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April 8, 2015

F O R A G E R

 

I’m not certified.

Certifiable, I’m still working on, and the way things are going with the insane amount of noise we have to deal with at the farm since the coming of the RE-PSYCHLOR, I have every expectation of being driven mumbling, frothy-mad with all the crashing, tumbling, and sporadic mashing of bottles and cans in our former paradise. I can hear the chink-chinking in bed at night.

The current certification in question has to do with organic certification. I dropped my certification with California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) at the end of last year because they charged me an eighty-five dollar penalty for failing to prove that one pound of certified organic zucchini seed I purchased from Don Tipping at Siskiyou Seed Company was not genetically modified. I had earlier faxed them a copy of the invoice (since misplaced) and had the fax cover letter to prove it, but they “did not receive the fax”, and because of the carrousel turn-over of staff at CCOF I eventually had to deal with another new hire who had to play by the rules. I lost my invoice -- they lost my fax. Touche.

 

I shouldn’t blame them for not acknowledging my ridiculously long-term service in the anti-GMO fight, or Don Tipping’s convictions and stellar work as a leader in the organic seed movement, but I do, and do so at the risk of being self-righteous, but the matter goes beyond “ You don’t know who you’re talking to, sister.”

You have to have rules, and certification must be neutral and objective. I grow tired of playing the churlish jack-ass, the whiny, complaining geez. (You think it’s an act, but I get to write my own lines!)  In this case, the paperwork and dunning was beyond what should have been required. The event became too tiresome to push along the complaint chain to the supervisor and the executive director and the board of directors. I had no faith in the monolith. Have you read Franz Kafka? You’ll know then.

“ Hey, sister. Did you know I once worked for six years as a volunteer regional supervisor for CCOF 30 years ago, traveling all over Southern California for you and going once a month to state meetings in places like Humboldt and Fairfax all on my own dime? Did you know that every year I helped re-write the standards you use now to make sure frauds like me don’t slip through your fingers?”

No, grandpa. I was not born yet.

(Can you smell the geez yet? It’s like a tuna sandwich you forgot in your car console last week.)

“ Oh, you’re new? The woman I was talking to has taken a leave of absence? Ok. Hope it’s not my fault. Where were we? Did you catch…How much of what I was just explaining…So do you know why I am calling? Yes, yes. The eighty-five dollars. It’s not the money…It’s the nuisance and misappropriation of effort. If I pay you will you listen to me? If I pay you does it matter whether the seeds were genetically modified or not? Sounds like I can pay to make this go away. You understand, but it’s a matter of the billing? My certification will be cleared once I pay?”

I will continue to defend certification indefinitely, because it is for you, not for me, that an independent third-party verifies my public claim of farming without synthetics in a clean setting. I feel that abandoning certified organic will not just expose individual consumers to unfair practices, but set loose the self-serving jackals of the market who would love to make up their own rules and conquer by dividing us.

We all need approval that the certification system provides, because peripheral food producers make claims or imply similar safety characteristics because they want to obtain the higher prices organic producers deserve or secure market share that the organic farming movement created.

I applied to be certified by a smaller, hopefully more patient organization called Demeter. I have been familiar with their work for years and yearn for the community and spiritual connection, confidence and cooperation we once enjoyed years ago before The Brother Commission took over organic.

 

February 25, 2015

 

Was, like a circus rolled into town and pitched their tents next to the little house with the deplorable paint job at 1651 South Rice Road. Periwinkle and lime? The show ran for nigh on eight years, never lacked for clowns and high wire acts and hosted real drama, intrigue, jealousies, even a little intermittent light tragedy to break up the comedy. I can’t count them all but there must have been 23 actors, all told. Quite a few were no-accounts, but they racked up and were nearly all kind.

Was going to be a proper farm school when once we began, with a library and earnest talks broken with incisive question and answer, but the performers hoo-hawed and drank beer instead of drinking in those scholarly formalities because the only time to roll formal was at the end of the day and by the end of the day it’s night with not much day left to play scholastically formal. I frequently thought formal scholasticalization would heighten the value, lift us up from squalid labors. That onion box-drudgery would disappear with organization and intention, kindle purpose among dawdlers. But once that sun starts dipping down low and you’re all nasty with sweat there is not much hanker remaining for a lecture. You dream of sipping. Then you step out on Jones patrol seeking cold ones. That’s a hanker you must respect. As a teacher, I was not too doctrinaire.

We tended to cover the subject matter designed for the course while working anyway. There’s always disease to prevent.  And when there’s weeds at your feet there is no better teaching moment to pontificate and over all that weeds tell, better, then, than some power point weed show. Technology’s limitations are as legendary as extension cords can be short. There’s no blurry back of the room darkness in the patch. I never saw anyone nod off holding on to a hoe. There is nothing to learn in the shade. You’ll deeply absorb what’s up with weeds when staring them right in the eye and respect them then for the lazy terror they are. I heard one so-called student say that she thought she heard the weeds growing in the row next to her while she knelt and I will defend that insanity because I have heard the roar of their roots piercing miles of soil in unison. To be humbled by their uncompromising imperative is also to have been educated about the real wild. Even our own plants have gone over to the dark side. I murdered hundreds of arugulas yesterday, just before they set seed. And few know how defiant rainbow chard can be.

