From the Farmer

Week 7 – 7/18/2012
Greetings,
 
Veggies – What’s in and what’s out, and Better Tomatoes There’s a time in spring when we tend to get a little creative. I think it’s a holdover from winter; when the seed catalogues come in, a lot of farmers get big eyes and dream of gardens full of interesting new varieties like purple carrots, yellow cucumbers, and white tomatoes – things that taste great but don’t produce, or don’t sell. So we put a few packets of each in our shopping cart, then go ahead and choose the standard varieties that do well for us – General Lee and Marketmore 76 cucumber, Big Beef tomato, Raven zucchini squash. Then we go to checkout and fall over from sticker shock. So most times we ditch the expensive, interesting seeds.
 
But there’s always a few that slip by because the variety tastes too good, or the color is too vivid, or because our girlfriend wants us to grow it. When it comes time for planting, we put off planting them. The People Want Green Beans, so we plant green beans and long, straight cucumbers. Then, by the third or fourth planting, the man with the seeder (that’s me) gets a little bored, or stir crazy, from the spring grind of planting and weeding, and starts dreaming of that garden of exotic varieties. And in slips a row of purple and white Dragon Lingerie beans.
 
Well, the moment of truth is here as that week of planting extraordinary varieties is coming, literally, to bear fruit. So you may see in your share and at the stand a few new-old varieties of common vegetables. New cucumbers include round yellow “Lemon” cucumbers and short pickle-sized cucumbers. The former have superior taste and look like a tennis ball. In the squash patch, you may have already noticed the mix of zucchini squash, yellow crookneck, and patty pan squash. Now there are two Italian varieties to eat; Costata Romanesco, a green and white speckled zucchini squash and Tromboncino, light green and also speckled with white, but shaped like a horn. When it comes to economy, best not to look to the Italians for instruction, but when it comes to vegetable variety, we must. Both have outstanding flavor and texture. Tromboncino is by far the best summer squash variety I’ve encountered. Slice it into quartered rounds and roast it with olive oil and garlic, and maybe a little rosemary. Or, just grill it.
 
We’re also starting to harvest heirloom tomatoes, which while they don’t produce like modern hybrids, and don’t store or ship as well, have been bred over generations for taste, appearance, and cultural significance. Heirloom tomatoes like to take knobby shapes and some have zippers and green shoulders. Take these as marks of a better tomato. Ours come in rose, deep purple, white, orange and yellow, and red and have names like Rose de Berne, Cherokee Purple, White Wonder, Striped German, and Big Rainbow.
 
While these colors and shapes are less familiar, they make farming fun and interesting. They also remind us that food is culture, and what our food tastes, feels and looks like tells us a lot about who we are and what we care about. A “perfect” red tomato found at a grocery store is an artifact of a way of growing, shipping, and selling food that has increasingly come to rely on scale, distance, and divorce. The food we can grow here in the neighborhood can be about the scale and variety that is appropriate to this place, about freshness and taste, and about relationship – the relationships we have with the land, with our community, and even with ourselves. Ultimately we’re talking about food that tastes better and makes us feel better – food that maybe even makes us better people.
 
Dionysis: 2012 CSA Vine Club
 
On the subject of improving things, the right beverage can do just about the same for a good meal. It’s a good bet that humans co-evolved with the microorganisms we use to ferment foods, and while archaeological evidence suggests we’ve been making wine for 8,000 years (almost as long as we’ve been growing food and not wildcrafting it), we probably figured out fermented fruit a long while before that: I imaginean ancestor coming upon a tree full of overripe figs and experiencing a hangover for the first time. But aside from the blessings of alcohol, wine and other fermented foods and beverages can be an important part of our diet, both physiologically and culturally. The best part being that they can enhance the flavor of a dish in tonight’s dinner. 
 
This week please pick up a folder containing your CSA Vine Club card and information. Also choose a bottle of wine, Willowsford Country White or our Farm House Red. We think of these wines as “produce friendly”, meaning they’re lighter in alcohol and go well with our veggies.
 
Meet your Farmers
 
Jennifer Beidel grew up on a farm in the small village of Silex, Missouri. With a population of 202 people, almost all of them  farmers, she spent most of her life outdoors. Initially her family focused on milking goats and eggs, but after Jen joined her local 4-H group she turned her focus to hogs and rabbits. In high school she was involved in helping local farmers as a member of Future Farmers of America.
 
In June of 2001, at the age of 17, Jen joined the United States Navy. During her 4 years as a Sonar Technician aboard the USS Laboon, she saw firsthand just how detached people were from their food source and began to reconsider farming as a career. After her honorable discharge in 2005 she was determined to take her knowledge and passion for agriculture to the forefront of people’s minds, both volunteering with local nonprofits and working with George Mason’s Office of Sustainability.
 
Jen graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, VA and later transferred to George Mason. She is presently a Senior majoring in Conservation Studies with a minor in Sustainability. She hopes to one day have her own farm where she can help local communities understand the importance of healthy, local, organic food.
 
Have a good week and be great, 
 
Mike
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