—© 2021 Essay and Photos by Andy Griffin.
Top photo is a Bacon Avocado on a Marsalisi Brothers Farm tree.
If you haven’t ordered a mystery box recently, now is a great time to get in on spring deliciousness! LadybugBuyingClub
The organic mantra is “feed the soil.” Feed the soil, and the soil will feed you back. The plants that we harvest are the alchemists that can transmute the base elements of the earth into our food by spinning minerals together with light and water to make leaves, fruits, and seeds. When the soil is rich our crops can thrive. Sometimes we think of the earth poetically as a giving mother who feeds us, but it’s also clarifying to think of the soil as a bank account; every harvest is a “withdrawal” of nutrients and if we don’t make deposits then, sooner or later, we run out of funds. So we try to care for the soil by putting at least as much back into the soil as we take out. But really, to only replace what we have withdrawn is a bare minimum concept of soil care; in a better world we improve the soils we depend on, and cover crops are one very basic way to do this.
© 2021 Essay and Photos by Andy Griffin.
Top photo is the cover crop on the farm. And below, are a few things we’re planning for this week’s mystery box! If you haven’t ordered a mystery box recently, now is a great time to get in on spring deliciousness! LadybugBuyingClub
His supporters say it was a “heart condition” but opposition politicians claimed that the late John Magafuli, then President of Tanzania, was being treated in Kenya for Covid 19 when he died last month. Mr. Magafuli’s death provoked more conversation on our farm than you might have expected, given that Tanzania is a long way away and there are plenty of people closer to home- and closer to us wherever they are- who have been affected by this disease. But Starr’s daughter, Yarrow, had been stationed in Tanzania as a Peace Corps volunteer until just before the pandemic started. Yarrow’s projects in Tanzania included helping HIV/AIDs survivors set up poultry projects for egg production so that they could help support themselves and their families. But the late Tanzanian president had a misunderstanding with a foreign NGO and chose to strike a politically expedient “Tanzanian First” stance by denying work visas to aid workers, effectively kicking all foreign aid organizations out of the country. At first, we were sad that Yarrow couldn’t stay in Africa until the end of her service term to see all of her projects through to successful completion. But the Covid 19 pandemic erupted almost immediately upon her return to the US from East Africa and our dismay turned to relief that she wasn’t stranded in Tanzania while a loud Covid-denying leader was in charge.
Yarrow and her friend, Trent, another Peace Corp veteran, showed up at our farm coincidentally just in time to get the Covid vaccination from the farm worker outreach program that was sponsored by the Farm Bureau/ Strawberry Commission. They’ve been helping us here since then and their efforts have been a “god/goddess-send.” Covid has been fatal to many small businesses, like some of the restaurant kitchens I used to serve, and it’s been difficult and awkward and stressful for most of the rest. For us, the dilemma has been that our packing shed and cooler and office are at our home. One of the most successful health protocols that a person can follow to minimize the spread of this highly infectious disease is to create a secure and virus-free place to retreat to. We decided that having workers show up at our home on a daily basis was not in our best interests–we’re 61 after all, the same age as President Magafuli was when he didn’t die from Covid. So Starr and I have been making up all the boxes ourselves, “sheltering in place,” you could say, and “working from home.” But those are heavy, wet boxes full of produce that we are schlepping, not weightless mouse clicks, so we’ve been feeling it. I’m not complaining. It is obvious to me that the ability for an average citizen here to enjoy or afford any degree of “social isolation” is entirely dependent on being affluent to some degree. Being stuck on a farm during a pandemic is a blessing, not a curse.
Covid isn’t anywhere near over, I know, but we had an almost normal day this past Sunday. Trent is from Florida and Yarrow had arrived from Colorado, so we wanted to show them a little bit of California besides the shed and field here at home. So we took them to Big Sur for a hike up Serra Hill in the Los Padres National Forest, just south of the Bixby Creek Bridge. It’s a beautiful drive any time of year, but we were treated to a gorgeous sunny spring day with green grass, wildflowers and wild strawberries. Heading south of Carmel I always make a game of calling out the names of the creeks to myself before I cross the bridges and culverts, just for fun; “Rio Carmelo, Wildcat, Malpaso, Garrapata, Rocky, Granite, Bixby, Little Sur, Big Sur….Bixby Creek has a fame all out of proportion to the amount of water it conveys to the Pacific due to the graceful and photogenic arch of the bridge that spans its gorge. But for me, especially now during this pandemic, it’s Garrapata Creek that means the most to me.