One of the chief lessons taught by weeds is that there has to be some better occupation than farming. Even the lowly plumber, on hands and knees, plunging a stranger’s toilet, is paid much more handsomely than the menial dirt artisan, with her wretched pile of greens wilting away in the noon-day sun at a farmers market. Wes, who was the best farm hand not born in Mexico I ever employed, is too smart to farm. He’s best at managing his time, which is our chief existential asset, and he figures he’d rather make ample cash as a workplace mercenary than pray all day on his knees to the merciless god Vega, Lord of the Low and Buggy. Dillon “Dancer” Schepps was cut from that cloth. He’d rather assure that winsome digital starlets are found in just the right light than spray the dirt off the beets. We are talking Hollywood here, pure and supple. Don’t have to explain to that mutha twice.

Compost College attracted its measure of wandering students, rolling from campus to campus to learn the same thing. I always told them: stop practicing and get out there and start making your own mistakes. I only worked for one farmer for six months and that was enough training. Now I remember how Ken Kamiya laughed at me when I told him I thought I wanted to be a farmer. He thought it was funny not because I was not fit for it, but because Vega had scored another believer, despite all reason. I should have been more subtly dissuasive myself with the poor saps who have been drawn to the mean triviality of rodent control, pipe repair, box scavenging and the evanescence of capital. Fonteyn is chief among the doomed. I just sold him a used tractor and so sealed his fate. Wiley also has no choice, but at least promises to live up to his name while pretending to be free. Herzog shifted sideways, and for Surfrider teaches the urbans how to save the sea by keeping the dissipation of human kind out of it. Quinn wised up and sells somebody else’s seeds instead. Such decisiveness probably can’t be learned, or I would have some by now. Katy “O” is rounding the bend on her doctorate in Anthropology, making cheese in Denmark and asking hard questions about the unutterable fate of cows. Cheech is rolling back to revolutionize the ‘hood, one cilantro seed at a time. Fran”ches”ca Reynolds, who will have a banana named after her one day, is flying back to New Zealand to convert her parents to have faith in Vega. Poor Nitana seems irretrievably converted. It may be too late for an intervention.  

 

 

 

Then there were the vagabond WWOOFERS, mostly barking up the wrong tree. I told you once about Frenchy, Tex and The Apache. But I can’t tell you how I got rid of Frenchy. I did it out of chivalry, I swear. I never knew I was capable of such devious subterfuge. But I got him on a plane to Paris and he never came back. Never even Facebooked us, and that’s the real measure of private-sector deportation. Unctuous Ray, that bicycle poet who never rode and never typed, disappeared into the Texan haze. He was so good at being good for nuthin’ that it made him admirable. He was so cake-taking weird he had no friends but few detractors because he roled like Shakespeare’s Puck, albeit with with fangs. Abraham Ruiz crushed Ray’s tent one morning with the tractor and it was no accident, but Ray just moved under the oak trees. Eventually I figured Ray was just pretending to want to date girls but was instead infatuated with me.

If you’re straight, ever had a gay person lust after you? Have you been on a job site surrounded by Phillips head screws and all you got is a pair of pliers? Ever surfed with your fin broke clean off? Tried to sleep in a wet sleeping bag? How about a wet sleeping bag filled with ground squirrels? Picked up an expensive book in a foreign country and on the airplane flying home discovered you bought the domestic version printed in Vietnamese instead? It’s kind of like that time when your friend’s wife took your jacket by mistake and when you put her’s on you realized you were not a size 6 and you felt so weird just before you split the thing right down the back? Take no offense, it’s just strange head space.

The doors will close at Compost College in just a few days and nobody has been physically harmed, poisoned, electrocuted or sued in a court of law. We’re closing her down and giving the keys back to the landlord. Except there are no keys. Not much ever got stolen except a few hours, a Milwaukee Saws-All, two of Wes’ real good surfboards and some two by fours that I probably told Chris he could have but then I forgot. Gotta pull Brian’s old trailer out of the bushes and throw out all my receipts from 1999. Abraham Ruiz’ nephew is going to come get his uncle’s Ford pick up. I don’t see how Abraham can come back up now without risking his life and/or around seven thousand dollars, so maybe we should just start another farm in Mexico. I saw water down there last month.

The monthlies on the house never panned out. I was paying around 18 hundy with a good bit of it subsidizing the indigent who traded “work” for rent, counting that time as lab hours toward their degree in Vegology. I didn’t have to be told that I’d be better off with real field workers, but I thought I could get by. Mostly I didn’t. You start out with a nice foundation of menial, a layer of sublime sensuality, throw in some heat and a little text messaging distraction and you’ll have an overseer’s nightmare out there on the fourth fairway, Tiger, any way you bake it. And I do mean bake.

And then there is fried: For eight years I paid property tax on property I don’t even own to the County of Ventura, who is the property owner. Sounds like Cantinflas wrote the lease. But have you ever wanted something so much that you were willing to convince yourself things would work out and they did sort of but when you got rid of that ball and chain you could stand up straight and say whew! (?)

Being an incorrigible novice, I was happy to enable the poorly conceived plans of others. Few plan on farming unless their 1000-acre folks sent them to Cal Poly to authenticate their capability. Many took the Lettuce Boulevard off-ramp, mistaking it for the well-considered pursuits found on Architecture Avenue, or even Carpentry Court. When the girls came back from the ECOFARM all dazzled by the prospect of baking bread with their own wheat I blithely gave them spare dirt to experiment on. I warned them about the harvest, but could do nothing in the end to keep them from cutting the wheat from the straw with hand scissors. What mattered was their gumption. Better to stand back when gumption looms in the driveway, bold as a cloudless dawn. I am glad no one shoved reality in my path when my own gumption took hold.

You can’t forget about Corinne! She was one of those Wheaties.   She seemed like any other slick-talking lass from The East, mixing gumption with sociology and spunk. She rolled out into the dewy fields bright and early on harvest days under her Baltimore Orioles baseball cap, snagging radishes on the hot corner like Brooks Robinson in his prime. She had a steady chugging patter, almost always about food and who needed it, keeping us rapt and bent at the waist over those radishes until the last bunch was boxed. She was a formidable beguiler with sass and wit. When she went off to chase her boy I thought that was the end. She’d played the dilettante farm girl with the dirt bags and hicks, now she’d wait tables in Bel Air and try to transfer to UCLA. But no, she’d maintained her gumption, I learned not long ago, still trying to untangle the urban farming scene in Los Angeles while managing an orchard in Topanga. I’ll send her Cheech and oh what a collision of intention that will be. Stay tuned for graduate tales from downtown.

-- 

 

Steve Sprinkel

October 22, 2014

 

F O R A G E R

 

(A Special Sneak Preview from Edible Ojai)

 

22 October 2014

 

I eat all day. I grow professionally-scaled food and eat a lot of it the minute I see it. Chomp. I have a grocery store full of peanuts, apples and salty crackers. Crunch. We own a Mexican restaurant and gourmet bakery. Munch. Ben and Meg bake bread every Thursday. At any given time I own as much as 12 pounds of organic butter. Sounds good, eh? Hot bread from a wood fired oven covered in melting butter? Crunch. I am surrounded by so many caloric opportunities it’s a wonder I am not as big as a Subaru four-door hatchback.

The informed public knows that breakfast is ballyhooed as the day’s most important meal. Conversely, night-snacking will yield nothing but ephemeral guilt and girth for your waistline. I usually think I have no time for breakfast and claim I never eat it unless I am on vacation and can enjoy the luxury while waiting to do next to nothing. But while dawn-treading at work, if I set myself before a wide swath of ripe, sweet Italian peppers or bent over a line of crispy cucumbers I am within reach of a breakfast that is as distinctive as it is healthful. Did you know you can eat the hearts of two heads of Romaine lettuce at six-fifteen in the morning and feel satisfied for over 45 minutes? Did you know that arugula is not just fit for a fancy salad eaten on the posh? I shove wads in my mouth all day. The list of vegetative foods that can not be eaten raw is short: eggplant, artichokes, potatoes. If you want to nitpick about the rutabagas going unmentioned, just cook some up for revenge. They accumulate arsenic.

Plowing through three ears of raw sweet corn on my way down the row is a heavenly routine. These are the nuggets the ear worms were murdering already, so, just in case you work for the IRS, I want you to know I keep track of everything I eat and tax myself brutally for every bite. The overreach sounds whimsical but it’s true my dears, oh so true.

You have marveled at the wonders of the fresh, no? You wait patiently for your own tomatoes to ripen, intellectually fulfilled by your devotion to modest self-sufficiency, but it’s the taste-buds that are running the show. You didn’t know you think with your mouth, and it is true that many open their mouths without thinking, but test your cerebrum against the allure of a plate of hot French fries some afternoon and see if you can talk your mouth out of attacking the whole pile. Oh, the remorseless gullet! Fresh tastes best and, thereafter, yields a mysterious rush of energy and mental activity nearly akin to enlightenment. The whole body now responds to the just-picked vitality of raw green beans! These are the sensations awaiting you when consuming your own backyard vegetables at home. Since I live everywhere I go, feeling quite at home nearly all the time, opportunities for educated, even sensational, consumption are offered randomly at every turn.

