The Ladybug Letter is an open letter from Mariquita Farm to everyone with a curiosity about the people, practices, and politics of farming. We send it out every few (several) weeks when we have an article we think you all would love. We do continue to send a weekly newsletter every week year round with many recipes, notes about our events, CSA, notes from Andy (and often a full article from him), upick dates and messages, and more. Sign up for our Ladybug Postcard weekly email here. More about our frequent produce deliveries of bulk produce throughout the bay area at the bottom of this message. Tomatoes, Strawberries, Padron Peppers, Melons, and more!
Rogation Day by Andy Griffin
Christ the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on Meridian Avenue in San Jose is one of our CSA vegetable box pick-up sites, and it has been for years. This week we start the third quarter of our seasonal harvest box deliveries and I want to thank everyone who has signed up to receive our farm’s produce again. I want especially to thank all of the pick-up site hosts who generously allow us to use their homes, their businesses, and their places of worship as distribution points. Without their patience and generosity of spirit Community Supported Agriculture programs like ours would be next to impossible to manage, and our farm would be history. I look at every pick-up site we service as a blessing. But beyond that, I’m a farmer, an employer, a manager of land, and I’ve got teenagers, so I can always use an extra blessing or two.
Julia didn’t go with me to the Rogation service. Her mother, Fran, had taken both Julia and our daughter, Lena, to visit friends in Denmark, where my great-grandparents immigrated from over a hundred years ago. When I was in the Lutheran Church in San Jose Julia was visiting the ancient Lutheran Church in Falling where she found my great-great grandfather, Rasmus Jorgensen’s gravestone in the churchyard. The Jorgensens were farmers. Most people were farmers back then, I suppose, except for the people in the castle, and Falling has a big castle. My great grandfather, Marius, could have been in a Rogation procession that led out of the church in Falling and into the fields. Denmark was a poor country back then. The farms were little and the families were big. For Marius, coming to America was a blessing.
Pastor Bea, from Christ the Good Shepherd, emailed me a couple of days before the service. Meridian Avenue in San Jose is a long way from the fields these days, she pointed out. And Americans aren’t super traditional, so she had the idea that we could try to bring a little bit of the farm to the sanctuary; a bowl of soil, to be precise, and she would bless that, along with other bowls and sacks of soil from the backyard gardens of the people in the congregation. And people don’t necessarily know a lot about what goes on farms anymore, she wrote so would it be ok if I talked with her for a bit in front of the congregation during the service.
Sunday was a beautiful morning. I dug a shovelful of dirt from the herb patch and went to San Jose. I sort of knew most of the hymns, but luckily I hadn’t been invited to be a solo singer; I’m better at talking about dirt. During the service Pastor Bea introduced me to the congregation and asked me, “What is happening in the fields right now?”
“The potatoes are all in the cooler now,” I answered, “and the tomatoes and peppers are starting. Planting is going on for the fall harvests.”
“And who is working at Mariquita Farm?” she asked.
“I have 20 employees,” I answered, “and some of them have worked with us since 1992. They are not ‘migrant workers.’ Nobody ‘migrates.’ The whole premise of the farm is year-round employment.”
“And how many families does your farm feed?”
“Besides my family, and the twenty families of my employees who depend on our farm for their livelihood, Mariquita Farm sends weekly boxes of produce to 600 families from Gilroy and Corralitos up to San Francisco,” I answered.
“And what dream or wish do you have,” she asked, ‘for the people or the land that you work with?”
“There are tens of thousands of children and young people in America,” I answered, “who came to the United States as babies of parents who worked in the fields, or on construction sites, or in hotels or restaurants. These kids have grown up as Americans, they are culturally American, and they have American dreams, but they have no future. In the thirty years that I’ve worked on farms and ranches around California and Oregon I’ve gotten to know some of them well. I listen to the radio and read the news and I understand the complexity and frustrations of the immigration situation as well as most, and I’m probably more familiar with the intestinal workings of immigration enforcement better than many, but I think that it is cruel, unworkable, and actually insane to talk about deporting these young “aliens” back to countries they barely know. My wish is that we Americans summon up the integrity for an honest debate what a real and comprehensive immigration policy should be, and my dream is that we welcome these kids in before we have a huge toxic permanent underclass that brings out the worst in everybody.”
There’s no harm in asking, I guess. They don’t call it a Day of Rogation for nothing.
My bowl of soil was blessed and I left the church feeling better than I had all week. It had been a hard week; two trucks had broken down, we’d fallen behind in transplanting, and there had been various and sundry scandals, half measures and frustrations to digest. It felt good to be reminded that in this venture I call Mariquita Farm we do have communities on our side. Thanks again to all of you. Andy
[More photos from Julia’s visit to Falling, Denmark.]
Copyright 2011 Article by Andy Griffin. Photos taken in Falling, Denmark by Julia Wiley.
Garlic is a crop that needs to be cured. But why “cure” something if it isn’t sick, especially something like garlic which is, itself, widely touted as a cure for everything from vampire infestations to heart disease?
To cure means to heal. The word “heal” come to us from the Anglo-Saxon word hal, meaning whole. As our language developed it was natural for the word “cure”, which comes to English from the Latin word curare, for caring, to also begin to mean “make whole.” “Caring for” and “keeping whole,” eventually become synonymous with preserving. Thus, even a ham is said to be “cured” after it has been kept from decomposing by being bathed in brine and spices, though its only “illness” was to have once been the leg on a swine. Curing a head of garlic is not nearly as violent a process as “curing” the leg from a pig.
When garlic plants begin to yellow and we observe that the bulbs are swollen we stop watering the crop. At this point the garlic’s roots are beginning to shrivel under ground and any excess water would only invite rot, spoiling the bulb. Then we lift the bulbs and break the dirt clods from the roots. We lay the garlic on the ground in rows to finish drying. We are careful to protect the crop from sunburn by layering the garlic so the bulbs are tucked under the withered leaves of the garlic plants preceding them in the row. The effect is like a thatched windrow.
As the garlic cures any residual sugars are drawn from the wilting leaves into the cloves, and this helps them keep. Remember, unlike a pig that’s been cured of its life, properly cured garlic is a complete living organism, or rather bunch of organisms, since each clove in the cluster is a clone of the mother plant. When the papery husk that envelopes and protects the head of garlic dries we clip the bulbs from their stalks. We will store the dried garlic inside the shade of a dark barn in bulb totes that allow the free passage of air so that there’s no condensation of trapped moisture to provoke rot. In late October we’ll break apart the garlic bulbs we’ve saved for next year’s crop and plant the cloves.
“Curing” garlic isn’t cheap; all that planting, irrigating, weeding, lifting, windrowing, clipping, and packaging takes time and labor– rent and wages, plus taxes and diesel fuel, of course. So, if the farm is going to stay in business, it’s important to get the highest price possible for our crop. In recent years garlic has presented special challenges on both on the production end and on the retail side of the agricultural equation. China has been exporting massive amounts of garlic to the United States at very “competitive” prices. It helps that the cost of Chinese farm labor, when compared to US wage standards, is practically free. It also helps the Chinese producers that garlic, once cured, can be easily held in storage for a long time, allowing the crop to be shipped cheaply to US markets on a “slow boat from China.” Over here, consumers don’t often know where their food comes from, and many of them don’t care; price is almost all that counts.
Time also counts. America is the land where time IS money, and many consumers don’t feel like they have the time left in their lives to peel garlic. Americans are more sophisticated about food than they ever have been before, and garlic is more popular than ever, so much of America’s increased demand for garlic is for convenient, “value added” products like peeled garlic, prepared garlic pastes, dried garlic flakes, and garlic salt. As a small-scale farmer, I can hardly afford to cure my garlic crop, to say nothing of processing it, so I have devised other strategies to grow and market garlic.
First of all, we sell much of our crop as “green garlic.” In the fall, we plant the cloves densely together so that they grow thick. For lack of root space this garlic wouldn’t thrive if we left it in the ground to mature, but we harvest it young and tender, at a scallion stage. Being a fresh, green crop that is perishable, we face no competition in the local marketplace from the Chinese. Green garlic is flavorful but mild and can be used in many applications where cured garlic might make too forceful an impression on the palate. And I like that too, but what I really like is that green garlic is ready in early March, just when our farm has the least to harvest and I need all the sales I can get.
Secondly, every fall we plant some garlic two rows per forty-inch bed at a rate of one clove per every six inches. This garlic will fatten nicely and form a plump bulb. In the past we would have let this garlic fully mature and then we would have gone through the whole curing process. One problem we used to have is that during the curing process we would sometimes get a visit from the night time coastal fog rolling in over the fields. The garlic’s papery husk get damp in the fog and then turn gray, rather than remain the bone-white that the consumer appreciates, making it even harder to sell. Nowadays, we sell our full-sized garlic when it’s fresh. True, without curing, fresh garlic won’t keep, but we’re selling the garlic to people who are cooking with it, not storing it, and they appreciate the bright flavor and the juiciness that fresh garlic has.