When I was kid I spent a lot of time with my neighbor, Jimmy, a cattle rancher in upper Carmel Valley. Jimmy was a real old-timer, and he’d had a job as a mule driver on the grading teams that carved Highway One down the Big Sur Coast back in the 1930s. But as a child he’d grown up in a fisherman’s shack just off Monterey’s Cannery Row. When the 1918 flu pandemic hit Monterey Jimmy’s mother feared for his life, so she dispatched him to live in a healthier atmosphere with his Uncle Harvey. Talk about “social isolation!” Uncle Harvey had a remote homestead/ranch way up Garrapata Creek, accessible only on foot or horseback. Harvey was a near hermit, just minding his own business and cattle, choosing only to work as a cowboy on neighboring ranches when he needed a little cash. Jimmy spent several years growing up there in the redwood forests of upper Garrapata and he had a lot of crazy stories to tell about his experiences. When the pandemic ended he returned to Monterey and got schooled, but it’s fair to say he got his education in the Santa Lucia Mountains. Standing on top of Serra Hill with Starr, Yarrow and Trent, and looking into the interior of the Little Sur backcountry, I was thinking about Jimmy and his stories with an understanding that I didn’t have when I was a kid and didn’t know the contours of a pandemic.
So where to go from here?
I don’t think anyone can really know what’s going to happen next. We’re still taking the pandemic seriously, but we’re also planting as though life will open up. Farming always demands lots of forethought, because crops take “real” time to germinate and grow. We’ve picked the first handful of artichokes and the sun will bring the crop on fast now. The first basil has sprouted in the greenhouse, the tomatoes will get planted out this week, and the potato crop is already a few inches high. The squash crop goes into the ground as soon as the field is worked up and the beans and corn follow as soon as the soil warms up. Thank you for your support; we appreciate it.
© 2021 Essay by Andy Griffin.
Photos by Starling Linden. Top photo is looking back at the Santa Lucia Mountains.
When I was a kid here in California cauliflower was white. Nowadays consumers can find many different forms and colors of cauliflower in the marketplace. At one extreme we have the green Fibonacci extravaganza that is the so-called “Broccoli Romanesco.” There’s another green cauliflower that has a more “typical,” rounded form to the head that’s marketed as “Broccoflower,” and then there are yellow cauliflower varieties and even purple cauliflower types. It’s been interesting to see these different breeds of cauliflower become available, but today I want to talk about the old-fashioned white cauliflower and the efforts growers took (and still take) to keep the face of this iconic vegetable as white as consumers demand.
Cauliflower is a form of Brassica oleracea, along with seemingly disparate and different crops like cabbage, kale, collards, kohlrabi, and Brussels Sprouts. And just as there is an amazing diversity of forms among the members of the Brassica oleracea family, there is a very wide range of traits to be discovered just among the cauliflowers. I’ve walked a lot of miles down rows of cauliflower, looking down, peering into their faces, judging when we ought to pick the crop, and I’ve seen plenty of so-called white cauliflowers that had hints of pink or purple, green, orange, or even brown showing in the face. Sometimes, I’ve seen cauliflowers that showed all these colors at once which was curious, if not appealing. Sometimes these colors are expressions of latent traits in the plants’ DNA. Plant scientists have seized the hidden potential locked up in the genetics to select and breed for a rainbow of varieties that express clear, bright colors. Other times the “off-brand” colors in white cauliflower betrays some environmental stress that the plant has endured, like too much sun, heat, or drought.
For a commodity crop available on almost any supermarket shelf, cauliflower is fussy to grow. The plant likes very rich soil, lots of water and a cool climate. Most of the US does not enjoy these conditions, or at least not for much of the year, so large-scale commercial production for the whole nation is centered along California’s central coast, where summers are cool. It may be typically foggy in the Salinas or Pajaro Valleys but if we have an extended period of sunny hot weather cauliflower crops can be prompted to mature so fast that the plants are stressed, and this stress can show as “discoloration” in the face. In an effort to keep the cauliflower white growers sometimes gather the big, floppy leaves of the cauliflower plant together and bind them up tight with a rubber band. Of course, this added step in cauliflower production adds costs. Another measure a grower can take to blanch cauliflower is to simply have a farmworker break or fold a big leaf over the open face of the plant to shade it.
Does the world end if a cauliflower face isn’t as white as snow?
Left to its own devices, a cauliflower head will mature under the sun, with each of the so-called “curds” lengthening into a longer stem. Eventually, these stems morph into long flower stalks, each topped with a little broccoli-like flower bud. When the flowers open, they show off clusters of the typical 4 petaled propeller shaped blooms common to all members of the Brassica oleracea. If you discount the cosmetic demands that the American consumer makes on the presentation of the crop, cauliflower is edible- and indeed delicious- at every stage of development. The store wants uniformly sized, tight, white heads to display so that the vegetable can be sold by the piece and cauliflower heads that are opening in different sizes, shapes, and colors are not desired. But the looser heads of opening cauliflowers taste good, even if they seem discolored to an eye that expects white. I’ve found that the little, broccolli-like florettes that develop right before the plant bursts into bloom can be sweeter than the tight cauliflower head that they sprang from ever was.
