CSA distribution #15 & newsletter

Our next CSA distribution will be Monday July 9 and Thursday July 12. It’s absurdly hot and dry, we’re tired and cranky, and very worried about many conditions on the farm. Everything, from plants to animals, is suffering. We’ve set up shade cloth over peppers & some of the tomatoes (with more ordered from Johnny’s to provide some protection to the rest of the tomatoes). This is an attempt to minimize damage from sunscald on what appears to be a spectacular crop of tomatoes & peppers if we can get them successfully through these brutal conditions. We have misting systems set up on the chickens and pigs, and are changing goat water three times a day, but milk yield has declined, egg yields have halved, and no one’s happy. Luckily, in the short term there are still lots of things producing and available so the food is as good as ever.

WASHING PRODUCE
As we move into summer items, we want to remind members to always wash produce before using. Items like tomatoes, peppers, squash, okra, beans, herbs, and more generally aren’t rinsed on the farm because getting them wet shortens their storage life/quality. So it’s sensible for consumers to give everything a wash before using, even items that are tempting to eat straight out of the bag (such as cherry tomatoes). Birds are making much use of various trellising systems on the farm, and though we do our best to avoid harvesting items that obviously were direct targets for a perched bird, we can’t promise 100% perfection. So, please wash your produce.

THIS WEEK’S PRODUCE
Given that we’re still overproducing for slow restaurant sales, and cold-storing bulk produce is getting expensive in this weather, we offered last Thursday’s members a chance to request bulk quantities of squash, beets, beans, and cucumbers for preservation; Monday’s members will get this option for the coming week. At this point it’s worth more to us to get them out of storage and in the hands of people who want them, than to spend money keeping them cold for possible future sale and/or wasting time trying to dump them at a market. Consider it a dividend of a productive CSA year this far, and a buffer against the increasing likelihood of failed crops later this summer or fall. This is a good chance to get some food preserved and get some extra value in your shares.

NEW! Jalapenos Just a few, but enough for good salsa or other uses.
NEW! (maybe)
Mid-sized slicer tomatoes, starting to ripen. Not sure what the total yield will be, but hopefully enough to get a taste to everyone.
Cherry tomato mix
Mix of SunGold (hybrid) and various heirlooms.
Cucumbers Green & white/yellow varieties; the latter are especially tasty. The plants look heat stressed, but they are producing nicely anyway for the moment. We’re going to try very hard to get some of our favorite cuke recipes up on the blog in the coming days. Show Me Eats posted a very yummy refrigerator pickle recipe a couple of years ago.
Green filet beans We tend to pick these small & tender.
Cured garlic Probably a hardneck variety. Won’t be softneck. The softnecks aren’t drying down well; they should be fully cured by now, but they aren’t (so last Monday received green garlic instead).
Scallions A good standard allium for all uses.
Cabbage Last week for these, a savoy variety we tested this year. These have been in storage for a couple of weeks, so you may want to strip the outer layer or two of leaves off.
Beet roots
Summer squash Production on the first planting is declining rapidly, not surprisingly as these plants are pretty old and have done wonderfully for their expected lifetime. There will be a gap soon before the next round picks up.

HERBS
We’re going to stick with last week’s smaller quantity of herb bundles this week, but may be back to normal by the week following if the weather conditions improve.

NEW! Lime basil: Limited quantities.
NEW! Thai basil:
Limited quantities.
BACK! Parsley: Limited quantities. Almost all of the first planting of parsley bolted (not something it normally should do in its first year of growth). But, a new planting is coming online.
Shiso: Best stored on the counter in a bit of water (as for basil). We’d love to hear how some of you have used this.
Basil:
We’re going to list this in the produce section of the survey so you have a chance to request extras. Basil generally does not store well in the refrigerator; it will usually turn brown from the excessive cold & drying. Long stems can be stored in a jar of water at room temperature (as you would a bouquet of flowers). Short stems will store in the refrigerator in a bag or sealed container for a little while.
Green coriander
Sage
Tarragon

Orange mint
Kentucky colonel mint

HEAT & DROUGHT STRESS
Conditions have been rough for a while now, but particularly the end of this week as we’re facing day after day well over 100ºF (107º forecast Saturday) with humidity in the 20% range and southerly winds. Under these circumstances moisture is just sucked out of plant leaves faster than the roots can take it up and everything starts to really feel drought stress. We’ve been mulching & irrigating like crazy, but irrigation isn’t the same as real rain. While we might expect a week or two like this toward the end of summer, it’s much worse now because of the extra-long days and the already early and long-lasting drought conditions. Heat like this may cause a pause in flowering and fruit setting for most of the summer items, meaning a possible gap in production later in summer. It also makes it much harder to get seeds & transplants started effectively and into the ground, again creating a long-term issue for us that could stretch well into the fall.

These conditions also highlight the absurd inequality of our agricultural system. You’ll likely hear more and more about various government programs for farmer drought relief; these only really apply to “real” farmers (i.e. subsidized commodity growers), not “specialty” vegetable growers (the USDA’s term) like us. [UPDATE: This afternoon’s local paper has a classic example of this trend, focusing entirely on corn & soy as if no other kind of farm existed.] There’s lots of money waiting to be handed out to commodity growers who lose a percentage of certain favored crops to these harsh conditions, but little or nothing for vegetable or fruit growers, especially independent ones.

In addition, these programs are all aimed at paying commodity farmers back for actual losses of product, or in some cases for purchased inputs like fertilizer. They don’t consider situations in which the farmers actually do save their crops through skill, hard work, and stress, but incur higher costs (irrigation, labor, cold storage, shade cloth) and/or lower quality of life (long hours, heat exhaustion). There’s a good chance CSA members may never actually notice much effect from this heat wave/drought if we manage to save most things through hard work and skill and stress, but the system will pump money at corn farmers passively watching their crops wilt while ignoring people like us. We’d rather the system was applied equally across the board: either subsidies, insurance, and handouts for all kinds of farmers (not a select few), or a truly free market in which we can fairly compete (our preference).

It’s also an unfortunate side effect of globalization; local vegetable farmers can’t raise prices in response to local problems because customers will simply go elsewhere, but are still under intense pressure to meet those globalized prices regardless of conditions. It’s a one-way system that’s difficult to manage, and another reason we’re grateful to have transitioned to CSA this year, which allows us a reasonable buffer against such issues and gives us the most direct connection possible to customers. We’d be far more stressed right now if our income depended on weekly sales of perishable produce at a 4-hour open-air market on a paved lot at these temperatures.

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