September 29, 2004

Before Sunrise

0929_7.jpgSo you've grown the world's tastiest vegetables, you harvested them, and then you did all that post-harvest handling. Now, you've got a cooler full of stuff, and flats of tomatoes and boxes of squash and sacks of onions and baskets of garlic. What next? Short of using it all to do the most extravagant Thanksgiving display ever (and by the way, I *still* haven't seen the wild turkeys), you're now going to have to do something to get rid of all this 0929_10.jpgbounty. Not so much because the bounty is unwanted (though I don't particularly care to live in a compost heap), but, well... because this is a business. And until now, you've not made any money. Think about it, you've spent time the previous year and early this year plowing, cultivating, spreading manure, seeding in the greenhouse, seeding outside, transplanting, weeding, weeding again, and weeding some more, thinning, harvesting, washing, packaging and all you've got to show for it is a pile of vegetables which will turn themselves into compost if you stop now.

Thus, by definition, every farmer needs to figure out who his or her clients are, be it a wholesaler, retail stores, processors, or direct customers through a CSA, farm stand, or farmers' market sales. "CSA" stands for "community shared/supported agriculture", and essentially takes the form of subscription farming: members buy a "share" in a farm's harvest (important to note: not in the farm itself, just in that year's growing season). The idea is that you share the costs, share the risks, and share the returns. In a "true" CSA, as it was originally conceived, the money share-holders put out up front covers the cost of inputs and labour to bring in a harvest - which is then divvied up among the members. If a crop fails, then the risk is absorbed by all those who have a part in the harvest. Similarly, if there is a bumper crop of something else, you get a bigger part of the bounty. It's much like your home garden: you always forget just how many zucchinis one plant will give, and that your tomatoes will always be hit by blight. Still, though, some years you have more beans than you can possibly eat but only one or two lousy peppers. This is the same thing, except that you have a farmer who is making the planting and growing decisions, and presumably has decent judgement and experience. CSA farming is thus mutually beneficial: you don't have to do the work of gardening yourself (or have the property), the farmer doesn't have the same level of risk and he/she has some capital up front to cover the huge costs you need to incur before you see any returns. Depending on the situations, you can still get your hands dirty, show your children where the food comes from, and get pleasure out of being in the fields.

0929_2.jpgThe CSA model has, of course, been adapted and modified. My opinion is that if a farm were to exist as a "true" CSA, they would have to have well over 100 members. Most people, in my experience, balk at more than $500 for a season's worth of produce, so, if you get 100 $500 shares, that's still only $50,000. If that's your only source of income, and it's your gross, it's not going to work: out of that, you have to pay the mortgage pay labour pay utilities buy seed amortize implements buy fuel and so forth. Even 200 shares at that price don't give you a real living once you've accounted for all the costs (and the thought of direct contact with 200 households on a weekly basis makes me sweat. How would you know all their names? They'd have a right to have you know them, after all, because one of the things they bought is the personal contact). Realistically, Lorenz estimates 400 households for a CSA to be fair to both consumers and farmers.

Thus, there are many versions of hybrids. There are those who have a medium-sized CSA but also produce for wholesale or farmers' markets - in that case, though, you don't share in the bounty of bumper crops as much, since they'll go to the wholesalers. Similarly, you don't experience failed crops as much - if the yield is very low, the farmer likely will give what he does have to his members, and there is no wholesale profit. So the "S" in CSA becomes a bit less, but still: you have a pot of money to tide you over until you also get wholesale money or returns from farmers' markets once harvest starts. Seems like an ideal solution.

But even that hybrid model has potential pitfalls: now, you've started spreading yourself thin. If people buy their season's worth of vegetables from you, they don't expect that the entire season will consiste of kale, rutabags and carrots: they expect the same variety that they see among in-season produce in the grocery store. So you end up producing 40 or more different vegetables, and killing the economies of scale that you'd need for wholesale. It just doesn't make sense to have half a row of this and half a row of that, not from an efficiency standpoint. In addition, by having a medium-sized CSA, you're still in the situation where you have to have the energy to deal with people every week (people are not bad, having people come to your farm isn't bad, but it takes time to do it right). You have to set the CSA up, you have to manage it, and you have to cultivate personal contact. That can be hard to do when you have 100 things going on.