Plant scientists developed many different forms of cauliflower to appeal to different consumers, but also to different growers. The yellow cauliflowers show off their best color when the developing crop does get some sun to bring out and deepen the gold color, and these varieties do well for inland growers who can’t expect to have consistently overcast conditions. Purple cauliflower doesn’t seem to mind the sun so much either. I’ve grown all the different kinds of cauliflower at one time or another, and I’ve found the green “Brocco-flower” types to be the fussiest and most difficult. For me, the green cauliflower types work best as an early fall-plant crop for midwinter harvest, when we can be more sure that the weather will be cool and moist.
The Romanesco types have been changed the most in my experience. In the past the Romanesco seed we bought gave us wildly different plants, some huge with tiny heads, and they took a long time to develop, but now Romanesco varieties are very uniform- so uniform, in fact, that the crops all seem to mature at once. Having a whole crop come off at once is a boon to a large scale grower who is machine harvesting whole fields in a day but it can be a problem for small growers, like myself, who would like to harvest more modest amounts out of the same patch over a longer time period to satisfy a smaller, local market with a consistent supply. With the old fashioned white cauliflower we were able to plant a big block all at once and harvest out of it for a while. With the improved types we have to plant more numerous small blocks that are harvested clean and turned over. This can be cumbersome and hard to manage.
The different colored cauliflowers all have their advantages and positive traits but the seed is awfully expensive. As an economical crop to grow, the white cauliflowers are usually the best bet. If we want smaller sized heads we’ll crowd more plants in the row. You can space cauliflowers out and give them lots of fertilizer and they’ll grow as big as car tires, but what’s the point? I like to have smaller cauliflower and I like to leave more of the wrapper leaves on the head than you see in the supermarket because the leaves help to protect the tender face from bruising. Then too, the wrapper leaves are edible- no different really than kale or collards; the consumers in the know cut the leaves up and cook them.
Spring is a nice time to harvest cauliflower, but we’re still planting more crops that will mature in early summer. We’re getting the tomatoes and basil into the ground right now, but a person can’t live off of tomatoes and basil alone, even if it’s tempting to try. And the warming weather we’re experiencing right now should bring on the artichoke crop too.
© 2021 Essay and Photos by Andy Griffin.
Askelon is a port city along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Today Askelon is in Israel, but it’s an ancient city, and people have inhabited the site for at least 8000 years. It’s one of the biggest ports in the Eastern Mediterranean and the root meaning of the name, Askelon, may have something to do with business or mercantile activity. Whatever the name originally meant, the settlement served as a shipping point for onions that were exported by sea. That name of that sea, the Mediterranean, comes from the words “medi,” or “in the middle of” and “Terra” “of the Earth,” or “Terra” —the sea at the middle of the world. Askelon’s aromatic bulbs made for happy customers “all around the world,” and the port city became synonymous with the onion. In fact, our modern word “scallion” comes from Askelon, as does the word “shallot.” Recently we were asked by our friend, Colleen Logan, from Savor the Local based in Carmel, to write a piece on “why people should support local family farms. This week we’re picking scallions for your harvest box. Why should you want to get your onions from a local farm instead of buying a more famous or cheaper brand from “across the sea,” like they did in the good old days?
The food supply is a transnational dynamic these days, as indeed it has been for ages. We need to have the ability to move food around the planet if we’re going to guarantee food security to everybody and keep regional famine at bay. Also, it’s just nice to live in the Northern hemisphere yet be able to enjoy tropical fruits all year long. Food prices in the US are also often cheaper than they otherwise would be, were it not for foreign imports. Farm workers in Ecuador make as much in a day’s labor as a farm worker in the United States makes in an hour, so it’s no surprise that they can ship frozen strawberries from Guayaquil to processors much more cheaply than growers in California can. If produce from far away is not only sometimes more exotic and often cheaper than local produce is, why support local farms? I’m a local farmer; why support me?
- Your local farmer is a neighbor, a member of your community. When you support a local farmer the money you spend on the farmer goes back into our local economy and builds our community. That’s true even when you live in San Francisco or Oakland and the farmer lives in Watsonville. Where does “community” begin and end? When I get on the freeway and listen to “the traffic and weather together every fifteen minutes,” the reports cover all the territory from 17 in the south to Petaluma and 101 in the north – that’s one big bowl of asphalt and concrete spaghetti we all share in common and have to deal with. Some of that traffic comes as local farms and farm workers spend money in your cities and buy your goods and services. It’s good for the community for the money it generates to travel from home to home in circles and keep more locals employed.
- But farmers are more than just neighbors and consumers. The farmers around you are the custodians for the natural resources in your local area. Farmers and ranchers make their living from the soil and water and how they treat those resources directly affects you, whether you buy their produce or not. If you don’t want agricultural chemicals in the water you drink, then support the local organic farms that are producing food without recourse to the noxious chemicals that would contaminate your water or foul your air. If you enjoy the rural character of the hills on the horizon of your community then support the ranchers whose work it is to manage those rangelands. If restaurants and markets in your community make a point of supporting local farmers, ranchers, and fishers, then support them so that they can play their role in creating and maintaining a vital, viable foodshed.