Except perhaps at the irredeemable tables of the pot luck. The traditional pot luck enables the bringing of home-cooked dishes to the home of the host where bowls of cold casserole, dip, and overdressed salads, all tasting much the same as the other, stare at you from atop the checked table cloth like a visiting aunt whose name you can never remember at the right moment. You plop your crostini or your marinated radicchio and smashed olive salad on the table cloth and wonder why you made that when you might have imagined how many 7 year-olds were going to be in attendance who do not relish radicchio. And the cold crostini. Well, after enough alcohol all these discardables will be endowed with desirable qualities everyone except my wife will succumb to.

People, and we know many of them because we run a public house, think I must live like the Prince of Monaco because my wife is a professional cook. No doubt people, the same sorts aforementioned, might be jealous of the broad pallet of consumables I haul home so my applauding wife can create a daily masterpiece. Though this scenario takes place often, sometimes to obtain the certain civility and camaraderie that home-dining provide, my wife is often exhausted from cooking all day, surfeited from all the knowledgeable tasting and mindless nibbling that food preparation entails. She is, as they say in Ventura, “done in the kitchen.” Say you’re a plumber. When you get home, the last thing you want to do is unbolt the toilet from the floor. Say you’re a lawyer. The last thing you want is for your cheapskate neighbor to come over for some free advice. You just sat down with a tall boy and now you have to talk liability at kick-back thirty? It’s like that for Olivia Chase. She’s kind of had it already with the knives and simmering, you know? I may offer (not often enough) to whip something up, or at least chop, prep and contribute to the civilizing efforts of meal-making at our own address. These thinly veiled efforts are blatant but not false, and Ms. Chase accepts the gesture with graciousness, acknowledging that we sit down to relationship.

 

 

 

September 17, 2014

 

F  O  R  A  G  E  R

 

So we won’t indulge ourselves and bleat about the heat.

Instead we take you now to the headquarters of The Environmental Truth Brigade. The ETB was founded in the early 1970s in order to provide a reasonable alternative perspective regarding The Crisis. Forty years ago The Crisis was received as theory and generally ignored. Malthusians and mathematicians interested in the human carrying capacity of the Earth’s resources, and ecologists, oceanographers and atmospheric scientists who postulated that human activity might eventually alter the planet’s temperature made brave stands against the approved wisdom. Decades later the approved wisdom now authenticates what was once poppycock, but we’ve baked the cake a bit too long. The Environmental Truth Brigade called out for years from a wilderness on the outskirts of Denial, barely heard amid the printing of money and the drilling, hidden by the smoky belchings, far removed from the mechanical ravagings of wilderness and beguiled by the blasé pursuit of genuinely unnecessary stuff.

However, these truths the Brigade insisted upon were true in 1974 and that was the year, unfortunately, that vast and authoritarian changes were needed. As if! 1975 was mathematically too late! The key argument centered on population. The Brigade acknowledged that altering the drilling and the belchings and mechanical ravagings of the wilderness and end the accumulation of mountains of discardables was probably not feasible. Too many demands to make. Too many arguments to create, when there was one really big solution. If there were just fewer people, then they would do less damage.  The Pope didn’t get the memo.

 

 

 

September 3, 2014

F O R A G E R

3 September 2014

 

Five or six weeks of early inertia seems to have yielded a

 

whole season of below average missteps, surprises and plain disasters. With the well down, not having our normal supply of water precluded many cultural activities and we were obligated to farm somewhat on the fly and without as much deliberation as normal. Tillage suffered, and, as you no-doubt fathom, when your tillage suffers one inherits a string of difficulties. Compaction leads to puny roots and if thy roots be puny thy crop will suffer. Without water, we  could not move the soil around as we liked without raising brown clouds of undesirable evidence of unprofessionalism and carelessness. We can be bold, but never brazen.

We give ourselves a strong C- on the melon, a D on the main season cucumbers and a B on the summer squash. The squash started out with an abundant torrent of nice food. Early, too. We were so proud of having zucchini at the end of April that we neglected to replant it in June. Perhaps the drudgeries affected our desire to plant more squash, because to plant it is to condemn one to pick it. And pick it. And pick it some more. There is a lot warm weather stooping involved and the branches be prickly enough to draw blood. The melon really showed what soil compaction will provoke: the stand failed to receive and hold water and just punied up. We lost faith and let the nut sedge ravage it as do the hordes at Mondos Beach on a Labor Day weekend. You who witnessed last year’s watermelon tsunami will agree that this year’s offering was barely a gesture. Sweet, gratifying, but there wasn’t a backbreaker among the lot. Next year. Oh next year we’ll whopper the hell out of those Mountain Sweets, you betcha.

