2012 Apprentice

I write this blog post from the snowy hills of suburban Connecticut– a place so fundamentally removed from Galena that I almost feel as though I am typing to you from beyond the grave. So, forgive me if I get a little weepy.

First and foremost, I am writing because I felt as though I still owed you blog readers a serious Thank You for being so responsive and encouraging over the last few months. Publishing oneself to the internet can feel a bit like throwing a manuscript over the side of a large abyss—and it’s enormously comforting/reassuring to know that one’s words made it through the ether to another living, breathing human being.

I was trying to think of a way to give something back as a thank you gift, some sort of advice or retrospective. I had even started drafting a “10 Lessons from a First Season of Farming,” which included such gems as “never use one hand where you could use two;” “it’s actually important to count your chickens;” and “when in doubt, eat the evidence.”

Alas, the list turned out to be neither prolific nor terribly insightful. And then this morning, as I was doing some reading over my cup of coffee, I realized that– though I had shared with you the recipes and small delights of a first season farmer– I have never told you what brought me to an organic farm in the first place—and, spoiler alert: it goes beyond my somewhat embarrassing devotion to kohlrabi.

So, here, here is the best gift that I can think to give to you: an essay written at the turn of this century by quite possibly the most articulate man in agriculture— activist, poet, novelist, and essayist Wendell Berry. With far more wit and intelligence than I could ever hope to muster, Berry clearly states the values, fears, and goals that I so fervently believe in that I sometimes make the mistake of assuming that everyone else shares them. It’s a beautiful piece of writing, and I like to revisit every time I need to renew my sense of purpose.

You should definitely read the whole essay if you can, but because I know that this is a busy season, I’ve outlined the gist of it for you.

Berry begins by lamenting to the tendency of single-issue movements to corrode, dissolve, and generally devolve into the very problems that they once sought to address. He then outlines his hopes for a movement that would both necessitate and be necessitated by a mass transition from conventional agriculture to smaller, organic, and sustainable forms of growing food.

He has three conditions: one, that we recognize the interconnectedness of the world and its problems. We “should begin,” he writes, “by giving up all hope and belief in piecemeal, one-shot solutions.”

Two, that we become responsible, mindful, and informed members of economies—that we realize that in spending money, we are supporting the practices and people that create the goods that we buy—or as Berry says, “Spend money with our friends and not our enemies.” And then he nails the whole thing right on the head when he writes, “In seeking to change our economic use of the world, we are seeking inescapably to change our lives.”

And three, he asks that the movement be democratically-driven and remain populist (“content itself to be poor” in his words) so that it will necessarily develop solutions that are inexpensive, practical, and viable for everyone.

And, for those that like a happy ending, I’ll add that the note that he ends on is cheerful.

Rereading the essay, I am reminded that ultimately, one does not farm for the vegetables: one farms for people; if done mindfully and with a sense of purpose, the proliferation of small scale organic farming lies at the heart of the change that I hope for this world.

It was something, actually, that you also reminded me of as I worked that last cold Friday pick-up on the farm a couple of weeks ago, surprised to find myself in the midst of many sad goodbyes. It can be lonely to be an urban transplant in a rural climate, but I was never less lonely than when I got to chat with all of you on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings about the important things in life: things like which potato is the right potato for making oven-fries and why you really (yes, really) did want to take celeriac into your heart and home that day. Thank you for being so friendly and welcoming. If I had to do it all over again, I’d invite you over for dinner sometimes.

Have a wonderful and warm winter, everyone. You have a great resource in the farm and your fellow members. May you find and foster an abiding friendship, strength, and possibility in each other.

When we move a tray of plants out of the greenhouse or tunnel and into the field, we give each individual one steady drink of water with the hose. This is called “watering in,” and it’s not so different from showing up with jello mold to say welcome to your new neighborhood. On hot days, Austin says that you can hear the transplants thanking you as you water them into the ground, but today all I hear are the sounds of slurping. Thank you is implied and not so much necessary. But thank you for growing, I would say back, I know that this is stressful for you. Moving is hard.