- Maybe not every local agricultural producer is doing a good job of caring for the environment that we all share; but support the farms that are good stewards of our environment and encourage them. And supporting local farms is good for the environment because they can have a smaller carbon footprint than larger companies. If you like having cleaner air, then don’t buy food that has to come into the Bay Area on a jet, cargo ship or long haul truck. Put your money where your mouth- and lungs- are. And cleaner air isn’t just about us; we have to breathe the air that blows in from Asia and someone else will have to breathe the smog we create. When there’s less air pollution anywhere in the world everybody wins.
- Sometimes local produce costs a bit more than produce purchased in chain stores. Local producers may not use as much energy as distant suppliers in getting their produce to market but they often have significantly higher labor costs or water costs. In some cases local growers may be using practices that are more labor intensive but less environmentally damaging. The local growers need you. When the Covid pandemic hit and all the supply chain disruptions occurred those that had a connection to local food outlets learned the value of supporting their local farms. This farm to table relationship has been mutually beneficial. As a community, we are all better off when the lowest price is not our highest value.
- You can get an education of sorts from supporting a local farm too. It’s so easy to find anything from anywhere that a person can almost be excused for having no clue what’s “in season.” It’s always summer somewhere in the world so there’s almost always going to be fresh corn on the cob at some price. But eating locally means living through the seasons with all the ups and downs of the region we live in. Here in the Bay Area we’re blessed with an extraordinary range of local products. Eating seasonally doesn’t have to mean having to give up on things when they’re out of season; we can think of each season as an opportunity to enjoy the best of what our region, our climate, our season has to offer.
- Supporting a local farm can provide a sense of pride in feeling a connection to the people that grow your food and that live in your neighborhood. I’d like to take a moment to thank Colleen Logan for all the support she and Savor The Local have given our farm over the years. Colleen wrote, “I am passionate about what I do. I love supporting chefs who cook with local ingredients that are in season and I enjoy the challenge of bringing interesting and unique items for daily cooking or special occasions,” she says. “I am proud of the fact that the produce is harvested to order and delivered just in time. 95% of what I deliver was harvested that day or the day before. I directly help small farms thrive, by letting them set the prices, the minimum for each item and working with their schedules and means of communication. I also really enjoy the personal relationships I have with each farm and some amazing local chefs.” Her words sure gave me a sense of pride. Thanks, Colleen.
- If you care about your local environment and economy it makes sense to find a farmer in your area that has values you want to support. We want to thank all of you reading this because most of you have supported us for a long time through the purchase of our Mystery Boxes and farm products. We hope you will continue to support us and help us get the word out to others that might be interested in good ol’fashioned, locally sourced, farm fresh produce!
The seasons are marching forward. We plant basil this week, and the first summer squashes get sown in the trays. By popular convention our “frost-free” date here in Santa Cruz County is usually thought of as April 15th so we’ll have lots of transplants coming out of the greenhouse around that time. Life is about to get really busy and I’m optimistic about the outlook for the upcoming season.
Thanks, for your support!
Andy and the Crew at Mariquita Farm.
© 2021 Essay by Andy Griffin.
Photo of Gayle at a Piccino Mystery Thursday by Debra Baida.
Photo of Linda Ferrasci’s sheep by Linda Ferrasci.
Photo of pick up site with totes and mystery boxes by Gayle Ross.
Photo of Colleen Logan and the Savor the Local van by Michael Troutman.
All other photos by Andy Griffin.
We’re still seeing rain and cold night temperatures, but spring planting is underway. The potatoes are in the ground, and the basil seed arrived yesterday. Along with corn, squash, tomatoes, chilies and beans, I’ll be trying some chayote this year. Maybe my 2nd time will be the charm.
Several years ago Don Gerardo brought me a chayote from his home in Michoacan and it already had a stem emerging. We planted the fruit at the foot of an Ash tree in my yard and it grew rampantly up into the crown. Eventually, there were some flowers, and then a single fruit formed, but then we had a frost and the whole plant died. This time, I’m thinking that if I plant the Chayote earlier in the year than I did last time it will have more time to set more flowers and create a bigger crop.
Chayotes are in the squash family, but they behave a little differently than the zucchini. Give it time to grow and the chayote plant will form a large underground potato-like tuber. When a frost kills the foliage, the chayote can always sprout back from the tuber and grow new vines. (I’m also growing the Scarlet runner bean this year, which shares the Chayote’s Central American origin, and it too, develops a tuberous habit. I’m betting the weather is unstable there and it serves the plants well to have a 2nd way of survival if the seed crop can sometimes be destroyed by unpredictable invasion of icy weather.) The habit of the chayote is rampant, clambering over everything in its path, climbing up trees, crawling over walls. It’s the custom in rural Mexico, where the chayote is at home, to let the chayote’s vines scramble into trees. But I don’t want to climb a tree to harvest a squash, so I’ve built some tall frames on the sunny, south side of our home garden for our chayote.