0929_9.jpgThere are other CSA hybrids: there are those that are closer to food box programs than CSAs, in that the farm produces only a portion of what is distributed to the shares each week. The rest comes from other farms, or even distributors. The advantage for the consumer is the variety, but it gets further from the original notion of direct producer-consumer linkages: now, farmers become middlemen for other farmers. Let's be realistic: there's got to be a bit of an incentive for me to take care of the task of marketing someone else's produce, bread, honey... Organic farming is all cozy and friendly, sure, but the bottom line is: it also has to be a living. Sure, it could be a co-operative effort: I give you vegetables for your boxes, you give me honey and bread for mine. But in that case, we may be competing for the same market (or incurring onerous transport costs, if we're far apart, on a regular basis). Furthermore, maybe I'm a bit jaded, but I tend to think that, the more producers you rely on to put together your box, the greater the likelihood that somebody has a problem of some sort - be it a family emergency, a broken truck, or ecologically unsound practices. In that case, you've lost more than direct contact between producers and consumers: you've lost the control over the quality and production of the contents of your box that you, as a producer, personally guarantee. For example, recently an Ontario apple producer was de-certified - and his apples, before the de-certification, most definitely found their way into some of these food box programs. An advantage of a CSA is that you build trust in your farmer; this is not possible in this model. This sort of model is too far from a true CSA to even be considered a hybrid, really. CSA in name only.

0929_1.jpgIt is for all these reasons and perhaps others that Lorenz discontinued the Switch Farm CSA a few years back. The Switch Farm CSA was my first introduction to a "real" CSA (as opposed to the CSAs in the US that I'd only read about). It maxed out at 120 after a few years. By this time, CSAs had become common in this area (one of Lorenz's former apprentices even has her own CSA in this market now), and growth was not happening at the pace it needed to. I remember people really liking it, and he made it convenient for them: deliveries to Guelph and Burlington, and farm pickup. That meant three afternoons a week, somebody had to take care of the CSA, though. Now, Lorenz is focused on farmers' markets and wholesale orders, with some direct sales to food box programs and the very occasional restaurant order. It means that he can get away with a smaller number of crops, and doesn't have to worry about getting enough members every year. In some ways, even though he no longer gets cash at the beginning of the growing season, it makes planning easier. The decision to discontinue made sense from both ecological and economic standpoints: at 120, it was about 280 households short of being economically sustainable, and the pressure of putting boxes together in June meant that Lorenz frequently found himself planting earlier than he wanted to. The fields at Greenfields have no tiles, and they stay wet longer than those on sandy soils or with additional drainage do. You can do a fair amount of damage, in terms of soil compaction, if you go in too early.

Lorenz's current business model relies on farmers' markets and wholesale orders. Greenfields does four markets a week: Guelph on Saturday, Dufferin Grove in Toronto on Thursdays, and the roadside stand on Wednesdays and Fridays. At this time of year, almost all that is taken to these markets is grown right here at Greenfields, but during the winter months and before anything can be harvested in spring, this is supplemented by produce Lorenz buys from distributors and other farmers (and, although it is not a CSA model and thus less based on personal contact and trust with and in a farm and farmer, the quality of the produce is very important and Greenfields will only carry certified organic items). In the winter, I sometimes ran into the guy who dropped off his own lettuce mix, he delivered right to the walk-in cooler. Distributors' trucks come to the farm regularly. This way of operating has a major advantage for customer relationships: you are able to service the demand for organic produce year-round. People are able to establish more regular patterns than if they bought their stuff at the market in summer but the grocery store in winter. Consistency is important when it comes to repeat consumption behaviour - consistency in location, presentation, quality and yes, price and personnel. The vast majority of consumers isn't all that crazy about unpredictability: they still exist, but the food shoppers who see what's available and then plan what they will cook around that are a rare (and precious) breed. I venture forth with my list which says broccoli, onions, apples, peas and beans. Similarly, if I get wonderful broccoli from the same vendor each week, I may be willing to let the need for a consistent price slide a bit because I know what I'm buying. However, if the broccoli is wonderful and fresh one week, and woody the next, I'll be disinclined to keep buying it. So, to recap: now you need to spend time and energy ordering produce to supplement your own, doing a thorough check for quality when it arrives at the farm, and lugging endless crates and boxes to various markets. Retail is a time and capital-intensive proposition, and thus takes consistent dedication. The retail markets have become Tara's full-time job (though she contributes in other areas as well).

