Thoughts on Trump, food access & African eggplant by alex redfield

One of the reasons we've chosen to grow vegetables is that we believe that more people in this world eating well-grown carrots and broccoli is a good thing. After all, we think it's pretty clear that the importance of food is undeniable. Being able to get enough food that suits your tastes, your body, and your values often means both better health and a deeper sense of security -- and it's often a prerequisite for managing much else. And in our experience, there are few pleasures greater than sharing a great meal with your favorite people. 

But we're also reminded daily that we're all still operating within a system that doesn't make it easy for everyone to have this kind of relationship to food. It's a system that doesn't prioritize ensuring that all people are fed, and as real incomes continue to stagnate and fall (as they have since the 70's) a lot of people can't afford three meals a day - and certainly not meals made with healthy or locally grown foods.

At the same time, we're working within a wider food system that produces food cheaply, at the expense of farm workers & natural systems. But these are cheaper ways of growing food and we can't match the corresponding bargain-basement prices while using better (& more costly) production methods. So we charge $3.50 for a bunch of carrots. We think it's worth it, but that doesn't really mean a lot to the person who genuinely cannot afford to pay that price.

At the same time, we want food production to be politically transformative - to create opportunities for new and stronger communities to emerge, to provide sustenance for all members of these communities.  We want better agriculture to be good for everyone, not just those of us privileged enough to be able to afford it right now. But figuring out how to make that happen is a challenge that farmers, advocates, and communities have been wrestling with for decades - no easy answers.

Since November we've been feeling that it's especially important - but also especially out of reach. As Trump moves his agenda forward at the federal level -- and Governor LePage continues to attack a lot of what we love about Maine -- poverty and inadequate access to food also grow. (Here's one scary fact: between 2010 & 2014 the rate of "deep poverty" among Maine's children, defined as family income less than $10,000/year, literally doubled. There are 23,000 children in Maine in this category, with only 10,000 of those children receiving TANF - Temporary Assistance for Needy Families - benefits.) 

On top of that, immigrants have become even more vulnerable under our current administration in Washington than they were previously - both because of attempts to establish a travel ban preventing those from 6 predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US, and because of the racist narratives and voices that Trump has magnified and encouraged. Stories from all over Maine of immigrants being targeted, harassed, and made to feel unwelcome are sadly really common. Facing poverty and discrimination makes for a pretty brutal combination.

So, like so many, we've been trying to figure out what to do and how to resist.  So far we've been focused on continuing to read and learn and go to meetings and take to the streets. But we're also privileged: as white people from middle class families, but also as farmers. We are privileged in that we can take on financially risky careers in agriculture knowing that we have back-up. We're able to do work we enjoy and find fulfilling. And we have vegetables.

One way we're going to try act in recognition of that privilege is to contribute some food to a handful of families who are seeking asylum in Maine. We're going to work with Catholic Charities, an agency that provides refugee resettlement services of all kinds, ranging from interpretation to legal services and employment help. They will distribute the shares to people in need who access their services.

Supporting recently-arrived asylum seekers in this way isn't a new idea; Alex's colleagues at Cultivating Community ran a similar program in Lewiston last year and there are probably programs doing just this in other parts of the country. It's motivated by the fact that asylum seekers are often especially vulnerable, as they aren't eligible for the same benefits as other Maine residents. Asylum seekers are immigrants who have come to the USA using another type of visa (student, work, etc) and then claim asylum status once they're here. (Anyone who is physically present in the US or at a port of entry has the right to claim this status, based on the UN Refugee Convention.) Refugees, on the other hand, are those who have fled to a refugee camp elsewhere in the world and then gone through a lengthy refugee application process from that camp. So that means that when a refugee arrives, that person has legal status (as a permanent resident) while an asylum seeker doesn't; asylum seekers are stuck in limbo while their application is processed.  Both asylum seekers and refugees are fleeing from situations that are directly threatening to their safety and both tend to be need help learning English, finding work and adapting to US culture.

Eventually an asylum seeker's case is evaluated and its decided whether or not they are "legitimately fleeing prosecution." But in the meantime, they are required by federal law to wait 5 months before applying for a work permit; and it can take a year (now maybe more) for that permit to be processed. Actually gaining full permanent resident status can take much longer. How do they provide for their basic needs before they're allowed to work? In Maine, a law was passed 2 years ago allowing them to collect General Assistance - emergency funds for housing, medical and other very basic needs - but its now becoming clear that individuals may be cut off from these benefits after 2 years. Since these folks are not able to access other parts of the social safety net - food stamps, WIC (food benefits for women, infants & children), TANF - they would be especially harmed. People with children too young to attend school, disabled people and others unable to work would be left with no legal way to pay the rent. This process is insanely complex and difficult to navigate - often leaving people in situations where they struggle to meet basic material needs of food and housing.

