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
June 16, 2005: Sometimes my wife expresses
frustration that I won’t multitask--that I would be lost
if I was a mother with kids to feed, with a business to run,
bills to pay, and never enough time to do it all. At other times
I hear in her voice a note of pity, as though it’s dawning
on her that I actually can’t multitask--that
I’m doomed by faulty chromosomes to a plodding life in
the fields, never accomplishing more than one thing at a time.
Maybe she’s right on both counts. But I am smart enough
to farm my fields in such a way that every crop delivers multiple
of the challenges to farming on a small scale is that preparing
ground, sowing, and cultivating can take up a disproportionate
amount of time relative to the size of the harvest. If, like
me, you grow a wide range of crops, urgent tasks compete for
your attention. When you only have one tractor it’s
even time consuming to change the tractor’s implements
as you hop from chore to chore. Since I can’t sow, cultivate,
harvest and chew gum at the same time, and since there’s
never enough time to get all the work done, anyway, I’m
always thinking about how to farm so the most burdensome tasks
Harvesting, while the most burdensome, is also the most critical.
We don’t get paid if we don’t pick. Luckily, there
are a few jobs I can coax from single-minded beasts to more
Weeding: I try to sell our weeds so cleaning
the field becomes a profit center, not a loss. Nettles, lambsquarters,
epazote and purslane are all weeds that have found their way
onto our restaurant delivery truck while they’re still
young and tender. We hoe out the survivors when they’re
older and tougher. The good news is that weeds are nasty plants,
contrary by nature and cynical. When edible weeds realize
you’re making money at their expense without even going
through the sowing, fertilizing or irrigating, they’ll
often shrivel up and die of resentment.
Thinning: If a sowing has been successful,
then thinning out the crop may be important lest the plants
grow too crowded and become lanky, weak and prone to fungal
attack. Direct seeded chard, kale and broccoli are three crops
that are easy to sell loose leaved at the thinning stage.
Restaurants buy them and, increasingly, farmers market patrons
do as well. Young broccoli leaves are so tasty that I’ve
been tempted to start growing broccoli just for the baby leaf
market. If you don’t have many thinnings of any particular
kind, the various types can often be tossed together and marketed
as a braising mix.
Harvesting: I also like crops that yield
over long periods of time. Summer squash is great because
we can sell the unopened male flower buds as “fiorelli”.
Fiorelli is just Italian for little flowers. Some of our restaurant
clients like to saute these buds and tumble them with pasta.
When the squash flowers open there’s a whole other market
with restaurateurs who want to stuff the blossoms and fry
them. Our CSA customers prefer squash to be small, “fancy”
or “extra fancy” sized. Ironically, the bigger
squash that slip past our first harvest are appreciated by
the “extra fancy” restaurants we sell to because
they are cheap to buy and can be chopped up like firewood
into sauces and soups. I’ve even sold the last hard
shelled, pithy, overgrown zucchinis to the Martha Stewart
types as porch decorations or skinny pumpkins.
At this point most of our summer crops like tomatoes, peppers,
basil, eggplant, and squash have been planted and cultivated.
The edible weeds that plagued them have been harvested and
sold or gotten woody. But I see little green valentines carpeting
the ground. Baby mallow, Malva sylvestris..... Pigweed!
I should cultivate it out right now before it sends a fibrous
taproot all the way to hell. But, realistically, tomatoes
are too tall to cultivate and anyway, the tractor’s
occupied preparing ground for our first fall crops of radicchio.
And we’re too busy harvesting orders to stop and hoe.
I can’t afford to hire any more workers either. Hmmm...
I seem to remember from my travels in Bolivia that this odious
malva was much esteemed as a medicinal herb and occupied pride
of place in the garden. I was told that mallow can be prepared
in teas and taken as an expectorant, an anti-inflammatory
for irritated tissues or as a laxative.
In between managing my fields, driving the harvest into the
packing shed, delivering the produce to my customers, and
doing right by my family I should research Malva sylvestris
and learn more about its potential as a crop in its own right.
I don’t have to plant the malva because it went and
planted itself. If the Bolivians are right, all I’ve
got to do now is convince a nation of harried American consumers
that as they balance the demands of the workplace with the
needs of body and soul, and while they steer from appointment
to appointment juggling their cell phones as they eat, there’s
always a healing cup of malva tea waiting for them at home.
Making Malva relevant for a multitasking world may be a tall
order but maybe I can do it if I take the task ahead of me
step by step, one thing at a time.
Lamb’s Quarters (also called Fat Hen or
quelite de ceniza) is an ancient form of spinach.
It is a nutrition superstar. Fat hen can be eaten
raw in salads, on sandwiches, or used in soups
or stir-fry. Steam as spinach and serve as is
or put in an omelet or lasagna.
recipe by Julia of Mariquita Farm
1 bunch fat hen, washed and chopped (stems optional)
2 teaspoons cooking oil
2 stalks green or regular garlic, chopped
Pinch red pepper flakes or cayenne
2 Tablespoons cream cheese
4-6 small corn tortillas or 2-3 larger flour ones
Prep your greens. Heat the oil and add the garlic.
Cook garlic for about 30 seconds. Then add greens
and cook until bright green and wilted, add red
pepper (and salt and pepper to taste). Take off
heat and stir in cream cheese. Heat tortillas,
divide filling among them. Eat and enjoy.
* * *
Quelites and Beans
adapted from The Vegetarian Times
1 bunch fat hen
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 stems green garlic or 3 cloves ‘regular’
garlic -- minced
3 leeks -- finely chopped
1 cup canned pinto beans -- rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon chili powder salt and pepper -- to
Rinse fat hen well, remove larger stems. Steam
greens in tightly covered pot until wilted. Drain
and finely chop them. In large skillet, heat oil
over medium heat. Add garlic and leeks and cook,
stirring frequently, until leeks are soft, 2 to
3 minutes. Stir in greens, beans and chili powder.
Cover and cook over low heat for 5 minutes or
until heated through. Season with salt and pepper
Makes 6 servings.