Lastly, we often grow a small amount of so-called “snake garlic,” or Allium sativum ophioscorodon.” (Ophioskorodon is Greek for serpent.) A Muslim story has the first garlic sprouting from a print the Devil’s left cloven hoof left in the dust as he followed Adam and Eve out of the Garden, but this garlic earned its name, not because of any satanic relationship or culpability in the temptation of Eve but because the plant sends up a flower stalk that curls like snake. The flower bud is called a “scape,” and it is tender, and mildly flavored of garlic. Due to their unusual shape, garlic scapes make great vegetables for tempura. The scape harvest gives our farm an unusual crop to offer our customers and helps us to attract and maintain our restaurant clients. The scape harvest also comes a few weeks earlier that the fresh garlic harvest, which, again, helps even out cash flow. Once the snake garlic bulbs swell, they are sharp flavored and delicious. Because snake garlic is expensive and sometimes hard to find we’ll save the best heads of our own crop and cure them so that they store well and are available for us to plant back in the fall for our next year’s crop.
green garlic recipes
A-Z recipes from Mariquita Farm
Green Garlic pesto photo essay and recipe
our 2011 CSA has begun!
We appreciate the disfigurements that come with age– the bent backs, the scars and twisted limbs– as marks of great character and beauty…. in trees. Maybe that’s why the older I get, the more I admire the old trees; they age with distinction. When I encounter a tree that captures my imagination I’ll often photograph it, and sometimes I’ll go back and visit it. I’m sad to report that on a recent walk along the edge of an agricultural field near Moss Landing. I discovered that a favorite tree had disappeared. It was a rather comical Monterey cypress, a last lone sentinel remaining from what had once been a long, sturdy, green column of trees standing up to the strong winds that blow off Monterey Bay.
I suppose it’s silly and hypocritical to mourn a tree, especially a tree from a windbreak. We farmers are developers; we take “raw land” and shape it to our needs. We cut it, we drain it, we rip it, we plant it, and in creating our practical agricultural landscapes we destroy what existed before, whether it was a wild ecosystem or the remains of a historical but obsolete agricultural scheme. There are good reasons to cut down the old windbreaks. Big trees drink up lots of water, and water costs money. Wind breaks require maintenance, and labor costs money. A good windbreak takes up valuable real estate, and the trees can’t help but shade some percentage of the field, possibly even retarding the growth of the very crops the farmer harvests to pay the bills. And big trees don’t even make great windbreaks.
Cold, persistent wind is a fact of life in the Salinas Valley. The first farmers that settled on the valley floor planted miles of trees to mark the boundaries of their fields, to keep the soil they plowed from blowing away, and to shelter their crops from the wind. Near the bay the most popular tree planted for windbreaks was the Monterey Cypress because it tolerates the damp salt air. Further inland, Blue Gum eucalyptus trees were a common choice because they grow fast and tall. Eventually, the long lines of wind break trees became a dominant landscape feature in the Salinas Valley, and they softened the otherwise stark landscape.
For a tree to actually “break” the wind it needs to have a full, bushy profile. The best way to maintain an effective windbreak is to plant a second row of trees parallel to the first, once the first trees have got some height to them and their naked trunks are letting the breeze through. Eventually, even a third row of trees should be planted before the trees in the oldest row become senescent and begin to topple over in the wind. The farmers who planted the early wind breaks lived on the lands they cultivated. They felt relief from the raw wind in the lee of their trees, they gathered up the broken limbs that fell to the ground and chopped them up for firewood, and they looked on their lines of trees growing ever taller as proof that their dreams of transforming a windy and barren plain into a garden of Eden had taken root. Agriculture is an industrial process now and the wind rows are usually just considered to be in the way. In Greece a broken row of marble columns rising up out of the grass may mark the site of an ancient temple, but the spirit that once animated the building is dead. When today we see a row of tall trees marking an old windbreak it is a picturesque sight, but it is essentially a ruin.
Wind breaks have many benefits that are hard to quantify but are valuable nonetheless. If you’ve ever worked in an open field you know how nice it is to take your lunch sheltered from the breeze or the sun or the rain and to sit down with a solid trunk as a back rest. Migrating Monarch butterflies took advantage of the eucalyptus wind breaks in the Salinas Valley to mass together. Trees provide shelter for birds too. If you don’t want rodents pillaging the fields then give the hawks that hunt them a place to roost. If you don’t want insects to plague the crops then it makes sense- and money- to give birds a habitat to nest in and rest in. Birds eat bugs that damage crops, but the companies that sell insecticide will feel more comfortable if you forget that fact. Windbreaks can be such important habitat features that a few modern researchers have been inspired to design new kinds of windbreaks for new kinds of farms.
The Wild Farm Alliance is one organization that works to integrate farming systems with the natural environment and to change public perceptions about the role of birds, bugs and wild animals play in agriculture. The WFA promotes the idea of planting hedgerows along the edges of fields as a core organic practice. Modern, scientific hedgerows are often composed of a diverse mix of low-growing native bushes and herb that harbor a wide range of beneficial insects and animals. These biologically appropriate hedgerows aren’t as demanding on scarce water resources as the old style of windbreaks were. In fact, they’re probably better than the old rows of eucalyptus or cypress in almost all respects, but to my eye they lack the formal dignity and the historical presence of windbreaks that I loved from childhood. I reserve the right to be sentimental and to mourn the loss of the old trees whose time has passed. Maybe these two pictures I took several years apart from almost exactly the same spot can illustrate why; the field in Moss Landing when there were still a couple of cypress left standing, and the same field, seen from almost precisely the same vantage point after they were removed. Don’t the contorted cypresses make for a more compelling landscape? The third photo is of a relatively young eucalyptus windbreak near the mouth of the Arroyo Seco where it joins the Salinas River, outside of Greenfield, with the snowy Santa Lucia Mountains in the background. The last photo is of an elderberry hedgerow surrounding an agricultural field on Mariquita Farm in Hollister.
Copyright 2011 Andy Griffin
All photos by Andy Griffin
When I pick up a rifle and put my eye to the sights I have a choice; I can focus on the bead at the end of the barrel or I can look towards the distant target, but my eyesight is too poor to see both things at once. I’m not the hero of this story. I don’t even shoot at the ground squirrels that plague my farm for fear I’ll slay an innocent irrigation pipe, or worse, my left foot. But this is a tale of the hunt, another chapter in the saga of civilization’s struggle with Nature, and an account of how the stuffed head of a Mountain Goat came to hang on the wall of one man’s home in the suburbs of Salinas, California. So let me take you back to a starting point very near the end of the story, to this past Christmas and to a sock hung from the mantle of the fireplace in my living room.
Santa Claus is for kids. In my family adults don’t exchange gifts at Christmas. But Julia broke the rules this year when she saw a little button for sale– the kind that you can pin on your shirt. This button displays the little cartoon profile of a goat and above the tiny image floats the word “old.” Old goat. So she thought of me. She bought the button and put it in a Christmas stocking. I suppose her gift came wrapped with a subtle message too; perhaps my beard has grown to long, or maybe I ought to bathe more often. I accepted the gift, and the joke, and pinned the button to the band of my old black cowboy hat.
The “old goat” pictured on the pin is a barn yard goat, Capra hircus. I like goats. I’ve kept a flock for years. Goats are endlessly amusing creatures to watch, beautiful, and intelligent. The wild Mountain Goat that animates big game hunters and sends them on foot into the highest peaks is Oreamnos americanus, a very different animal from the domestic goat. True, there is a superficial resemblance between the two species; both sport beards and horns and cloven hooves, and both animals are related to deer, but they aren’t closely related to each other. The domestic goat comes from Western Asia and has been the companion of man for thousands of years while the few remaining Mountain goats hide in isolated mountains across the American West. Before whites came with rifles, Mountain goats ranged from the Chugach Mountains of Alaska down through the Rockies and the Cascades into Washington and Idaho. In modern times hunters have decimated the population over their natural range, but Mountain goats have been successfully introduced into places as far south as Nevada and Texas. Mountain goats are alpine animals. They are able to withstand profound cold– their coats help them to withstand temperatures as low as −50 °F and winds of up to 100 mph. Where mountain slopes plunge to the sea Mountain goats have been seen on the coast, but they typically inhabit the remote, high peaks, and they’re “at home” up to 13,000 ft. The size of these animals, their beauty, their rarity, and the difficulties a hunter must overcome to find a Mountain goat amid the crags and glaciers and kill it turns the hunt into a quest and makes the horned head a trophy beyond compare. I wasn’t thinking about any of this on the 2nd of January when I loaded my dog, Red, into my pick up truck, put my hat on, and drove out to Chew’s Ridge.
