A Love of Farming Cycles
By Don Lareau – Zephyros Farm and Garden –
“What is your favorite thing about being a farmer?” Now if I had gotten that question while under a tractor fixing something or after hours of endless harvesting this would definitely be another disgruntled farmer column. Instead it came on the drive home from another great market while looking out over the snow cappedColoradopeaks framed by the aspens and pines of a high mountain fall. So instead I was able to see the forest from the trees for a brief minute, something difficult to do in the midst of a farming season.
It came to me that there are many things I love about being a farmer, but it can all be wrapped up in that I get to enjoy the seasons. Not like some people who mark the summer by Memorial Day and Labor Day, but instead by the imperceptibly shorter days in the beginning of July. Those days are some of my favorite because I feel like a runner coming around the bases who knows that they will make it to home base even though there may still be a base or two to go.
Just like so many of our ancestors who lived by the sun and the moon farming forces you to do so. When the days of summer start having shorter and shorter hours of light the plants try harder and harder to make fruits, and they begin to do it more and more quickly as they sense the impending lack of sun coming. I too feel that and look to the plants to enter a new phase. Summer is not over until we turn the bend just beyond the day and night becoming equal in length, as apposed to an arbitrary holiday.
The fall truly is my favorite time since it does mean the end to many plants, and is usually punctuated by the frost which can have its effect irregardless of the hours of sun. By the time we are at the equinox the plants are showing signs of being tired of making fruits, seeds and flowers. They are reflecting how the farmers are feeling! But some things are finding new life such as greens, just as we can reflect on a season for all its ups and downs and get excited about another year coming. The fall is the time to wind down and settle in.
Then comes the winter which really has the same effect as summer as I notice the light growing even by January. This light growing ever so slowly will make those plants in the greenhouse start to grow bit by bit. And the greenhouses are truly getting full buy the time that spring comes around. As the days of spring come and the light begins to really return you can feel the rush as we whirl towards those days of summer where the return of the fruit will be the reward of the work put in each spring.
It is this cycle of waking with the sun and going to bed with the sun that makes us truly blessed. Oh I do not really do that, I do wake with the sun or even earlier, but lights afford us long evenings and earlier mornings. But farming at least makes you aware of these cycles in ways that so many others do not have time to notice. It is being a part of the yearly circadian rhythm of the planet that allows me to be connected in a way that so many long for. In fact the more people can reconnect with these rhythms the more I feel like their sanity would return, to know what is really important and what is really meaningful in our lives. Instead so many create these false realities of time, night and day, and we pay a cost for this body confusion. In fact I would like more blackouts so we can all go to bed when the sun goes down, and rise when it comes up.
I have been thinking about changing the name of my column to “The Disgruntled Farmer.” Of course I have been so disgruntled that recently I have not even written a column, or is that disorganized, discombobulated, or just down right tired from another long season. So it is at this point in the season that little things bother me. I also have plenty of time to mull them over while harvesting sunflowers and tomatoes jacked on caffeine, which have driven me to the pen again, or keyboard.
I could go on and on about a lot of little things but this time I will keep it simple, haggling. Why do you want to haggle with me? I work my ass off and not for a lot of money either. I am selling you really amazing produce and flowers that you can not get anywhere else. I usually have dropped my price so low (could be the problem) that you decide why not try for more, how about you “bargain” with this poor tired farmer. Well, you are not bargaining, you are haggling and it is a discredit to the idea that you love local organic farmers.
When you go in your doctors’ office do you ask them to drop the price of an exam by 25%? When you get a lawyer to do some work with you do you haggle down their hourly rate down? Maybe everyone does this and I am out of the loop, well within the realm of possibility, as I do spend a lot of time on my farm. But do you do it when you go to the grocery store? I do not think most people go into most businesses and haggle with the owners. But for some reasons with farmers at the farmers’ market or at their farm everyone does it.
