National CSA Day Partayyy!!! (from 2/23/19)

I know most of you don’t have your party pants on today, but it’s national CSA day and there’s so much to celebrate!  Everyone who’s ever participated in a CSA can do a little dance to honor the powerful impact their CSA diet has on the resiliency of farming in America. Its kind of a big deal!

I’m checking in today from La Crosse, WI where Seamus and I are attending the annual MOSES organic farming conference.  With thousands of farmers in attendance from mostly the Midwest, but also from around the world, it’s unmistakable that small farming is as relevant today as anytime in our history.  This is my fifth year attending and each year my network of fellow farmers and allies grows exponentially.  Here I find myself among folks who have supported and inspired me in my farming career from my home state,  from coast to coast, and all the way from Washington DC.  Today being a farmer is making me feel like a rock star!  I’m trying to preserve this feeling to remind myself that I’m powerful even in my most modest of moments in the thick of farm season, covered in dirt, worried if all the blood, sweat and tears are worth it.

There are roughly 12,000 CSA farms across our nation, and 500,000 CSA members supporting their local farmers!  Together as farmers and consumers, we accomplish so much!  We create green careers, we provide habitat for pollinators, we save seed, steward native plants, we protect water, sequester carbon, adapt to climate change, reduce food miles and waste.  Small farmers and their allies lobby for good farm bill policies that affect public health and help our children have access to nutritious food.  Together we steward millions of acres of land, connecting entire communities to each other and the earth. CSA farmers and their members are funding some of the most important social, economic, and environmental work of our time all while not having to wait for permission from politicians or banks.  Do you have your party pants on yet?  Show me those dance moves! 

A corny love that's so worth the read

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Somebody once told me that food is a love letter.  "Ok, yeah... I can see that...kinda" I thought at the time, but who sent this love letter? 

I just had the incredible opportunity to spend three weeks traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico, where it became abundantly clear who wrote many of said love letters that so often find their way to my plate.

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Oaxaca, Mexico is the motherland of corn.  Their over 8,000 year old history with one of the most important plants in the wold isn't a claim to fame, it's a sacred way of life.  The Spanish name for corn is maize, derived from the Taino word mahiz, meaning bringer of life.  In English corn is simply a generic word for grain.  In rural Oaxaca maize seemed to be the heartbeat of daily life.  There is a rhythm of corn being planted, harvested, dried, stored, shucked, ground into flour, made into tortillas, cooked up into soup, turned into silage, and fed back to draft animals.  Everyone from generation to generation played their part, all while carrying on their modern lives.  Maize, most often in the form of tortillas makes an appearance at every meal.  

The indigenous way of planting maize is with its two sisters beans and squash.  This is called a three sister's planting.  Planting maize with squash for ground cover and beans for nitrogen, which in return trellis themselves on the tall corn stocks, sounds like a fairly simple task.  Trust me it's more complex then it seems.  I've tried it a number of times, with terrible results.  In one attempt the squash grew so fast that the corn and beans just got swamped out, another time the corn grew so tall I couldn't reach the beans and the birds harvested them before I ever could.  However, in Oaxaca generations of farmers have found the exact match of seeds, the perfect spacing, and planted at just the right time.  When the right relationship between sisters is struck they produce more together then they could alone. I hear whispers of these relationships when I think of the food on my table as a love letter.  

A friend I met on the trip pointed out how the trees surrounding the fields had been trained to grow crooked.  Pine tress that normally grew straight and tall, in this case were branched out to grow low and parallel to the ground.  His ancestors had left behind a living fence!  When corn is harvested it can be laid against these branches to fortify a wall to keep deer from eating the squash as it cures in the fields.  Similarly he pointed out entire oak trees that had been shaped into giant baskets where farmers stored crop debris as silage for animal food.  When stored off the ground and in the trees the silage didn't spoil during the rainy season.  I had never seen an ancient farm field before and would have never put the trees and their function together.  These are the kind of mysterious secrets that are revealed when I read those love letters at the table!

It all sounds very romantic, these love letters and all.  But truth be told the seeds, water and earth that brought the food to your table have been selected and protected by thousands of generations around the world.  Seeds that remained in production due to the hard work and ingenuity of our ancestors.  Seeds that were saved by indigenous peoples despite stolen land, colonization, slavery, war and forced assimilation.  The ones writing those love letters are your great great greatest grandparents.  It was wholeheartedly nourishing to eat Oaxacan food and learn the love stories of the Wife of the Sun (another indigenous name for the humble corn plant)  I'm eager to dig up more love stories, maybe I'll find one that my great grandma from Finland sent me.  Perhaps I should start drafting some of my own! 

Sowing the Seeds of a New Year

I know the holidays are well passed us, but some of the best packages of the season are about to arrive on our doorstep! Thanks to the support of our members who where quick to renew their CSA subscriptions we were able to make our first and most important investment of 2019. Seeds!

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The process of ordering seeds makes our nerdy, big, plant loving hearts soar!  We can read 10 or more seed catalogs from cover to cover each season looking for the right seeds to make the perfect match in our system. We take into consideration everything we want to improve from the year before.  For example: last year was a great year for peppers, we found that our most popular pepper was the poblano, but poblanos were the least productive peppers we planted.  They where always the first to run out! With our limited space we can just plant one more row of poblanos, so we set out to find a variety of poblano that will perform better in our crazy On-top-of-a-parking lot urban farm eco-system!  Also we found that people were crazy about stuffing peppers, so we found a variety that bares larger peppers making them all the easier to eat in our favorite way!

We love growing rainbow carrots, but we were not thrilled with the purple carrots we used for the mix.  We have found them to be tougher than the other varieties.  It was also frustrating that for some reason their tops fell off easily after harvesting, making bunching, and cleaning harder then it should have been because we had to be gentle with how we handled them.  So in a round about way, better seed selection can mean things like cleaner carrots for your boxes and less hassle in the kitchen.

Of course over the years we have found our beloved standbys.  I can not imagine a summer without growing my favorite tomato, the Paul Robeson, but we still scour the seed catalogues for the best strain!  Their heirloom flavor is prize winning, but in years past we have had so much trouble with the tops cracking that we almost decided to stop growing it for production. However, we found a seed company called Adaptive Seeds in Oregon where lots of rain mean lots of cracked tomatoes.  They have been selecting Paul Robeson seed to withstand wet seasons without cracking!  We gave that seed a shot last year with great success. We've ordered it again from the same company, but this year we will be saving that seed in the hopes to get an even better match for the farm!
    

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We’re always happy to get the seed order, our first major investment of the year, checked off the list.  As our CSA fills up we will gain the capacity to order improved tools and supplies.  Last year was a horrible year for beets!  We had a pest called a leaf miner burrow into the leaves stunting their growth.  This year we are going to protect our beet crops with brand spankin' new row cover, a thin white sheet that simply acts as a natural barrier to keep the bugs off!  Seed selection does miracles in helping us grow more delicious food, but the supplies we use have an equal impact.  With your CSA support we become better equipped each year to offer better boxes of green goodness.  

with warm regards,

Taya, Seamus & Obie (the cow spotted farm dog)