0929_5.jpg0929_8.jpgThis past weekend, though, Tara was off, and I tagged along to Guelph with Lorenz and Vanessa. I like the Guelph market: I worked there with Lorenz for years, and I enjoyed the experience. I liked our customers, I liked the rhythm we got into, I liked watching the seasonal consumption patterns and making my own observations for price cutoffs for key items (like broccoli!), and I *really* liked the cinnamon buns. I don't do it anymore, and the rhythm is gone: I spent most of Saturday morning while we were setting up frustrated because I didn't know what to do, and in a few instances, when I independently made a decision on how to set something up, Lorenz re-did it because it didn't fit with the overall vision. Truth be told, I felt redundant (but the cinnamon buns were as good as ever!). The advantage of that for you, though, is that it freed me up to take pictures. Not only that, but being the superfluous third person (I volunteered to come, I wasn't needed) meant that I could wander the market without feeling like I was deserting anyone, and thus I'm still enjoying the peaches and plums I bought. No peaches or plums at Greenfields.

0929_11.jpg0929_12.jpg0929_13.jpg0929_14.jpgThere are, however, things at Greenfields that the usual farmers' market customer never sees: either because they are too much work to pick all the time at the prices people are willing to pay (like edamame beans and asparagus peas) or they're just too irregular a crop to build a demand for when it won't be available much (like, say, the apple cucumbers that are up there right now. See how much Vanessa likes the apple cucumbers?)

0929_15.jpg0929_16.jpgThe yellow flowers are sunchokes. I uploaded a picture of the root tubers a few months back, and I mentioned that they are a member of the sunflower family. You can hardly doubt it now! And while I'm into detail photography, this is one of the irrigation heads - the squirting action against the metal plate knocks the metal plate back, which in turn advances the pivot an increment. Pretty cool, huh?

0929_17.jpgOh, and, because you didn't get a tractor picture this week yet (I don't have any! I got all self conscious about being snap-happy every time someone climbed on a tractor!), you get my latest tractor picture without Lorenz in it. The cool thing about this one: that's moonlight! I took it the night after the harvest moon, balancing the camera on some vegetable buckets and propped up with some snips, after a friend sent me his wonderful moon picture.

Posted by Johanna at 09:02 PM

September 24, 2004

Roast 'em if you like 'em

0925_1.jpgI keep missing the turkeys. Frequently, Lorenz comments that there were all these wild turkeys in the fields, but I never see them. Today, same thing. I went and hunted where they were last seen. No turkeys. Then, Lorenz claimed that he *just* saw them there - no, there! way over there! under that tree in the next field! And, like the gullible troll that I am, I trundled on over to that tree way over there, far away. No turkeys, even though I was walking slowly and quietly, as advised by Lorenz. As I squatted in the tree line, thinking that clearly I can't be stealthy, it dawned on me that the only turkey in the fields was me. Lorenz had himself a good laugh and made like a turkey himself, and then was dismayed to discover that a digital SLR camera is a hell of a lot faster than the usual delayed reaction point and shoot. So, we shall call this picture of Lorenz "Greenfields Gobbler". Harumph. Maybe I'll feel less disgrunteld if I also upload the little strip of pictures we can call "Lorenz Pontificates", taken in the kitchen. Only one way to find out.


Yep, I feel better.


0925_10.jpgIt's tricky, trying to keep up with everything right now. I could get up early and go up to the fields, to see them do the morning harvest. Later, I could find them weeding, or the see the irrigation going, or harvesting something that you can do later in the day (like, say, pumpkins). If I'm really lucky, I might show up just as Sean decides to check if the cantaloupes that are still on the vines that died are tasty all the same, and then there is melon slurping. There's been so much to do lately that Justin and Sean have been supplemented with Simon and Jen for an expanded field crew.

Or I could see Lorenz working away on preparing a seedbed for next year, like he has been with the front field (that's the greensand spreading activity in action, there. After that, he picked some stones. Then he spread some manure. Then that gets incorporated. And then some other manure needs to be moved from the pile to the windrow, to ensure a supply of well-rotted manure near where it will be needed next year).

