Thursday, March 26, 2009

What to do with all that local produce...

I found an entertaining article on today about one woman's experience with her CSA. Although author Catherine Price said she's a big fan, she said she often feels guilty about not using some of the produce she gets. Here's a link to the article itself: The Locavore's Dilemma.

As humans, our biology dictates that we get tired of eating the same thing, over and over again, so it's natural to experience some "dietary fatigue," especially during the winter months in California, where, if you're trying to eat locally, you end up with a lot of different broccoli dishes.

In Southern California, we're very much blessed with a climate that's conducive to growing a variety of fruits and vegetables year-round. Although that's a great thing about living here, our access to that range of great local produce, and all those supermarkets, makes us pretty spoiled when it comes to our dietary choices. When I start getting tired of the produce selection I have access to locally, though, I think back to my childhood when the only kind of salad I knew of had four ingredients: iceberg lettuce, cucumber, carrot slices and cherry tomatoes. In the summer to shake things up we'd add some sliced bell peppers.

Now I'm not saying that in the middle of winter you should force broccoli on your family day-in, day-out. But I think the author of that article has a real point in that trying to "cover up" vegetables with sauces and bizzare ingredients when you're experiencing "dietary fatigue" can actually make you sick of them faster than if you had used them in recipes that make them a central ingredient. Her conclusion was that she was really trying too hard to be creative with her vegetables and decided instead to focus on recipes that "complemented and highlighted" their natural flavors. Of course if you want to put broccoli stem slices on your ice cream to "liven things up," who are we to stop you?

A couple of things about Yard Famer with respect to this topic. First, our customers all prefer different types of fruits and vegetables. Because of this fact, the more customers we have, and the more local produce we're growing, the wider the range of produce we can offer customers in the Yard Farmer network.

Second, if you're getting sick of something, please let James or Noah know. Part of Yard Farmer's service is to provide (within the limits of the climate and growing season) what you and your family are interested in eating. James will be happy to tell you about your seasonal options. It does take time (sometimes a long time) to grow new fruits and vegetables, so if you are interested in some specific things for a given season, contact James or Noah well in advance, and I mean months, of when you want to be eating something.

Third, we're going to be posting more recipes on here in the future ourselves, but if you have any types of produce you'd like to know how to cook, let us know, and we'll test some recipes and post the results here on the Yard Farmer blog.

Next up will be a couple of recipes, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gone With The Lawn

You've probably heard that California has entered into a state of drought. Gov. Schwarzenegger has declared a state of emergency, meaning that water rationing could begin in towns and cities that can't reduce their current water usage by 20%. The Long Beach Water Department has been extremely progressive over the past decade in consistently reducing the amount of water we use each year -- but there is more work to do.

You don't need Yard Farmer to convince you that lawns are out of style. Everyone knows that water-thirsty lawns bring with them the attendant noisy lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and weed whackers that destroy the peace and quiet and spew pollution. Plus we could be using the same space to grow a ton of organic produce in a far more efficient manner than most conventional farms.

We have developed some cool techniques for removing lawns but there still is no way to take the hard work aspect out of "sod busting." First we bust the sod and remove as much grass as possible with our shovels and our best tools (our hands). Then we cover the area with trimmed palm fronds or mulch from local tree trimmers to keep the grass from coming back.

At this point, it's best leave the land dry for 4 to 6 weeks to allow the sod roots to break down. After we are ready to start watering again, the mulch and compost gives the soil high water retention and our programmed drip irrigation system allows us to irrigate only when and where the vegetables need water. You'll be rewarded with a reduced water bill, a beautiful, diverse farm-scaped yard and plenty of delicious produce. You'll also help out our drought-stricken state and support a return to agriculture that you'll always know is sustainable.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Price of Conventional Agriculture

A fellow Yard Farmer forwarded an article entitled "Politics of the Plate: The Price of Tomatoes," from the March issue of Gourmet magazine, to me today. Given what we're trying to achieve with this business, I thought this was pretty relevant to not only how we're working to change the agriculture business but also to the types of choices we make as consumers.

This article highlights the amount of human misery entailed in conventional farming methods, especially when those methods are performed by migrant workers with few, if any, easily enforcable employment-related rights.

Here's an excerpt:

Immokalee is the tomato capital of the United States. Between December and May, as much as 90 percent of the fresh domestic tomatoes we eat come from south Florida, and Immokalee is home to one of the area’s largest communities of farmworkers. According to Douglas Molloy, the chief assistant U.S. attorney based in Fort Myers, Immokalee has another claim to fame: It is “ground zero for modern slavery.”

Our modern demand for every type of produce whenever we want it for the cheapest price possible puts human beings into conditions we would never even wish on our enemies.

Here's another short excerpt about labor conditions:

For every 32-pound basket you pick, you receive a token typically worth about 45cents—almost the same rate you would have gotten 30 years ago. Working at breakneck speed, you might be able to pick a ton of tomatoes on a good day, netting about $50. But a lot can go wrong. If it rains, you can’t pick. If the dew is heavy, you sit and wait until it evaporates. If trucks aren’t available to transport the harvest, you’re out of luck. You receive neither overtime nor benefits. If you are injured (a common occurrence, given the pace of the job), you have to pay for your own medical care.

The rest of the article goes on to highlight the small gains worker advocacy groups are making, but goes on to describe the uphill battle these groups, and law enforcement, face. The article cites our current food production system, and fierce competition among agricultural cooperatives and companies, as obstacles to real change occurring.

Here at Yard Farmer we don't believe we can change the system overnight. We're in this business with long-term goals in mind, though, and we know it will take the work of many people to really overhaul how food production in the United States works. Yard Farmer customers here in Long Beach will play a minor role in this overall process, but we believe we can help bring about positive change, even if it's on a small scale.

Read the rest of the article when you get a chance. It's enlightening and will make you think twice before you choose to buy "conventionally grown" tomatoes next time you visit the supermarket.