The green beans have been a success because they had to be. They were weeded and watered and harvested well and the gladness was given. We determined that something must achieve greatness in our summer of disappointment. The rounds of summer lettuce have of course been nothing less than genius. Genius and daring, somewhat reminiscent of one of Marat’s cavalry charges during the early Napoleonic Wars, when spiteful, fearful monarchies sought to undue the Revolution. Marat’s horsemen did not intend to vanquish the Austrians, only to distract them enough so that they remained ignorant of Bonaparte’s cannons being wheeled into place.

Then the Corsican let loose fusillades of corn and cherry tomatoes, stopping the antiquated Austrians in their tracks. They had forgotten to bring along butter and salt from Vienna for the corn raining down on them and they errantly thought they had already consumed enough cherry tomatoes during the contest but when more baskets were placed in front of them they could not resist. The chopped basil lavished on the tomatoes made their retreat from Jena less miserable. Lacking fire, they ate the corn raw for the first time as the cannons boomed at their backs and learned why their forbearers had always insisted on barely boiling the ears before munching. The stuff is easy to overcook, mein Freund.

I assume that the prolonged harvest of Red Bor Kale has provided satisfaction to some and the recent entrance of some rather nice chard in the Dog Days has given cause for some to raise the woof. Whenever I go down to Suncoast Nursery to pick up the certified organically produced plants I have ordered I always ask Lucio, the manager, what transplants lie lingering in the shadows therein that some overly ambitious farmer elected to abandon. Sometimes my zeal leads to foolishness, whereupon I recklessly planted 800 feet of Charantais melon last year and used half of them for target practice. You ate the rest. But I have lucked into quite a few modest brilliancies, like the fine chard before you now. When Lucio offered 1200 Red Russian Kale Plants at a low, low price I intuitively knew that planting them in advance of the Bagrada infestation just around the corner would be naïve. Oh how right I was, because with the onset of late summer the Bagrada infest again by the scad. They’re on the corn, and the cabbage. They’re sucking the life from my late kale and even sample the basil. But they have taught me well to plant something else and walk away from the nasty, merciless savagery they inflict on anything they choose to lay upon, thick as sesame seeds on a Farmer and Cook side salad.

Feast while ye may because we are turning the corner now early into weeks of scarcity, or in any event, the end of summer’s seed-bearing abundance. The eggplant has been resplendently productive, while the tomatoes have suffered the blight early and late. The Green Zebras are an endangered tomato, as are the Peche and the Jubilee. Oh the Jubilee! Orange bombs of nearly seedless perfection in most years, but during this season nothing more than a faint, receding glow of what was once a fine promise and now lies discarded in the dirt for the ever-threatening murder of crows.

July 23, 2014

F O R A G E R

 

 

Who needs an asteroid when Humanity can destroy the planet all by itself?  Scientists theorize that a celestial impact event caused the implied mayhem we note in fossils of sea creatures buried far above the level that water might ever have reached, the disarming presence of petroleum at 35,000 feet below the surface created by vast tonnage of suddenly deceased zooplankton, massive diversity die-offs in the Permian period 300 million years ago, the remains of millions of insect species that perished then. It’s so self-centered of us to merely mourn the sentient life extinguished by the great gas-off in the Siberian Stairs eons ago. What about the little shrubs? Was any psychotropic botany lost? Now you feel cheated.

We’re accelerating through space fast enough to unload the same kind of unfathomable planetary destruction, riding our own accident into the haze. The various environmental burdens we blithely measured for the past few decades have gone exponential while we have been negotiating modest interventions aimed at slowing down the catastrophe. There are too many people willing to say it’s even too late to counteract the damage done.

Stop promising us about the wondrous carbon emission levels we’ll see in 2025, Ford-Mercedes-Toyota. There may not even be a 2024! I haven’t read much of George Monbiot, the UK Guardian’s truth teller and author of Heat (2007), but back then he was optimistic. Now he’s losing it. He recently wrote: “ To succeed is to destroy ourselves. To fail is to destroy ourselves. That is the bind we have created. Ignore if you must climate change, biodiversity collapse, the depletion of water, soil, minerals, oil; even if all these issues were miraculously to vanish, the mathematics of compound growth make continuity impossible.”

At least there is still celery.  And papalo!   While there is still time, at least we can indulge in some feel-good food. And the beverage! A nice stiff one. I still need to try this recipe out, but based on the ingredients it has to work: Take the massive papalo bunch, take all the leaves off (small stems are OK) and put them in a blender with a bunch of peeled garlic, a cup of sour cream, maybe some red onion salt and pepper. Now turn the Waring all the way up to EXACERBATE and create. If you are quite done, thank you, with steaming the kale or marinating it for salad, this is a good dipster recipe for kale’s raw use too. But don’t contaminate the papalo! Papalo must remain pure. No kale in the papalo puree. Add more salt later to taste. You never take it out once it’s in. While we’re waiting for the slow, or perhaps sudden unlive-ablity of the biosphere (quick might be preferable), using the celery as a utensil to scoop with will provide us with another means of crunching through this remorseless vegetable. When will it end? People have been leaving them aside lately, which is to be expected. Even the holy kale, gift of summer is discarded now and then. Somebody is so over the kale. But no telling how long the kale will survive because the dread Bagrada Hilaris  is now observed en masse. But it’s whacking the arugula I planted to surprise you with, which should not come as any sort of surprise. That is, that the insects should prefer what we want most. I wonder if they will discover the cabbage? They will ruin the radishes too, so we may have to pull them prematurely.

