A farmer's guide to multi-tasking
Andy is multi-task impaired, doomed to plod from one task to another.
But, he manages his crops so THEY do the multi-tasking for him. In their
younger phases, for example, weeds--and plants that need thinning--do double duty and become another product for adventurous eaters.

By Andy Griffin


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

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 harvests.

One 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 are minimized.

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 efficient multi-tasks.

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 Recipes

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.

Greens Tacos
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.

Serves 2-3

* * *

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 taste

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 and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

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