Dear CSA shareholders,
Next month the farm will be hosting two open house events a week apart. On September 20 and 21st, as I've mentioned in previous e-mails, Grin City is putting on the inaugural Rurally Good Festival, which includes a harvest festival for the farm on Saturday from 11 am to 2 pm. The prior weekend, Sunday, September 15th, my operation will be participating in the annual Harvest from the Heart of Iowa farm ramble, a day long tour of a number of small central Iowa farms, including Middle Way Farm and Compass Plant CSA in Grinnell.
Opening up the farm is a stressful but very necessary part of the kind of agriculture I want to practice. As I emphasized during the herbicide incident in June, I feel that transparency to my customers is one of my most important assets and its crucial to my integrity as a chemical free, direct market grower. I want everyone who buys from me to be able to see my operation, not only so they can appreciate the challenges and rewards of local food production and learn more about it, but also so they can see that I have nothing to hide from my customers. You'll see clean rows, healthy vegetables, and organized tools but you'll also see weeds, crop failures, equipment messes, and spotty germination. These are all elements of a working farm. There is of course always room for improvement, but a spotless, carefully manicured operation is simply not possible during the hustle and bustle of the growing season. That said, open houses are a great motivator for me to get things cleaned up on the farm before I open it to a lot of visitors. What's true of your house is also true of a farm. To that end I've been working for the past few weeks and will continue to work over the next few to tackle the weediest areas of the garden, clean up the buffer strip, get outlying areas mowed and organized, and finally finish my greenhouse and get it covered with plastic.
The second Emerging Artist residency has just ended and it will be several weeks before the fall artist session begins. I will miss having a group of artists to throw at big tasks during the weekly volunteer workdays. This past group was helpful in particular cleaning onions and garlic, a task that can be a lot for one person but goes relatively quickly and painlessly in a large group. They also did some great weed control, including rescue weeding some carrots and beets that will be making an appearance in the shares shortly. Working with a group of volunteers is challenging, and every one brings varying degrees of interest and engagement to their work. It was satisfying this session to work with Duy Huong from Massachusetts (he goes by "D"). Duy was born in Vietnam and moved to the US when he was 10. Before coming to Grinnell, he had never been to the Midwest and had never visited or worked on a farm, He also hadn't done much cooking, but as part of living at the residency he was responsible for cooking one meal a week for all the other artists in residence. His sculpture and installation art has often incorporated plants and he has always been fascinated by them. Duy told me before leaving that participating in the workdays and cooking vegetables from the garden had been a revelation for him, and he's thinking about how he can get involved in other farms in the future. I think Duy's experience is a perfect example of what we are trying to do at Grin City by partnering a working farm with an artist residency. In this first year we're still working out the kinks and finding out what will make this partnership successful for both the farm and residency, so it is great to see some "early" results of artists benefiting from their interactions with the garden while providing some significant help to me as a one man operation. And its not just the work that the artists do that is helpful to me. Getting to interact with them and see what they are doing during the residency has been great for me on personal level. I've said before that despite not being an artist, I get to experience art vicariously through all of the people that come through Grin City. Its keeps this vegetable farmer cultured, I guess you could say.
When I looked at the forecast for this coming week and saw a high of 91 on Monday, I had to do a double take. I've gotten so used to the mild temperatures of the last month that a climb into the 90's feels like a real departure. The cherry and Juliet tomatoes have finally begun to ripen in number after several weeks of being very slow. Those of you who ordered tomatoes last week probably noticed that you received a lot more than usual, two pounds in fact. One pound was of riper tomatoes (picked Monday and Wednesday) while the other pound was less ripe (picked mostly on Friday). This is generally how I will continue to divide up the tomatoes in future weeks. The plums are ripening slower than usual, hence why there was a pint rather than a quart. I may be able to offer them again depending on how much ripen at one time. The peppers are really starting to come on, so there are more available this week. I hope to be able to have some red (and possibly other colored) peppers by the end of the season, but at least for the next few weeks mostly green peppers will be available. The first green beans of the season come from a late planting of pole beans in the greenhouse which should continue producing through the fall. There is also a late planting of bush beans to supplement them.
The pears this week come from farm and are chemical free. Some of them will be off a branch that snapped off the tree last week under the weight of all the fruit! Pears ripen best when they are off the tree, so it was just a little earlier harvest than usual. The peach trees on the farm are also literally sagging with fruit (a large branch snapped over the weekend) but unfortunately I don't think that any will end up maturing and ripening. I've learned since this spring that in a good year its necessary to cull young peaches because trees don't have enough energy to ripen all the fruit that it bears (and often not enough strength to hold them). The elderberries are a shrubby tree that is quite common in roadside ditches, the edges of fields, and other marginal areas. They bear large clusters of fragrant white flowers in the early summer which are used to make syrups and flavorings. The berries themselves are small, dark blue, and held in large clusters by many branching red stems. They are palatable raw but should be consumed cooked. Eating large amounts of uncooked berries can be toxic.They are usually sweetened with sugar and used to make pies, syrups, jams, jellies, etc. There are many good recipes for elderberries available through a quick Internet search.