Guess I will just have to plant more C-E-L-E-R-Y.

Then in the winter we will be able to blend up some cilantro or parsley with the sour cream instead of the papalo. Bagrada doesn’t like cilantro, as I have noted far too many times.

What you have in your CSA Share today is the photo negative image of April 27th. The Day The Well Died. On that day I had to stop planting anew and maintain what was already planted with the meager irrigation available through the hose bibs of Help of Ojai and our great benefactor, The Ventura County River Water Disctrict, who gave me a one-month exemption in order to provide you some carrots and beets. Those are now passed. New ones do grow, but delayed. But we did save the celery and the papalo of course, and nurtured the eggplant and what looks like a modesly successful tomato crop that refuses to ripen. Soon it must, mustn’t it?

When the well broke, we set aside more zucchini and postponed the cucumbers. We just planted our sweet corn a few weeks ago, can you believe it? Melons look promising. Sweet peppers will no doubt thrive. We have dependable chile peppers, but you don’t need to worry. I will never put the chile peppers in the box.

July 16, 2014

F O R A G E R

 

Talc. Such a miserably dry word. Just pronouncing it makes you thirsty. Talc describes the soil as it flows out behind the tractor while pulverizing the earth in order to dominate it a little longer with some instant agriculture. Rip it with tough metal tines, throw a bit of magic soybean meal on it and walk a big fat rototiller over the bed with the force of 64 horses churning the stuff to dust like a Hamilton Beach blender turned all the way to OBLITERATE.

Now plant a few thousand tender transplants into the talc, lay on some sadly disposable plastic tubing and watch the rain that fell in 2010 drip-drip-drip out the teensy holes, the water spreading out into a contiguous line all the way from the well to the tender roots now embedded in the powder of the season.

Should I refrain from reminding you continually of the doom? I’m always returning to the morbid portent of running out of water and the habit must seem self-indulgent. Of course someone should bleat about the inevitable calamity of dry taps sucking air in unison down every fresh street and throughout orchards and plantscapes. Perhaps not. If the severe and unthinkable end of water is unavoidable, is there reason to warn? The lake will shrink into a muddy puddle sooner or later. Perhaps we should all wash the dust of our vehicles one last time before packing up and driving away. I am sorry to do the math, but the math is unavoidable. If we are three to five years into a serious drought and three years of serious rain are needed to erase the deficit, it seems that we are depending a little too heavily on the coming rainy season to float us back up to peace of mind.  The smart people, those bleaters woefully warning that 18 months is the maximum water storage available for Southern California, have been doing the same math.

Officials are right to advise conservation. But should The Gov lay all the responsibility on poor Gwen and Glenn, who have decided to only wash their children every other day unless they are wretchedly filthy, and painted their names with finger nail polish on water glasses so they can drink and then store the glasses without unnecessarily washing them repeatedly and spent a small fortune on mulching their back yard. When Gwen couldn’t find her car in a big parking lot last week her companion asked her what color it was and Gwen couldn’t remember. “ It’s sort of a dusty-coppery-gray, or was it blue?”  She gave up and came back with Glenn at 11 PM when the lot had cleared out and her dusty-coppery car ( not blue) was more obvious.

Shouldn’t Big Boy cut back? Why does Little Boy always fight the war? The local water districts are not distributing water meters until the drought ends.

 

July 9, 2014

F O R A G E R

 

Good old Papalo. Can’t keep a good weed down. He was rangy and root-bound when he arrived here from Don’s, but he’s bursting with some good old-fashioned Bajio goodness, a fresh, not unpleasant but obscure Zapotec treat to chew on. You’ll know Papalo when first you lay eyes on him because many have never seen the herb before. Then the taste will underscore the exotic. Truth is, people claim Papalo cures the common cold, or at least prevent it. Eleanor boasted that it made her smarter but I don’t know how she can tell because she’s already pretty smart.

I could say something melodramatic, like, “This is what a drought looks like”. Or…”Papalo….goes well with some roasted, crushed acorns, a little kelp and some free range sand crabs.” The sand crabs are early and plentiful this year. Wait until they blow up in size though. Right now they are barely big as your baby fingernail, but give them time to scavenge about in the surf break and they’ll reward you with easy-to-catch and easy-to-eat satisfaction. Not that we are desperate. Though we should at least pretend we are desperate, because we are, blindly, even though the automatic sprinklers are still firing away on perfect lawns and Rosie Conklin can hose down her driveway like we just had a winter full of cloud busters and boulder crunching torrents. But does it matter if Rosie squirts her asphalt? Should we Gestapo each citizen-snitch so nobody will water a fern lest the water gendarmes haul us before the tribunal of public scorn and brutally Thumbs Down us in the Ojai Valley News? Should we abandon our holy mission at the Farmer and The Cook to serve everyone on washable plates and start shoving burritos at people on paper? Thumbs down to people with thirst! Thumbs Down to crockery and stainless! Thumbs Down, Thumbs Down, Thumbs Down!

