Week 25, 2022｜Kristin Kimball｜June 24, 2022
It’s the solstice week, the time of mighty light, and it’s a green riot out there. The plants have their leaves upstretched to catch all the energy they can. We are three weeks ahead of our usual schedule for corn, tomatoes and peppers. The collards, kale and chard are booming. If you would like extra greens to freeze for winter, let us know and we will harvest any quantity. Strawberries are ripening, and we are racing to pick them. Meanwhile it is the moment we must be most vigilant with the weeds, who gobble light and grow just as fast as the crops do, and most focused on making forage for storage. All of it, all at once. That’s June!
Mark and I and anyone who crosses the threshold of our house these days have been engaged, sometimes forcibly, in a discussion about the future of farming, and what it means for the climate, soil and ultimately, human health. I believe we’re witnessing a great acceleration in a long shift in the way food is produced and marketed. Bill Gates is now the largest holder of agricultural land in the country. Four corporations dominate our American food market. Only 15 cents of every dollar spent at the supermarket goes to a farmer. This week, the New York Times published a piece about the rise of indoor farming, making it sound inexorable. “Vegetables are increasingly being grown indoors, using an advanced and intensive form of growing called controlled environment agriculture,” it reads. Companies are growing this food in “nutrient-laden water” rather than soil. What we know is that the carbon footprint for this type of production is “about six times the carbon footprint of field tomatoes, even after taking into account the diesel emissions from refrigerated trucks that often transport field vegetables hundreds or even thousands of miles to reach consumers.” This climate impact is the easier point to make. The more complex and less researched one is what happens to us when the food we eat is divorced from the incredible live matrix of the soil, with its billion organisms per teaspoon. Big Organic, even, is increasingly a soilless business, since the USDA decided soil is not necessary for the organic label.
Deeper, I think we are seeing a shift in what people recognize as edible, from whole ingredients that come from fields and pastures to, exclusively, things in packages that come from factories. We have come to expect even our produce to be as uniform and consistent and ubiquitously available as a package of McDonalds fries. Those big four companies are very good at making you believe that what they have to sell is exactly what you need. Sometimes I think this is the biggest threat there is to the existence of independent farms.
I understand the pressure to bring food production under control. This is what we humans have been pressing toward for the ten thousand year history of agriculture. Farming is a gamble, and of course we want to stack the deck in our favor. We strive to eliminate the chaos of weather, the exigency of our latitudinal location, the annual swing from dearth to abundance, the tax of pests and disease. The soilless indoor system is the greatest expression of that desire, life itself contained and controlled beyond our hungry ancestors’ wildest dreams. But we also know that there’s a limit to nature’s tolerance for this sort of thing. The harder we crank down on the levers of control, the harder she pushes back, in sometimes unexpected ways.
Mark, who is still stuck in spring ludicrous mode, is as wildly happy farming as he has ever been, but he has been uncharacteristically pessimistic lately about the chances that independent farms will survive in any meaningful way into the next generation. The comments section in the New York Times’ articles about farming this year echo his sentiment. People think independent farms are already dead, or nearly so. They think food production outside of the control of giant companies is going to be nothing but a hobby in the future, something quaint we do after doing our real work at a desk, on a screen, is complete. Or something boutique that will be done only for the wealthy. I disagree, though I admit this is more of a faith-based, not a fact-based, opinion. Yes, the current system destroys independent farms and consolidates power. But I think the real power is widely distributed, in the hands of the consumer. And I believe consumers, over time, will orient toward truth, toward authenticity, toward taste and toward their own better health.
What do these consumers need to know? That giving up total control over nature means tolerating a higher price point. Someone has to pay for all that risk, after all. It means doing more of the prep work in the kitchen rather than leaving it to the factories. It means living with the annual cycle of dearth and abundance, embracing a lack of uniformity, and maybe above all, letting go of the expectation that all foods should be available at all times, in all places, at any season. The future of independent farming is tied to our local and regional cuisines. Eat from your latitude, from food in season, and the need for the 175 acre greenhouse producing iffy winter tomatoes is gone. It’s boring to hear this well-worn message, and nobody likes to have less choice, but from a culinary perspective, I have never been disappointed by a well prepared meal made from whatever is at its annual moment of peak perfection. I am consistently disappointed by meals at fancy restaurants made from food delivered by the Sysco truck. If the local independent farm becomes a relic, the choice between those two options disappears.
If you’ve skipped my solstice screed and dropped down here to the news, I don’t blame you! Here’s what you need to know this week. We are very sorry about Jane’s dairy goats who were harassing members at distribution last week. The chaotic force of goats should not be underestimated, and Jane’s fencing skills are still under development. Happily, eight of the goats are heading to Adam Wilson’s farm in Keeseville next week, leaving her with a manageable three. Last year’s potatoes are too sad to distribute now, even for you diehard potato fans. This year’s potato crop is looking good, and new potatoes should be available in August. Please take care to return your berry boxes so we can reuse them. The price jumped from four cents per box to twenty five cents per box. We still need glass, lids and rings back each week, as the global supply shortage has not yet eased. We are saying goodbye to garlic scapes soon, and looking forward to summer squash and fresh green cabbage in the next couple of weeks. Choices in the meat department are a bit limited this week, as the butcher shop was closed for deep cleaning and most of the crew was very busy in the fields. Pork, lamb and beef are all on the schedule for the coming weeks. And broiler chickens are heading to the field, so we have fresh chicken to look forward to in four weeks. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this solstice week of 2022. Find us at 518-963-4613, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball