Sunday, October 10, 2010

You need a farmer to run a farm

Last June, through a miscommunication at Peterson Garden, we put in 12 "farm" plots-- four that we called "Farm4You" and 8 that we designated "Farm2Give." The F4Y plots were sold for $100-$250 to individuals who had time to harvest but not to care for a plot; the F2G plots were installed as teaching plots with all the produce donated to local shelters, community organizations, and food pantries. The original intention was to have as many F4Y plots as we could sell, and 4 demonstration plots (a Vintage plot, a Three Sisters, an Heirlooms plot, and a Bee Plot) from which we'd donate food. One day, in a fit of enthusiasm, I put in 3 more, then took on a fall plot as part of an outreach project.

Because the miscommunication was mine, I felt somewhat obligated to be the one caring for these plots.

Each plot is 24 square feet, for a total acreage of less than 1% of an acre. By way of perspective, an average, commercially-oriented truly family-owned farm is 180 acres, or some 1000 times the area I was taking care of.

While I did end up harvesting nearly 200 pounds of produce just from the F2G plots, I'm sure that we lost a lot of the yield to lack of care and missed harvests, so that produce rotted or dried before it could be picked. Because we didn't have a farmer, whose job it was to nurture these plants, plots didn't get watered, didn't get picked, didn't get pruned.

My lesson from this? As the title says, if you're going to have a farm-- a commercial enterprise providing food to other people-- you need someone whose job it is to grow things, in other words, a farmer. I know how much work goes into a garden--I plant twice that area in my backyard every year. But that's a few steps outside my door, and if I miss a harvest, I can rationalize that I'll just turn that into compost. No one starves or loses income because I let a few tomatoes rot on the ground.

But I feel bad about the yield we lost at Peterson. Good intentions and a green thumb don't make a farmer. What makes a farmer is an investment of time, and effort; it's a job that you do every day, not just when you can get there in your spare time. Not that I didn't already have all kinds of awe and respect for farmers, but this experience has hugely reinforced that.

Apple Carrot Bread

1 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup butter
1/2 tsp. orange extract (optional)
2 eggs

2 medium apples, peeled and shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup + 1T honey or 1/2 cup maple syrup+2T molasses
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Heat oven to 350F/175C. Grease or line with parchment, bottom only of 9 x 5 or 8 x 4 inch loaf pan.

Whisk dry ingredients together; set aside. Beat eggs, add and beat in softened butter, honey, and molasses. Add fruit, mix thoroughly, then add dry ingredients and beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Stir in nuts. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from pan to cool. Refrigerate any leftovers. Makes 1 loaf.

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