Sorry Gwen, but what with the drought you have to either drink out of this paper cup or put your mouth under this spigot. Hold still and Dusty will turn the handle for you. She’s one of our designated quenchers.  Remember to savor, Gwen, don’t gulp. And your dog can’t have any water either. He’s got to drink at home where nobody can see him.

Yes, this is what a drought looks like. I don’t believe we have ever observed such scarcity of produce before. Sure, we got some carrots, some beets, the rest of the potatoes and onions. Even illegal celery. I say illegal because it is against the law to grow it in Ventura County during the summer because we are in a Celery-Free time period. “ Growers* are supposed to lay off the celery for a few months so bacterial disease will not be harbored into the fall. And you know about celery in the fall. Think stuffing. Imagine a big old bronze turkey crammed with celery-infused stuffing. I’ll bet you can smell it even. Yummy stuffff-ing….

If the bacteria kills all the celery in Oxnard then there will be no stuffing, unless you want to use Papalo instead. But that would take half the thanks out of Thanksgiving. What would you do with all your cheese spread too, if there was no celery? But I am not too worried about contaminating the Oxnard Plain just because I have a few hundred celery plants struggling in the heat. It’s a mighty far waft for the alleged celery bacteria to blow all the way down there-against the prevailing sea breeze, I will remind you. But don’t tell the celery police about my contraband celery or they’ll send a SWAT Team up here in camouflage and helmets to yank the crop out of the ground like they do the Mary Jane.

You don’t know how many people have suggested that I should grow the Mary Jane here. Are they crazy? Guarding against the crows is bad enough, but can you imagine the load of trespassers I would engender if I grew that stuff? Celery is illegal enough for me. They also suggested I could grow the hemp, the rope-dope that’s had all that buzzy THC wrung out of it. They say hemp’s drought tolerant. Yeah, in Nebraska and Iowa where it rains in the summer, ya freaking hop-heads!

 

 

* I have never been called a “grower” though the news media calls me that because I “grow” things for a living.  The term “grower”, when used in common speech, almost always refers to a Marijuana farmer. They even call his farm a “grow”….  as in,  “ I heard the Sheriff busted a big grow up in the Dick Smith Wilderness last week.”

 

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June 24, 2014

People tell me their gardens won’t grow. First thing I ask is about trees. Trees throw shade, which is perhaps their most valuable service, and the eggplant wants lots of sunshine. Just as important to note is that the trees drink water. They are never slaked. They’re out there now guzzling it all up. In the summer, after the kind of dry winters we have had, the trees are sending their roots to prowl further out, deeper down, coiling about furtively, probing perhaps for an old sewer line to invest. That’s their favorite source after a creek or a farm. For trees, there is nothing finer that an old clay sewer pipe full of water and fresh, wholesome effluent that their roots can curl up in.

I have mighty stands of oaks on the farm, mesmerizing, three-hundred year-old mots that crush the sunshine during the day. These babies are three feet thick at the base and wander outward defying gravity in an effort to gather in more light. Out, out they stretch until their reach has exceeded their structural capability to support that much weight over such an extended horizontal distance. Down they come. It’s the only thunder we get nowadays. One fell over and put some serious hurt on the chain link fence by Rice Road this week. Bent two poles in half too. There’s one on Baldwin near Rice reaching out over the highway that’s coming down in slow-motion. I have been watching it for seven years, expecting it to land on the hood of my truck as I drive under it.

When I showed Wes the tree that came down over the fence I said: “ See now! I told you that they like to come down in the Summer. That’s why you need to be careful where you pitch your tent under these trees.”

He’s a mountain climber so he put his tent under the oaks anyway, but in a more judicious location than previously contemplated. He must like to keep his danger topped off. I have heard (however I may have just as surely made it up) that the oaks crash down in summer because their roots do too good a job of delivering water to their thirsty leaves, and water can be heavy. The leaves are out there panting like an Iron Woman contestant in Kona, slammed by the heat and significantly short on moisture. The roots, tirelessly working way down below like boiler-room teams used to on the old ships (you have seen the game, grimy lads fiercely shoveling coal so the Titanic can break that Atlantic crossing time record…) are bound to deliver the life-saving fluid to the leaves or all photosynthesis will cease. And the truth is, if you have run out of photosynthesis you may as well pack it up and say good-bye. So these roots are the unsung heroes of all life, to put it mildly.

