Tuesday, April 27, 2010


We are small-scale farmers who support local food, sustainable and organic growing practices, and the farm-to-consumer marketing model.  We value these things because we believe they are good not only for our own health, but also for the health of our customers, our community, and the future of our species and our planet.  A natural outcome of these values is the practice of cooking and eating fresh, minimally-processed, responsibly-produced food that is nourishing for the body and the soul.

When charismatic, articulate ambassadors for this kind of food do things that reach a large audience, it makes me happy.  I recently came upon two posts on Chef Andrew Little's blog (thanks to Blue Heron Farm and GreenAkeys Farm blogs for pointing the way) linking to videos of excellent TED2010 talks about improving the food we eat.  I found both inspiring.  The information is presented in an interesting, thought-provoking way that fires me up to do something about it!

The first video is Chef Jamie Oliver speaking about overhauling the American diet.  This talk gives us a chance to hear the ideas and motivation behind his project in West Virginia without the reality-TV gimmicks.  The bar chart of mortality statistics is arresting; Oliver points out the irony of our obsessive fear of homicide while we are killing ourselves with food and lifestyle.

When he talked about encountering children who are the third generation to grow up without a family tradition of cooking, at first I wasn't surprised.  But then I really thought about it and I was astounded by the idea.  Ed and I both grew up in homes in which we sat down with our families almost every night to eat a home-cooked meal prepared by our mothers.  Both of my grandmothers baked bread from scratch, cooked meat from animals they raised, and preserved home-grown produce.  I can't imagine growing up not only without knowing how to cook, but also without thinking of cooking as a normal part of life.  With so many Americans so far removed from preparing their own food, is it any wonder that we, as a nation, are dying of diet-related diseases?

I had another 'aha' moment when Oliver spoke about how fast food restaurants (and prepared food manufacturers and other restaurants) have "weaned us on to these hits of sugar, salt and fat, and x, y, and z".  I think the term 'hit' is perfect.  That is how it feels to me, now that I am aware of it.  How many times have I continued eating something after I am no longer hungry, still trying to get more of that 'fix'?  Our palates have been trained and our bodies and brains now expect regular doses of these concentrated flavors.  With that perspective, it is easy to see why so many of us are disinclined to eat real food - it doesn't push those buttons with the intensity and immediacy of food-like substances which have been designed to do just that.  Though these ideas have been well-discussed in the past (Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma come to mind), I was glad to be reminded again of the challenges which have been built into our culture's food landscape.

Oliver concludes with his wish as winner of the 2010 TEDPrize: "I wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again, and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."  He already has a great start on this with his Ministry of Food program in England.  It sounds great to me!  Let's cook!

I'll get to the second video, Chef Dan Barber talking about sustainable food production, in another post.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Toads and 'Todes

After a wet winter, we have had a somewhat dry spring.  Since the middle of March there has been hardly any rain.  Our rainwater tanks were basically empty.  So we were glad that there was rain in the forecast for last weekend, though we hoped the rain wouldn't come in the middle of the farmer's market.

The sky looked threatening most of the day Friday and Saturday, but the rain didn't come and we stayed dry through the harvest and the market.  We were also able to get the pepper plants in the ground on Saturday afternoon, which was a very good thing.  They were pretty tall and becoming root-bound in their little pots.

We got half an inch of rain in the middle of the day Sunday.  I would have liked more; I guess we farmers are never quite satisfied!  The timing was perfect for Ed to apply our latest natural pest control: beneficial nematodes.  These microscopic worms are parasites of soil-dwelling insects.  They are a different species from the plant-parasitic nematodes which cause root knots on tomatoes and other plants.  They are a bit finicky about the temperature, sun and moisture, so it is important to apply them in the right season, weather and time of day.  Sunday afternoon after the rain turned out to be perfect.

I had a good laugh when Ed told me he was going out to spray some "todes".  The nematodes come in some organic matter and basically need to be "dissolved" in water and then diluted before being sprayed on the soil.  After a little while, I could hear Ed pumping up his hand-held sprayer.

I wandered out into the garden to admire the tomato and pepper plants and enjoy the cool breeze.  Ed was making his way down a row from which we had just harvested the last of the beets and carrots when I heard him chuckle.  He called me over to see what had amused him.  While he was spraying near the end of the row, he had seen something move.  When he stopped and looked closer, this is what he saw:

This funny little toad had decided to take up residence in the hole left by a carrot.  He sat there calmly as we leaned in closer and closer to take the photo.  Apparently he felt very safe in his hideout.

