New riders of the purple goosefoot
In Watsonville, California, the founders of Mariquita CSA discover the value of this antique cousin to spinach.

By Andy Griffin

Editor's NOTE:

We chatted with Mariquita founders Andy Griffin and Julia Wiley while out at last month’s Eco-Farm conference, and tried to figure out a better way to guarantee a flow of stories, insights and tips from them that were personal, funny, practical and real.

Here’s what we settled on: Every other week, they’ll take a moment to reflect on what they’re thinking about right then, jot it down and ship it off, along with some of the great photos they’re known for. It should be a painless way to get some valuable insights into managing a CSA, straight from the pens of two of the most successful CSA farmers in the business.

By the way, Julia and Andy were honored at this year’s Eco-Farm conference as one of three successful farmers. We hope to transcribe some of their acceptance speech and run it on the web site in the not-to-distant future.

February 13, 2004: I must be about three hundred years old. Since 1959, when I was born, there have been three winters here in the Monterey Bay area that produced what old-timers called “100 year floods.” The last major flood was in 1995 and every square inch of the land I’m now farming was under two feet of water. Plus we’ve had a “hundred year freeze,” a couple of “hundred year droughts,” and a “500 year earthquake.” Maybe my next seventy five years in farming will be uneventful. Things are “normal” now. It feels weird. I'm even smiling about my purple goosefoot.

Purple goosefoot, or Atriplex hortensis, is an antique vegetable related to the spinach. It has never caught on here in the states, probably because your average shopper worries overmuch about where a goose’s foot might trod. The plant can also be called mountain spinach, or orach. The plant sports two decorator colors, red and green, and it has a nice, mellow flavor.

I paid $126 for a pound of goosefoot seed last year and planted a seed crop. When the crop germinates you jump with fright because it looks just like the pernicious weed lambsquarters, or Chenopodium album. In fact it practically is lambsquarters and it grows like a weed. Out of 4 beds 40 inches wide and two hundred feet long I got four garbage cans of seed. The seed I didn’t harvest sprouted with the first rains. We harvested it and sold it loose, piled high in big fluffy purple mountains, for $4.00/pound at the farmers’ market.

The seed is encased in a papery membrane. I lack the machinery to buff the membrane off so it looks like a breakfast cereal. With the plates entirely removed from an Earthway® seeder the seeds feed out pretty well. My first planting from my own seed came up a deeper purple than the mother stock and have proven to be very vigorous. Sales have been clicking along. Boulevard and Incanto, two of San Francisco’s nicer restaurants, have it on their menu, the public is buying all I bring to market and I’ve got no competition. Call it a “100 year harvest.”