NEWS FROM MARIQUITA: A CSA Journal

And the moral of the story is...
Andy's telling his CSA members bedtime stories. No, the stress hasn't finally gotten to him, it's the first newsletter of the season and there is a moral to this story--keep the boxes neat, clean and folded; don't forget to tell us when you're away; and, last but not least, enjoy the connection between country and city.

By Andy Griffin

Farm-at-a-glance

Mariquita Farm
www.mariquita.com

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

March 17 , 2005: Mother Nature is on a hormonal roller coaster ride; first she’s hot, then cold, then wet, then dry, and the crops in our fields don’t know whether to go dormant or flower. But that’s normal this time of year. Our CSA delivery program starts up tomorrow and we have no driver hired yet. Our restaurant delivery business is busier than ever, crops are scarce and our new truck just broke down. All that’s normal too. The phones won’t stop ringing, life is a chaos, and we’ve just begun home-schooling our two kids so they’re home all the time. I want to tear my hair out except I’ve got both hands occupied by a keyboard writing a newsletter to our farm’s subscribers. Of course I’m not going to let any of my panic and frustration seep into the newsletter I’m writing to the families that support our farm. That wouldn’t be professional. Instead I’m going to write our subscribers a letter that projects calm enthusiasm, informs them about our farm’s delivery policies, and tells them a story they aren’t likely to hear from more mainstream media sources. What follows is my first newsletter essay of the year, my face to the world--much more wistful and much less scrambled than the thoughts inside my head.

Mariquita Farm CSA Newsletter: March 15, 2005
Bedtime Stories

Welcome to the 2005 harvest season with the Two Small Farms CSA program. I’d like to start the year by telling you a bedtime story. Or maybe it’s more correct to say I want to tell you about a bedtime story.

We never get too old for bedtime stories, or, at least, I never have. But, until quite recently, I’ve been in the habit of reading them to my children instead of hearing them myself. Now my daughter, Magdalena (aged eight) has taken it upon herself to read a story every evening to me, partly to show off how well she is reading and partly because she truly believes in absolute fairness and she recognizes bedtime stories have been a one way street for the last eight years. The other night as we scrunched into the sofa at eight pm for a short story before sleep overtook both of us, she broke out her entire set of Beatrix Potter stories.

When I was a kid I loved Beatrix Potter’s stories. I grew up and started reading an eclectic assortment of big people books but I never lost my affection for the Victorian fantasy world of England’s Lake Country where cats wear dresses and geese have bonnets and errant bunny boys are reprimanded by stern bunny mothers when they lose their mittens.

I made it clear to Magdalena that we only had time to finish ONE of the tales before I passed out. She chose The Tale Of Johnny Town Mouse. Lena pointed out upon finishing the tale that it wasn’t so much a story about a town mouse as it was a recounting of the trials and travails of Timmy Willy, the country mouse. Seeing the illustrations again reminded me what a country mouse Miss Potter was. If you take off their dresses and pants, the animals Beatrix drew are rendered lifelike in a way that only deep and constant observation can teach.

Beatrix Potter’s powers of observation don’t fail her when it came to drawing plants, either. Unlike modern illustrators of children’s books whose computer-assisted pictures only give a vague iconic representation of botanically impossible plants, when you look at Beatrix Potter's pictures of a garden you can distinguish the cabbages from the peas and the snap dragons from the sweet peas. I get the feeling I could even identify the plants she drew down to the varietal level if the pictures were only a little bit larger.

But The Tale Of Johnny Town Mouse caught my attention not so much for the pictures as for the story. The story is a retelling of the town mouse/country mouse theme. For me the fun was seeing how the country mouse made it to town. The story goes: Timmy Willy lived on a farm. One day he went to sleep, after eating a lunch of fresh peas, in a wicker hamper of vegetables he was raiding. The little farm that “shared” its harvest with Timmy Willy had a regular delivery schedule with a house in town and would drop off a hamper of freshly picked vegetables once a week, just like we do with you.

Now, obviously, we would all be horrified if a country mouse crawled into your box for a ride to the bright lights of your home town. Let me assure you, our program is more modern than any employed in Victorian England. We use waxed cardboard boxes to convey your share of the harvest to you and they are only folded open at the very moment they're filled at which point they're immediately whisked onto the truck. It’s a shame we can’t use wicker for recycling purposes, but baskets are just too expensive in the 21st century. That does remind me: Please, please, please, please, please be careful opening and folding the veggie boxes so we can use the cartons again. We spend over $20,000 per year on cardboard boxes and it’s over a dollar lost every time someone trashes a box.

Okay, back to the story. . . Johnny, the city rodent, hitches a ride out to Timmy Willy’s nest in the country by hopping into the empty wicker basket that’s being returned to the farm. Obviously, you are all going to fold your cardboard boxes up when you’ve removed the bag of veggies so that the pick-up site hosts who are so generous with their homes are not inconvenienced. This should also prevent any dapper city rodents from taking a free ride out to the country. If The Tale Of Johnny Town Mouse teaches us anything it’s that a lot of what we consider normal is just circumstantial. It’s not that the countryside wouldn’t welcome a city rodent—quite the opposite. The hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes, badgers, skunks, weasels, and snakes that live off of luckless country mice would be only too happy to snack on a disoriented urban contemporary rat.

In Beatrix Potter’s tale, the reason the glamorous city mouse, Johnny, decides to visit humble Timmy Willy in the boondocks is simple; hunger. The family that has been receiving a weekly wicker hamper of vegetables has left for a short vacation to the seashore. Beatrix Potter doesn't tell us about any policy the farm has regarding the vegetables ripening back on the farm. We only know that, with the family absent on vacation, Johnny Town Mouse has no jam pots to pilfer in the kitchen so he goes to the country where food is plentiful. Our policy is to donate your share to the women's shelter or the food bank if you don't have a friend who can pick up your harvest box while you're gone. So, please tell us when you plan to be absent so we can make arrangements.

With all this talk of mice and rats I’ve almost forgotten to introduce this first box to you. The weird black root in your bag of roots is a black Spanish radish, one of the most antique vegetables still being grown today. If you think of the black Spanish radish as just another type of turnip you’ll do fine with it. (See Andy's column on the unusual but tasty root.) The red turnips are heirloom Italian turnips and the white ones are a modern Japanese variety. I like to roast turnips.

The big lettucy thing that isn’t lettuce is escarole, also called Batavian lettuce. I’ve been enjoying these just washed, sprinkled with a little salt, then dressed in olive oil with a squeeze of Meyer lemons. Yes, those are Meyer lemons in your box, too.

The spiky leaved green is dandelion, not the sidewalk dandy but a civilized cousin. I like dandys sauteed with garlic and tumbled in pasta. The rest of the box is pretty self explanatory, but never forget our online photo library of veggie pix and recipes if you’re puzzled. We want to be known as the CSA program that provides lots of support to our subscribers. We’re grateful for all the support you all have given us. Thank you and welcome to harvest 2005.

 

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