The worst part to me is that if you asked the people who haggle with me they would be self-proclaimed supporters of all things local and organic…especially when they can get it at a reduced price, “How about a dollar less a pound?” But it is already so damn cheap that I am liable to go out of business. I thought you liked to support small business and local business and organic farms. So stop haggling with me, either buy it, don’t, or haggle with me if you plan to buy two hundred pounds or buy twenty pounds each week, but think about what you are doing before you haggle.
Every time you haggle with a farmer you are questioning the value of that product, and of their labor to grow and create that product. Then you have the farmers questioning the value of their products, and comparing themselves to each other and then they begin to undermine each other on price so that by the end of the season the whole system has eroded to nothing.
It is often cited how great a countryAmericais because of the low cost of food. We pay more ontaxes then what we spend on our food. (You should reread that last sentence). It is a matter of values; what do we value as Americans? I nominate valuing our food. It can keep us healthy, help to keep us from getting sick, nourish our children, it is yummy, and it is something we can not live without. Makeup, cars, new clothes, cheap things from the dollar store we can live without, food, not so much. So if you truly value food pay for it, learn to pay more and more for it. It should not be cheap; in fact you should spend more on food than almost anything else in your budget, which would truly be a sign of a healthy country.
The problem is that we are taught to look for the best deal the cheapest food and we get what we pay for: obesity, diabetes, cancer, and the most inexpensive food bills in the world but also the emptiest calories too. When you buy a bag of lettuce mix from City Market and one from a local farm they both may be organic, they may even be from the same seeds, but they are not the same product not even close. So why should we as farmers compete on price with what we see at City Market? Because the consumer sees these two bags of lettuce mix as the same product. Learn to see your local food as the real deal that it is, and be willing to pay more for it.
Now take this blog (rant) with a grain of salt, I love when anyone comes to the farm and buys anything from me at any price really. But I just wanted you to know what can happen to a depraved mind out in the fields. Not to make you feel guilty, not to complain (but I am feeling better), but to add a little food for thought as you browse the aisle for the sale signs, or walk through the farmer’s market at the end of the day hoping to score a deal. Think instead, “am I paying what this is truly worth to me?”
It is an often heard statement that as great as organic may be it can not feed the world. After watching Mythbusters the other night I decided it was time for me to start busting some myths, do not worry as I will not be blowing anything up. The idea that Organic agriculture can not feed the world is the most common myth about organics that chemical agriculture puts out there.
First of all note that I call it chemical agriculture not conventional agriculture because organic was the convention and will be again. So called ‘conventional’ agriculture relies so much on chemistry and physics to get the job of growing done that it is much more appropriate to call it simply chemical agriculture. Basically the premise of the “green” revolution is to take a field, use tractors and chemicals to rid it of every biological organism in order to put in the one biological organism that you want to grow in order to guarantee success. It does work but what of the soil?
This is where we see that indeed organic agriculture can not only feed the world but also increase soil health. Why is that? Because organic agriculture does not live in fear of biology, which can turn against what you want to grow, think of a moldy pumpkin left in the root cellar too long or a leaf covered in powdery mildew. Organic agriculture embraces biology and in fact adds it to the soil in the form of manure, compost, compost teas, and a large variety of microbe foods to name a few. And it is this biology that makes organic agriculture able to feed the world.
There have been several studies done, long term studies, such as the Rodale Institutes 30 year Farming Systems Trial Report, and the 13 year ISU Long-Term Agroecological Research Experiment. Both of these studies have shown several things of great importance. Such as from the Rodale institute study: Organic yields match that of chemical yields, organic outperforms chemical in drought years, organic systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, organic systems use 45% less energy, chemical systems produce 40% more greenhouse gasses, and most importantly organic systems are more profitable. The Iowa study showed similar results mostly for a corn and soybean rotation.
There are several studies internationally that have also shown how organic agriculture can feed the world, most significantly the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). They reported that in Africa the only way of solving hunger would be transitioning to organic systems as they have outperformed “industrial” systems while providing environmental benefits such as improved soil fertility, water retention and drought resistance.