The operation isn't just about growing and selling at farmers' markets. I've often neglected talking about "post-harvest handling", which is farm jargon for what you do with the stuff from the time you get it out of the fields to the time you sell it at farmers' markets, the roadside stand, or to wholesalers (or until the Red Barn Troll steals it, but really, what would you do if you walked past flats of perfectly ripe and wonderful tomatoes every time you left your apartment?)

0925_15.jpg0925_16.jpgPost-harvest handling varies from crop to crop. Some things, like winter squash, don't require washing so they get packaged in vegetable boxes in the field. Most stuff, though, has to be washed, and that means it goes down to the red barn where it gets plunged into tubs of cold water. The cold water serves two purposes: it starts the cleaning process (though mostly that is done with water pressure) and it removes "field heat". Field heat is the residual heat in a crop, and you don't want it - the longer some vegetables stay warm after you pick them, the faster they will spoil. If you do a sink full of carrots, the water actually gets quite warm. Things that need to be plunged and washed include carrots, beets, rutabagas and most greens. They are already bunched when they are washed, since it is much more efficient to make the bunches up in the field when you harvest.

0925_14.jpgOf course, there are plenty of things that just need packing - like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, tomatillos, and zucchini. Those are the things that are stored at room temperature until they are taken to harvest (everybody knows that it is a very bad thing to put a tomato into the refrigerator, but do you also know that summer squash are happier outside it?). Then there are things that need to cure, like onions and garlic - so once they've dried out a bit, you trim the roots and greens and take the dirty outer layers off.

0925_17.jpg0925_18.jpgThere is lots of cold storage, since Lorenz has two walk-in coolers. One of them only runs at this time of year, though, since the big walk-in in the red barn is usually enough. There is also dry storage, in a separate room in the red barn (in winter, this is kept just above freezing with a space heater). And the greenhouse is a form of storage too, I guess: right now, that's where the onions and garlic are, and in winter rosemary plants get dug into the ground in the greenhouse and manage to make it.


0925_22.jpg0925_23.jpgWhile the farm team is going nuts trying to keep up with everything, I'm having a wonderful time enjoying the last of the season. The wildflowers are lovely just now: we have an abundance of goldenrod, purple asters and white flowers that I think are white asters but could just as well be daisy fleabane (which are a member of the aster family, so close enough), and the last of the chicory. I purposely maintain a small clump of goldenrod in my garden, because it's beautiful and I'd pay money for it if it wasn't so ubiquitous and thus a weed. Lorenz has tried to break off the goldenrod a few times, but I won't let him. I think next year I'll encourage asters, too. It's wonderful how much colour I can have in the flower beds right now, when you'd think it would be all done. The superstar this week is the joe pye, which is pink-topped and showy after a summer of pale green sulking. The morning glories are climbing wherever they can get their little tentacles, and the nicotina and nasturtiums are happy as can be. We still haven't had frost, so petunias, begonias and poppies are still dong their thing, along with dahlias, salvia, violets, impatiens, sweet alyssum, geraniums (which are really pelargoniums, go figure) and beard tongue. I'll have you know that, despite this proud listing of all my currently flowering plants, I've been exercising amazing restraint and have not let this turn into a garden journal. But every now and then, you need to humour me.

0925_24.jpg0925_25.jpgDespite the wonderful weather, summer is over. Lorenz announced last night that he would close the pool this week. Now, I haven't been in since August, so this doesn't affect me, but it's so symbolic of summer being done. Sigh. There is much fun to be had at other times of the year, but August and September are the best of times on an organic farm. As long as you're not one of the ones doing all the work, though, I guess.

Posted by Johanna at 02:55 PM

September 20, 2004

Like My Tractor?