You reach Chew’s Ridge by driving up the Tassajara Road behind Jamesburg. There’s an old Forest Service lookout tower on the top of the ridge at 5082 ft elevation. When you arrive at the summit you see why they built the tower there; the view is spectacular. To the south and west stand the mountains that make up the rocky heart of the Santa Lucia Range; Cone Peak, the Ventana Double Cone, and Devil’s Peak. To the north and west and you can see over the Carmel Valley and Jack’s Peak to the mouth of the Salinas Valley where it spills into the Monterey Bay and across the bay all the way to the Santa Cruz Mountains in the blue distance. Look north and east and you see Palo Escrito Peak and the ridge line of the Sierra de Salinas. Paloma creek drains off towards the Arroyo Seco Gorge in the east. The Gabilan Range, the San Benito Mountains, and Kreyenhagen Peak lie beyond. After my father died we scattered his ashes on Chew’s Ridge, just down the slope on the north side of the lookout. He was a botanist and he did a lot of work in these mountains. We lived on a field station at the foot of the ridge. As far as final resting places with views of forever go, Chew’s Ridge is as good as any. I try and visit the spot a couple times a year.
Red and I saw the first snowflakes on the windshield of the pick-up truck as I drove past White Oaks Camp. “You’re going to enjoy this,” I said. Red is a Pyrenees Mountain dog and she loves snow. Soon there was a stripe of muddy snow between the tire tracks down the middle of the dirt road and then a solid white blanket covered everything. I put the truck in four wheel drive. Where the road crests the ridge there was eight inches of fresh snow on the ground. We got out and Red ran in circles, licking the snow and rolling. The pine trees with their trunks charred black by past wild fires stood out stark against the snow and the massive ancient oaks loomed in the mist like ghosts.
We crunched through the snow up a side road to the lookout tower. When Red and I got to the top of Chew’s Ridge we found ourselves in the middle of a cloud so thick I could hardly see the brush that presses up around the tower. I walked to the northern edge of the clearing and looked out into the white. I knew that down below us a half mile and a thousand feet or so, hidden in the mist, is a flattish, grassy, open area sprinkled with pines called the Bear Trap. Back during the Mexican times vaqueros used to ride all the way out there from Monterey to catch grizzly bears. They built a square cage of pine logs stacked one across another and lashed them tight together with strips of wet rawhide, three walls and a roof. They left one side open for a heavy pine wood door which was propped up by a sapling pole stripped of branches and leaves. For bait they’d hang a deer carcass from the roof. Then they’d tie a riata to the sapling pole and slip back into the brush to wait. A bear would inevitably come by– the hills were thick with them then, and as the Grizzlies were the lords of all they saw, afraid of no one or anything, they’d lumber right into the cage and rip at the meat. The hidden vaquero would tug on the riata, which would pull at the pole, which would fall to the ground and release the trap door to fall, which would imprison the bear. The vaqueros would then climb up on the cage, drop the loops of their ropes through the spaces between the pine logs and catch the bear by the head and each foot. When the bear was subdued they’d roll it onto an ox cart for the 40 mile ride down the trail to the arena in Monterey. Crowds would gather to watch the bear fight for life in a death match against a long horned bull. I comfort myself that every once in a while a vaquero got eaten when the bear hunt went sour.
When I was a kid there were old timers around who could still remember where the rotten pine logs had laid in a pile, which was all that was left of the bear trap that gave the meadow its name. They showed me where it had stood, but there was nothing left but grass. Below the Bear Trap though, near Carmel Valley Road, there was a hunting club that we called “the Fish Pond,” because of the murky lagoon back that lay behind a ring of rickety cabins. Most of the hunting club members were retired cops from Monterey, Seaside, and Del Rey Oaks, men like Al Hall. Of course his friends called him Al “K” Hall. The cops must have done some hunting, but mostly they drank. Steinbeck would have loved these guys. The County Sheriff’s deputies visited the club several times too, or maybe I should say, “they responded.” For example, two cops got drunk and one of them shot the other- a hunting accident. Then there was the time a cop went fishing in a row boat on the pond, got drunk, got tangled up in his fishing line, fell overboard, and drowned. Fishing accidents are hell. And then there was the time a cop got drunk, tripped, fell on his face into the fireplace and burned alive.
One day I went over to the Fish Pond with Jimmy. Jimmy had the ranch across the road from the hunting club. When I was a kid I used to help him with the chores. He was sore because the cops had been poaching does on his ranch and leaving the gates between the pastures open. Deer hunters are supposed buy deer tags- hunting permits- from the California Department of Fish and Game, and they’re supposed to tie the tags to the antlers of any buck they shoot to prove they had the right to kill it. They’re also supposed to ask permission before hunting on private land. Jimmy was reminding the cops that they didn’t have permission to hunt on his ranch when Officer Golden of the Fish and Game drove into the yard. He stayed in his pick up.
“Had any luck, fellas?” he called out. He’d heard some shots and was sniffing around.
“No luck this year,” one of the cops said.
“Hell,” said another cop. “No luck last ear either. We still got a fist full of old deer tags we never used.
“Don’t believe ‘em for a minute,” Jimmy said to Officer Golden. “Does haven’t got antlers.” He turned back to the cops. “I guess you could tie the tags to their ears.”
The cops chuckled, but Jimmy was half serious. He took hunting seriously. He was born in 1911 and came of age during the Great Depression when food had been hard to pay for and hunting had been a necessity; if you kill all the does, where is the next generation of deer going to come from?
My mood and my head were both starting to feel heavy so I took off my cowboy hat and knocked off the snow. The “Old goat” button looked back at me and I had to smile. Jimmy had an old goat named Bill. For Jimmy, a .30-06 was practically an extension of his trigger finger, and even years after he spent much time hunting he still could load and shoot a gun with a speed and accuracy that was practically instinctual. Good old Bill almost made Jimmy regret a perfect shot.
Bill was a stinky, ornery, brindle colored beast with naughty yellow eyes and a massive rack of curving horns that made him look a bit like a Bighorn Sheep. He’d been a cute kid once, a poor choice as a pet for some child, and the stupid parents that bought him had never bothered to get him castrated. So he got big, reached sexual maturity and started to smell. It’s really a mistake to let an un-castrated male goat become familiar; they move quickly with age from being affectionate to feeling dominant, and when they start butting their inferiors to prove that dominance, the silly, would-be pet owner can end up as a victim. Well some friend of a friend of Jimmy’s had gotten Bill as a kid, rough-housed with him when he was small and cute, and when he grew large enough to be dangerous, the didn’t know what to do with him they dropped him off at the corral. Then one day we slaughtered a steer.
At the edge of the corral, under the shade of a live oak tree, we had a walk-in cooler where Jimmy used to dry-age beef. The cooler was the back end of an old Formost Milk truck and there were a few steel steps to mount to enter the box. We’d hung the beef carcass from a limb outside the cooler and split it down the spine into halves with a chainsaw. Then we cut one of the halves along the rib line to make a quarter– it probably weighed 250lbs and it was greasy and hard to hold on to. Jimmy and I were struggling to haul the quarter up the steps into the cooler when Bill charged. He crashed into Jimmy from behind at the knees, driving his kneecaps into the metal steps and causing him to fall backwards into the dirt with both the quarter of beef and me landing on top of him. Jimmy’s face was red with pain and he let loose with a blue streak of invective, but as he staggered to his feet he swept up the .30-06 that he’d used to dispatch the steer. Quick as lightning he slammed the bolt home, raised the gun, and drew a bead on Bill’s horny head. Then…..then nothing. Jimmy let the rifle barrel dip.
“Look at that son of a bitch,” Jimmy said. “He’s proud of himself.”
It was true. Rancid old Bill was across the corral, all puffed up with glory, pissing on his own beard out of joy and curling his lip.
“I can’t kill him,” Jimmy said, “but he can’t live here.”
So we ran Bill up the cattle loading chute and into a pick up with stock racks, drove him up the Tassajara Road and jumped him out the back just past the Chew’s Ridge summit where there’s a barbed wire corral for Forest Service pack animals and a horse trough. With water, a view to die for, and more brush than a goat could eat in a million years, Bill was only short a few lady goats from being in heaven.
It must have been a year later that Jimmy had to meet some guy who lived in Greenfield. They decided to meet half way, so we drove down to Miller’s Lodge on the river. When we got there his friend hadn’t arrived yet so we went inside. A couple of old boys were at the bar bragging. “…. so then I made the kill shot,” one of the men said, letting out a lungful of blue smoke.
