New Farm 101: I’m Disgusted By Lettuce

Don’t get me wrong, I care a lot about greens. I spend a lot of my work day thinking about mustard greens. How much I can harvest this week–how to keep them ideal baby salad size forever–how to keep the flea beetles away from them–but usually I cook them with bacon. At best, salad is a side dish for this young greens grower.

Supposedly a new farmer’s most profitable crop is salad greens, because they’re easy to grow, quick to harvest, and the most justifiable thing for the common man to buy locally. Baby greens are among the most fragile of food crops and can be grown almost anywhere; it just makes sense to skip the shipping costs and buy a bag of greens that were cut that morning by your neighbor. And yet…I can’t get the common man to care about them. Week after week I watch people swarm the booth for bread samples, and when the bread is gone I find myself foisting salad upon reluctant passerby. My customers are more enthusiastic about radishes than lettuce. Radishes!

I believe partly this is because farmers markets have become (or perhaps always were) places to buy quaint oddities rather than dietary staples. I think most localvores buy their lettuce at Safeway and their lavender lattes at the Farmer’s market. I don’t blame them; the only way I can afford mostly local vegetables is because I spend my summer growing them. Unlike produce markets in poorer parts of the world, American farmer’s markets are tourist attractions more than groceries.

So then how do farmers make themselves more appetizing? Should we fight for rock-bottom prices like grocery stores, competing over who can sell the most cheap and despondent lettuce? I don’t think anyone can beat Walmart at that game.

I’m dreaming up a new strategy, one I announce with a little shame as it acknowledges my flagging lettuce enthusiasm. One of the best and most frustrating parts of this season is realizing how little I can do to change my trajectory with vegetables. Farming is a long-term game; my quickest product takes a month to be ready to harvest. When it comes to increasing profits my hands are tied to the seeds I’ve already planted. But baking bread takes a few hours. And people seem to like it a lot more than lettuce. I see no reason to be aesthetically pure about selling vegetables. Bread and salad belong on the same table, and I believe they encourage the sale of each other. Instead of constantly brow-beating myself for failing to sell my precious mustard greens, what if I started selling cookies, and cheering whenever someone buys some greens with their cookies? Frankly, I believe in eating both greens and cookies, heartily and with great abandon. Where is the line between full-time farmer/hobby baker and hobby farmer/full time baker? The startup business books say don’t get distracted from your goal; build it and the customers will come. But until the carrots and other colorful vegetary oddities are ready to harvest, I’ve got to DO SOMETHING and SAVE THE FARM.

I read somewhere that farmers are frequently jack of all trades. We have to be master gardeners, diesel mechanics, unflappable marketers, fieldwork yoga practitioners, amateur welders, casual inventors, and full-time philosophers. I need to take a crash course on baking. Any masters of the craft willing to be paid in lettuce?

Suspend Your Disbelief: Your New Favorite Spring Vegetable May Be A Turnip.

Not just any turnip. Introducing the Hakurei Turnip, a sweet and crisp Japanese turnip; its light and fruity flavor is finally part of Blue Fingers’ first summer.

I like to take the time to mention these guys because I’ve never seen a vegetable create more faces of surprised delight when a customer tries one. Last week in Priest Lake a customer drove away and then came back a minute later saying she tried one in the car and immediately turned around for more.

Sadly the root maggots got to 2/3 of the first planting, but I’m seeding more now, and this time I’ll see if I can get more to the markets. We’ll hopefully have a steady supply of them from here on out! (Albeit limited quantities)


May I reccomend Miso Glazed Hakurei Turnips, cooked in their own greens?

New Farm 101: Radical Acceptance

I think I like farming because I love catastrophes. I’m not speaking for all farmers, and I don’t even consider myself a farmer yet, but the farmers that I’ve met remind me a lot of EMTs. There’s a lot of dark humor there. A lot of gossiping about horrific accidents. A fair measure of superstitious protections.  And if you’re lucky, there’s also a healthy dollop of tranquil acceptance.

got to find this album

In our first month of farm independence, my co-conspirator Caitlin has been teaching me about Radical Acceptance, which according to Psychology Today means,  “completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and your mind. You stop fighting reality. When you stop fighting you suffer less.”  It also says “Radical acceptance is easier to understand than it is to practice.”

Here are my attempts at practicing radical acceptance.

In my first month of growing food, I built a hoophouse that was supposed to help me sell food a month early; it turned into a mysterious deathbox…everything that I planted in it turned yellow and grew a hunchback. I put some more topsoil in, prayed to the all-seeing all-knowing farm books, and put the tomatoes in it. They’re my most valuable crop, and I know they might die, and I probably don’t know enough to save them. But they might not! Radical Acceptance.

Root maggots got the first batch of radishes. Usually you can beat them if you cover your crops with Row Cover.  But since 90% of my most frustrating farmhand moments have been wrestling row cover, I hoped root maggots hadn’t moved to Oldtown yet and left the radishes uncovered. Now I know better; row cover is an incredible waste of time and energy…but it’s the only thing that can defeat the maggots. Radical Acceptance.

This winter I was riding a wave of big dream realization, and planned after Curtis Stone’s audaciously optimistic farm profit models. Now I have $600 worth of produce, most of which is beautiful, all ready to sell! But as a first year farmer, I’m that weird new kid on the block who nobody wants to be friends with yet. It takes time to build a customer base, so I’m dumping most of those tasty little plants into the compost pile. Everybody says start small and build up! Now I believe them. Radical Acceptance.

This feels a lot like skiing….I planned the perfect route, launched myself over the edge, and am now tomahawking down the hill. But I can’t say I’m not having a good time? It’s gonna be a great story someday. And I know for a fact that this is just the beginning. The seasoned farmers I’ve worked for are kind of like pro skiers…they get good at one cliff, then find a harder one to jump off. I respect that bravery.

The radishes are covered, the tomatoes are surviving so far, and I had two big restaurant orders come in last weekend. Now I might not have enough greens for the next order? Radical Acceptance.