0920_1.jpg0920_2.jpg0920_3.jpgOn Saturday I went for bike ride, and when I came back up the driveway I saw Til on the front field. Never one to miss an opportunity to take a gratuitous tractor picture, I dashed to my apartment and grabbed the camera. Til has been spending an awful lot of time on the tractor on this so-called holiday (this, of course, should come as no surprise - he is, after all, Lorenz's brother). He doesn't leave until Tuesday, opening up a lovely little tongue twister: "Til tilled 'til Tuesday".0920_4.jpgMore specifically, he was harrowing, which means you drag a heavy frame with all these nasty teeth over land that you are preparing to seed. The front field was plowed for the first time (since Lorenz moved to the farm in the late 80s) this past spring. The moldboard plow turns the sod, exposing the roots of all that is growing there. The roots then dry out, and the plants die (at the same time, the plants themselves are incorporated into the soil, adding to organic matter content and fertility). But plowing it once only breaks the sod, it doesn't prepare a seedbed - after that, you need to disc it repeatedly to break up the clumps and level it. This particular field is supposed to now get a cover crop - probably oats and field peas - which keeps the weeds down and, once plowed down in the spring, adds more fertility (the peas, in particular, would fix nitrogen). Before anything is planted, though, the field will get an application of greensand. Greensand is a soil amendment, and it really is sand-like. That is, if sand contained a lot of glauconite, which is a souce of potash and thus potassium. Potassium is one of the three macro-nutrients given in fertilizer NPK ratings (nitrogen:phosphorous:potassium). Greensand's NPK ratio is approximately 0-1-5. In comparison, well-rotted cattle manure is about 1-1-1, and conventional chemical potassium fertilizers based on potassium nitrate come in at around 13-0-45. Greensand has several advantages: for starters, it is not chemically altered (greensand deposits occur naturally, in areas that were once part of the marine environment). More importantly, though, it is a slow-release source of nutrients, meaning one application gives nutrients for a much longer time than a water-soluble chemical fertilizer which gives you a big boost the year you apply it, but then you have to keep doing it. Using fertilizers with big numbers in the NPK ratio also means that there is greater chance of "fertilizer burn". Fertilizer burn happens when the plant takes up too much fertilizer and thus has too high a concentration of mineral salts and can't take up enough water to dilute. It's the plant equivalent of severe dehydration, and plants will turn yellow and, in extreme cases, wilt and die. Needless to say, potassium nitrate is *not allowed* in organic production.


But let's not develop a fertilizer fetish. At least not before we've satisfied the tractor obsession for this week. After bugging Til with my camera, I wandered away. And then my ears picked up the diesel roar of another tractor, up on the hill. Well, double bonus for me! I went up to the field and took more pictures of Lorenz on the other tractor, tilling away. He stopped to chat, and then Til came up, and I managed to get both Eppingers into a picture with a tractor! And if you look at the big picture above, you'll get to see both of them on their tractors at the same time.
When I wandered up to the fields the other afternoon, I came across Sean and Justin harvesting tomatoes (and they showed me a new-to-me critter, the tomato horn worm. Apparently, it becomes a moth at some point). Sean says, proudly, "Justin got to drive the tractor!". Driving the tractor is a special privilege around here. Not so much because everybody is eager to get a lung full of diesel fumes, but because Lorenz is quite possessive of his machines. 0920_12.jpg0920_13.jpg
This may or may not have something to do with big repair bills when people with little feel for driving farm machinery were still allowed to do so. It may even be connected to the time when one of the interns decided to drive the tractor up the hill with the bucket down (the hill did not need grading). So, the new rule is: only people who either already know what they're doing or have the skills to fix it if anything goes wrong on the tractor. The short list of people who qualify is Ruth, HP, Til, Piet and now Justin (who is not new to the trator driving thing).

0920_14.jpg0920_15.jpgIt's not just tomatoes that the triplets are harvesting (and it's no longer the triplets, JP has buggered off to go to university, so the triplets are just Justin and Sean). On Saturday, I watched Lorenz box up a huge order of purple cauliflower, and the cooler smelled like fennel because of the vast quantities of that vegetable in there. 0920_16.jpg0920_17.jpgThere have been buckets of eggplant and peppers in the barn, not to mention boxes of greens and crates of summer and winter squash, melons, cucumbers and more, and bunches of chicory, basil and beets. There have even been buckets of sunflowers, since these are being sold at markets now (they're also being picked by me, as I love the look of a vase crammed full of sunflowers in my apartment).
0920_22.jpg0920_23.jpgOne of the things Greenfields is particulary great at producing is carrots: Greenfields carrots are the sweetest, crunchiest carrots known to humanity (it is no coincidence that the Greenfields logo has a carrot on it). I look forward to Greenfields carrots as much as I anticipate local tomatoes. This year, however, some of the carrots grown here, though still far better than your average carrot, are not perfect. The later planting of carrots has a much higher proportion of white ones, which means wild carrot and not sweet or tasty at all and thus compost. 0920_24.jpg0920_25.jpg0920_26.jpgFurthermore, the carrots themselves don't have that straight shape and aren't quite as yummy. This morning, while Lorenz was bunching carrots, he explained that he has no control over this: when you buy seed for an organic farm, you have to buy organic seed if it is available. That sounds like a good plan, since by buying certified organic you are buying certified GMO-free, and you are buying seed stock for plants that have not been bred to want to suck up 13-0-45 or whatnot fertilizer that would sulk if they weren't given their chemical additives. The flipside is, though, that the seed isn't as standardized as conventional seed, so if you are buying from a source that isn't entirely on top of weeds or otherwise good at breeding, you can get seed that isn't what you expect. In most cases, the organic seed is as good as or easily better than the conventional stuff (which you can use, with permission from the certifier, if no organic alternative is available). In rare instances, though, you get this happening. In another year, the romaine lettuce didn't work out because of the seed. Sure, you could save your own seed - and Lorenz uses his own sunchokes and garlic from year to year, and he's been growing tobacco for seed - but then you're getting into a different area of expertise and have to get into hybrids and exclusive rights and complicated matters such as this.