We're excited to grow even a tiny little bit of food for some families new to our community - and we're also excited to share with ALL our CSA members some new vegetables! (Inspired by this initiative.) We're planting a few crops that new Americans may be more likely to recognize & enjoy: African eggplant (also called "garden eggs"), cooking greens (like Molokhia, a super healthy middle eastern green) and African corn (which is eaten fresh but isn't sweet). We'll offer these -probably as "extras" - to our regular CSA members a few times in the summer.

Our goal is to raise funds to cover approximately half of our production costs. We'll see how much money we can raise over the next couple of months and this will determine exactly how many shares deliver weekly. We'll keep CSA members (and other donors) updated on exactly what we raise and how many shares we end up delivering. If you're signing up for a CSA Share, you'll notice a new addition to the sign-up form:  a box where you can tack on a few dollars to your registration fee to make this initiative possible. Non-members (or members who have signed up already) can contribute too! Email us & we'll tell you how. 

THANK YOU so much, in advance, for supporting this new first attempt to donate some CSA shares. We're looking forward to seeing how it works & how we can improve upon it in the future. (And GREAT WORK making it through this very long blog post!)  We'd love to hear from you, too, if you have thoughts on this or on the state of the world.

Love

Hillary and Alex

 

 

"2014 Continues a 35 year Trend of Broad Based Wage Stagnation." http://www.epi.org/publication/stagnant-wages-in-2014/

"Maine's Welfare Policies Have Taken a Turn, with Dire Consequences for Kids." http://bangordailynews.com/2016/03/08/opinion/contributors/maines-welfare-policies-have-taken-a-turn-with-dire-consequences-for-kids/

It's Time to End Child Poverty in Maine. http://www.mejp.org/content/its-time-end-child-poverty-maine#_edn3

Refugees and Asylees in the United States: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/refugees-and-asylees-united-states

"More Maine Children Live in Poverty, Fewer Get Help." http://bangordailynews.com/2016/07/05/opinion/contributors/more-maine-children-live-in-poverty-fewer-get-help-we-should-expect-the-opposite/

 

2016, Gone in a Puff of Smoke by alex redfield

We've tried to be active bloggers at various points of our lives - Alex tried to review rock shows he went to in DC when he was 20 and had no friends, Hillary wrote smart articles about slaughterhouses in Ontario a few years back. As you can tell, it never really stuck. 2017 is a year of new...well...everything, and why not make it a new regimen of frequent and articulate blog posts.

If, by some chance,  you've only followed our farm through this website, let's give you the highlights:

In 2016, we started a CSA. We had really great people sign up and grew some food for them. There were some things that didn't work so well (it was historically dry, our carrots sucked) and things that worked really well (we consumed more watermelon in calendar year 2016 than in the past 5 years put together). 

In 2017, things are kind of the same and kind of different. The same in that we are once again offering a CSA with weekly deliveries of fresh, good produce starting in June. The same in that we're again excited to connect directly with the kind folk who support our farm and support our food through the CSA program. Different in that we're moving to Falmouth, ME to be closer to Alex's dayjob and to find land with good water access and that we're making changes to our crop planning and production methods to do a better job providing a wider range of veggies in each box more efficiently.

We're both looking forward to sharing more about this spring with you through the blog here. Hold us to it...please.

may, gone in a puff of smoke by alex redfield

May, That Month When Everything Must Be Planted Now, has been hitting us hard, but we're holding our ground. We still have seedlings that are more than ready to make the move from trays in the driveway to their new home in the soil, but slowly but surely we're working through getting them in the ground. Despite the dry spring, loads of plants are poking through the dirt and beginning their photosynethic journeys to our bellies: the peas, beets, beans, potatoes, onions, leeks, beans, dill, scallions and more are growing with as much vigor as they can muster. The zucchini's looking swell and the aphids have only eaten some of the fava beans...

At this point in the season, we're really focused on the fun part - planting. Because of our decision (and your decisions!) to move our crops through a summer long CSA, our schedule is a bit different from other small vegetable farms. We're really focused on the CSA season, meaning we schedule our plantings to ripen at a particular date for a particular week's share. Contrast this to a farm that sells at a farmers' market, for example; they want to have spinach every week all season long so that customers looking for spinach will always know where to find it. With our CSA, though, we only want spinach a few times, because...let's face it - 'all spinach all the time' is maybe not the best marketing angle for us. In reality, this translates into pretty precise planting schedules and a whole lot of faith that weather will generally cooperate. We know that the arugula that Hillary planted this morning should be ready for the first or second week, we know that the Georgia Candy Roaster squash (!!) that Hillary is going to plant tomorrow should be ready for the 13th week, and so on for each of the 50 or so crops we're growing and each time they get planted. This means we have some pretty funky spreadsheets, working out when stuff gets planted, how much of it gets planted, and how we're going to compose each week's share throughout the season.

