"I am a Minnesotan by birth and a traveler in wild places by vocation and compulsion." -Paul Gruchow

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Farm Tours

Today, I went with my friend Aubrey on a tour of three local farms. It was sort of an open-house kind of day for them and I like farms, I like food, I like local food, so she let me tag along as long as I agreed to navigate. I thought this was a fair trade.

We started at the Caruso-Rozzano farm, which specialized in Italian heirloom tomatoes, among other things. We looked at the rows of different tomatoes, noting differences in shape, mostly, because the ripe ones had already been picked. Aubrey bought a pint of cherry tomatoes from a little blonde girl selling the tomatoes at her own Fisher-Price stand that was right next to her parents' larger table of goodness. The tomatoes tasted like candy. And it's impossible to say no to little five year olds when they're selling anything.

Leaving Caruso-Rozzano, a B-2 flew overhead, came around and made another pass. At least I think it was a B-2. Could have been an F-117, I suppose, but as my Air Force father tried to teach his three daughters about planes, the only one I can identify on sight is a C-130, which he navigated while he was in the Air Force. But going with him to any place there are planes is always great fun. Lincoln is having an air show today and tomorrow and I bet he'd like to be here.

From there, we went to Common Good Farm, where Aubrey gets her summer CSA. This was the most interesting of them to me and I wish I'd been smarter and packed a hat and some sunblock because I only made it through part of the farm tour before I had to get out of the sun. But we walked the rows of kale and tomatoes and peppers, sampled fresh pesto and rhubarb jam. When the farm tour started, that's when things got really interesting. We saw two pens of chickens and they get moved every so often to fresh grass and grasshoppers, free range and running around. They got very excited when the little kids threw lettuce to them. We learned about the owner's reliance on non-kill methods of protecting his chickens from hawks, because Fish and Wildlife won't let you kill them. But as the farmer told us about the noise cannon things he used to scare the hawks--now they won't come near the farm--that also means that the ecology of the area is still intact. Just because you may kill the hawks that stalk your chickens doesn't mean that your problems will go away just because you kill the hawks. If you remove the predator, that has effect further down the line. (This chicken looks sketchy because of a protein issue, nothing else.)

I won't remember everything he said about his pigs (about a half dozen of them) and how he's using his pigs to get rid of bindweed--the whole process is just brilliant. He'll never be completely rid of bindweed, but the pigs have done a better job of taking care of the problem than any of the chemicals that other farmers use. Even if you spray for bindweed, you'll still need to do it every year. So that doesn't solve any problems. The pigs fertilize and chew up the soil, benefiting the soil itself, and in the fall, they're quite tasty.

From there, we went to Branched Oak farms, lured in by cows. Cows = excellent cheese, ice cream, and more. We didn't stay too long here. The reality is that cows also equal more flies. It just reminded me of stories my grandmother tells of the cows she grew up with, the milking, the dedication required, how even things like the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services were set around the milking schedules of the local farmers.

Aubrey and I also talked briefly about Wendell Berry (she's an expert on him; I am not) and advocating for solutions in terms of systems, rather than one solution for a problem. We also talked a little about my canning/urban discussion that I almost had with my class and we discussed how the local food movement has been criticized for being elitist--and how that relates to this rural/urban mindset when it comes to food. When does something like a CSA become a political choice, rather than what you do because you must? Of course, we did not fail to notice how many Priuses we saw in the parking areas of each of these farms.

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