Getting to know places we farm to sustain Earth’s future generations
If we would truly sustain the Earth, we must feel for the place from which we – by great expenditures of energy and resources – mine its nutrients in order to eat food. We must care for that place as if it were a person. We must clearly see that caring for it is as important as ensuring that the practices by which our food is grown are organic, safe, healthful, just. We’re so used to living in a world where food travels about in trucks, ships and planes such great distances that it might as well be from Mars, for all we know about its place of origin. I realize what I’m saying is hard to understand. Believe me, even for a struggling farmer today, intimacy with a place is just as hard to accomplish. We’re nearly 20 years into farming here. We still cannot afford to buy land we farm. We rent five fields on three different properties where we’ve rotated vegetables with other crops (hay, oats, wheat, sunflowers, rye, switch grass) to break plant disease and pest cycles. The newest is an 8-acre field we’re just getting to know. We lost everything we planted there last year, except a pitifully small yield of oats. The first part of the season, drought; the latter, frost. This spring, I started early preparing the ground. I tilled in the grasses and weeds with our rotivator and John Deere tractor. I took 11 loads of horse manure from a neighbor’s place to this field (about 12 miles, back and forth). I tilled it all into the soil at the end of each day’s work. It took several weeks between other fieldwork and rain. I planted about ¾ of the field to sweet corn, leaving broad spaces between three varieties of corn for planting fall squash. All the plants came up beautifully. It kept raining. I got weeds under control with one pass over a half-day with a four-row cultivator and the tractor. Then the crops began to suffer from that blast of 90-degree weather. And I began to see sides to this place I did not know. It was as if I were beginning to recognize flaws in the character of a new acquaintance. Sand is more predominant in this soil than silt or clay. In dry weather, it bakes hard as rock. A better-balanced soil lets plant roots breathe. When rains finally returned to this place, they came with such force that our plants had trouble standing in this sandy soil. Nutrients I’d moved there at great expense of time, equipment and gasoline, leached out of the higher ground into the center of the field. Raccoons and deer have been coming into this field at night, raiding the sections of corn that seemed on track to survive the field’s negative characteristics. Dela and I began taking our puppies on visits to patrol the perimeter, in hopes their scent would deter nocturnal intruders. We’d so hoped for a return this season of the great sweet corn we’ve enjoyed growing and sharing with you in past years. It’s not looking good at this point. Yet what about this place? Who served and protected this ground historically? Why weren’t nutrients brought here in past years? It can easily take 100 years to build an inch of fertile soil. A single generation can so over-work soil that it is completely depleted in less than a decade. Thus the hard work of bringing lasting sustainability to a place on this Earth. We want always to succeed. We want always to satisfy our subscribers. In our world so out of balance, so disconnected from a rooted sense of place, we must recognize that sometimes this will take a lasting commitment to achieve.
This Week’s Vegetables include:
- Broccoli, OR cauliflower
- Beans OR Snow Peas
- Tomatoes (2 lbs.)
- H19 Little Leaf Cucumber
- Radishes OR Turnips (in on-farm pickup)
- Shuyho Long Japanese Cucumber
- Zucchini or yellow summer squash
- Ice box melon (Madison and Milwaukee) OR okra (on-farm pick-up)
- Purple Italian Onion Bunch
Cooking Tips for the Week
Tomato Bread Casserole Cut ½ lb. loaf French bread, sliced into cubes 1 inch by 1 inch, and melt 3 Tb. Butter. Combine bread and butter and toss together. Bake e at 350 for 7 minutes. Place ½ the baked bread cubes in bottom of 7-by-13-inch baking dish. Top bread with layer of 2 lbs. of fresh thinly sliced tomatoes and follow with layer of 1 cup low fat ricotta or goat cheese. Mix ¼ cup olive oil; ½ teaspoon oregano; 2 cloves garlic, minced; and ¾ tsp seasoning salt and evenly pour over layer of tomatoes and cheese. Repeat layering of tomato and cheese. Top with ¼ cup parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 for 40minutes covered. Uncover and bake 7 more minutes to brown the top. Enjoy!
Mediterranean Cucumber Summer Salad Chop and peel 3 cucumbers. Add 1 onion chopped, ¾ cup plain yogurt, 1 tablespoon fresh mint chopped, ½ tablespoon honey, salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!