Heat spiking daily. Summer arrives as a wave: first the potatoes then the basil; beets bulge; small specks of orange dot themselves along the tomato trellises; hands paddle the stream of squash; corn tufts out, little pink beards growing out of its ears; every piece of clothing drenched in sweat.

In the South end of the eighth field, a hot tundra. Squash tendrils reaching out and grasping to pull the vines along the lonesome, cracking ground.

But, across the farm, in the shorter high tunnel, a tropical wetland and a bed of ginger roots raising leafy flags to the sun.

So, we know that sometimes your CSA share can be a little daunting. (How do I store green garlic? How will I use all of these vegetables? What on earth am I supposed to do with the mutant-looking kohlrabi?) And, we know that your lives are busy enough that this isn’t always enough time to spend hours scouring recipe books and cooking blogs for the perfect thing to do with fresh spring peas. So, we’ve decided to take the challenge for you.

Starting this week: The Vegetable Spotlight Challenge. For Chefs. One week. One ingredient. Fame, glory, and four very full farmer bellies.

That’s right. Each week, the farmer’s over here are choosing one ingredient to highlight. Check in here on Mondays (I know, I know, I’m already running behind schedule this week) to find storage tips, cooking discussions, and recipes (with pictures!) from what we eat here in the farmhouse! Hopefully, this will give you some ideas as you plan out how to use your vegetables for the week.

First up, ahem, drum-roll please….. Garlic scapes! Those alluringly curly but potentially perplexing green rods. Maybe you’ve tried them, maybe you love them, maybe you’ve never been bold enough to choose a unit of them over a unit of spinach. Regardless, it’s time to give them a second look.

As we posted about earlier, garlic scapes are the reproductive part of the garlic plant. They grow out of the top of the bulb and begin forming little heads of cloves. Their taste is a little milder than a garlic bulb, but they can still pack a punch, and while you’re still waiting for the cured bulbs, scapes have a lot of the same health benefits as the other parts of the garlic plant. Plus, they’re more versatile than you think: you can eat them sauteed, grilled, chopped up like regular garlic, or pureed into soups of pestos. This week, our recipes feature oven-roasted crispy scapes, pasta and garlic scape pesto, and peanut and sesame noodles with vegetables and scapes.

On Monday, I roasted garlic scapes, which is insanely easy, but I somehow still managed to botch. Ideally, you want to follow one of two methods: 1) preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and roast for 8-15 minutes until the scapes are starting to brown on the edges (this is where I want wrong, by the way: I walked away from the oven, and they got quite crispy. They were still a hit at the farmhouse, though, where we’re always looking for potato chip alternatives.) or 2) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and roast for 25-25 minutes, until tender. Either way, roasting the scapes makes them mild and delectable enough to stand alone as a vegetable side dist with dinner. Plus, they look fancy enough to serve to company.

On Wednesday, Kayla broke out the Cuisinart and served up a garlic scape pesto with whole wheat pasta. She  felt that the pesto was too pungent in its raw state and sauteed it briefly before tossing it with the pasta. Whatever, she did, I have to tell you, it was freaking delicious. You can find a basic recipe here, but if you want to cook the pesto at all, I recommend cooking it before adding in the Parmesan and lemon. Whichever culinary path you decide to take, the end result is pretty versatile and could conceivably go well on any meal that you have often and would like to change up a bit: steak, grilled fish, pastas, roasted vegetables, omelets, sandwiches, or even just crackers.

And, finally, on one very hungry Thursday night, Theresa sauteed up all of the veggies below with an 8 oz package of soba noodles and this peanut sauce (though she used chunky peanut butter instead of smooth). The garlic scapes played well off of the creaminess of the peanut and sesame sauce. And, I’d bet that the rich creamy peanut sauce might be able to convince some of the pickier eaters you may know to have a few extra vegetables at dinner. On an only slightly related side-note, this is how many vegetables three of us can eat for one dinner alone.

Cooks out there, did you have any scapes this week? We’d love to know what you tried, what worked, what didn’t work. Post your own recipes in the comment section below!

Stay tuned for next week’s installment. At this very moment, our talented cooking farmers are hard at work trying to concoct as many pea recipes as they possibly can to give your dinners next week a little inspiration.