Beware the Bears

San Francisco Community Supported Agriculture

What with bunching parsley, scrubbing carrots, harvesting lettuce, emptying trucks, moving compost, hiring and driving, the sun set and there wasn’t enough time to go over each bunch of red onions and remove every undesirable bit, so I’m leaving it up to our members to give them the once over. These little onionettes don’t have particularly robust green tops, and they may need a little peeling, but the flavor and quality is exceptional. If the green part of the onion is suffering do the following: eat all the strawberries you received in this week’s CSA box in one go, get a pair of scissors, grasp the onion bunch by the tops and holding over a compost bin make one cut at the base to remove the roots, then, over the strawberry basket make another cut where the bulb meets the stem allowing the onion to fall just so into the strawberry basket. Drop the green stems into the compost and refrigerate the basket.

When your spouse, children, your dear sweet roommate arrive home and start rooting around in the fridge and through the CSA box looking for berries like so many hungry black bears, inform them with just a bit of annoyance that this week your so-called farmer friends jilted you with a basket of red onions instead of the usual sweet, succulent, bursting red ripe strawberries. Yes, I know, the nerve. State unequivocally that you will be sending an email shortly voicing your dissatisfaction.

Then, quietly so as not to draw attention to yourself, go into the garden, the garage, a back bedroom closet and eat all the blueberries from the clamshell you’ve hidden under your shirt like a common criminal. Deposit the empty clamshell somewhere so as not to arouse suspicion. Maybe the neighbor’s recycling. Or Daly City.

Using the neighbor’s garden hose, a shirt hem, a paper towel, clean your gob of the red and blue fruit stains that have besmirched more than your guilty face, for they have stained your immortal soul, I’m afraid, at this point, and return to the kitchen and declare that you’ll be turning lemons into lemonade and use the aforementioned red onions to good effect in a beautiful pan of roasted vegetables, a heart healthy quinoa salad or a sizzling tofu stir fry. Yum.

Don’t forget to shove this incriminating message deep into the compost bin, at least below Tuesday’s coffee grounds. So long as you didn’t eat all the nectarines as well, you may just get away with it. Eat the nectarines and the bears may get you.

Proud as a Sunflower

Bay Area Community Supported Agriculture
Greenhearts Family Farm sunflowers stand proud in the summer sun!

It was not a whimsical breeze. More of an unforgiving howl in the face.

Cold and wet’s not good. But a hot day with an unceasing, raw wind is enervating and every bit as uncomfortable. Hiding under your hood as raindrops fall, snug in a sweater and a waterproof coat, rain is almost romantic. There’s just no hiding from the reality of a hard wind, bent double out in the middle of a field, exposed and lonely. Farmwork holds no romance for me.

It was even worse yesterday and we held off harvesting in hopes today conditions would improve. Instead, brother Elsu lofted and shaped artichoke beds with the orange tractor while I finished the irrigation hookups and farmer Collins churned out soil blocks carefully seeded with the next crop of onions and cabbages. I was happy to let Collins work inside the greenhouse yesterday knowing that today I would be pushing him full speed in the field for eight straight hours, or more if needed. I have to be careful not to wear him out Wednesday since Thursday is an early start and a long haul and Friday follows hard with another full day of picking.

These are the days you just have to grin and bear it. Tough it out. It’s not fun, and it’s not really very enlightening. So what, you have to bust your ass all day? Join the club. But, it doesn’t have to be disheartening, either. Even as the wind whips the long drip lines and scatters them in knots across the field, even as that unceremonious tune plays in your ear, at least there is dignity, in purpose, in act, in outcome. We are working our fields, honest fields paid for in sweat and real dollars. The sun is not smiling and the ocean is not whispering your name. But you are alive and determined, swaying in the wind but steadfast, as if you too grew up out of the soil, proud as a sunflower.

I’m a Greenheart Now

Farmer Paul and Farmer Aurora take a hike.

The phone rang. It was a fellow I’d spoken to earlier in the week about a flatbed trailer he’d posted for sale on Craigslist. “I’ve got a guy here who wants to buy it but I gave you my word I’d sell it to you first so I won’t sell it to him if you’re still interested.” This took me by surprise and I thanked him for the unusual courtesy. Craigslist is not typically the province of gentlemen.

After a long drive I pulled into his driveway. There were two large flags on the porch, one with stars and stripes and the other with stars and bars. An enormous 4×4 came gunning down the dirt driveway. In my low slung Volvo station wagon I imagined I was soon to become monster truck fodder. At the last moment the behemoth swerved in front of me and came to a menacing stop. The driver looked down at me. “I’m here about the trailer,” I said.

“Are you going to pull it with that thing?” he laughed. “It’s in the back, follow me.” I considered getting the hell out of there but made my way through the tidy ranch. Out of the car I may have had the gentleman by a foot but he was 250 pounds of muscle and mustache and not the sort with which to trifle. The trailer was ideal for hauling our tractor and it didn’t take long for us to agree on a sale. I offered to pay him upfront and return with my big truck to drive it away but he wouldn’t hear of it. Just come and get it Friday, it’ll be here, you can pay me then, he said. He was keenly interested in our business and farm and we talked easily for half an hour about the CSA, farming, land, pomegranates, labor, waxed boxes, houses, machines. His flags waiving in the cool breeze.