His friend was looking into a mug of beer. “You’re not going to believe this,” he replied, “but I bagged a Mountain goat last month.”
“Bullshit,” his friend said. “This is as far from Salinas as you’ve been in a year”
“I killed it here, up in the National Forest,” he said.
“I can still hardly believe it myself. I saw the tracks first. I was up on Chew’s Ridge, about half a mile down that jeep trail that drops off to Miller Canyon. The tracks were so big I thought it must be a monster buck, so I went back in the evening and hid up behind the spring. He came down for water, and… BANG!”
“You’re full of shit. There’s no Mountain goats here.”
“Yeah, I probably got the last one.”
“Hey, my word is as good as my aim; I’ve got the head mounted and it’s hanging on the wall of my den.
copyright Andy Griffin 2011
Photos by Andy Griffin: the ‘spooky forest’ is at Chews Ridge; the pin is his Christmas present; and the goat eye is of one of Andy’s billy goats
Upcoming mystery boxes in Los Gatos and Santa Cruz:
Los Gatos Thursday, Jan. 27th from 4-6pm (brussels sprouts, chantenay carrots, and butternut squash are also offered!)
Santa Cruz Wednesday, Feb. 2nd from 4:00-5:30pm (brussels sprouts, chantenay carrots, and butternut squash are also offered!)
Like us on Facebook if you do that sort of thing. Andy posts small tidbits and photos during the week.
Mariquita Farm 2011 CSA page (boxes start in March)
Every time we grow a new vegetable we like to take a picture of it for our on-line photo gallery. I’m not much of a food stylist, so some of these pictures come out looking more like mug shots than glossy spreads so I like to think of them as posters for “America’s Most Wanted” vegetables. This week we’re cutting- and photographing- Radicchio Castelfranco and Cavolfiore Alverde. What? you say that “most American’s don’t want Radicchio Castelfranco or Cavolfiore Alverde?” You’re probably right- for the moment- but there was a time when even broccoli was an ethnic vegetable welcome only in the Italian ghettos of New York, Chicago and San Francisco. At Mariquita Farm we like to grow things that are a little off-center, partly because learning about new crops keeps life interesting for us, and partly because once a vegetable becomes a commodity it’s production, distribution and sales is inevitably controlled by businesses that are too large for us to compete against. Trying to create new markets for vegetables that are considered “obscure” or “weird” here in the US makes me an “entrepreneur” of sorts. I don’t let the idea of being an “entrepreneur” go to my head though. Gayle, my book keeper, reminds me that the word “entrepreneur” is just “French for ‘can’t hold a job.'” So my “job” has become the promoting the consumption of the vegetables I grow. To that end, Julia and I maintain an on-line photo gallery of vegetable pictures linked to our encyclopedia of recipes, we send out our weekly photo and recipe “Ladybug postcard,” we e-publish an intermittent “Ladybug letter,” with essays and photos, we have started a Mariquita Farm Facebook page, and sometimes we host cooking classes. And yes, we harvest and grow vegetables. Next week we start the harvest of the first crop of Brussels Sprouts I’ve ever grown.
**** Julia’s Note about our various media:
1) the Ladybug Letter: this is it! It comes out every other week, and it’s usually a slightly longer piece from Andy… this week he was out of ideas for the essay so I suggested photographing some gorgeous winter produce in the sunny weather we’re having… and he wrote this bit of text to go with it. Last time he wrote about Carrots, that was a more typical Ladybug Letter.
2) Ladybug Post Card: this is a weekly blast year round on Mondays (we may change that to Tuesdays…) that replaces the former Two Small Farms newsletter. Our friend Chef Jonathan helps us with recipes, I still ‘curate’ recipes for this newsletter as well. Andy writes smaller pieces for this letter, and there are event announcements as well. The recipes in this newsletter will generally go with the vegetables we’re harvesting that week: for our CSA boxes, mystery boxes, and or ladybug truck deliveries. Anyone can be on this newsletter, of course.
3) Mariquita Farm Facebook Page: we know that not everyone does Facebook… but for those that do, this is a quick way to send out random small bits of information. This week Andy wrote about our interesting New Years Day with lambs and blood and caviar… but it was *such* a good story we decided to include it in the ladybug postcard. Usually these notes/stories will not overlap. On Facebook others can also post: recipes, photos, queries…
Mystery Box Winter Vegetable deliveries in the bay area: get your winter vegetables in SF, San Jose, Menlo Park, Los Gatos, and Palo Alto
Specific Upcoming Mystery Boxes and their Links to the Forms to Order:
Wednesday, 1-5-11 in Menlo Park 4-6pm
FORM to order for Menlo Park is here. (just click on the text to the left)
Thursday, 1-13-11 San Jose near SJSU 4pm to 6pm
FORM to order for San Jose is here. (just click on the text to the left)
SF: 1-20 at Slow Club; form link to come around the 13th
Friday, 1-21-11 Palo Alto 4:30-6pm**
FORM to order for Palo Alto is here. (just click on the text to the left)
**We will do mystery boxes this day, AND a cooking class with Indian cuisine. You can do either or both!
Upcoming Cooking Classes: Save the Dates:
Feb. 5th in Watsonville at Shelley’s house: topic and time tba
March 16th SF in the late afternoon/evening: cooking with your box!
March 17th Palo Alto: in the late afternoon/evening: cooking with your box!
March 19th Watsonville: cooking with your box! times tba
When my son, Graydon, was three he ran through the kitchen one morning. “I’m hungry Papa!” he yelled. “Make me lunch, make it quick, and make it crunchy!” I told him to eat a carrot.
Graydon is almost 16 now and he’s evolved into a more complex and meditative person. Carrots have evolved since their earliest days too. Back in the Stone Age it was the carrot plant’s greens, not its roots that attracted humanity’s attention. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Scientists classify carrots in the Umbelliferae, along with other aromatic herbs like cilantro, dill, cilantro, caraway, chervil, anise, parsley and fennel. Carrot greens are not especially strong smelling, but fresh carrot seed has a rich and complex scent. If I was going to leave the farming life behind for an urbane, sophisticated existence as a perfume designer I’d move to Paris and develop a fragrance from the essence of carrot seed that would appeal to all sexes.
The carrot family’s scientific name, Umbelliferae, refers to the characteristic umbrella shape of their flowers. Carrot flowers are pretty. Queen Anne’s Lace is one form of carrot that has found a home in the floral trade. The carrot’s affinity with the other Umbelliferae goes beyond the merely scientific; carrots marry well on the plate and in the pot with other Umbelliferae- think of carrot parsley salad, carrot chervil salad, carrot dill salad, carrot cilantro salad, etc. It has been a long time since carrot varieties were selected for their flavor of their greens, but a carrot’s leaves can be minced and used judiciously in salads or as garnishes, just like cousin parsley. Carrots tops can also profitably be used in stocks and soups.
After millennia of gathering and eating wild carrot greens and carrot seeds we humans settled down, invented agriculture, and developed carrot breeds with edible roots. For subsistence farmers root crops have certain advantages over leafy greens, namely, they can be stored for long periods of time in the ground or in a cellar without any processing or refrigeration. What follows below is an outline, painted in broad strokes, of the major types of carrots available to the cook and gardener with their relative advantages and disadvantages noted and compared:
1. White carrots: First developed from the native wild European carrot, white carrots have been used as fodder for horses and in the kitchen. White carrots are vigorous growers through all seasons, resistant to cold, tolerant of heat, with big, strong, feathery tops and they taste good, especially when roasted. I’m not crazy about raw white carrots– they’re not terribly sweet and can be chewy to the point of giving your jaws a workout– but they are fine roasted. The sugars that lie latent in the raw white carrot’s flesh are caramelized in the roasting process so the roots sweeten and the heat mellows the white carrot’s texture to an agreeable, toothsome degree that never degrades into the cloyingly soft mush that some orange carrots take on when cooked. Some cooks with French proclivities like white carrots for the stock pot because these carrots effectively flavor the broth without imparting an orange color that might distract the diner or spoil the appearance of a sauce or soup that’s intended to be whiter than white .
2. Colored Asiatic carrots: Forget white! Across Central Asia carrots come in a rainbow of colors from red through purple, all the way to black. Like white carrots, most rainbow carrots taste best when cooked. (Have you ever noticed that traditional Indian or Afghan cuisine is all about cooked food and features very few raw salads?) Asian colored carrot plants do grow vigorously, but– and it’s a big “but”– heirloom Asian carrots DO NOT produce roots reliably unless they’re planted after the summer solstice so that the plant is developing as the hours of sunlight are declining. Spring plant Indian red carrots will bolt to flower every time and leave the gardener with only a wiry, fibrous, woody root for their efforts. But plant these carrots in summer and you’ll get a nice fall crop of roots. In the fall, as night time temperatures drop, a carrot root naturally sweetens because the plant converts starches to sugars as a defense mechanism against freezing to death. Cells filled with sugary water have a lower freezing point. This organic process is why most root crops taste their best during winter.