Now realize that organic agriculture does not have very much money to actually do research. Of all the research dollars spent on agriculture in the US organics does not even get its fair share. Biotechnology and the like get more than their fair share. So perhaps if Organic Ag actually got its full share of the research money more studies like these could be undertaken.
The other point to be made is that agriculture is not feeding the world right now, there are many who go to bed underfed or undernourished. Organic local agriculture offers the best opportunity for people to feed themselves. Also chemical agriculture is based on the abundance of cheap fossil fuels, and abundant water two things that are no longer assured in this day and age. So encouraging people to feed themselves through sustainable means that do not depend on expensive chemicals and petroleum based inputs is the only clear path to a world where we can feed ourselves and each other.
So the next time that you hear about how Organic Agriculture can not feed the world you will be assured that indeed it can not only feed the world. It can do so while leaving our soils, waters, and air in better shape. It can feed the world and make us more resilient to droughts, pests and diseases. Organic can feed the world, so go on and plant a seed!
Water! The lifeblood of the west, of the world, looking down on the waterways from above it does look life veins coming from the heart. We are that heart, the mountains which beckon the clouds to leave behind their watery mist of cold snow or drenching rain. The snow that melts and gives way to the ubiquitous ditch systems of our valley which also look like arteries feeding the fields of our food, will being to fill again. For how long it is too early to say. The snow has not stopped falling despite the temperatures way above normal.
Watching the water is something people spend a lifetime doing. Whether it is on the river fishing, frozen beneath your feet, under your raft or filling the markings on a newly planted field. Many people watch the water down to the very drop. Even the water that falls on your roof has been accounted for, over accounted for actually. So in a year with the mountains not catching their ‘normal’ amounts of water I can feel the temperatures rising.
I have not been through a bad drought year, and am not expecting this year to be one, though the pastures are already drying out. It seems we will be in for a drought year, how bad the April and May showers will let us know. So when you start to think about your water and your neighbor’s water and the water falling on the roof, remain calm. Yes certain things may dry up too soon, it may be hard to get the right amount of water to everything but remember that your neighbor’s water keeps the field next door green and productive.
Having worked at the NRCS I got to see many a dispute about water in my first few years living here. None of them were pretty and at the same time none of them seemed entirely necessary. My neighbor told me of the days when he grew up and the folks at the end of the ditch would start to clean it. As they walked up the next neighbors and perhaps their mule would join in until the whole ditch was being cleaned by the whole ditch. Let’s not forget that ethic of working together for water for all. Too many lawyers being brought in to dispute something that we all already share is worthless and costly at the same time.
The best part is that each year the water teaches me where it wants to go and how. I might want it to go someplace else but it will not be convinced by my markings, all the time. The leaky valve, the broken pipe does not help, but there is nothing that brings us together like the walking in the fields and watching the water flow. So pick up your shovel and walk your ditch with your neighbor and share the shares so that we can all have green pastures, ripe apples, and fresh tomatoes.
As the New Year is upon us it is time for us farmers to reflect on what went well this past season, what we need to change, and the challenges that we need to overcome to be successful. There is no more serious challenge for local North Fork farmers to be successful than the potential of BLM leasing 30,000 acres for oil and gas development. It is this new development that has put a whole new spin on the usual discussions of how many row feet of carrots should we grow and which varieties did best last year.
The BLM has a RMP, or Resource Management Plan, that is supposed to consider everything in a community that could be impacted from any potential activity on the BLM lands. The last time a full RMP was done by the BLM for this area was 1989. As a farmer I wanted to know what kinds of considerations were included for agriculture. Agriculture was not mentioned in the RMP. It is a typical ‘who cares about dumb farmers’ approach that any farmer is use to from society.
One would think that such an important document might have considered the vast network of ditches and canals that feed water to all of the valley farms. Not mentioned. Back in the eighties there were not as many vegetable farms but you would think they would have at least talked about the impact to forage crops such as hay or alfalfa, or the valleys ranches that rely on them. Perhaps they would have mentioned the valleys fruit growing industry, which has been around for decades. None of this was even mentioned in the 1989 RMP.
