the weather. Like I said, once I was out in it, I didn't really notice the wet and cold, just how beautiful all of the little scenes were.


Even with the beautiful scenery, Danny and I harvested the shares, packed the bags and then moved indoors to start planning for next season.