3. Modern Orange carrots: Can you spell “felicitous miscegenation?” Orange carrots developed from a cross between the colored Asiatic carrots and their white European relatives. True, Romans had some carrots that tended towards yellow, but in general, when we read Roman cook books it’s hard to tell if the authors are talking about what we’d call a carrot or a parsnip since the used the same word for both distinctly different plants. Our iconic, Bugs Bunny style orange carrots didn’t develop until fairly recently. Don’t believe me? Go to an art museum and check out lush Dutch still life paintings from the 1600s that feature cornucopias of vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Dutch artists were so realistically inclined that they painted the iridescent flies the saw crawling on the food, and they painted WHITE carrots! Show me a Dutch still life from that period with a bright orange carrot and I’ll show you a fraud! But modern or not, orange carrots have many virtues; they reliably produce roots no matter what season they’re planted in, they’re sweeter than their white, red, purple, or black cousins, and they have a color that appeals to young children. There are several common types of orange carrot commonly available for the cook or gardener:
A. Imperator: I think of the Imperator as the “Safeway carrot.” Imperators are long, straight carrots that grow vigorously. Most important, many varieties of Imperator have been developed to grow evenly and rapidly so that they can be machine harvested when grown on sand ground. Imperator carrots also have slim shoulders so they fit well into a 1lb cello bag. Imperators are cheap, crunchy and they taste ok, especially if fresh, and they work well for major food processors. In Latin the word imperator translates into “commander” and is cognate with words like “emperor,” or “imperious.” I find the authoritarian flavor of this name to be somewhat distasteful and I choose not to grow Imperator carrots.
B. Chantenay: The Chantenay carrot is typically shorter than the Imperator, with broad shoulders, and triangular profile that tapers to a blunt tip when young but that can fill out almost to a beer can’s bulk if given time in the ground. These carrots store very well in the ground or root cellar and they taste great raw or cooked. Because of their shape they do not fit well in the industry standard cello pak so you don’t see them in the chain stores too often. I like Chantenay carrots a lot. My favorite orange Chantenay carrot is Royal Chantenay. My favorite yellow Chantenay is Yellow Sun.
C. Danvers half- long: The Danvers is a carrot type with good flavor and vigor. They have well-defined shoulders that taper to a point at the tip. They are shorter than Imperator cultivars, but they’re more tolerant of heavy soil and make nice bunched carrots for the farmers’ market. The soil on my farm is not particularly heavy and I’m happy with Chantenay carrots so I don’t usually grow Danvers carrots.
D. Nantes carrots: These carrots are cylindrical in shape, blunt and rounded at both the top and tip, and relatively fast to grow from germination to harvest. Young Nantes cultivars can be sweeter than other young carrots, and they make nice baby carrots for salads. By contrast, Imperator or Chantenay carrots may be better choices for cooking, but they need to mature in the field before they develop their full flavor profile or deliver an acceptable yield. A baby Imperator carrot is like an orange string! I like Nantes carrots for my spring planted early crops. Then I move on to the Chantenay types for my main season and over-wintering crops.
E. Paris market carrots: Parisian carrots are round like radishes. They can be a fashion forward choice for a whimsical cook intent on playing with form, color, and expectation. “What? A round carrot?” Because of they are very short Paris market carrots can tolerate very heavy soils. I grow Parisian round carrots from time to time, especially for my restaurant customers. Sometimes children like them too, because they’re different. Other times kids reject Parisian carrots because they’re round; kids can be SO conservative about food. I hope you’re liberal minded when it comes to dinner. Below are some recipes that stretch modern convention by including carrot greens.
copyright 2010 Andy Griffin
Recipes and Notes from Julia and Jonathan:
from Julia: ok: Andy’s last line threw me for a loop. Yes, carrot tops are 100% edible. Eat them all you like. However, I personally don’t find them palatable, and living in the amazing year-round fresh food arena we live in I ask: why eat carrot tops!? I’m simply not hungry enough. So here’s a recipe for Carrot Top Dye from the Carrot Musuem. That’s the best I can do. Here are more recipes for carrot tops in case you want to give them a culinary spin: just don’t invite me over for dinner! (insert annoying smiley emoticon)
Carrot Leaf Dye
adapted from the Carrot Museum: an amazing website with more carrot lore than you knew existed.
INGREDIENTS: chop up the green foliage of 6 large carrot tops, 1 litre boiling water, alum.
Extra foliage can be added to made a slightly darker colour using no more than 300ml of water
EXTRACTION PROCESS: boil tops for half an hour. Strain liquid, and add 2 teaspoons of alum; make sure the alum is dissolved.
COLOUR MADE: light yellow.
LIGHTFAST QUALITIES: 4: fugitive pigment. The colour fades away over 3 to 5 months, depending on the amount of carrot tops used.
SHADEFAST QUALITIES: the colour fades over a 2 year period.
RUBBINGS: makes a very pale green colour.
METHOD: take the leaves and use them as a crayon, rub directly onto the paper.
LIGHTFAST QUALITY: 4: fugitive pigment. Fades over a 6 month period to an off white colour.
SHADEFAST QUALITY: 4: fugitive pigment. Fades over a 6 month period to an off white colour.
Now some real carrot recipes:
Carote all Giudia
Braised Carrots, Jewish Style
Adapted from Cucina Ebraica by Joyce Goldstein
¼ cup olive oil or rendered goose or duck fat
1.5 pounds carrots, any color, peeled and thinly sliced
¼ cup water
6 Tablespoons raisins, plumped in water or sweet wine
3 Tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
S & P to taste
Dash of vinegar or sugar to taste, optional
Warm the oil (or fat) in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the carrots and saute until well coated with fat, 5-8 minutes. Add the water and cover the pan. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer until the carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.
Add the raisins with their liquid, and the pine nuts. Season with S & P. Add a little vinegar or sugar, or both. Serve warm or at room temperature.
from Chef Jonathan Miller
Oil or butter
1 small onion, chopped
2” ginger, peeled and grated
1 lb carrots, chopped
2-3 cup veggie stock or chicken stock
¼ cup cream
Heat 2-3 TBL olive oil or butter in a pot and add the onion. Sauté until softened, about 8 minutes, then add the ginger and carrots. Lower the heat, stir to coat everything with some oil, then cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the stock – use just enough to barely cover the carrots – and the cream, bring to a simmer, cover again, lower heat and cook until the carrots are super tender, about 25-30 minutes, or up to 50. Allow to cool somewhat and then blend the soup in a blender. Add some salt and taste for seasoning. Reheat gently, then garnish with some chopped cilantro.
This Week’s Quinoa Salad
from Chef Jonathan Miller
1 c quinoa
4-8 carrots, depending on size, halved or quartered lengthwise
2 large red onions, cut into thick rounds
1 bunch cooking greens like chard, collards, or kale
sherry vinegar to taste
1/4 c parsley, chopped
1/4 c cilantro, chopped
Toss the carrots and red onion with some olive oil and sherry vinegar, salt and pepper. Roast on a baking sheet at 400 until caramelized and sweet, about 50 minutes. Allow to cool and cut into large dice.
Cook your quinoa while the veggies roast: rinse it under cold water to remove the saponin. Drain and put into a saucepan and toast over high heat until the quinoa smells nutty and is popping, about 10 minutes. Pour in 2 c cold water and a little salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and steam for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Wilt the cooking greens by either sauteeing them or blanching them, your choice. If using chard, include the stems, finely chopped, for texture and nutrition. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss well. Check for seasoning, adding salt or olive oil, or more sherry vinegar as you like. Serve at room temperature.
We will have even more recipes for carrots and also for escarole and kale in this week’s Ladybug Post Card! And We’ll have my own Quinoa Salad recipe in that letter too.
****Sign up here for our ‘Ladybug Postcard’: its a weekly blast of recipes and info from Mariquita Farm: if you like recipes, if you want to ponder attending one of our events in the field or the city, if you plan to sign up for our CSA, if you get our mystery boxes every other week. Anyone can sign up anywhere. It’s opt in, so once you put in your email, you need to click on one link when you get the confirmation email in your inbox.
