Tuesday, May 13, 2008

So Farm, So Good (Part 1)

After a bit of cool and rainy weather the past couple of days, the beautiful sunshine today reminded me that the magic date -- May 15 -- is coming soon. From that date on, we here in northern Ohio are pretty much safe from late frosts and can feel free to plant even the tender seeds and seedlings in our gardens. (Some argue that Memorial Day is the frost-free date, but I'm sticking with the 15th as warmer weather is definitely coming sooner than later these days.)

So, in preparation for Planting Day later this week, I knew I needed to arrange a couple of field trips in order to pick up some of the plants I had ordered from friends at local farms.

After work today, I headed north with the Renaissance Man to visit the farm of the Gentleman Farmer and his lovely wife, the Lady Bountiful -- a farm operation better known to locals as Bakers' Fresh Produce and Honey. Located about half an hour's drive from me, their farm covers only a few acres but is arranged so that they can grow a wide variety of crops in large quantities.

They happily led us around the farm, pointing out all the crops already in the ground or working their way out of greenhouses and hoop houses. One greenhouse held a multitude of flats of potted herbs, with plenty of fragrant basil and cilantro and oregano clamoring for my attention. (I restrained myself from rubbing their leaves, knowing that the herbs I had ordered had already been set aside for me.)

Another shelf held tomato seedlings, growing thick and leafy, and further back I spotted several pots of okra plants, just waiting to get planted and to produce all that yummy okra I'll fry up this summer.

We continued out and around the many fields, talking animatedly about all the good food the Bakers would have at the market this year as well as about how their children help out around the farm. (I even met the groundhog-hunting dog and the curious chicken... a lively crew!)

In this field, beets and chard and other greens are already growing fast and furious!

In this field, leeks and onions and (I think) squash are getting a jump start on the growing season. And while the family has a small machine for planting seeds and seedlings in such neat, evenly-spaced rows, they do go out and harvest everything by hand.

And with a crop like strawberries, how could you do otherwise? Picking these by hand -- and eating a few along the way -- is half the fun (and the pain)!

Set at the back of one field, half a dozen or more beehives stood, with honeybees busily flying around after gathering pollen. I felt so relieved to see the activity there, since I've seen almost no honeybees around town so far this spring -- even around the lusciously fragrant crabapples -- and have been concerned about local honey production this year as the population of honeybees continues to decline.

Out among the fields, we found a couple more greenhouse-type structures. One exceptionally
large hoop house had rows and rows of tomato seedlings already planted and kept warm by the plastic roof. If you want some sort of idea of just how large this bed is, compare my shadow with the rest of the "field"! I no longer have any trouble understanding how they can always bring so many tomatoes to market for so long during the farmers' market season each year.

In another greenhouse, constructed from the frame of a semi truck, they had bed after bed of a wide variety of greens -- red, green, and
speckled leaf lettuces; multiple varieties of romaine; lots of spinach; and even lambs' quarters (a weed to them but edible greens to me!). I enjoyed educating the Lady Bountiful on lambs' quarters and may have even planted the seed of having her bring some to market to sell, but in the meantime, I offered to weed several sprouts of the plant from her beds, as long as I could take them home and eat them.

Maybe she took pity on me, foraging for greens that she considered merely a nuisance, but she generously offered me a couple heads of fresh lettuce (including some for My Wonderful Parents) and cut them on the spot.

That's only two heads of lettuce, Dear Readers! But it's typical of the generosity of this farm family, and it's part of the reason why I am so proud to support them this year -- even beyond the farmers' market -- by being one of their first CSA members. They decided to start CSA subscriptions this year and have had few people putting down deposits, so it will be a real learning year for them and their business. But I figure that $500 for 20 weeks' worth of really good fresh produce, probably more than enough to feed My Wonderful Parents as well as me, is a bargain.

I'll still visit them at the farmers' market, though. My CSA pickup will be on Wednesdays, and the market remains a Saturday morning ritual for me, so in addition to my Market Updates this year, I'll have a series of posts on what I get in the CSA box each week. I'm very excited!

After a lengthy visit with them, we left carrying two big flats of over two dozen potted herbs (for my garden, for my folks, and for a couple of other gardens I wanted to coax along this year), a bag of lambs' quarters, all that good lettuce, and as much generosity and goodwill my farming friends could share.

It's a great start to the growing season... both for them and for me!

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