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
Soil type: silty loam
Regenerative practices: cover
cropping, crop rotation, fallowing
Length of season: all year
May 12, 2005: It was common once to hear
America described metaphorically as a melting pot. Now I hear
people saying America is a soup pot. We’re still talking
pots but the soup pot metaphor doesn’t conjure up an
industrial setting where some new human alloy is being forged.
Instead “America the soup pot” suggests a homey
kitchen scene. Never mind the fact that a lot of Americans
hardly cook anymore, people who use the soup pot metaphor
wish to convey the hope that the our nation is a savory blend
of distinct ethnic and cultural ingredients where each group
contributes a unique flavor without losing its integrity and
somehow the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But
every metaphor has its limits.
I’m a farmer growing vegetables for a diverse community
of subscribers so I have to think a lot about who these subscribers
are and what they’re going to want to put in their pots.
I’m also a 45 year old white male. My life would be
easier if I could just grow the crops that I like to eat and
fill the share boxes with the quantities and varieties of
produce that I find harmonious. But it would be bad business
to limit the appeal of our program to the people who eat like
me when so many of my neighbors have very different habits
My life would be really easy if my customers all shared my
farm crew’s tastes. The people who work for me come
from little farms in rural Mexico and they have plenty of
experience growing corn, squash, beans, tomatoes, cilantro,
chiles, cacao, vanilla, bananas, coffee and sugar cane. Half
the production problems I experience would be eliminated if
I could just tell my workers, “Do what you’ve
always done, the way you’ve always done it, and I’ll
pay you.” But farming doesn’t work like that.
Subscription farming is a balancing act between the expectations
of a heterogeneous community of subscribers and the limitations
the local environment puts on crops and farming practices.
Sometimes the environment is the easiest part of the equation
As near as I can tell the only common denominator among the
900 families and individuals that make up the body of subscribers
my farm feeds every week is that they have a lot of education.
Beyond that they come in all colors and stripes. Quite a number
of folks have come to the CSA\ program because they enjoy
cooking and can taste the freshness of the ingredients we’re
offering. Other people join the CSA because they don’t
cook (maybe don’t even know how) but wish to push themselves
into learning new skills and habits. A sizable number of our
subscribers are vegetarian or even vegan. Crafting a planting
schedule that takes everybody’s diverse tastes into
account isn’t easy. So what do we do?
The number one tool on our farm besides our tractor is our
computer. Each week we email a newsletter out to our subscribers
that tells them what’s coming in their box and offers
suggestions on how to prepare it in a variety of ways. An
unspoken set of guidelines helps us decide which recipes to
include. First of all we put as few recipes that use meat
in our newsletter as possible. Vegans and vegetarians may
not make up the majority of our subscribers but why alienate
them? Recipes that call for meat are easy to find for those
who are interested and, besides, we grow vegetables and we
want the recipes to focus on what our shareholders find in
Simplicity of preparation is a virtue with any recipe. People
don’t have a lot of time and we want them to be satisfied
with our vegetables. If the recipes are too complicated some
of our subscribers who look to the newsletter for help are
going to be discouraged. My wife cooks a lot and she underlines
any recipe that is fast, flavorful, and easy.
We also try to keep any outstanding ethnic holidays in mind.
Arugula is a bitter green so if we can have it in the box
around Passover for the Seder meal, we do. Once I counted
back on the calendar 30 days from Easter and made a note to
plant Easter Egg radishes so that we’d have pretty tri-colored
radishes in the box for all the folks that worship the Easter
Bunny. And the Persians like to use fava beans in a dish that
is traditional to serve on their New Year so we try to accommodate
them. To offer recipes from beyond the confines of our own
experiences, we solicit from our subscriber base and from
the chefs at the different restaurants we deliver to. An open
mind is a good thing.
Then there the chile peppers.
I love chile peppers and so does my farm crew. Like some
of my workers I ascribe curative properties to the chile and
recommend lots of hot chile peppers to clear up colds, drive
off hang-overs, and generally contribute spice and vivacity
to salsa, pizza, soup, and life. But here I run into problems
with America The Soup Pot.. A lot of Americans, it seems,
don’t want chiles in their pot, period!
Since chile peppers are so versatile, flavorful, healthy,
and easy to grow it, seems a shame not to put them in the
share box. But some people do complain and it’s
not possible to send out individually prepared boxes. So we
compromise. A couple of times a season we include a few hot
peppers in each share box so that people know we have them
. Then we invite our shareholders to come to the farm and
pick their own hot peppers. That way we satisfy both crowds.
Other vegetables that are easy to grow in our region but
are a hard sell to the mythic everyman are eggplant, radicchio,
and sorrel. My wife has an equation that’s based on
her tastes: eggplant twice a season if they’re pretty
heirlooms (some folks make a centerpiece out of them and forgo
cooking the eggplants altogether), sorrel once a season, and
radicchio once a decade. We used radicchio in our share boxes
five years ago and Julia got tired of fielding complaints.
A lot can change in five years, though. I've noticed crops
that were once seemingly forever locked in some ethnic closet,
like fennel, mei quin choy and cilantro are finding wider
acceptance. Maybe America is both a soup pot open to new ingredients
and a melting pot. For my part, I hope those of us in the
CSA movement can forge a new kind of consumer that wants to
buy a wide range of fresh produce that has been grown in a
sustainable way by local farmers for local consumers. Am I
thinking outside of the pot?
Chop the stems and leaves from one bunch of sorrel.
Melt some butter and sweat some chopped onion
or leek, then add the stems and leaves of the
sorrel. Add a few cups of stock(vegetable or chicken)
with a bit of salt and pepper to taste. To get
fancier: you can add milk or creme fraiche or
half and half and pureé this soup... It
can be eaten hot or chilled.
* * *
Princess Eggplant from Julia
I got this recipe from a couple different friends
when I lived in China.
2 pounds smallish white eggplants
3 tablespoons peanut or safflower oil
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch erbette chard, washed and roughly chopped
(it’s ok to leave water on the leaves)
1 bunch parsley or cilantro, chopped
Mix together with a bit of water:
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 Tablespoon black bean sauce
CUT the eggplants into large-ish bite-sized pieces.
Cook them over high heat in the oil, after 2 minutes,
add the garlic and stir often, until the eggplants
are mostly cooked through. Add the chard and mix
in until it’s wilted some, about 1 or 2
Add the sauce to the still-hot eggplant mixture.
STIR in the parsley or cilantro just after removing
from the heat, serve with rice.
* * *
1 clove garlic
2 T chopped toasted walnuts or almonds
1/2 c washed, roughly chopped cilantro
1/4 c olive oil
2 T grated Parmasan or crumbled feta cheese
Mince garlic to a paste in food processor or
garlic press or bowl. Grind together walnuts and
chopped cilantro. Add garlic paste, the oil, and
the parmesan cheese and blend the mixture until
combined. Boil the pasta with which you'll serve
the pesto (ravioli recommended, but you could
use anything). Reserve 1/4 c cooking liquid when
you drain the pasta. Add the reserved liquid to
the cilantro mixture (makes it smooth, and warms
it for eating) and blend until smooth. Toss the
pasta with the pesto and serve.