A little brass band tootled its way through a waltz from their post in a small gazebo at the center of the plaza. The sun felt hot on my shoulders. At twelve thousand feet above sea level the sun burns with intensity. The short, stubby musicians sweated under the weight of their gold braid and heavy military uniforms. I stepped into the shade of a nearby plane tree and surveyed the scene around me. An ambulatory vendor sold ice creams from a push cart. A woman in a little kiosk sold colorful balloons to excited children. A shoeshine boy quizzically inspected my red Converse All-Star tennis shoes and offered to shine them up nice and black. I paid him to go away. What I really wanted was an ice cold lager.
Behind me in an old stone building was a tiny restaurant – three tables. I stepped into the cool, empty room and took a table by the window. The proprietress bustled out from her kitchen and handed me a menu. I’d been in Bolivia long enough to know that a menu was a list of what an establishment might be proud to serve when ingredients were available. It would be gracious of me to study the menu but even more gracious to ask my hostess what was best that day. I asked for a beer and some time. The house specialty, trout caught fresh that morning in Lake Titcaca, sure sounded great. Through the window I could see an Indian woman presiding over a colorful shawl heaped high with prickly pear cactus fruits. Passers-by would indicate the fruit of their choice and she would spear it with a popsicle stick, deftly pare the spiny hide off and hand it to them, red and juicy, to be eaten on the spot, seeds spat to the ground. Maybe I’ll have one of those for dessert, I thought.
My beer arrived accompanied by a plate of crispy fried potatoes. The beer bottle was huge by U.S. standards and had been recycled so often the heavy green glass was milky white from minute scratches. “Trucha?” I asked hopefully.
“I’m sorry señor,” she replied. “My husband catches trout every morning and they’re very delicious but this morning he didn’t catch many. Tal vez mañana.”
“I’m sure everything you cook is as good as the trout,” I responded. “What do you recommend?”
“We have goat’s head soup,” she replied. “Very satisfying.”
“Then goat’s head soup it is,” I answered, and she shuffled off.
But she was back in a moment looking concerned. “Ah, señor,” she began. ”It’s just that the soup is very picante – it has aji in it. Muy picante!”
Aji is chile. The cultivation of chile peppers started out high in the Andes and spread north to Mexico. Having grown many northern varieties of chiles myself I was delighted to taste the roots of the plant, so to speak. “Excellent!” I replied.
“But Germans don’t like food that is muy picante,” she answered. “Germans don’t like aji.”
“Not a problem, Doña,” I responded. “I’m not German.”
She looked long and hard at my red face and blond hair but she fetched the soup. Trailing behind her as she returned from the kitchen were teenaged daughters 1, 2, 3, all come to watch the white guy eat aji. Even the husband poked his nose through the door. The soup was delicious, hardly spicy at all, with kernels of corn, fava beans, and potatoes in a rich broth. “Muy rica.” I said after my first spoonful.
The youngest daughter asked her mother, “If he’s not German, what is he?”
“I’m an American,” I answered. The two older girls began to giggle at this news.
“He doesn’t look much like Michael Jackson.” remarked one to the other and all three girls broke out in a spasm of laughter.
“How do you come to speak Spanish?” asked the mother.
“Where I’m from, señora,” I responded, “more than half the people speak Spanish.”
“Then you’re from Miami,” my hostess declared.
“Do you know Gloria Estefan?” asked a daughter.
“No,” I answered with regret. “I don’t know Gloria. I work on farms. Nobody I know is famous.”
At this point the father entered the dining room carrying another beer and he shooed the women away. “Let the man eat in peace,” he said as he pulled up a chair at my table. His wife brought him a big bowl of soup, too, and put a saucer of fresh aji paste on the table.
“We eat the soup like this,” he declared, swirling a big dollop of aji sauce into the broth. I did likewise and soon could feel a familiar glow in my mouth and belly. “What do you grow?” my host wanted to know.
“Well,” I said, looking at my soup. “I raise goats, and I’ve grown potatoes, fava beans, corn, and aji.”
“I grew up on the farm,” my companion announced. “But when we married we moved to town to make more money. My wife cooks. I go fishing.” After a swig of beer he continued. “My father and brothers are still on the farm. This soup,” he said with a wave of the arm, “the goat, the potato, the corn, the fava beans, the aji – all from our farm.”
I considered this news as I savored my soup. “A lot of Americans have a dream,” I replied, “of a little restaurant, all their own, where they can cook and serve the food grown by their own family on their own land.”
My host was quiet for a bit. We could hear the waltz music from the park and see the barefoot shoeshine boys scurrying after patent leather shoes. I could feel a warm buzz from the beer, the high altitude, and the aji suffuse my body.
“They are dreaming of the countryside,” he finally answered. “And we are dreaming of Miami.”
Copyright Andy Griffin 2010
Julia’s note: This ran as part of our ladybug letter in 2003. and yes, this piece is 8 days late! Andy will have a new piece ready for early next week. We are also working on starting a weekly recipe letter apart from this article/Andy-driven note. Stay tuned. I believe this piece is so beautiful on it’s own, I’ve not added any photos or links or anything.
Mystery Box Winter Vegetable deliveries in the bay area: get your winter vegetables in SF, San Jose, Menlo Park, Los Gatos, and Palo Alto
Cilantro Emergency Day in SF at Fatted Calf on Dec. 15th 4:30-6:30pm
to sign up for alerts about vegetable deliveries and events: San Francisco || Peninsula/Palo Alto/South Bay || Monterey Bay Area
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s hard for retail’s darker angels to parasitize a celebration that is essentially an observation of gratitude. And I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. This year I’m thankful that we’ve made it through to the end of the season in relatively good order. We’ve had our challenges.
The weather didn’t help this year. The exceptionally cool, overcast summer caused the heat loving crops like sweet peppers, tomatoes and eggplant to grow slowly. Then, all of a sudden we had 104 degree temperatures and the peppers especially, weren’t ready for it. Almost every pepper got roasted on one side by the blaze of the sun; an almost total crop loss. But that’s farming. Thankfully, other crops preferred the cool weather, and the tomatoes struggled through against the odds– maybe not it the quantities that I needed to afford our supporters a nice U-Pick this year, but there’s always next year.
Family life was far more challenging than farming this year. Julia was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. There were anxious months of appointments and waiting, tests and waiting, struggles with the insurance company and waiting, prescriptions prescribed and waiting. Thankfully, things could be a lot worse. Julia was accepted into the breast cancer program at UCSF and her program treatment has begun. She feels like she’s in good hands. The prognosis for managing the disease is good, and she feels well when she’s not feeling the side-effects of the chemo drugs. I want to thank Gayle, our book keeper, and Shelley, your CSA administrator, and all of Julia’s friends, for the support and loving attention they’ve given her.
This year I’ve sometimes felt distracted and stressed by the competing demands of farm and family, but thankfully Julia and I have got a great crew of people helping us out. I especially want to thank Gildardo, Jose, Ramon and Nato for keeping all the plantings on schedule. I first hired these men when I worked at Riverside Farms back in the early 90s. Then they worked with me when I was a founding partner in Happy Boy Farms. I’ve always been able to count on their work ethic and good will, but this year, seeing the worries I had, they really kicked it up a notch. I also want to thank Manuel, Lourdes, and Guillermo for their attentive work packing, and Elias, Adam, Miguel, and Gerardo for all their help with the driving chores. Thanks to our crew, Mariquita Farm’s fields are looking filled out, well groomed, and winter ready.
Julia’s diagnosis has prompted us to reassess our priorities. The Two Small Farms CSA program started out over eight years ago when Julia and Jeanne would meet each other in the park with little kids pulling on their legs. They talked about what it meant to be married to farms and farmers. They speculated that two small, too small, struggling farms might not have to struggle so much if they cooperated, and that two struggling farmwife/mothers might not have to work so hard if they shared tasks. So Two Small Farms was born; Jeanne, Stephen, Julia and I working together to solve problems. And thanks to you all, our community of supporters, for eight years, the Two Small Farms CSA has been a success.
A lot has changed in eight years. The kids are older now and aren’t pulling on our legs any longer, only stretching our patience- and our minds- at times. Each farm has developed into a sturdy little business; High Ground Organics with a new ranch, a farm stand, and a farmers’ market stall, Mariquita Farm with a restaurant delivery route, a bulk sales delivery program, and additional leased acreage to farm. Julia has “retired.” She works too hard and she likes to work too much to actually stop doing things for the farm, but she needs the liberty to pay attention to her health. I need to focus my efforts on our issues and can no longer hold up our end of the Two Small Farms partnership. I’m not “retiring” from farming or from community supported agriculture; that’s not an option or a desire. But each of the two small farms is now strong enough and diversified enough to stand alone, and I want to focus on a farming program and business plan that fits my life. Starting in the 2011 season Two Small Farms CSA will once again become two small farms; still small, but no longer “too small.” And finally, I want to thank Jeanne and Stephen and the crew at High Ground Organics for eight great years of growing together.
