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May 5th, 2013

My Dilemma with Omnivores

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” says local-food evangelist Michael Pollan, and though his books have been translated in at least sixty-five languages including Urdu, Chicken wasn’t one of them. Even if it were, it would be lost in translation on my willful mob. Can you say “Eat food, lots of it, mostly Matthew’s plants.”

CSA May 2013-9344Breakfast of Chickens:  The apple blossom special.

My Dilemma with Omnivores is their lack of discrimination. They seem to pick up on the coddled pheromone trail I’ve invested into my favorite varieties an go for those first.  Just when a long-awaited apple,  pear or tomato is heavy with itself, it’s pecked or gnawed into oblivion.

Chickens are über-omnivores:  They’ll sample, trial and taste almost anything, even chicken (don’t ask).  And they’ve become so unhinged lately by the delirium of Spring that they’ve even taken to browsing the blossoms off of fruit trees in the orchard.  Who does that?

I’m not alone, of course.  I just have a larger produce department than most home gardeners, and a few too many fowl wandering the aisles.

CSA May 2013-9492Annual Lamium purpurium carpets the orchard. Also known as henbit, it’s chicken candy.

I spoke about “Growing Beautiful Food” at a big garden conference last month in Connecticut, where the Master Gardeners were many, and the Q&A was mostly about predation.  “Yes, it’s all very pretty, and thank you for your lovely presentation, but what about the critters?  How do you keep them out?  This was the idée fixe: Beauty is negotiable,  plundering is not.

And while I implored them to sacrifice a few peonies for eggplant, they couldn’t get passed the loss factor. Though growing things is always fraught with peril, growing food–no matter how beautiful, healthful, and environmentally responsible—is asking for trouble. Of course, in the long haul, not growing your own, or not supporting those who do it locally and organically, is the real worry;  It will be no accident when we just can’t feed ten billion people on chemically saturated agricultural land that’s dependent on a diminishing supply of petroleum. So a few wayward chickens or nibbled greens are the least of our worries.

I’m seeking absolution, I suppose; having come in from the urban cold of not knowing (or caring) where my food came from, to caring deeply and deciding to do something about it.

I came from cities – physically, psychologically. From the bump and bustle of urbanism. No planting, no growing, no harvesting. And yet, here I am in mid-life, an organic farmer, feeding my family, feeding neighbors and CSA members; lost in a headlong swoon for this crazy, sexy piece of earth, and unable to imagine a life without it.

CSA May 2013-9511-2

Spring at Stonegate Farm:  One sexy piece of earth.

So I let the chickens have their barter share: They lay, I look the other way. A dilemma resolved by a kind of rural détante.  Sometimes letting go can be the very thing your life needs.  -Mb

Visit the farm @ StonegatefarmNY.org

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September 14th, 2012

Bookends

We’ve begun harvesting late summer sowings at Stonegate Farm of mixed mesclun greens, bok choy, mustard, broccoli raab, and heirloom radish, repeat plantings that bookend a season that began four months ago.

And the blackberries, pole beans and Sun Gold tomatoes have come on in miraculous abundance, their sun-swollen selves dangling like ornaments over trellis and fence.

CSA 9-12-1616CSA 9-12-1710

A Woofer harvest of Sun Gold tomatoes for the weekly CSA, and a Last Tango in Paradise for the seedless Concord grapes in the greenhouse.  They’ll live to dance another day.

By “we” I don’t mean the royal we (Pluralis Majestatis, that would be very sad) but my Woofers and me, helpers who’ve come to the farm from far and wide to sow, harvest, weed, and delight in all things organic. Like the plantings that bookend the season, Woofers tend to keep you balanced and centered; delegating daily chores, managing needs, avoiding idleness (although there’s much joy in idleness).  Without them, it’s possible that things would fall apart; that (to paraphrase Yeats) the center could not hold, and mere anarchy would be loosed upon (my) world.

The anarchy of weeds has certainly been suppressed by the hands and hoes that have been loosed upon them, and far from falling apart, the farm is being re-born daily with their mindful help.

Though there’s still much to be harvested and weeks to go before the farm sleeps, some mid-season stalwarts like the costata romanesco squash and the sweet and abundant greenhouse grapes have thrown in the trowel. The seedless concord that clambers so beautifully beneath greenhouse glass has been pruned back to thick cordons. Its bright purple sweetness lit up shares for more than a month this season.

CSA 9-12-6074CSA 9-12-7053If Google Maps went micro, local and organic, this is what might come up with a search for Stonegate Farm.  Harvests have been colorful and diverse this season, with deep purple pole beans, variegated eggplant, candy-colored pimento peppers, and bright Sun Gold tomatoes.  Grow, Shoot, Eat.

Long season greens like the kale and chard will be with us until frost. Though they may have lost their novelty by now, the lacinato kale, in particular, is one to “cherish until perish”; it’s just so much more nutritious than any other leafy green, full of omega-3s, calcium, iron, proteins and antioxidants. It goes into our smoothies, salads (and psyches) daily.

Just as we anticipate the first new growth in Spring, and delight in the fresh young arugula, spinach and snap peas that emerge, we should anticipate the season’s end,  savor what we have and value where we’ve been. Sounds like a good life-mantra to me.     –Mb

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August 10th, 2009

Animal Farm

ires to equilibrium – a balance between taking and giving, hard woIf a sustainable farm asprk and bountiful harvest– then a few critters prowling or clucking the grounds can do wonders for your sanity when you’re off kilter. They’re also great comic relief. I’ve never known a vegetable to make me laugh. (Although there was this very silly carrot…)


Whisker deep in the big ruddy

Last week, I sternly accused my cats of raiding the tomato patch while we were away, They took the fifth (clever boys), hired one of those freaky hairless Sphinx cat attorneys, and took refuge. The next morning, our tabby was caught with his whiskers deep in the warm, submissive flesh of a Brandywine. Maybe our soft, tomato-hued cat had found his vine-tethered likeness, and liked it.


Furrowitz, Wiskerstein & Purr, LLP. Cat calls welcome.

In a year of such tomato scarcity, this feline misbehavior is salt in the wound. But maybe they figure they’ve paid their dues.

We were once sacked and plundered by a band of snarky roof rats. They came in from the dark woods like drunken Huns, getting into all and everything edible (sheetrock: a bit dry, but not bad). The cats rose to the occasion with gusto, however, and treated these marauders to an endless gladiatorial round of “toss and swat” (very much like tennis, only with paws, and rats), and we stood around them in a circle, our thumbs in the air like so many Caesars, celebrating each critters quick and squeaky demise.

We had another orange tabby a few years back that had decided to come in from the feral cold and adoptus. We named him “Agent Orange.” He never came too close or asked for too much, but was just a stealthy presence in the long grass. He was an old cat, with all the markings of a life spent in the brush or the dustbin. And the day Agent Orange died, we wrapped him in a linen pillow case and buried him beneath a patiently trained espaliered apple tree in the kitchen garden. The next Spring, the apple was dead. The other painstaking espaliers soon followed. What’s in a name? Intractable fate, apparently, even beyond the grave.

With so many lives in the balance, animal and vegetable, the critters somehow keep you, and your conceits, in check.  -Mb

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