Now to be fair fracking did not really exist and certainly not like it is practiced today, but to not mention agriculture when looking at this valley even in 1989 is remiss. This is why I feel like at the very least they need to wait to lease this land until a thorough RMP is done. It should talk about the types of operations mentioned above. It would also need to focus on the fact that there are more certified organic farms per capita here than anywhere in the state. If we have to deal with toxins in our water or air it will make doing business impossible.
In the end this is really the question that is before us. What kind of valley do we want to see in the future. Do we want to see a valley were traffic consists of cows and tractors on the roads. Or do we want an industrial community where big trucks with toxic chemicals are driving down our country lanes. I do not believe that coexistence is desirable for this community. Nor do I think that coexistence is possible for an agricultural economy and an industrial oil and gas economy.
Oil and gas offers the potential for jobs (though not necessarily for county residents) and tax revenue for the county. But at what sacrifice. Agriculture is always being sacrificed for industry because agriculture does not offer as much return on the dollar. But as so many know who live here, an agrarian lifestyle is about so much more than a return on the dollar. This is the reason we need to protect and safeguard our agrarian lifestyle. There are very few valleys like this in Colorado. We have the history of agriculture, the water, the land, and the climate all in one place. It is a unique place, so I think it is fair that oil and gas be asked to find other places to do business.
The other thing not considered in the 1989 RMP is tourism. Of course what interest me the most is the agricultural tourism, agrotourism. It is a growing part of the tourism industry around here and across the nation. Agrotourism is an activity that more and more small farms look towards to help with the bottom line. Key to agrotourism besides having vital farms is a landscape of beauty and awe that will attract people to come and spend their money. If we have an industrialized and polluted county people are less likely to want to come visit. The impacts of oil and gas on tourism could literally stop this bourgeoning aspect of our economy in its tracks.
Finally the most important consideration when I decide how many carrots to grow is the value of my farmland and house. Farms take a lot of time and capital to bring to fruition. It is not as simple as making a pad and drilling. Farms in the valley whether they are generations old or a newly planted vineyard have a lot invested in their land, and water. Other places where oil and gas development have had large loses to land and home values. It would be a shame to squander all of our monetary and human capital that we have built up in this county for a short term boost to our economy. I feel that it is really important to consider agriculture in its entirety when deciding to allow this type of development into the valley or not. Agriculture is the cornerstone of this community. Let us keep it that way forever.
I just got back from my first board meeting of the Organic Farming and Research Foundation (OFRF). By spending time with the people who run OFRF, and guide OFRF, the whole organization has been brought into focus for me. The work being done in this establishment is so crucial that I wanted to tell you about it. The mission of OFRF is to “foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems.” OFRF is the premier organic organization out there and I am honored to be a part of it and I hope you will be too.
One of the main focuses of OFRF is funding organic research. Recently they have had a donor specified grant of $50,000 a year for five years for seed and breeding research. This is a historically under-funded part of organic research, and what is more crucial than the seeds that we plant. The rest of the research dollars go to a wide diversity of grants that aim to help organic farmers and researchers tackle the problems faced by organic farmers across the country. This granting program does not give away millions but has been used to leverage millions more in funding.
There is also a policy side that is both a grassroots action network and an organic lobbyist on capital hill. Earlier this year they added a regional organizer and plan to add one more this next year. OFRF networks often with National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), the main sustainable agriculture lobbyist on capital hill. In addition it is working. According to what has been leaked about farm bill inclusions recently, many of the organic initiatives OFRF seeks to keep are still in place. Of course the farm bill is a moving target, but isn’t it nice to know someone is up there and out there fighting against the Monsanto’s of the world, who spend eight million a year just on lobbying!
The other area that OFRF works in is that of education. The stated goal is to see organic agriculture taught in every agricultural university in the country is inspiring to me. Imagine every student of agriculture having organics as a part of their foundation. Already they have supported many programs in the land grant universities, and now that net is cast even wider to include all agricultural universities. They also work on education by publishing documents such as the recently released Organic Farming for Health and Prosperity.