Going forward, each farm’s CSA share-box prices and policies will stay the same in the 2011 harvest year, and the quality and variety of the produce we each grow for you can even get better. Look for details on how we’re dividing up the csa delivery routes between High Ground Organics and Mariquita Farm in our Two Small Farms December newsletter. And thank you for all your support.
copyright 2010 Andy Griffin
Julia’s Note: so… this is the same letter we’re sending out to our Two Small Farms list… but we likely won’t send the same letter in the future? and me? well… I’ve started a little blog about this cancer nonsense called Four Crying Out Loud (stage 4 cancer… get it?). And while the docs tell me “I will likely ultimately die from this disease” we’re looking at it as a chronic thing, with decades left in me. I feel good nearly all days, and I’m fired up about life. Yoga, kids, cooking, farming, traveling, art, music, all of it. Let’s just say it’s not the last you’ve heard from me. love, Julia
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Cocktails are all the rage these days. Cutting-edge bartenders are no longer content to simply pour liquor from a bottle or pull the lever on a tap– they’re chefs too, making their own syrups and bitters from scratch, reviving forgotten drinks from the happy hours of yesteryear and concocting new cocktails for a new century. There’s even a growing literature about cocktails. Some drinkers end up sick as a result of over-indulgence, but if you read much about cocktails maybe, like me, you’ll be surprised to learn that these stimulating mixtures of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters got their start as medicinal potions— the combined sugars, water, and liquors in the cocktail being the sweet vehicle by which the curative bitters were “delivered” to the patient. I happily drink fancy cocktails when they’re offered but they aren’t a big part of my life. I live too far from the big city hot spots to have much of a night life. And then I’ve got kids, a vegetable farm, and livestock to care for so I’m too tired to study mixology anyway. I’m content with beer. Given my circumstances, I think it’s funny that in my cow shed, on my farm at the end of a dirt road, I recently helped to prepare the most artisanal, authentic, and curative cocktails imaginable. I’ll get to the recipe in a minute, but first, a word about parenting.
As I was driving our kids to the school bus stop one morning recently, Lena, my thirteen year old daughter, suggested that I take her to Starbucks for a latte. I demurred. She then raised some concerns about my parenting skills. Luckily, I have a reservoir of self-esteem to draw on over the next few years.
“You remind me of something my mother once told me about the challenge of childrearing,” I said.
“Oh, great!” said Lena.
“My mom told me once that raising a kid is like carrying a newborn calf; every morning you get up and sling that calf over your shoulder, and then one day you realize you’re carrying a cow.”
“What is it with you and cows?” Lena asked. “It’s like some sort of obsession.”
Lena’s right. When I was in high school I raised beef steers for my FFA project. FFA stands for Future Farmers of America; it’s a vocational agriculture program. When I became a farmer I chose to raise vegetables, but several years ago, as an avocation, I got two Dexter cows. Then I got two more. Then I got a Dexter bull. Pretty soon I had little herd of Dexters and a freezer full of beef. Then, finally, a month ago, in service of my obsession, I bought a four year old Jersey cow named Jenny. When Lena found out how much I’d paid she said, “With that much money you could have bought some milk at the store AND the cell phone I’ve been asking for.”
Jerseys are a dairy breed. We milk Jenny the Jersey every morning, typically getting around 3.5 gallons, a half gallon of which is pure cream. The milk isn’t white– it is ivory colored, and sometimes you can see tiny droplets of pure fat floating in the pail. Jenny eats pumpkins and cull carrots every day, and when I make butter it comes out bright yellow from all the carotene in her diet. I enjoy having a cow, but watching Jenny eat makes my donkeys honking mad. I can’t help it. Milk cows are like race cars– if you don’t give them a lot of high quality fuel, they can’t perform well.
So anyway, early one recent, rainy, Sunday morning I gathered up my buckets and jars, put on my hat, and went out and got Jenny ready, filling her manger with hay and washing her tits off with warm soapy water. Washing the teats is important, not only for hygiene, but because the massaging motion and the warm water helps the milk cow relax and let down her milk. Music is said to help too. When I worked on the Straus Dairy in West Marin back in 1979, Antonio, the milker, said that classic musica Ranchera recordings of Vicente Fernández inspired the cows to give the most milk. Albert Straus, the dairy owner and boss, said that the cows found David Bromberg’s music to be more soothing. I don’t have an informed opinion about bovine musical tastes, but I do know that, by their nature, cows are very conservative. They find solace in routine. If we milk her at the same time every day, in the same place, feeding her the same kind of food and rewarding her with same bucket of grain, Jenny is happy. The music in my cow shed is the ping as the first stream of milk hits the bottom of the empty stainless steel pail and with my ear next to her belly I can hear Jenny’s belly rumble. The cow munches and snuffles as she plows through her alfalfa, there’s a contented burp or two, and pretty soon there’s steam rising out of the bucket of warm milk.
I was a gallon and a half into the milking when Manny showed up with his compadre, his “compa,” Octavio, from Uruapan, who I’d never met before. Octavio lives in San Jose now and works at the San Jose pulga making and selling the little carpets emblazoned with images of the Virgin Mary that go on the dashboards of custom vans and pick-up trucks. Octavio grew up on a ranch and likes the country life. But he’s a city dweller now so it’s been a long time since he was able to enjoy a real, authentic pajarete. We were introduced and Octavio produced a bottle of “vino.” (In rural Mexican parlance “vino” can be any sort of distilled alcoholic beverage, but it’s almost never actual wine.) It was pajarete time!
It was four years ago when I first heard about a roots Mexican “CSA” down in Moss Landing that specialized in pajaretes. “CSA” is an acronym that stands for “Community Supported Agriculture,” or in this case “Cow-munity Supported Agriculture. CSA works like this: a “community” of consumers who want a traditional product, a product not generally available through the common retail outlets, or who just want to see a local, community farm survive, “support” that farm by paying for the farm’s produce in advance, so that the farmer has the up-front monies needed to keep production going. The “Cow-munity” supporters wanted fresh, unpasteurized, un-homogenized raw milk— REALLY FRESH MILK, REALLY RAW MILK— so that they could make their pajaretes just like they had done back home on the rancho in Mexico. These men would leave their homes early every Saturday and Sunday morning from the suburbs of Salinas, Marina, Watsonville or Seaside and drive to the rancho in Moss Landing that they supported to get the milk they’d paid for. This practice probably ran afoul of USDA and CDFA regulations, Health Department regulations, zoning regulations, the AMA, the California Dairy Council AND the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms but let’s forget about the bureaucrats for a minute. As any curandero can tell you, pajaretes are health food; they take the ache out of a hangover, assuage the stomach and nourish the body even as they brighten one’s outlook and mellow the mind.
Octavio said his bottle was Charanda. Charanda is clear liquor made from cane sugar, common enough in Michoacan but hard to find around here. I looked at the bottle and read the label– 95% alcohol! Whatever Octavio chose to call it, the liquor was essentially Mexican white lightning.
“Híjole,” I said. “Relámpago blanco! You definitely don’t want to be smoking around this stuff– one stray spark and we all go up like Molotov cocktails.”
“Simón,” said Octavio. “Muy auténtico!”
Manny showed me what to do. The first step is to put a spoonful of sugar at the bottom of your cup. “Any kind of sugar will work,” he said, “but the best sugar is crumbled piloncillo.” Piloncillo is a crude, coarse, brown sugar made from unfiltered, boiled sugar cane juice, and it’s very common in the cane fields. “Es lo más natural!” Manny said. “Lo más puro!”
You dissolve and dilute the sugar with a few fingers of charanda. (Outside of the sugarcane growing regions, in areas where agave culture dominates, tequila is the preferred liquor.) How much “vino” to put in the mug is a matter of taste. I’m told that in Mexico when bartenders serve pajaretes they ask the teparochos , or “los winos,” if they want their drink prepared “media bloque, un bloque, o dos bloques?” A bloque is a city block. The question really is, does the patron want his pajarete so strong that he passes out and fall face flat after staggering down the street for a ½ block, a whole block, or two blocks. Country living being the clean, hardworking enterprise that it is, we decide on a mere finger of vino per glass.
Once the sugar has dissolved into the alcohol it’s time to add the milk. Of course you could just pour milk from a carton into the liquor but the idea is to milk the cow directly into the mug, squeezing the tit with enough gentle force so that the stream of warm, healing milk comes squirting out in a jet and forms a froth that makes your basic Starbuck’s barrista with his steam machine look like a citified loser. Then, when your cup is full, bottoms up!
Manny is on the wagon so Octavio and I raised our drinks and toasted the cow. “Salud! To Jenny!”