In the old days, I knew every member of the Greenhearts CSA. Aurora and I did every delivery ourselves. Can’t do that anymore, too many folks, too much farmwork. I like to see the list of members, though, scroll through email and read the names. Names from all over the world and some I cannot place. I look over at Aurora, on her computer late into the evening, hard at work. I fell in love with her at first sight and we have never been apart from our very first date. A special girl, the lovechild of a post racial world, a pure San Franciscan. I’m different. Grew up elsewhere. Taught early the most terrible words and the toxic prejudices of the past.

That’s why I’m a greenheart now. I’m not intellectual enough to stipulate the connection between social and ecological justice, just smart enough to know how petty are the distinctions to which we still cling in this climate of uncertain change.

I’m going to buy that trailer on Friday. I’m going to give it a good home. I’m going to use it to grow food without chemicals or pesticides.

I’m going to use it to feed my fellow man, no matter what flag they fly.

Farm Hands

Farm Hands

Farm hand.

I notice things. It’s my job. Constantly looking and judging. The weather, the salesman, the potatoes, the numbers… Robust and thriving it lives. Weak and underperforming, I whack it with a shovel until it dies. Farming is judgmental work.

It’s part of my nature to judge a man by his hands. I can’t help it. Despite exhortations to this day from my mother who disdains judging people by physical characteristics (she wants to know what school you attended) I go straight to the hands. It stems from a complex, I’m sure. If I’m in a group of young professionals downtown or at a cocktail party I obviously have the hands of a working man and become self-conscious. If, however, I’m out at farmer Paul Hain’s and we’re battening down a tractor to a trailer with heavy chains and a rusty snatch block, in comparison, it’s quite obvious I have the hands of a loafer, possibly a dilettante. And I become self-conscious.

I like the elder Farmer Paul’s hands, his tough old mitts, especially because despite being a lifelong farmer with years of grubby toil and acres of walnuts and passels of chickens and greasy old iron machines and muddy irrigation pipes and flaky orange oxidized metal heaps all over the place his fingernails are always clean. How does he do it? He hand washes a couple hundred eggs every day with a scrubby brush.

I myself found a bristly brush in the automotive section of Ace Hardware that works fairly well on hands… as well as hubcaps and bumpers. It almost does the trick.

I notice things. It’s my job. Constantly looking and judging. The weather, the salesman, the potatoes, the numbers, the effects, the lines, the meters, the accounts. Robust and thriving it lives. Weak and underperforming, I whack it with a shovel until it dies. Farming is judgmental work. I can tell from fifty yards if a farmer wears Wranglers or Levi’s and whether or not he’s in his Friday night jeans or his Monday morning blues, just by the shade of indigo.

I noticed farmer Phil’s gait today as he walked across his farmyard, which recently received a fresh layer of gravel. A very tall man whose work is on the ground, he’s got a case of the bends. Not quite a stoop, but the cumulative effect of a long career getting up and down off tractors, in and out of trucks, leaning over to be a kind and patient listener to smaller people. Hey, there’s an idea. Maybe I’ll try closing my eyes and listening better, just shove my damn hands in my pockets, close my eyes, cock my head and listen… and then see what I can learn.


A Day at the Office

11Our farm is right on Highway 1 behind a hedge just north of Half Moon Bay proper. It’s one of the last ½ dozen farms closest to San Francisco which is convenient, but for a farmer, whose field is his office, being on the main road has drawbacks.

Number one, everyone knows when you’re not working.

Number two, everyone knows when you are.

So you get your ass up early and hustle down there and first you gotta water all the plant starts, and then empty the trucks and clean out the vans and put on your boots and check the tractor fluids and maybe run into town for diesel and get back out and adjust the implements and it’s already 10:30 and you haven’t even cranked her over but you get your earplugs in and your favorite leather gloves on and you adjust your Brussels sprouts and hop on and warm her up and ease her out and you finally line her up on a row and she’s starting to hum and the loam parts like waves and man you’re farming when something catches your eye and it’s some SOB farmer from up the road a stretch just happen to be passing by when I seen you settin’ on your tractor and now I’m patiently standing in the middle of your  field waiting to chat. He just says that with his smile, of course.

So you power down and lift the plow and disengage the PTO, that is your Power Take Off unit which runs your implements, and cut the engine and climb down from your beastly perch and pull off your favorite leather gloves and pull out your ear plugs, although it would be wiser to leave ‘em in the way this SOB is likely to rattle on because you know he’s got plenty to talk about, he’s a farmer, and so goes the morning; you might as well head to lunch.

Speaking of which, my curried celeriac and sprouted bean medley shepherd’s pie, with a cheesy red potato and garlic mash topping, was a roaring success this week and the roast pasture raised chicken accompanying it came out magazine pretty. The trick is to make sure the bird is completely, absolutely dry before patting with butter and roasting at 350. Couldn’t be easier and a hit every time. If you need advice on cooking your own goose, greasing your wheels or any other matter known to man, stop by the farm.

You know, I’m always free to talk.