I’ve got several varieties of Chayote, about fifteen potted plants in all, growing in my greenhouse. When the danger of frost is over, I’ll transplant the chayotes under the frame. As the spring advances into summer the vines will cover the frames like a canopy, and the ripe fruit will hang down through the screen at the top so that it can be picked. Fidel, who manages the production in the greenhouse, gave me the fruits. When the season is over we’ll know if planting them on a larger scale is a good idea. I like the idea that the chayote is popular in South East Asian AND Latin American cooking. I’m going to enjoy getting to know the plant. I’m hoping we’ll have a crop to share by late summer.
© 2021 Essay and photos by Andy Griffin.
“When life gives you lemons, make….” Yada, yada, yada, you know how the saying goes. As pithy quips go, this sour cliche is not without its wisdom, but I find it’s hint of disdain for this versatile fruit distasteful, as though there’s something wrong with a lemon. The lemon is a gift! Just imagine if you had the misfortune to be born in Europe before the lemon was introduced from Southeast Asia. To a modern botanist, the Latin name for lemon is Citrus medica, but that reflects a consensus in the scientific community to use a highly modified form of the Latin language for taxonomic nomenclature; there wasn’t a word in classical Latin for lemon. Not only did the Romans not have the tomato, the potato, the bean, the squash, the chile pepper, or the corn plant, they didn’t have the lemon. When life finally did gave the Romans the lemon- via the discovery of a direct sea route from the southern Red Sea to India- the produce distributors of the Empire made MONEY. Lemons are great.
For the last ten years or so I’ve been planting lemons at my house. I started with some Meyer lemons, because they’re very popular and I enjoy their balance of sweet and sour. But the Meyer lemon is not a “true” lemon. Meyer was the fellow who encountered the “Meyer” lemon in the hinterlands of China, but make no mistake, it was the Chinese who developed the fruit by crossing the citron with a Mandarine orange/pummelo hybrid. Indeed, if you let a Meyer lemon hang on the tree for a long time, the fruit begins to pick up an orange cast to the skin which betrays the Mandarin heritage. The extra sweetness that the fully mature Meyer possesses is another hint that the fruit is not a true lemon. When life gives you Meyers, make dessert.
But as popular as the Meyer has become, the true lemon still has its fans. There is a bitterness to a true lemon that adds an attractive element of complexity to many dishes that the Meyer can’t match. When I saw how well the Meyer lemons did on the south facing slope of the field below my house I decided to diversify my little grove with a number of different “true” lemons. I planted Eureka lemons, Lisbon lemons, Femminello lemons, and a Santa Teresa lemon or two. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep the names straight, so I have a small lemon zoo of unnamed varieties. I guess you could say that when life sold me lemons I paid for the young trees but I didn’t pay attention. At least I’m having fun trying to rediscover the names of the plants I’m cultivating and when I gave Happy Girl Kitchen 300 pounds of mixed up lemons they made Lemon Medley Marmalade.
Today I spent the morning watering my citrus since it appears like we’re not going to get enough rain. I was also weeding around the base of the trees and getting ready to fertilize the crop. I use a special OMRI approved organic fertilizer twice a year, and I also toss on a handful of seaweed meal. Seaweed has a rich blend of trace elements and minerals which help the plant create interesting flavors. As I dug around the trees I unfortunately unearthed a drowsy toad. He ( or she or they) did not look all that happy to be disturbed, but lucklily wasn’t harmed. I thanked the creature for eating flies and mosquitoes and let it go back to sleep in the mud. When life gave the toad a lemon tree it made a home.
The different lemon varieties differ in size, shape, flavor, and season of yield. One tree is a standout, the fruits are enormous with an extremely thick rind. I spoke with the nursery where I’d purchased the trees. It turns out that my “lemon” was actually a Cuban Shaddock. For many years the Cuban Shaddock was used as a rootstock because of its vigor and disease resistance, and then a lemon scion was grafted on. A freeze had killed the lemon tree but the rootstock survived and now is fruiting. I’ve kept the Shaddock tree because it’s so entertaining. The Shaddock fruit is good too, but there’s not much of it inside all the pith. I also learned that the use of the Shaddock as a rootstock can sometimes make for lemons which have unusually thick peels, so nowadays the nursery has switched to other types of rootstock. So what do you do if life gives you a lemon with a thick rind? Make lemonade? Most of the lemony flavor in a lemon comes from the essential oils in the skin, nit from the juice. Here’s how I make lemonade:
Use a vegetable peeler to slice off the colored part of the rind before you squeeze the lemons. I make a simple syrup by bringing two cups of water to a boil and then I add a cup of sugar and a generous handful of lemon peels. I let the lemon peels simmer in the sugar water for ten minutes of so, then I let the mixture cool before removing the skins. After I’ve juiced the lemons I add water and the lemony simple syrup until I find the balance I like. I find that most recipes make a lemonade that is far too sweet for my taste so I won’t tell you how much sugar to use, but I can assure you that the lemony syrup gives a real citrus punch to the drink. Sometimes for fun I’ll use several different kinds of citrus peels to jazz up the lemonade or I will make a batch of limoncello to use in a cocktail. Wintertime is citrus time on the farm, and this week life is giving you lemons. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
© 2021 Essay by Andy Griffin.
