I received these two photos from my CSA (Community-supported Agriculture) farm in the last two weeks. (Photos courtesy of Tipi Produce.)
On the left is a strawberry plant in bloom, coated in ice. On the right is a fresh strawberry from the same patch. On the night of May 29-30, they irrigated the strawberry field to protect it from frost. (For those unfamiliar with this, in the process of changing state from a liquid to a solid, water gives up a lot of heat. This heat is transferred to the plants and protects them from freezing. In the morning, when the sun comes up and the temperature rises, they irrigate to melt the ice.)
A week later they irrigated the same strawberries to protect them from 90 degree (32 Celsius) heat. And, by the way, we are in the midst of a drought and a week plus of 90 degree heat.
For all of that work we got a handful of strawberries this week, though more should be coming in the next week or two. If my rhubarb hangs on, we could have strawberry-rhubarb pie next week. The only thing better than rhubarb pie is strawberry-rhubarb pie. And the only thing better than strawberry-rhubarb pie is strawberry-rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream.
I have been with this farm since they began their CSA adventure. That’s not the whole truth. I have been with this farm since 1975 when I was the produce buyer for the Willy St Co-op, a member-owned grocery store (now three stores) since 1974. (We opened in the fall of ’74, after the growing season.) Back then, there was no organic certification system. We collected affidavits from farmers, in which they would attest to their growing methods. And I would pay surprise visits to farms to verify this.
But back to why I am not a farmer. Besides the fact that the hours are long and the pay is low, there is the chance that that irrigation trick would have failed, and there would be no 2021 strawberry crop. How many crops can one lose before one loses the farm? I’ll take a paycheck.
If a little frost isn’t bad enough, consider the summer of 2018, when fields were underwater. Or the year before that, when corn leaves looked like spears. It was so dry that the plants adapted to try to cut their evaporative losses. As consumers, we want our food. We don’t care about the weather. And we don’t want to hear any excuses when the price goes up due to weather.
For those unfamiliar with CSA, the concept is that a group of member/consumers invest in a farm at the beginning of the season. Our investment helps the farmer to buy seed and meet other preparation expenses during the time of year when there is no income. In turn, we get a share of the crop when it comes in. If there are no strawberries, we get no strawberries. If there are a ton of peppers (as there were last year) we get a ton of peppers. Right now I am seeing a lot of greens, including the biggest head of red leaf lettuce I have ever seen. It is a way for city slickers to feel some involvement – a sense of ownership and responsibility – a connection to the land and an understanding of the food system beyond the notion that food simply appears: whether on the table if you’re young enough, in the refrigerator if you’re a little older, or in the store if you do the shopping.
We take our food for granted. We get mad if it doesn’t look perfect and then we expect it to be grown without pesticides or fertilizer and still look perfect. We expect a food to appear any time of year, even if it is only ripe in another hemisphere at the time. Somehow the notion of “carbon neutral” goes out the window. If I want peaches in January (in North America), by golly, I’m gonna get peaches in January, even if they come from Chile or Argentina.
And we are obsessed with “bigger is better”. I find the need to put quotation marks around the word strawberry when I refer to berries imported from California. The strawberry is not meant to have a long shelf life. It is not supposed to survive shipping thousands of miles. A strawberry is not supposed to be too big to fit in your mouth, and it is certainly not supposed to be hollow if you slice through it. (The berry in the picture above is on the large end of the spectrum, if you ask me.) A strawberry is meant to be eaten now, or chilled quickly and eaten soon. A strawberry should melt in your mouth, not crunch when you bite into it, like an apple.
Now that’s a strawberry!
And it demands to be eaten now.
It lasted a few seconds after the picture.