0920_27.jpg0920_28.jpg0920_29.jpgBut, let's not get the idea that it's all complicated discussions of seeds and eager climbing on the tractor around here. Yes, it's a working farm, which means people... well, work. 0920_30.jpgAnd it's a super-busy time of year for vegetable farmers. However, Lorenz isn't just a busy vegetable farmer, he has a life. Right now, his brother is here, which is pretty special (and not just because Til does so much work!). And don't forget that Lorenz has kids, and that HP (who is Til's brother-in-law, if you're trying to figure out the connections) is only here for another few weeks (and yes, there will be complaining about his departue on these web pages. I can understand that he wants to get back to his own life and the lovely Birgit, but dammit, he's fun!) When I came down the hill from my tractor obsession photo shoot on Saturday, HP roared up on his motorcycle, and thought we should take advantage of the wonderful weather and drink some beer in the garden. My arm does not need to be twisted. Malcolm came and joined us (minus the beer), and put on quite a show of posing. 0920_31.jpg0920_32.jpgEver since Malcolm found his own picture on the internet, you might as well cue some runway music when he sees the camera! HP spent some time explaining the logic (?) of overpriced running shoes and sweatshops, and Malcolm paid attention. Then Til came and joined us, and after a while Lorenz too. Hanging out with the Eppinger clan has been very fun lately. The whole kit and caboodle took off for Toronto yesterday, and Vanessa and I decided to spend the day with them eating dim sum, wandering on Queen Street, and putting some crepes out of their misery. It's a good place to be, Greenfields.

Posted by Johanna at 11:07 AM

September 14, 2004

The Jennet Ass

0914_1.jpgSo, that birthday. Lorenz insisted that there would be no birthday party, no singing, no cake, nope, there would be no birthday events of any sort. So, Til, H.P. and I being the kind of people who respect that sort of wish in our own way, we planned a birthday celebration and simply didn't tell Lorenz about it. The plan was oh so clever: we would, while he was up in the fields, exchange his piece-o-junk barbecue with the spiffy new model we'd picked up on the weekend, and then we would magically whisk out the fixings for a sumptous barbecue meal that were already hidden in the walk-in and my apartment. Coincidentally, Vanessa, Ruth, Gaille, Tara, the Triplets, Kim and Piet would show up. Lorenz would stroll into the middle of this and have no time to protest.

0914_2.jpg0914_3.jpg0914_4.jpgThe best-laid plans don't work out that way. I made it home from work early enough to do the food prep, but Lorenz was parked in his office, with the door open. The office door directly faces my door, so much so that it would be tricky to wander in and out without being noticed, never mind moving the huge new barbecue surrepetitiously out. It would be about as easy as casually hiding an elephant in the chicken coop, assuming Lorenz would just not notice it when he went to feed the chickens. Nope, the farmer was hanging out at his desk, reading a book about making your own dog food (score for Boris).

0914_6.jpgPlan B? I walked into Adrian's room and announced that I needed his help: he had to get his father out of his barn office and away from all windows in the house. Creative lies involving French teachers had Lorenz sprinting for the house, and H.P. and me sprinting with a barbecue (maybe it's not French teachers, but a French farce we should be talking about). Til did his best to keep Lorenz away from the kitchen window, Lorenz did his best to look confused. At this point, I advised him to take a shower, and, perhaps not as elegantly as originally planned, the rest of the evening went as anticipated: Lorenz had no opportunity to protest and thus graciously submitted to eating and drinking and birthday cake cutting.