In the last year OFRF has brought in a new Executive Director, Maureen Wilmot. She has the desire to grow the organization from a budget of 1.5 million to 5 million, which would more than double the amount of grants we would be able to award. Her fundraising is reaching out to organizations that benefit from organic farming like those who enjoy clear air and water, in addition to the large corporations who claim sustainability as a part of their philanthropic missions, or advertising campaign. After all what is more sustainable than actual organic farms? Maureen has broad visions and goals for the organization, which is exactly the kind of thinking that organics needs to become the convention of agriculture.
So you can see why I am so excited about being involved with such an organization. There have been several projects funded in Colorado over the years by OFRF, including right here in Hotchkiss. As this organization continues to grow I hope you will join me!
We are often asked at this time of the year about what we are going to do now that the frost has come. It is a question that is loaded with the insinuation that somehow farmers are left to sit around the farmhouse all winter with nothing to do. After all the markets have closed and the tomatoes are dead so it only seems logical that there is little to do on the farm. This however cannot be further from the truth.
Now there are those who have winter jobs other than farming, and thankfully we have someone in our family with another job. However for those few of us that are trying to make a go at farming as an actual career, full time JOB, there is plenty of work to do. So lest you think I am lounging by the fireside all winter counting all my money I will try to give you an idea of the late fall, and winter on the farm.
First we have to get the garlic in the gorund. This is a crop that can be planted in spring but does much better and is really designed to be planted in the fall. We also are busy digging any bulbs or tubers we want to save such as potatoes, carrots, or the hundreds of dahlias and tuberose that we save each year. At the same time we are trying to get all the old plants ripped out of the ground and plant cover crops in their place in time that some growth is achieved before the really cold weather settles in to the valley.
With all of our greenhouses we have lots of work to do in there. Since late August we have been planting greens such as bok choy, kale, chard, spinach, lettuve, arugula, radish, broccoli raab, and other cold hardy greens. So there is the regular weeding, irrigating, harvesting, processing and selling of crops going on until at least Christmas which is when we seem to of harvested most everything we can grow. But the more greenhouses we add the more continual our harvest can be throughout the year.
Of course there are still a few crops in the field too such as broccoli, cabbage and napa cabbage. At this point they do not require much except a spray here and there and occasional watering, harvesting and processing for sales. Although when the temperatures drop below 25 we begin to cover with a heavy remay, so that means covering and uncovering each day. When it looks to be going below about 18 then we will harvest all that is left for storage and sales.
Then there is all the inside work. Often the office and paperwork has been let go of during the craze of late summer and early fall. So there is a lot of catch up to be done in the office. The moment that we are caught up it is time to being ordering any plant material we may need for the following season. We begin to get catalogs around about July and ideally we have everything ordered by December at the latest and some things need to be ordered by October. So there is not a real down time in terms of supplies coming in to the farm.
The single biggest thing we do in the winter is to calculate how much of what we are going to plant where we are going to palnt it and therefore how much seed to we need, how many transplants will we need by when in order to make it all happen. This requires sitting down and deciding on what grew weel, what sold well, what actually made us money and what deserves more space. The hardest part is that the new seed catalogs to not usually come out early enough. So we get a rough idea and then update as we find new varieties to trial, and plant. Luckily we have managed to get all of this in to a huge data base that we will be using for the second time and so will hopefully be making this chore faster and more exacting.
Then there is all the machinery that either needs to be put to bed, and we start in on the maintenance of each piece of equipment so that we are ready to go again by spring. In the ideal world this is all done by the middle of March, but so far that has never happened for me but his year it is my goal to actually make that happen. Someday I will have a heated shop which would make that chore more appealing in the darkest days of winter, when there is more time.
Finally there are the animals which still need food and water and love throughout. We will begin to kid in early February, so that is a busy time. And in general we are dumping frozen water and feeding twice a day, checking bedding and making sure that they are surviging the harsher weather successfully. The animals are in this way the heart beat of the farm.