Then again - it's nature. Stuff changes. Sometimes it doesn't rain for four weeks (pleaserainpleaserainpleaseplease). Sometimes you learn that beets need more boron to germinate well and to grow real fast. And sometimes stuff just seems to defy every lesson you've learned and just sit there. So we'll just keep on following the schedule and watching how things develop, making tweaks whenever we can to make sure there's good food ready for everyone when things start up at the end of the month.

We realize that pictures of our crop plan are not the kind of pictures most people are looking for on our blog - but the farm's really pretty right now. So here are a couple gems to hold you over until we can highlight some snazzy produce later this season.

late night deer fence session

late night deer fence session

a good view of the leeks a few weeks back. the black tarp behind them is one of our weed control methods called occultation - essentially you create the ideal climate for weed germination under the tarp (warm, wet soil) so things sprout, but then the tarp is heavy enough to not let any light through, so the weeds die off after all of their stored energy is used up. a great technique for new gardens getting established where grass used to be!

a good view of the leeks a few weeks back. the black tarp behind them is one of our weed control methods called occultation - essentially you create the ideal climate for weed germination under the tarp (warm, wet soil) so things sprout, but then the tarp is heavy enough to not let any light through, so the weeds die off after all of their stored energy is used up. a great technique for new gardens getting established where grass used to be!

 

What's in: ageratum, dahlias, snapdragons, zinnias, cosmos, nasturtium, ginger, tumeric, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, chinese cabbage, leeks, onions, kales, radishes, carrots, hakurei turnips, fava beans, sugar snap peas, filet beans, experimental spring romanesco (cross your fingers), fennel, zucchini, summer squash, spicy salad mix, dill, cilantro, parsley and billions of gorgeous looking garlic plants.

What's this week: winter squash, all of the melons you could ever dream of, cucumbers, eggplant, hot peppers, shiso, buplerum, sunflowers, white dill, and lots more! surprises ahead!

 

 

go flowers go by alex redfield

Today our hyacinth bean seeds germinated and I couldn’t contain my excitement.  I don’t care that I’ve been growing beans since Mrs. Fultons grade 2 class. Or that beans may be the single most straight forward seed to germinate in the world. Or that these seeds were an impulse buy that has very little bearing on the success of this farm venture. Hyacinth beans are different and awesome! They have beautiful flowers! They grow shiny magenta pods that can be eaten like tender snowpeas when young or boiled like a dried bean when mature! It can grow 10-15 feet in a season! And wouldya look at those cute seeds. I can’t keep myself from falling for it.

 

Flowers are really exciting. Really very exciting. They're all so unique and intricate and joy-inducing. But as we’ve been discovering over the past few months, they’re also a little intimidating – at least to us, the relatively uninitiated.  In fact, let this be a warning: if you’ve signed up for our flower add-on and are nervous about not receiving adequate quantities of the flowers of your dreams, please stop reading. The following sentences may serve to exacerbate these anxieties.

I mean, we have a handle on vegetables, at least to some extent. We know our storage kohlrabi and our lemon cucumbers and our heirloom watermelons. But wow, there are JUST SO MANY FLOWERS.  Scabiosa, celosia, amaranthus, anemone , ranunculus, dianthus. Gypsophilla! Centaurea! Statice! Rudbeckia! My mind has been a blur of names reminiscent of scary-sounding diseases and sea creatures, and google is getting tired of my repeated questions … “what does centaurea look like again?” and “how many goddam days til strawflower seeds should germinate?” 

But still, things are looking good. We've seeded a variety of these nifty things here at home and are buying other "plugs" (little plants) from professionals with greenhouses. We're going to push our boundaries with some plants but keep it simple with others (we have grown some flowers before, like sunflowers and zinnias.) 

Here are a few types of flowers we should have this season, as tiny future flower seedlings have been poking their heads up out of the soil in our germination chamber over the last month or so. Left to right: yarrow, verbena and strawflower.

And these are a few of the things we’re going to seed directly into the ground as soon as the weather allows (and we got snow today so I'm not holding my breath.) Left to right: Sunflowers, Centurea and Cosmos.

We've also got things like snapdragons and marigolds and gomphrena and more on the list. So although a sudden transformation into expert flower farmers over the next few months is unlikely, we're pretty confident we'll have some MARVELOUS flowers for you to enjoy. After all, some flowers just do their thing, with even a little tiny bit of encouragement.... and we're prepared to coddle the others, which will probably include lots of loud cheering when they manage to germinate. GO FLOWERS GOOOO!