0914_15.jpg0914_16.jpg0914_17.jpgThe coyotes have no respect for birthdays, though. The young laying hens (which turn out to have a rather generous sprinkling of roosters mixed in among them) have finally started producing eggs. Now is the time when they are granted a bit of freedom, and if they were smart enough to climb up the ladder (encouraged by the grain scattered along it) and down the ladder outside, they could play in the weeds and the manure pile like the old layers. Unfortunately, a few of them were just smart enough to make it outside, but most definitely too dumb to find their way back in. Freed chickens aren't overly enthused about being grabbed, and they couldn't get back in on their own, so the coyotes had a little chicken snack of the ones who stayed out. The only silver lining there is that perhaps this was natural selection at work, since the smarter hens went back inside. The bad part is, though, that the coyotes are now more likely to associate the white barn with tender little chicken bites, and may start hanging out more.

0914_19.jpg0914_20.jpgClearly, the idea of donkeys guarding livestock against coyotes is a myth where Emma is concerned. That blind ass (and yes, she is an ass. A male donkey is a jack ass, a female donkey a jennet ass, and thus Emma would more appropriately be a Jennie) is perfectly happy munching her way through the compost (not to mention unguarded houseplants, the horses' grain, and the best of the hay in 0914_21.jpg0914_22.jpgthe grey barn). The idea is that donkeys have a natural dislike for all canines, and will be rather nasty to dogs and coyotes. Not our Emma - she has natural dislikes, primarily against males, but these are minor compared to her natural likes for treats, rolling in the sand ring, and leaving little deposits on the lawn (all the better to choke the lawnmower with). In theory, donkeys are said to like human companionship - to the point of getting depressed if they are left alone too long. This is not the case with Emma, either, since she doesn't give a flying fig about people and, contrary to Lorenz's suspicions, did not start to decline once Betty the goat died two years ago. Emma is blind (though not blind as a bat, Lorenz tells me that bats can see. He tells me this as I'm ducking from bats swooping down on me in the dark), and her days and nights are donkey heaven: she wanders all over the place and does exactly what she pleases. Perhaps it's because of Emma's ornery nature that I actually really like her (as long as we don't speak of the houseplant snack again). I call her name when I see her, and she smiles at me. At least, I'm convinced that she's smiling when she shows me her hideous green-stained teeth and gums!

And while I'm going on about the livestock, Lorenz tells me that the field is just a gobblefest of wild turkeys every morning lately. Me, I have yet to see them, while they're gobbling his vegetables I'm gulping my coffee and getting ready to go to work.

Posted by Johanna at 05:59 PM

September 13, 2004

Ode to the Onion


0913_17.jpg0913_18.jpgWell then. It looks like the Red Barn Troll left you hanging, permanently stuck in summer. Then again, you can hardly mind that, seeing as summer was so short this year. However, I know that you've most likely missed your allotment of Lorenz on the Tractor shots (look for a calendar coming out soon!), so, as double bonus this week, you get Lorenz and Lorenz's brother on the tractor today! Yes, that's right, Tilman Eppinger came all the way from Germany to sit on a tractor here at Greenfields.

0913_4.jpg0913_5.jpgYeah, okay, he didn't just come to sit on a tractor. He also came to add some of that famous "Gemütlichkeit" to the farm-of-1000-chores. See, it's that time of year when vegetable farmers go insane (or get grumpy, depending on the farmer). When I asked Lorenz what he was harvesting these days, he looked overwhelmed for a second, and then said "everything". I pressed on, insisting that something had to be "done" by now, but no. Somebody needs to harvest the beans, edamame, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, kale, basil, winter squash, melons, summer squash, chard, parsley, carrots, cabbages, green onions, red onions, yellow onions, Spanish onions...

