Learning to make our world safe in the places our food is grown
Life is good and bad, birth and death, success and defeat. We all strive for balance. We know it’s unhealthy to dwell on even normal struggles and turmoil. We also know very bad things can and do happen to those who live in denial of truths we must face to survive. I was not surprised to hear this week that modern herbicides are becoming ineffective as weeds build resistance. For this reason, many corn and soybean farms are reviving use of powerful sprays from the WWII era. With mass production of cheap foodstuffs come dangers to health and safety, as well as imbalances to Nature. Organic farmers, along with consumers, have sets of challenges to face, too. Many letters regarding our 15- and 10-week subscriptions, which we mailed last week to past and present customers, came back. So many people have moved in search of jobs and affordable places to live. Just before the economic crisis really hit America, 44 people turned out for our Wine, Weeds and Cheese volunteer workday and potluck. Just after the big crash, only one person out of more than 200 subscribers showed up. This year, ten people came to our first scheduled workday. Together, we weeded squash, celery, cabbage. We harvested snow peas. We even worked to resolve problems with a tractor generator and a 50-inch tilling machine. These subscribers experienced miracles and challenges of an organic farm, firsthand. They witnessed our family’s joys and difficulties at Scotch Hill. They saw the real, deep, complex dimensions behind a bag of fresh produce. I wish you all could see the ground you protect here. I wish you could ride round the field we planted to prairie grass, which I mowed last week with tractor and rotary mower. The mowing helps establish the switch grass (a 3-year process). It helps this grass overcome an infinite seed bank of weeds. This field is part of a national study comparing oat, wheat and prairie grass straw mulch. We’ve rented and planted fields to those small grains, too. The oats and wheat are turning golden and near ready for harvest. Tending them is as stressful as it is rewarding. It’s hard to manage these other crops and do a good job at growing vegetables, too. I caught the weeds in the switch grass field just before they’d gone to seed. My little 1940s combine for harvesting small grains is broken down and not ready for oat and wheat harvest fast approaching. Yet tending these other crops is essential to grow vegetables for you, too. For an organic system to work, one should plant at least 5 acres of other crops for every acre planted to vegetables. Rotating crops through these fields breaks up plant disease and pest cycles. It restores fertility that vegetables rob from the soil. It feeds goats, sheep and poultry, which help sustain the farm, too. The switch grass will provide bedding for our animals in winter, mulch to keep down weeds in acres of vegetables and extra income for our farm. Last week, I left a cluster of tall prairie grasses where I saw a nest that nervous birds were circling. Again this week, as I finally got a break from wet weather to cut our hay, I watched the tall Timothy, sweet rye grass and alfalfa in yet another field, for signs of nesting birds. I was relieved to see the young there were up and taking flight. I hate to disturb their habitat, yet I need to harvest that hay. Soil recovers so well (from crops that deplete it) with the help of perennial grasses and their massive root systems. So much is going on in an organic farming system. Nature is teaching us all the time. Insects and birds, plants and animals are interacting with the safe crops we grow without chemicals.
This Week’s Vegetables are:
- Lettuce mix
- Broccoli (Marathon and Green King varieties)
- Snow Peas
Cooking Tip for the Week
Broccoli dipped in wonderful peanut sauce (from Vegetable Dishes I can’t live without” by Mollie Katzen):
Broccoli can be cooked up ahead of time. Serve it at any temperature with room-temperature or warm sauce. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Trim and discard tough stem ends of one large bunch of broccoli (1.5 lbs.). Slice the rest lengthwise into about 6 to 8 hefty spears. When the water boils, lower the heat to a simmer and plunge in the broccoli for 2 minutes if you like it tender-crisp, and 3 minutes if you like it tender-tender. Drain in a colander, then put the broccoli under cold running water to cool it down. Drain thoroughly. Dry the broccoli by first shaking it emphatically, then by patting it with paper towels. Transfer to a zip-style plastic bag, seal and store until use. Place 1 cup smooth peanut butter and 3 to 4 tablespoons light-colored honey in a bowl with 1 cup hot water. Mash and stir patiently with a spoon or a small whisk until uniformly blended. Stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons soy or tamari sauce, 1 ½ teaspoon minced or crushed garlic, 2 teaspoons cider vinegar, 3 to 4 tablespoons finely minced cilantro. Add salt and Cayenne pepper to taste. Serve right away, surrounded by steamed broccoli.