Now do not get me wrong I make plenty of time to ski, sit by the fire and read and generally recuperate after a long season. And the days of working 14-16 hours a day are finished for a while, but there is plenty to keep us busy on the farm. We try to make a couple of escapes to see family and visit a beach to truly recuperate since if one is on the farm there is always something that needs to be done.
This infamous phrase is more meaningful to a farmer than to most. So much food has been produced in the valley over that last many months. So much food that has left the valley, which is a double edged sword since a lot of money comes back in return to the producers allowing their business to survive. So much potential tax revenue and nutrition go to other communities. This highlights a problem that most farmers are beginning to face as the popularity of local foods and farmers’ markets continues to grow at around a 20% increase per year.
Some places are so overloaded with farmers markets that the producers are either scrambling to attend many markets, or they are beginning to see less return from each market that they attend. Even within a farmers market there are so many farms competing with each other usually due to a bad market manager who does not understand how many vendors to allow of certain products. As the amount of farms grows in the North Fork and other communities on the Western Slope this is an oft heard complaint.
But I like many others like to turn this on its head. One must have an outlook of abundance and prosperity. Any of you who have hauled the harvest in from the fields knows this first hand, literally dirty hands first! For a farmer like myself it is really seeing this through. What is this over-abundance of farms and produce mean? It means that too many people are not buying local food from local producers. Even in the North Fork where there is exceptional local buying (and exceptional local producers), there is a lot of room for growth. T
hink how many people are buying produce at the local grocery store that has been shipped in from so far. Even more important is how many people are not even buying fresh produce. Many will cite the cost of the food is too much compared to the ready to eat frozen meal or like. I believe that people have truly been disconnected from cooking for generations that simplicity has been forgotten. With all the cooking channels and shows good food seems out of reach. But as I tell my market customers time and again, just cook it with a bit of olive oil and garlic and your favorite herb and it will be delicious because it is so fresh.
So how can we best support the producers, and the markets that support the producers? It is by talking to people about how good fresh food can be. It is a bit like teaching your child how good spinach is, those who have been fed it all of their life have no problem eating spinach. Those who have been fed on snickers, ice cream, can foods, and the like will need more time. But if we can begin to retrain people to eat real food the market is endless for us farmers. All farmers markets could be full of producers and they would all sell out. City Market might not sell as much produce, but oh well. Imagine a market in Hotchkiss or Paonia like the ones in other cities on the western slope with fifty vendors or more all selling locally.
This is about good local wholesome food. Simple cooking, not a lot of fancy sauces and complicated pretentious recipes, cook and eat, yum. This is not a red or blue thing, this is not us versus them, this is something we all know in our DNA, fresh is best. The high fructose corn syrup, and genetically modified organisms, do not stand a chance but the growers need to you spread the word. So do what our politicians can not and step across the aisle and offer up your best and most simple kale to the masses.
One could write a dissertation on this topic. So instead I will write down some thoughts I have been having regarding this idea that local is more important than organic. There are still those that believe that both are equally important, but it seems that in the popular mindset there is a shift toward ‘local’, which is usurping the place that has been held by organic for the past couple of decades. So let’s compare a product most of us consume on a regular basis, milk.
Local conventional milk is a great place to start as there are still local dairies in many parts of the country. There are also many national brands that contain milk from more local dairies. None of what I am about to write knowingly pertains to our local dairies as I have no first hand knowledge of how they run their operations. However there are many things that dairies have in common. They rely on having lots of animals in a small area. These animals are feed a lot of grains to supply the nutrition a cow needs to produce a lot of milk. This system makes a lot of milk that is locally produced, but requires all the inputs this type of farming requires. So you go to your local grocer and buy this milk.
But does the money actually stay local? Some of it goes to the people who transport it, pasteurize it, bottle it, and ship it. A fraction of the money paid by the consumer goes to the producer. So assuming that the other people live in the locality some of the other money may stay in the local economy. But when you look deeper how much money are these people really making? Ask any dairyman and you will likely hear the old adage, if you want to make a little money at dairying, start with a lot.
