NEWS FROM MARIQUITA: A CSA Journal

You can keep your lemonade …
Life gave me elderberries, not lemons, and that’s just fine with me, says Andy.

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

August 17, 2004: If life gave me lemons I would make lemonade; after all, every farmer knows the future is in value-added products. With all the time consumers spend commuting to earn the money to buy their daily bread, who has time to toast it anymore? But I don’t have lemon trees, I have elderberry trees. Elderberry trees are wild here in California, typically growing as riparian shrubs, with clusters of tiny, astringent fruits produced throughout the early summer. In an attempt to squeeze proverbial lemonade from my elderberry trees I’ve launched a mini marketing campaign. So far the results have been intoxicating.

We have the elderberry trees on our farm entirely by accident. Our farm fields lie along Pacheco creek, an intermittent stream that runs from the dry hills of the Mt. Hamilton Range into the Pajaro River. Water makes only a seasonal appearance in Pacheco creek, going underground in late spring to wait until next fall’s rains before rising to the surface again. Throughout the summer the watercourse is tangled with brambles and beaded with occasional puddles. In the old days when fruit was a luxury on the frontier the pioneers would walk the creek beds to gather elderberries for pies. Almost any fruit, no matter how sour or tannic, will taste good with enough sugar. These days, with such a glut of cheap fruit in the supermarket no one (well, almost no one) would consider cooking with elderberries, and absolutely no one plants them.

Birds planted the elderberries on my farm. Before we leased these acres the land was fenced in corrals and the owner boarded horses. The birds ate wild elderberries in the creek then sat on the corral fences singing “tweet, tweet, tweet.” Eventually elders sprouted under the boards of the corrals. The horse ranch went broke, the elder saplings tapped into the water table, and soon there were rows of elder hedges bordering the fields. When I started farming the land we removed the fences but not the elders. I had read that it is bad luck to kill an elder, besides; I wanted trees for wind breaks and habitat. We irrigate the fields so the elders are growing lush. Seeing the elder boughs loaded made me wonder how I might sell the berries.

As a kid my neighbor Lois would employ me to gather elderberries for pies that she would enter in the county fair. Lois was a fabulous cook, and because her pies had a historical flavor that conjured up Monterey County’s past she would always win first prize. Gathering wild fruit is way too expensive to contemplate now, but I have what amounts to an accessible commercial planting. I’ve taken elderberries to the farmers market in San Francisco. The purple berries add a dash of novelty to our stall and some chefs have purchased them to jazz up their own menus. They tell me the tartness of elderberry jelly makes for an interesting contrast with the richness of wild game and their wild natures complement each other. An elderberry syrup over a handmade ice cream makes for a luxurious desert, too.

For me, the most fun has been inviting market customers out to the farm to pick their own elderberries. So few people cook anymore, especially with ingredients most relevant to centuries past. But the people who do cook, the people for whom convenience is an over rated virtue, the Slow Food aficionados, these folks know how to have fun. They make elderberry wine. I don’t have the time to make wine but I’ve got some bottles received as gifts mellowing on the rack. You keep your lemons and your lemonade; I’m doing just fine with wine.

Previous Journal Entries

August 2
Garlic Snakes
Andy discovers how his first-ever planting of stiff-necked garlic got it's scientific name and stumbles upon another marketing gimmick--spicy serpents.

July 20
Keep Rollin' While the rest of the world savors basil and tomatoes, Andy gets pumped up to plant parsnips. It's all part of the cycle.

July 2, 2004
Keep Truckin' Stop! Put that plastic truck (or other piece of marketing swag) down and back away. Think smart promotion to keep your small farm in the public eye.

June 2, 2004
Kinky Carrots It's astounding to what uses Andy Griffin's farmers' market customers will put his kinky, crooked carrot culls. Every carrot has a home.

May 11, 2004
Ain't I smart? Carelessness, poor planning and neglect leads Mariquita's Andy Griffin to discover the true value of a strange old heirloom crop--black Spanish radish.

April 20, 2004
Hats off to the many sombreros of a farmer Quack lawyer, truck driver, fake chef, and borderline carnival barker: all in a day’s work for a farmer like Andy Griffin … and once in a while he gets to contemplate nature.

April 2, 2004
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.

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.