Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Winning the Lottery

One reason wintergreens exists is because of the food freak out I've had every winter until recently: missing fresh vegetables, and resenting the expensive, wilted, imported stuff at groceries and health food stores while having to rely on it. As much as fermenting, canning, dehydrating, freezing, sprouting, and finding four season farmers has helped, winter still doesn't have the lush feel of summer, when you can walk through the garden in your bare feet putting delicious food in your mouth directly from the plants. when every craving is satisfied and there's no need to go without. I'm looking forward to spring's first plants: rhubarb and wild onions, and digging up sunchokes. That, along with tending seedlings for my garden, will entertain for a while.

And then, there's that beautiful day in June when we'll go to our first C.S.A. distribution, and find a huge table loaded down with a bunch of different kinds of greens. Hallelujah!

Since moving to the Hudson Valley more than six years ago, we've belonged to the same C.S.A.: Huguenot Street Farm, in New Paltz. It a bit far to drive every week, and slightly less local than, say, Common Ground. But we've been committed to Huguenot Street, since it's served us very, very well.

Our first spring in Beacon, when shopping around for a C.S.A., we contacted Common Ground first, since it is closest to home. The combination of an inexperienced farmer, tales of groundhog killing sprees, and the use of manure from the area prisons made us decide against membership (and a job there). I dunno, I think there's some really bad karma coming down the line from animal prisoners being "farmed" by human prisoners. Things have gotten waaaaaaay better at Common Ground over the years (Love ya, Tim! Kudos, Creek!).

The next farm we called was Phillies Bridge. The farm was biodynamic at the time, and seemed appealing, except that BD always includes animals. There had recently been an uproar about changes on the farm, as it got further and further from vegetarian. The farmer and I had a long, philosophical discussion over the phone about animals on small farms and biodynamic practices, and couldn't agree, in the end, on what food is better for the body and soul: food that includes animals in its cycles, or food grown without any reliance on animal slaughter. (No, the animals don't hang around until old age on BD farms. It's a better setting for them while they're alive, certainly, but it's still about productivity.) At the end of the conversation, he sighed and gave me the number for his friends, Kate and Ron, who grow veganically at Huguenot Street Farm. That is, without the use of any animal products as fertilizer, the most common of which are manure and bonemeal.

That particular farmer has moved on to Hawthorne Valley, the big BD farm in Ghent, where all those live products you're seeing in health food stores come from. Phillies Bridge is no longer biodynamic, but is trying to grow organically, a challenge only because of the [pesticide spraying] apple orchards that abut their fields. They now have educational programs for kids and adults there—it's where I learned about fermentation and built my first earth oven and rocket stove. Still, they have animals that they send to slaughter. As much as I enjoyed hearing curious chickens circle my tent while I was falling asleep there, I knew those chickens would only be alive as long as they had a good laying rate.
Local Harvest just wrote about how to best choose a C.S.A. They cover topics like flexibility in payment plans, whether the C.S.A. washes their produce or not and whether or not they pack boxes for members, or if the members have some choices of what to take or not take. They don't have on their checklists whether there are animals at the farm or not, or whether manure is used on the vegetables. My belief in the rights of animals, as well as health concerns about veggies like spinach being infected with e coli through the use of manure, make a veganic approach to farming my preferred choice.

We were thrilled to have found Huguenot Street Farm, and that first season provided the best food we'd ever eaten. Each year we've continued to believe this is the best option for us. That's why it knocked me over to learn that we wouldn't get to be members this season.

Here's what happened: Ron has always been involved in national and international farming policy. He started the peer-run Certified Naturally Grown program as an alternative to [expensive] organic certification, and traveled regularly hosted by the U.N. Both Ron and Kate are kind of crazy geniuses, obsessed with keeping alive heirloom species, improving weeding methods and storage methods—improving every aspect of small scale vegetable farming.A few years ago they invented the CoolBot, a gizmo that enables you to build your own walk-in refrigerator with a regular window air conditioner. (The wintergreens household spent a whole month wiring Coolbots in exchange for a portion of our yearly share.) I don't know of any small farms in the Hudson Valley that don't use this technology, since it literally saves thousands of dollars. Our C.S.A. newsletters are filled with facts about cooling your vegetables, things like, "If your napa cabbage spends an hour in a warm car before being cooled again, its longevity has been cut in half." The kind of obsession that brought the CoolBot into being, as well as the solar tractor design Ron's been talking about for a couple of years, has gotten noticed.

"My" farmers are heading a Gates Foundation project strategizing more efficient post-harvest care in India, Honduras, Thailand, and weirdly, California. Ron [who is Indian] says:
The idea is to help places like India where there is still malnutrition while 40% of fresh produce rots and is discarded before it can get to market.
Clearly "my" farmers are going to be busy this year. As a result, they are cutting down C.S.A. membership to a third the size of last year. To cut some of us out fairly, they used a lottery system. For a minute it seemed like we hadn't made it, and there were 24 hours of panic and internet research (Did you know there are only seven veganic farms in the country?) and then we found out that we HAD made it.

If I thought I appreciated that table piled with greens in June for the past six years, I'm going to REALLY appreciate it this year.

The cuties pictured at the top of this post are Potsie and Radar, some kids we rescued while living in Brooklyn.

2 comments:

  1. Hey! I so agree with everything you said about Phillies Bridge, but what bothers me even more about them is that they are LITERALLY right up against a very spray-y non-organic super mainstreamy apple farm. I have no proof of this and shouldn't be spreading rumors, but I don't see how their spray could not affect the PB crops. But still, they rent the land and do amazing educational programs and are generally wonderful caretakers of their little plot of the HV, so I shouldn't complain. But I have to admit: when I'm running down my list of farmers to beg for food, they are the very bottom, because I don't feel entirely comfortable about the next door neighbor issue.

    On the other hand, I live less than a mile from the same spray-y farm. Who knows what I'm breathing in?

    Also: HUGUENOT ST FARM! yay!
    I am thinking about building a commercial kitchen at my house, and you know I have my eyes on a CoolBot...

    I wonder if I maybe first met you 2 when you were working at Hug. Farm? I was super tight with the Khoslas in about 2005-2006...

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