None of these people in this chain really make much money, as they owe all of that money to the people who produce, gas, electricity, rubber, antibiotics, plastics, GMO corn, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, bailing twine, you get the idea, this money is not staying local. Now I will not guess how much money of a “local” bottle of milk actually stays local, but I would think the proponents of local would be surprised that very little actually winds up flowing through the local economy. Basically what is made by those working in the industry, and some profits if there are any? But at what cost to the environment?
Really the only difference in an organic dairy is that you take out the expenses for all of the antibiotics, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, although an organic producer usually has many of these cost but they are just from a natural source and therefore not harmful for the environment. The other factor is that the producer is paid more for their milk; most organic dairymen are surviving quite well in the face of rising corn prices that are squeezing out their conventional counterparts.
So the trade-off when you decide to buy organic milk instead of local conventional milk at your local grocer is that of supporting a producer who is making a living while not spending the money you give them on polluting, cancer causing chemicals sold by huge multinational corporations. Versus giving a little money back to the local economy, despite watching most of it go to those corporations whose product is actually a detriment to your local environment. This is not a simple black and white issue at all.
Now there are many different products we can look at such as vegetables, fruit, etc, and the dynamic changes a bit but I believe that the milk example at least speaks to truth yet to be confronted by local food advocates. Personally I am always looking for the best of both worlds, local and organic! Luckily there are so many options here so check out the new VOGA directory which has hit the stands, so check it out for you local and organic options.
The farm cranks along and all the hard work is about to come to fruition. If everything can handle the rain and hail, the heat, the cold summer nights, the freak wind, the many bugs, and all of the weeds, we are going to have a great harvest! No really we all wait for those first few home grown tomatoes and they have finally arrived, albeit a bit later than we like. A cold spring and then the rains of July, wow. Each year I tell the people that it never rains here and for the last two years the weather keeps proving me wrong. Last year it was a wet August and the macro-burst, this year the early and never ending monsoon season, and who knows what is to come in August.
But that first tomato is something else. Our most early tomato each year is a baseball sized deep red purple tomato called Nyagous. We love it for many reasons, it is early, it is an heirloom, it is a dark tomato (which generally means it is sweet), and it is productive. I t goes great with another early tomato the green zebra throw in a red tomato, for us a Cosmonaut Volkov or Thessaloniki, and you have a multi colored tomato salad in July! Our farm really likes to grow all the different colored tomatoes.
The other tomatoes that we have been harvesting are the cherry tomatoes. We have had the pleasure of searching for the best of the different colored cherry tomatoes. Some make the cut for market and some just go in our own kitchen garden. For example the white currant is the queen of sweet cherry tomatoes, send the kids to harvest and they will be harvested but not brought back to the table. For market it is a bear to harvest and cracks too early to be of value. It is really almost white, most ‘white’ tomatoes turn a shade of pale yellow when ripe. The same is true of green tomatoes; they too turn a brighter yellow-green when they are ripe, as well as soften to the touch.
Do not be afraid of these different colored tomatoes as most of them have been handed down from generation to generation, and breed for certain qualities, such as flavor, beauty, density, acidity, or sweetness. The tomatoes in the grocery store have been handed down by the scientists who were told to make a tomato that could be harvest green shipped thousands of miles and gassed to turn red for sale. Even the “vine ripe” tomatoes at City Market are picked green, they are just not gassed, and instead they are picked green enough that they ripen on their own in transit to the grocery store.
The green tomatoes you get from us are not that way, but instead have a slight yellow luster that tells you they are ready for the eating. Once you bite into a Tasty Evergreen, a Green Grape, or and Aunt Ruby’s German Green, you will have a whole new opinion of what green tomatoes are! So next time you are at a market try something other than the standard red tomato. Grab a hold of a green, purple, black, yellow or orange tomato and begin to experience the full range of flavors that tomatoes can provide!