Photos by Starling Linden and Andy Griffin.
“Do you bathe,” she asked me. “Are you interested in personal hygiene?”
I took my time answering these questions and looked back at the woman who was interviewing me.
“Seriously,” she continued. “The job you’re applying for is primarily a forklift driving/warehouse worker job, but there are some deliveries to make and some inevitable interactions with the public. This business is a co-op with several owners so if we hired you, you’d have several “bosses.” One of the “owner/partners” doesn’t believe in taking a bath or a shower and, in fact, he’s now saying that to wash his body is to destroy the lives of millions of microbes…. So he stinks…. He stinks so bad that some of the stores we serve have called to say that if we don’t find another driver they’re going to stop ordering. So, I ask again, ‘Do you bathe?’ If you don’t want to wash , if showering is ‘against your religion,’ then hey, that’s fine; no judgement…..but no job.”
“I take a bath every day,” I replied.
“Great,” she said. “You can start right now.”
So that’s how Dorothy came to hire me at Organic Matters Produce Company, on Monday, May 25th, 1989. It would have been after midnight not long after that job interview when I first met Gayle, the company’s bookkeeper. Some of you have gotten to know Gayle too, because she’s been taking the lead at our bi-monthly pop-ups at Piccino for a number of years. Sometimes I’ll get a nice note or see a complimentary post on Instagram or Facebook that says something positive about the produce we provide and they’ll thank me. I like the positive strokes, but I know it’s never me that made the nice array of veggies happen- it’s always a team effort. Gayle has played a big role in keeping our farm going over the years. After April she’ll be stepping back from her regular work schedule. I’m not saying “goodbye” to Gayle, but it’s never too early or too late to tell someone how much they mean to you.
Organic Matters was a good job for me. The company bought produce from all the local organic growers and distributed food around the local area and up as far as San Francisco so working there gave me an opportunity to get to know a lot of people I’d be working with for the next 30 plus years. If you’re trying to add up figures or figure out how someone else buggered up a whole pile of invoices it can help not to be distracted by all the shenanigans and drama that can occur in a busy office during the day. Gayle liked to work nights when the office was empty. I’d be there working too, but I’d be tucked away in a refrigerated warehouse, so I wasn’t on hand to bug her much.
In 1990 I farmed with Gayle’s husband, Joe, at Frogland Farm until the big freeze that December of that year, when temperatures dropped down below freezing and stayed that way for the next two weeks, even during the day, so that all the crops turned black and fell over. A competent bookkeeper can add up figures and keep the books straight, but a great bookkeeper doesn’t freak out and lose their professionalism when the numbers aren’t rosy. Organic Matters went out of business, Frogland shut down, but Gayle stayed busy working for other organic farms and for like-minded organizations like the Eco Farm Conference. When Mariquita Farm needed a real bookkeeper Gayle came to mind. And Gayle took the job, but only on the condition that we never ask her to wear high heels to work! We got a big laugh about that.
As a bookkeeper Gayle was always the soul of discretion, and she saved me from myself any number of times. Unlike many competent bookkeepers though, Gayle doesn’t have any problem with leaping up from the keyboard to go and load a truck, or drive it off on deliveries. She’s a very capable woman. Gayle has stepped in to help Mariquita Farm and my family many times over the years. She’s one of the people I know who are calm and principled and empathetic in a way that makes you want to be a better person. All these years later I am happy to call Gayle a good friend.
Thinking about Gayle is bringing me back to Organic Matters. While I worked there I ended up filling in wherever I was needed, which put me behind the sales desk at times. I remember one day looking up from my phone when Dorothy was clearing the air with Russell, a delivery driver, over some egregious failure on his part. “Honestly, Russell,” she said. “Sometimes I think you really don’t like driving.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, Miss Dorothy,” Russell replied. “I LOVE to drive- I just effing hate to stop.”
We got a kick out of that answer. What is food distribution if it’s not about stopping to unload food?
This week we’ll be stopping for you. I’m happy with this box. It’s winter, which is always a hard time on the farm, but the box is looking good. There are a few things that I ought to mention, though; If you’re not going to use your Hamburg parsley right away then you should cut the leaves off and store the roots in a sealed bag or container. The Yellowstone carrots are bagged up with any of the stray Parsley roots that fell off in the harvest, so you can put them together. Hamburg parsley is a very fun crop; you can cut the roots up into chunks and cook them with potatoes if you want to make an herbal infused mashed potato dish. Parsley roots are good roasted too, along with carrots, beets, radishes, or turnips. Speaking of turnips, the Tokyo turnips in your box will roast up great, and the greens are tender enough for salad.