On the east side of the farm, the oaks are jammed in all over the embankment, flexing out of the quarry stone piled up under Rice to keep the road from collapsing down the hill. I used to farm as close as I could to that edge. But the oaks own that sector.  I have a six-inch water line running parallel to the road and the oaks, with a turn-around there for the tractor. But there is no point in farming very close to those thieving oaks. I swear I can hear them slurping at midday, like somebody finishing up a smoothie with a straw.

Evaporation is relentless. We tend to ignore it all too often, but if you had 1.5 million leaves all over you they would act as 1.5 million post-it notes, reminding you to drink more water.

I always lose a good ten feet of whatever is planted near to the oaks, especially celery or broccoli. They’re known as “thirsty” crops. Two hundred feet down the line the celery will be thirty inches tall and broad. Up by those greedy oaks, specimens of that same generation look as if they were planted a month later. So I have been scooting west now to escape the oak tree’s roots. But they’re following me like a downtown pick-pocket. Seems like I move over a bit, thinking my crop will be safe from them, and within a month or so the zucchini up there is not as robust as its brethren further on. No love lost there though, if you have ever had the pleasure of maintaining two thousand feet of summer squash in a burdened market. The oaks can take all they want. Even the charity is probably getting crushed by all my summer squash, but they have to accept the gift. At least somebody has some manners left on this petty hell-hole.

Pardon me, earthly Paradise. 

 

June 12, 2014

F O R A G E R

 

11 June 2014

 

It’s no use ranting about the random ‘Trails crisscrossing this mighty continent, a huge secret hiding in plain view. You’d think by now some Specialist 7 out in Lancaster would have got all drunked up one night at Mamie’s Bar and Grill and spilled the beans about all those canisters the spooks make him load in the fake airliners at Edwards Air Base. You’d think by now Edward Snowden would have revealed the horrors he uncovered while perusing the clandestine promise of Weather Enhancement. I can’t imagine anyone with any authority, be they from F’rack Obama’s White House, George Bush’s or George Clooney’s, who will suddenly come clean about the deadly sky doodles creeping us out. Besides, don’t you think these symptoms could be due to sunspots? Those things are rampaging now and sunscreen won’t help. Mercury is also in retrograde, to make matters more complicated. Don’t sign anything or get married until Mercury churns right. Ok? Factor in the full moon and you have ample reason to remain wary of Hurricane Cristina, dancing west of Puerto Vallarta and probably headed our way because of the dreaded…..Chemtrails.

Take those purple potatoes for example. These spuds are not genetically modified and they did not turn purple due to a surplus of ozone-tickling aluminate fairy dust spewing out at 33,000 feet. They are as purple as the day God made them, which was some time ago. They were so much smaller then. God had to make so many potatoes and the fastest way was to make small ones, figuring they would grow up and make Idaho proud one day. If you have ever been to the open-air market in Cochabamba, Bolivia (which is much nearer to God than Ventura County by a long shot) you would have seen colorful pyramid piles of weensy potatoes perched like rainbows on the ground. The potato is the gold of the Quechua; at least the seed is, because not too many edible crops grow on the windswept Altiplano, home to the Irish Potato. You know that Irish bit is absurd. No need to embellish. We gave you the potatoes, harvested by our own little hands this morning beneath the blessed fog, in lieu of Swiss Chard. I hope you don’t pine too fretfully for your chard. We had to give it a rest, whack half of it out of there, weed it, fertilize it and spray on some Mildew Cure.

Zuma said: “ So what’s in the Mildew Cure?”

Zuma had helped me hack at the chard bed all afternoon, all four hundred feet of it. Three lines per.

“ Good Question. I forget but let’s read the label. First of all it is approved for organic production by the Organic Materials Review Institute.”

“ Is that the government?” asked Zuma, beginning to sound doubtful, and rightfully so.

“ No, the OMRI is private. They are accredited by the government to research the ingredients and the manufacturing protocol. But they are not the government. So they’re pretty legit.

“ So what’s in it?”

“ Cottonseed oil, corn oil, garlic oil, oleic acid, lauric acid and sodium bicarbonate. Sounds like some kind of salad dressing.”

“ And it works?

“ Yeah it works better than Neem too.”

 

Today’s Share contains Cabbage, Lacinato Kale, Red Bor Kale, Cilantro, Celery, Beets, Green Onions, Red Onion, Romaine, Summer Squash, Potatoes and Snap Dragons. We are pretty proud of the celery, being that it was grown in Ojai of all places. You may have noted the organic celery is retailing right now above three dollars. Of course, who cares about retail?

By the way, don’t miss the current issue of Edible Ojai and Ventura County, which features Stoke Grove Farm, where our treasured protégés plant between swells. Wiley and the Crew are buried pretty deep in the Grove. Such a crowd of precious young creatures, so excited by nature and willing to stoop for their dollars. Unless they are harvesting oranges. HAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH.

 

 

 

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Steve Sprinkel

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