NEWS FROM MARIQUITA: A CSA Journal

The watermelon radish: Conspiracy from the left or the right … or just a darned good heirloom daikon?
Those were among the suspicions raised by this ancient veggie at a recent event in Santa Cruz designed to introduce consumers to local food producers.

By Andy Griffin

Farm-at-a-glance

Mariquita Farm

Location: Land in Watsonville and Hollister
Years farming: Andy has farmed for the last 20 years in various capacities from farmworker to owner, from large farm to small.
Total acres farmed: 25
Key people: Andy, farmer and rave king; Julia, farm wife, CEO, mom, email elf, etc.; España, foreman, tractor driver, all around repairman; Jose España, head harvester; Lourdes Duarte, head vegetable packer
Range of crops: greens, root crops, tubers and herbs, berries, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, melons, artichokes, and more besides that.
Marketing methods: CSA and 1 farmers market, with a small number of carefully selected restaurants that pick up at the farmers market
Soil type: silty loam
Regenerative practices: cover cropping, crop rotation, fallowing
Length of season: all year

April 2, 2004: I went prepared to defend the humble watermelon radish against suspicions that it is the bastard test tube baby of a cucurbit and a brassica. And I did get a couple of conspiratorial comments along those lines. But mostly the Sunday afternoon Julia and I spent in downtown Santa Cruz promoting our CSA program was mellow and sunny.

Out on the sidewalk of Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz’s main shopping street, the normal carnival of pedestrians, loiterers, court jesters, fools, and mendicant troubadours milled and mingled on a warm spring afternoon. In an open hallway fronting on Pacific Avenue we joined a number of other local farms, vintners, and restaurants and set up little table displays to promote our goods and services. Annie Glass, a local artisan glass company lent us all beautiful bowls, trays, and vases to display our fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Happy and surprised passers by streamed off of the street to nibble at the samples and admire the displays. We all passed out brochures, answered questions and tried each other’s wares.

The event was called A Taste of Santa Cruz and it was hosted by an upstart group to which we belong called the Culinary Alliance of Santa Cruz County (www.culinarysantacruz.com). Our agenda is simple - draw attention to local farms and artisanal food producers and promote our region as a culinary destination to outsiders and a treasure for locals. Everyone needs to know how special Santa Cruz County’s food shed is and why we all need to take steps to protect it. For our own farm display I filled a bowl with Indian Red Carrots, Belgian White Carrots, Gold Beets, and Watermelon Radishes. To the side I heaped up a pile of purple orach, and of course we set out piles of business cards and brochures about our CSA along with an open photo album.


Red and Belgian white carrots

I knew we would be competing for the public’s attention with a gelato maker so I made sure the vegetables on display were odd enough to raise eyebrows. It’s always tough on a warm day to put a vegetable slice up against a free mini cone of Italian ice cream but the watermelon radishes did the trick. Watermelon radishes are pale green on the outside morphing to ruby red on the inside, as big as soft balls and mild, mild, mild. Given their size and color it’s not surprising that a couple of the more politically agitated consumers would be afraid they were meeting one of the New World Order’s GMO super radishes. When they heard the watermelon radish is actually an heirloom Chinese daikon they relaxed. Almost all of them, that is. Then came the next obvious question. If this ancient vegetable is so healthy, tasty, attractive, and easy to use, what sinister plot has been keeping this root from The People? ...Ah yes, the public. But that’s why we are trying to educate folks, isn’t it? So people chatted, tasted, nibbled, poked, and learned, and a good time was had by all.

Previous Journal Entries

March 4, 2004
Guerilla garlic
Battling the influx of cheap Chinese garlic—even in to Gilroy, the “Garlic Capital of the World”—Mariquita Farm grows green spring garlic, and banks its garlic dollars long before the garlic festival in July.

February 13, 2004
New riders of the purple goosefoot In Watsonville, California, the founders of Mariquita CSA discover the value of this antique cousin to spinach.

March 23, 2004
NOW is the time for shameless self-promotion He can't plant, cultivate or harvest--the fields are a swamp--but Mariquita's Andy Griffin can sell shares and hustle publicity.