The citrus in your box is a mix of a number of different kinds of citrus from our friend, Zea, at Fruitilicious Farm. Zea is my “citrus coach.” Her orchard is just up the hill from our farm, so I figure if crops grow well for her there, they should do well for me. Right now the mix that Zea can harvest includes some, if not all of the following:
Valentine Pummelo –
A very pretty half-pummelo hybrid from UC Riverside involving the very interesting acidless ‘Siamese Sweet’ pummelo crossed with a Dancy-Ruby Blood Orange hybrid. Delicious flesh is juicy and sweet, with a thick rind that makes it easy to peel.
Bloomsweet “Grapefruit” (Pummelo) –
(Citrus obovoidea) Also known as Kinkoji in Japan. Large yellow grapefruit-like fruit, but without the bitterness typical of grapefruit and with a thick rind like a pummelo. Chewy but pleasant flesh makes interesting juice.
Vanilla Blood Orange –
Vaniglia Sanguigno in Italian. This is an acidless orange with lovely pink flesh that is best blended in juice with tart citrus or other oranges. Sweet and juicy, but a bit insipid by itself.
Fremont Mandarin –
Very sweet and juicy mandarin with few seeds. Small to medium size fruit is dazzling orange.
Meyer lemon —
Not a true lemon because it has some mandarin in the gene pool, but with a nice tart punch that’s got some sweetness too. Juice one of these with the Vaniglia for a glass of very interesting orange juice.
We strive to bring the familiar favorites to your kitchen but we also like to bring you the unique crops that each season has to offer.
Did someone say it’s March!?
Andy and the Crew at Mariquita Farm
© 2021 Essay by Andy Griffin.
Photo of Gayle by Debra Baida.
Photos of citrus (except as noted) by Zea Sonnabend.
Photo of Meyer Lemons by Andy Griffin.
The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages — and….
~ Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and The Carpenter
The warm temperatures notwithstanding, it’s still winter so I’m going to step out on some thin ice and tell an ethnic joke at the expense of the Polish people. But before I do I’d like to share a small personal triumph. If you’re going to have kids, it’s probably a bad idea to count on having your efforts as a parent validated too soon, but I’m feeling good today. I’m a vegetable farmer and I enjoy cooking so of course I wanted my children to eat veggies. When he was young my son, Graydon, went through a phase where he’d only gladly eat “white food,” and by that I mean white rice, white cheese, and white bread. He’s 25 now and that time is thankfully long past. He grew up to discover a passionate interest in all things Asian, and that included getting a degree in Mandarin, and then he lived in Taiwan for a while. While in Taiwan he began teaching himself basic Chinese cooking techniques, and now that he’s back here he’s only amplified his interest. Not infrequently, he’ll text me pictures of what he’s cooking and I enjoy seeing how far he’s taken his interest. The Chinese have a way with cabbage, for sure, and it makes me feel good to see how Graydon’s childish abhorrence of vegetables is a distant memory.
Graydon’s mother, Julia, lived in mainland China for a while when she was just out of college too, and she used to tell me that you could tell winter was coming when the trucks would roll into the cities loaded with cabbages. The people would buy loads and loads of cabbages and stack them up outside their homes. The weather was so cold that the whole world was like a refrigerator, so the cabbage would keep pretty well outside. Every day the people could bring a head or two inside, peel off a yellow leaf or two, and commence to make a meal. As a mother and a passionate cook and a confirmed Sinophile, Julia would love to see these texted photos of Chinese dishes that I receive rolling in from our son, but she passed away 6 years ago. In my experience grief is like a well-mannered dog that never leaves your side and remains quiet most of the time, usually choosing to put it’s nose in your hand and beg for attention up during moments of joy. I feel happy our son is cooking vegetables and enjoying Chinese food, and I feel sad that Julia is not here to share the moment. But that’s life, and grief is a part of life like a shadow that makes colors stand out more, or like a salt that deepens other flavors. But enough about other things; let’s talk cabbage.
Of course the cabbage that is most common in China is what we’d call Napa Cabbage here. Napa is a Brassica- Brassica rapa, related to the round Brassica oleracea cabbage that is most common in the west, but not closely. All Brassicas have tiny round seeds, paired valentine-shaped cotyledons when they germinate, and show off characteristic 4 petaled flowers when they reach sexual maturity, but beyond that they vary widely in form. A lot of the Brassicas grow well in cool weather, and the family really comes into its own in the kitchen during the winter. We’ve got a number of different Brassicas planted for you. This week it’s a regular cabbage family reunion in your harvest box; cabbage, broccoli and kale, for sure, and maybe turnips by week’s end if the little roots swell up fast enough. Like most garden plants, Brassicas grow easily enough if you give them what they want. These cabbages of ours grew easily enough, but we did make a mistake that I’d like to point out.