It just goes to show that we never know what will happen in the garden.  Some days, squash and beans seem to appear overnight.  Other times, we go out to harvest a perfectly ripe tomato, only to find out that some critter has been there first.  And, every once in a while, we end up spraying 'todes on a toad.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mystery Plant

There is a stranger in our midst, a mystery plant growing among the Brussels sprouts.  One of the transplants we got from a friend last fall must have been labeled wrong.

We didn't notice anything unusual for quite a while.  Its leaves were the same color as those around it.  To me, Brassica-family plants look pretty similar when they are young, anyway.  But after a few months we noticed that its leaves looked more like broccoli raab leaves.  Then it started forming a swollen stem like a kohlrabi.  Still, it didn't look quite the same as the kohlrabi plants we had planted on purpose further down the row.  Our best guess is that it is a cross between kohlrabi and broccoli raab.  Maybe we should call it "brokohlraab" (Say that five times fast!).  Wherever this seed was produced, some industrious little bee must have carried pollen a long way from a field of broccoli raab and dropped it into a flower in another field of kohlrabi!

We decided that the best course of action was to eat that brokohlraab.  At some point.  Then the spring planting blitz hit and we forgot about the mystery plant for a while.  The next time I really looked at it, I saw it had sent up a bunch of flower stalks and pretty little yellow blooms were opening up.  And the bees had found it.

At that time, there were very few blossoms in the garden besides the favas, which the bees were pointedly eschewing.  We love our pollinators and do what we can to encourage them, so I didn't have the heart to chop down our little mystery plant and deprive the bees of their feast.

A month later, there are hundreds of flowers on the brokohlraab and the pollinators still think they are the bee's knees (couldn't resist that one).  Soon we will have to remove it to make room for pepper plants.  Luckily, a lot of other plants are blooming now, both in the garden and in the yard, so we can rest easy that there will be plenty of food for our apian friends.

I still intend to eat it.  That kitchen experiment may show up as a post in a few weeks.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Opening Day at the Farmer's Market

Saturday was opening day of the spring season at Grogan's Mill Village Farmers Market in The Woodlands.

We were very busy last week getting ready for the market.  Although the fall season market ended in mid-December, less than 4 months ago, we were out of practice.  Everything seemed to take a long time, I guess because it was no longer routine.  Plus, this is the first time we have grown some of the fall/winter crops for market.

I did a few things ahead of time, like dragging out of the closets all the market paraphernalia, such as containers and bags, signs, and other things we have with us in the booth.  I had also printed some flyers and recipes.  Still, there was a lot to do come Friday.  Luckily, we both had the day off.

The first step on Friday, after we had done the routine stuff like watering, was to harvest the vegetables.  Here is our rainbow of veggies, fresh from the garden:

Swiss chard, carrots, beets, spinach and kale

Red leaf lettuce, scallions, and radishes

Once we had harvested the veggies, we cleaned them up, weighed them, split them up into bunches, and put them in coolers to keep them fresh.  After that we repeated the process with the herbs, but I forgot to take pictures of those.  We also sorted out the tomato and herb plants we wanted to sell.  Then we started working on setting prices, making signs for the table, and figuring out how we were going to display the various veggies on the table.  Decisions, decisions!  Once that was done, we packed as much into the truck as we could ahead of time, and collapsed into bed.

When we got up Saturday morning, there was a light fog, which is actually good because it helps keep the produce from drying out.  We loaded the rest of the stuff into the truck and headed out to The Woodlands.  About halfway there, we drove straight out of the fog and could see the sunrise.  It was nice to be on the road so early with hardly any traffic.

Spirits were high among the vendors as we all set up our booths.  Everyone seemed happy to be back and excited about the beautiful spring weather.  We were glad to see friends again, but had little time to chat because the customers started coming early!

Here are a couple of photos we managed to get when we were almost done setting up:

I forgot to put out the lettuce and the cut herbs before Ed took the picture - oops!  As you can see, the fog followed us, but it didn't stick around long.  It soon lifted and we had a gorgeous, sunny spring day.  The market attracted a lot of people; we stayed busy the entire time.  It was fun to see familiar faces and also to meet a lot of new people.

We will start it all over again tomorrow, but this time should be a lot easier!