0913_11.jpg...that's right. It is also the farm-of-1000-onions. Do you wonder why I single the onions out, when there is this horn of plenty bounty of vegetables I could be talking about? (And I could talk about them. I could write a Haiku on Greenfields Carrots, they are so good, or a Sonnet on Celeriac, or the Ballad of the Juicy Yellow-Skinned Watermelon. But no, today is the Ode to the Onion.) See, I live in the red barn. Which means I wake up in the red barn. On weekends, I wake up, roll out of bed, make my coffee, and sit on one of the lovely chairs outside my apartment enjoying the gentle breezes and the delicate scents of wildflowers. On Saturday, the sun was warming my skin with a rosy glow, the breezes were as gentle and pleasant as they could be, the temperature was perfect, and I took my steaming mug of morning and anticipated a great hour with my book amidst wildflowers. What I got was a nose full of onion. The only thing I can relate it to is those times when you walk into the kitchen, see something bubbling away on the stove and get hungry already, wondering what delicacies my mother is cooking up. Then, you peer into the big pot on the stove expecting a delicious delight and are assaulted by laundry that is having the stains boiled out of it (and yes, this did happen in my mother's kitchen a couple of years ago. In one of those suitable twists of fate, though, it's Lorenz it happened to, not me!)


0913_8.jpg0913_13.jpgBut, back to the onions and the stench that made my coffee taste bad. Lorenz, in an insipired move, had parked the van full of onions - red onions and yellow onions, to be precise - in front of the red barn the night before. I'll have you note that part - instead of unloading the van when he came back from the fields, he simply parked it and walked away, to top his 12 hour day with some of Til's dose of Gemütlichkeit instead of another hour of unloading. And do you know what happens when you park a van full of onions during the cool evening hours and then the sun hits the van in the morning while the red barn troll tries to have her peaceful morning coffee? Onion condensation! The entire inside of the van was wet with onion sweat! Even Lorenz, when he came down and poked his head into the van, recoiled with an exclamation of "that's disgusting". And thus, the humble onion becomes the theme of the weekend.

09_14.jpg0913_14.jpg0913_15.jpgOf course, the onion sweat in front of my apartment had a fringe benefit for Lorenz: I actually got off my butt and abandoned my coffee cup to help make it go away. Storage onions (as opposed to "green" or "spring" onions) need to cure, which is really just another way of saying they need to dry a bit so the outside gets that typical papery feeling and they don't get mouldy. At Greenfields, the curing ends in the greenhouse, which is where we unloaded the 1000 onions that ruined my morning. Before they go to the greenhouse, even before they sweat up the van, the onions do a bit of drying up in the field. You "pull" the onions, which literally is pulling them out of the ground. Then you break their necks, which sounds brutal but is necessary to keep the still-attached greens from taking anything out of the now uprooted bulbs. You place the onions in nice, orderly rows, and let them sit in the sun for a while, to start the curing. Then, you wander along with a knife and cut the greens off, and then they get to start their stinking up the van thing.

0913_10.jpg0913_12.jpgThe greenhouse isn't ideal as far as onion curing goes, since it does tend to get humid in there and air circulation isn't great unless you turn on the heater. Imagine an onion-scented sauna, and you're close. I decided to help matters a little bit and brought my big fan to move the air a bit, but now it's just like an onion-scented sauna with the door open just a crack. Oh yum. But then again, my hands smell no better, since I didn't stop at unloading the van - I actually voluntarily went up to the field and pulled onions, and crated them up while Lorenz cut the greens.

Wait a minute... the Red Barn Troll, who freely acknowleges that she is not inclined to helping most of the time volunteered on the farm? Indeed! Don't you want to know why? Of course you do! Just like you want to know why Tilman is around, because surely he didn't fly all this way just to get his picture on the tractor calendar! And no doubt Lorenz will get all cranky about having this announced on the internet (but perhaps you missed the crack about it being the time of year when vegetable farmers are grumpy), but...

...ssshhhhh...'s Lorenz's birthday! By some bizarre deal that involves a ph.d. thesis, though, it's not associated with a specific number, but! it's Lorenz's birthday! Today! C'mon wish him a happy birthday. (While you're at it, bake him a pie, and tell him to share!)

Onions and birthdays, that's all I want to talk about right now. It's only a small snippet of the past few weeks at Greenfields, but this catching up thing, it's going to have to happen one thing at a time. Perhaps, next we will do the carrot-themed entry. Oh, what the hell, here we go:

Haiku to the Greenfields Carrot:

The ripe orange root
Crisp, crunchy, deliciously sweet,
But never at Loblaws

(something tells me you won't be upset if I don't share the Sonnet to the Celeriac!)

Posted by Johanna at 01:54 PM