Cabbages are so important economically all over the world that plant scientists have worked to develop varieties for every season and growing region. These cabbages began to form heads just like they’re supposed too, but they didn’t get heavy. I suspect we erred and planted a variety in the fall that should have been planted in spring. All cabbages are fairly cold tolerant, but they behave differently under different light conditions. Some varieties perform best when the days are getting longer, as in the spring. Other varieties develop better when the days are getting shorter, as in the fall. Seeing that these cabbages were getting ready to bolt without getting heavy made me think we’d better pick them now. They taste good, but they’re light for their size. In the future we should probably plant this type in the spring so that it can grow super fast under the conditions of increasing day length; that way we’ll get the weight we want before the plants want to go to flower. These cabbages must be watching their mustard cousins blow up into a blaze of yellow flowers and they want to follow them. Which brings me back to my son, Graydon.
Many, but not all Chinese Brassicas are members of the mustard side of the family; think turnips, gai-lan, the various choy types, mizuna, or the many mustards and radishes the Chinese favor. Graydon often cooks Chinese food, so I was surprised when he sent me a picture that I didn’t recognize as anything Chinese. I asked him what it was. “Salmon wrapped in ‘Polish foil,’” he responded. I still didn’t understand the joke, so he amplified. He’d gotten ready to make a baked salmon dish with a miso glaze and the recipe called for aluminum foil, but he didn’t have any, so he improvised and used green cabbage leaves. He’d been working with someone of Polish ancestry who’d turned him onto stuffed cabbage recipes and joked that cabbage leaves are “Polish foil.” And he told me something else that I never knew but that is apparently common knowledge among informed cooks all over the world from Warsaw to Beijing; cabbage is high in glutamates, those natural amino acids that lend “umami” to food- think monosodium glutamate, but natural. My days of schooling the kid on food are long over, and it’s my turn to learn.
Meanwhile, back on the ranch we are getting potatoes ready to plant, we’re transplanting more kohlrabi and lettuces, sowing trays of peppers, and watching the tomato seedlings get bigger.
© 2021 Essay and Photos by Andy Griffin.
The humble kohlrabi and anoint it as the next “it” vegetable. Why not? Kale got the “celebuveggie” treatment and kale salads sprouted up on menus from Malibu to Muskogee! I’m not the world’s biggest kale salad fan, despite being a kale grower, because I think the texture is a bit much, and when I make a “kale salad” I prefer to use spigariello, but kohlrabi greens would work too, and they’re both a lot more tender on the tongue than kale.
Kale, spigariello, and kohlrabi are all members of the Brassica oleracea group- along with collards, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Brassica oleracea is a star among vegetables. When you see them growing together you can see how they’re all family, but they look diverse from a distance. With kale and spigariello it’s the leaves that are valued, but cauliflower’s inner, more tender leaves can be cooked with good results. With cabbage and Brussels sprouts we’re still eating the leaves, but they grow curling inward to form heads and don’t open outwards into a rosette like the kales, collards and spigariello. With Broccoli and cauliflower we’re eating the emergent, immature flower buds. But with kohlrabi we focus on the bulbous, swollen stem, which looks round, like a turnip that is on top of the ground, but the leaves are good food, and if you let the plant go to flower the floral buds could be consumed like tiny broccolis. All the members of the Brassica oleracea are so closely related that they can cross-pollinate like dogs into myriad mongrel forms.
I love kohlrabi because the fat, round stem is sweet and crunchy like jicama. Kohlrabi can be cooked- steamed or cubed and stir fried, or grated and folded into latkes or dressed as coleslaw, but I usually just eat it raw, sliced and dressed with a little Meyer lemon juice. I’ve grown both purple kohlrabi and green kohlrabi and come to the conclusion that the purple form is consistently sweeter than the green variety, so that’s what you’re getting today. Later in the season we’ll harvest a super large sized green kohlrabi variety that is popular in Germany and I’ll be excited to try it because I’ve never grown it before. The seed is expensive so I’ve got it sprouting under cover in trays in the greenhouse for transplant later instead of being sown directly in the ground where it would be in danger of being pecked up by birds. The large form of kohlrabi will be ready for transplant in a month or so, and harvest will commence in May when warm weather will make crisp, crunchy salads very appealing.
Kohlrabi was developed in Northern Europe and is most commonly associated with German, Dutch and Scandinavian cuisine, but the crop has found an unlikely home in the cooking of Northern India and Nepal. Colonial powers introduced the plant to India and farmers there found that the crop did well for them because the plump, crisp ball of a swollen stem that makes up the best portion of the plant rests on top of the ground, and not in the ground, like a turnip, so it is less susceptible to damage from pests like nematodes that live in the soil. If you strip the leaves off the ball so that the plant doesn’t continue to transpire after harvest- and thus wilt- and if you keep the harvest in a cool place they will “keep” for a long time. You’re not going to want to keep the kohlrabi that you get in you box for long though. They’re going to taste so good you’ll gobble them up and wonder why I didn’t send you more. Don’t worry; I’m working on it.
© 2021 Essay and Photos by Andy Griffin.