Nothing—not even genetically engineered organisms—makes me feel more sad about the state of farming in the public conscious than when somebody starts out a question, “I’m sorry to sound like an idiot…”
There are questions I hear over and over again, and questions which annoy me a tiny bit, but there are no questions I don’t want to answer, or at least try to answer. Nobody should feel stupid asking questions about farming. Once upon a time, 90% of the American population farmed. Now, only 2% of us do. Statistically, you are highly unlikely to know much about farming, and that’s okay. I don’t hold it against you. I love that you’re curious, and my absolute favorite part of this work is connecting with people and sharing what I’ve learned and helping them learn something new about the way food is grown and processed in our culture.
Even rhubarb. Especially rhubarb.
1) Is In Good Heart Farm organic?
In short: Yes and no. We follow organic standards and then some, but we do not have organic certification.*
Ben and Patricia put it best here. ”We’re integrating our farm practices into a larger ecosystem, rather than simply omitting certain chemicals or practices. We use human labor instead of most chemical or mechanical controls, we rotate our crops, and we create spaces for beneficial insects and birds, among other strategies.”
1a) Uh, okay, that was more than I wanted to know. Do you spray?
We do not use any synthetic or petroleum-derived pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers on any of our crops or land. In the very rare instance we treat a problem with a spray, that spray is acceptable by organic standards.
2) Are you the farmer?
Nope. I’m the heavily tattooed, rather short, very strawberry blonde apprentice.
That means I live and work on the farm full time, but don’t own any of the business or make any decisions. I play in the mud and sell veggies like a pro, though.
3) Late June through September: Why don’t you have any leafy greens (kale, lettuce, chard, tatsoi, bok choi, spinach, arugula or mizuna)?
Man, this question makes me so sad only because I love that our market wants greens so badly, but when people want greens the most—at the height of summer—is when they are hardest to grow in our NC climate. Greens become bitter and quickly go to seed in our hot, humid summers, so they are crops we grow in early spring and through fall and winter. Trust me, looking back at my blog entries about salad for breakfast makes my mouth water for fall greens.
However, I recommend lots of pasta salads packed with tomatoes, peppers, squash, and cucumbers to get you through the summer!
4) Spring, fall, and winter: How should I cook these greens?
GREAT QUESTION. I prepare all my greens basically the same way: rinsed, chopped, and sauteed with olive oil, onion, and garlic until wilted. For kale and collards I strip the leaves from the stem, add a little water and cook them a little longer, under a lid, until they’re tender enough for my liking (my liking is a bit crunchy). Greens and eggs are a staple breakfast when they’re in season.
5) What can I do with carrot tops?
If you juice, juice them—they’re high in vitamin C and taste very, well, green. Alternately, use them in place of parsley in vegetable or chicken stock.
6) Is that rhubarb?
No. It’s rainbow Swiss chard. It loves pie crust, too, though, if you feel like making quiche.
7) Do you grow rhubarb?
No. Rhubarb likes cold weather and can’t really tolerate our warm winters. I’m bewildered by all the rhubarb questions I get, to be honest. Rhubarb is iconic, and highly seasonal, but who eats it more than once a year, really? Who WANTS to eat it more than a couple times a year? Why are so many people so curious about a plant with poisonous leaves and a tart stalk which everyone only ever eats with strawberries in pie? IT JUST DOESN’T SEEM IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO GARNER ALL THAT ATTENTION.
Sincerely, rhubarb is a great example of a highly regional, highly seasonal food which has been taken out of its season and context. Arguably, rhubarb, like grocery store tomatoes, has lost meaning with its constant accessibility. If you can get strawberries and rhubarb any old time, instead of in a brief, sticky, ecstatic spring rush, what’s the point?
8) I have a garden, and my ____ died. Why?
Growing things, like writing, is hard. It takes practice. It’s also really difficult to diagnose garden problems without knowing what kind of soil, sun, or pests you have. (Mike McGrath does a damn good job, though, and he’s way funnier than me). In short: I don’t know. If you’re serious about gardening, start with your soil. Feed it, weed it, and rotate what you plant. Read yourself some Eliot Coleman. Write everything down. Watch what bugs are on your plants. Spend some time chillin’ with your greens so you know what goes on in their world.
9) Is ____ in season?
If you don’t see it on our table, and I don’t know of anyone else at market who has it, probably not. Here is a tool for finding out what crops are in season in NC.
10) Can I see your tattoos/am I being a creep if I ask to see your tattoos? What do they mean? Where do you get your ink?
I’m always super flattered by questions about my ink; I’m really, really proud of the work done by the artists at Conspiracy Ink Tattoos (Libby does my left-hand colored tattoos and Robin does my right-hand black and white tattoos as well as my piercings). I’m happy to show them off and talk about them, but I think about my ink as illustrating my soul—it would take me years to explain to you what every piece means. And I would happily start telling that story over coffee if you wanted to bare some of your soul, too!
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*My nerdy academic self could talk all damn day about how U.S. organic standards were achieved and what they mean for small farmers, big farmers, and consumers around the world. In brief, labels are useful short-hand, but they lose nuance and meaning in their ease of use. Some scholars argue that those labels are actually really harmful to ideas like “organic” and “fair trade” (and, yes, “local,”) because they make consumers, not governments, responsible for policing the actions of corporations. If that’s a problem, it’s because consumers are not a united, cohesive group and because their options for policing corporations are limited by what those corporations offer to be policed (and how they offer to allow themselves to be policed).