So how do pajaretes taste? They go down easy. The liquor Octavio brought was so pure of any ingredient besides alcohol that it had no distinguishing flavor, only an effect, so the taste of the pajarete was sugary sweet and milky smooth, like something a bad mother might give a colicky baby to shut it up and put it to sleep. “What’ll it be Junior? Media bloque?”
I stood back, sipped my pajarete and watched Manny finish milking the cow. I felt good. The white noise of the rain pattering down on the corrugated tin roof of the cow shed was comforting. The white lightning and fresh milk in my belly was warming. Jenny was content munching on her pumpkin. Octavio and Manny reminisced about old times in Michoacan. They informed me that milkers on Mexican dairies feel that it is a basic right to enjoy at least three pajaretes per shift. “Good Lord,” I thought.
They also told that pajaretes can be made with goat milk, sheep milk, cow milk, or donkey milk, and that of these four kinds of milk donkey milk is by far and away the most healing. It gave me an idea. Life in the country isn’t always idyllic. Sometimes my wife, Julia, comes home, opens the gate, sees the cat sunning herself in the driveway, and then sees the cows, sheep, goats, donkeys, dogs, children, and chickens wandering about in the corrals and fields beyond, with all the attendant mooing, bah-ing, bleating, braying, barking, complaining, and squawking, and it’s enough to make her wish she could turn the car around and drive off to her imaginary cute little Craftsman bungalow in Pacific Grove within walking distance of the library, the farmers’ market and the post office. But I’m different. In a world full of terrorism, conspiracy, and insurance forms to fill out I find reassurance in a yard full of critters. Mentally, I haven’t gotten much beyond Jehoshaphat from the Bible who measured his wealth in flocks. It’s that darned obsession again.
“What if I started a donkey dairy milking 50 jennies a day?” I asked myself. A marketing plan formed itself in my head. “It’s perfect! During the week I’ll sell the donkey milk to Hollywood celebrities of a certain age who want to bathe themselves back to youth in donkey milk a la Cleopatra, and on the weekends I’ll open the ranch up for pajaretes. I can nail a cardboard sign to every telephone pole between Watsón and Alum Rock: Amigos! Compas! Michoacanos! Pajaretes de burra en el Valle de Pajaro. Puros! Autenticos! Naturales! Que Vengan Todos Para Su Salud!
And then, maybe not. I do want to stay married. Besides, my teetotaling Grandma Anna– the grandma who kept this ranchito of mine in our family long enough for me to enjoy– she had a saying she was fond of repeating: “The man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink, and then the drink takes the man.”
It might be fun for a morning to have a pajarete or two, but as far as the idea of opening my farm gates to the world and selling healthful drinks every Saturday and Sunday morning goes, like some sort of rural Mexican Jamba Juice, well, that must have been the liquor talking. The only cocktails around here will have to be hanging off the ass end of our roosters.
copyright 2010 Andy Griffin
When I pulled up in front of Bi-Rite Market on 18th Street there were two orange, plastic, traffic cones at the curb. Sam, the owner of the store, was on the sidewalk waiting. He jumped out and moved the cones so that I could park. “This isn’t normal procedure,” I told Miguel. I was training Miguel to do the farm’s deliveries and I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea. “On any normal day you have to fight like a heathen for a parking place. I usually end up double-parking. This is a stop that calls for fast work!”
I stepped out of the truck and Sam came to greet me. A photographer stepped forward and snapped several pictures of the two of us shaking hands and talking. I grabbed a wet box of chard off the back of the truck.
“Hold that pose,” said the photographer. So I held the box and smiled as a thin stream of muddy water drained out of corner of the crate and onto my foot. Miguel looked amused.
“Now another one,” the photographer said. Miguel moved to grab a box off the truck.
“Not you,” I told Miguel. “You relax. Let the photographer record for all posterity a moment when I’m actually caught working.” Miguel happily got back in the truck to watch me unload the order and watch the photographer capture images of the event. Ten minutes and a hundred snaps later I was done with the delivery and we drove off. I set Miguel straight. “Sam is making a cookbook out of the recipes he’s developed for the store’s delicatessen,” I said. They’re taking pictures of all the farmers and fishermen and bakers and vintners that serve the store to put in the book.” Miguel nodded. He was still new to 18th Street.
No less an authority than Guy Trebay of the New York Times Fashion & Style section has called Bi-Rite Grocery, “a kind of foodie Vatican.” Does that make Sam a “Pope?” I wondered when I read the article. One thing’s for sure; with the Bi-Rite Creamery and the Dolores Park Café just up the street from the Bi-Rite Grocery, and Delfina restaurant, the Delfina pizzeria, and the Tartine Bakery just down the street, the 3600 block of 18th Street is a veritable gourmet ghetto. 18th Street has only two lanes. In the morning the street crawls with delivery trucks and traffic gets choked down to a trickle. But heavy traffic is an indicator of a good business environment; by brunchtime 18th Street is crawling with women.
Again, let me quote the New York Times: “Those girls are the local Holly Golightlys,” Mr. Ospital of M.A.C. said of women like Rachel Corrie, a waitress at Tartine, who as she left work last week hopped onto her bike wearing what looked like a gingham onesie, feet shod in gladiator sandals and a velvet equestrian hunt cap passing as safety gear perched atop her head… Girls like her are all over the Mission.” I agree. So it shouldn’t be hard to understand how I managed to overlook the actual fashion models when I delivered to Bi-Rite only a few days after the cook book photo shoot.
I arrive at the store a little later than usual, but the day was normal enough. There were no cones saving a parking spot for me. Au contraire– I had to double part beside the paper goods truck and behind a bread truck. The paper goods driver kindly inched forward and I squeezed in next to the curb in front of a truck from Full Belly Farm. The side walk seemed crowded too. There was a small group of young women all dolled up and standing around, but they didn’t stand out.
I overheard someone ask one of the Bi-Rite employees, “How is the shoot going?”
“What a nightmare,” he said.
“This can’t be the same photo shoot as the cookbook,” I said to myself. I unloaded my truck. A young San Francisco policeman strolled onto the scene looking like a Chippendale dancer on his day job. I looked up and down the street. There was a beer truck, a fish van, and a wine distributor, all double parked. And a second bread truck too. Virtually the whole block had the east bound lane blocked by double-parked delivery vehicles. Drivers and bicyclists that wished to continue east down the street had to thread their way around the trucks, against the flow of traffic. They made me think of the steelhead trout that slip past boulders and throw themselves upstream in a frantic, thrashing attempt to fulfill nature’s imperative. But the cop made me nervous.
I saw Simon, a store employee I know well. “I guess I have a guilty conscience,” I said. “I’m not even double parked.”
“Don’t worry about the policeman,” Simon said. “There’s a photo shoot for Dr. Scholl’s shoes today. I guess the City permit has a clause that says they have to have a cop on hand for security. Who knows?”
I looked at the cop. He seemed relaxed. I look at the street. A huge bus had thrust itself into the narrow lane. And there was some sort of problem down the street by Tartine Bakery. Traffic wasn’t moving at all. A middle aged woman driving a red Mini Cooper convertible got aggravated at being stuck behind the bus. She saw the cop and jumped out of her car and onto the sidewalk. “Aren’t you going to do anything?” she asked.
“Good morning, Miss,” he replied. “I am doing something.”
“It looks to me like you’re just standing there looking at girls,” she said.
“Those aren’t ‘girls,’” he said. “Those are professional models and I have been tasked with duty of protecting them from the public.”
“Are you #$%&^* kidding me?” she snapped back.
Chippendale put his hand on his holster with a melodramatic flourish. “Do I look like I’m #$%&^* kidding you?” he growled. Then he grinned.
“I can’t #$%&^* believe this,” the woman said. She started into a Tea Party rant about taxes, big government and the stimulus.
The officer broke in. “If you don’t move your car I’m going to have to cite you for blocking traffic.”
It was true. The logjam in front of Tartine had broken. The bus has cleared the gauntlet. Traffic could theoretically flow again. Only the red Mini Cooper convertible was left to block the only open lane of traffic. Honking horns echoed down the block. Fingers flew.
“Ahggg!” squealed the Tea Partier.
The cop smiled. I smiled too. One of the things I love about delivering into the big city is that my farm seems all the more peaceful when I get home.
Copyright 2010 Andy Griffin
photo above courtesy of Sally Katherine S.
Ladybug Truck Farm Deliveries This week = Thursday 10/21 from 4-6pm at Frances with tomatoes: romas… and padron peppers! and Menlo Park that same day. If you’re interested in these and or future deliveries of bulk vegetables and fruits and mixed vegetable boxes, please make sure you’re signed up for your geographical area:
Julia’s note: Andy and I are working on photos for future posts… thank you for your patience!