Dangerous Tomatoes by alex redfield

Earlier this week, while Donald Trump was explaining why he called on supporters to "knock the crap" out of anyone who might throw a rotten tomato at the stage, he said: "If you get hit in the face with a tomato, let me tell you, with somebody with a strong arm at least, let me tell you, it can be very damaging." It's not often that presidential candidates weigh in on fresh produce, let alone ripe tomatoes, so we thought we'd take this opportunity to talk about a few of the tomato varieties we're planting this year and how dangerous they are. In the interest of clarity, we're expressing our assessment of danger as a Danger to Flavor ratio. 

sun golds

sun golds

sun gold - these little orange tomatoes are deceiving. insanely sweet, small, and juicy, they appear harmless at first glance, enticing the oblivious consumer into grabbing a handful whenever they're near. "what's the worst that could happen?" you might ask as you eat your way through the first pint. but all too soon, the box is empty, leaving only a few juicy reminders of the pleasure you just experienced. this is not an option. more sungolds are all you can think about. finding your next fix of these orange gems consumes you. you find yourself wandering the aisles of shaw's late at night, desperately hoping to find a new source - but alas, the tender sun golds are too delicate for shipping, meaning you'll never find that sweet fix on a grocery store shelf. you try store-bought cherry tomatoes and spit them out immediately, finding none of what you crave. desolation sets in. darkness follows.  until your old hat csa arrives.

danger:flavor ratio 1:2 (high danger, higher flavor)

 

big beef

big beef

big beef - the mainstay of our red, slicing tomato crop and a variety that small growers have trusted for years. these meaty tomatoes are the real deal - nice beefsteak interior, very productive, known to sometimes produce 20-30 lbs of fruit off a single plant! these tomatoes can get big, while still staying firm enough to hold up on a sandwich. the size and texture make these tomatoes the most dangerous of the pack. Danger:Flavor ratio - 1:1 (high danger, equally high flavor)

juliet

juliet

juliet - there is nothing scary about these. they're too cute. 2" long tomatoes you can use in literally any situation where tomatoes are appropriate. sauce? yes, they're meaty enough to cook down without too much boiling. salads? yes please, a little bigger than a cherry but just as sweet. they're also one of our favorite canners - we pack them whole into jars for the winter. Danger:Flavor ratio - 0:1 (no danger, high flavor)

martha washington

martha washington

martha washington - these are big tomatoes, larger than big beef, we hope. a nice heirloomy variety with pink shoulders. this is one of alex's favorite sandwich tomatoes - we have been known to pack only a knife and bread for lunch on the farm, letting martha washington take care of the rest. they would have similar heft if launched, but we're going to take advantage of one of local agriculture's primary benefits (we can pick things when they're legitimately ripe and not have to artificially ripen them in the back of a truck) in assessing our ratio. if unripe, this could be a 2 lb brick hurtling towards your candidate of choice, but we'll be picking them right as they ripen, a little soft and pretty delicate. accordingly, 2:5 (low danger, high flavor)

We have a few other varieties picked out too (and maybe a few more on the way), but wanted to bring you this timely update as many of you are wrestling with deciding when to sign up for the CSA. here at old hat, we want you to have the facts: tomatoes can be dangerous, but ours will be worth it. 

-alex

 

 

first words! by alex redfield

As we kick off the most exciting development in our farming career (the creation of this blog), I'm discovering a new type of writer's block. I'm not stumped for topics to cover or unsure about what tone to strike or anxiously refreshing the stats page to see how many suckers have arrived here - but there's something pretty intimidating about writing the first post on a platform that Hillary and I have been thinking about for a long time. 

It's not the blog itself, of course, that's a bit overwhelming. But rather the fact that after ten years of trying to contribute to and learn from other farms and farmers, we're finally at a point where our farm is starting to take shape. When we started, neither of us imagined we'd be farming together or that Hillary would be fighting tooth and nail to get permanent residency in the US, let alone that we'd be struggling to find the words to share with people who might share our food with us - but somewhere along the way we came up with a vision of what our farm could look like and what we could try to build together. Since that ideal started to come together in our heads, we've been working very deliberately to try to make it a reality - taking on summers of menial, thankless jobs just to get experience with farm systems that we might draw from some day; or sacrificing god knows how many Saturday mornings to peddle kohlrabi to see first-hand what kind of food can get people excited at market. 

So, we're doing it! Or doing something! Old Hat Farm this year is a big first step in our attempt to contribute to a food system and community politics that we feel good about. Whether or not it's hard to find the words for a blog post, we're excited to be sharing our thoughts and successes and failures and cantaloupes with you.  

Thanks for your support! It really means a lot to both of us!

-alex