Sunday, August 9, 2009

Local Food

The days are getting shorter just when it seems that summer has finally arrived. Last night we enjoyed a meal with friends of locally grown vegetables -- grilled eggplant and zucchini, tomato and cucumber salad with fresh basil, sauteed green beans with garlic, and some local grass-fed beef. Some of the fresh produce was plucked from our garden, the rest was from our farmer friends at New Roots Farm just up the road. We ate outside on the deck, the cool evening kept most of the mosquitoes at bay.

Most of the vegetables in our own garden started as seedlings from New Roots Farm. And this is part of the story of the 2009 gardening/farming season. Late blight (a fungus on tomatoes and potatoes) continues to devastate these crops in the Northeast. Alas, I just found it on one of our tomato plants today, and that plant is now in the trash can. It seems that many more people this year became backyard gardeners and many of these folks bought seedlings at the big box stores. The origin of late blight in this region has been linked to sales of infected seedlings to these stores.

As many of us are turning more and more to farmer's markets, local farm stands, community supported agriculture, and more backyard gardens, the source of our seeds and seedlings is just as important as the source of the fresh produce. It will cost more, but buying seedlings grown locally, and even better, from a farmer you know, can help prevent the widespread distribution of garden pests such as late blight.

Our local organic farmers were hit hard this year. The late blight came on top of a very late season. Farming at this scale is hard work. Our farmer friends feel that fewer people are coming to markets this year and are balking at some of the prices. We need to help farmers in good times and bad. If we don't continue to buy their produce when prices are high due to weather, pests, or other events, then they can't continue to farm. They work hard every day during the growing season for very little money.

This orange blossom tomato plant that grows on our deck is from New Roots Farm. So far, we've enjoyed three delicious tomatoes from the plant. They seem more precious than ever. It was the plant in the pot next to this one that landed in the trash today, so I am not certain we'll have the orange blossom around for long.

The late blight has now infected the potato plants on local farms. To help salvage the crop they've cut all the vegetative tops off the plants. If this does not prevent further infection to the tubers then the entire crop will be lost. Organic potatoes and tomatoes will be scarce and expensive this fall. Let's continue to support the farmers by buying as much as we can from them. Their spirits are buoyed by people coming to the markets and buying their produce. If they go home with too much unsold, it makes for a sobering next day on the farm.

Here's to the rest of summer and plenty of fresh picked food on the table.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ellen,

    A side story to this is CSAs(Community Supported Agriculture), where you pay money to a farmer at the beginning of the year and then get a season's worth of produce.

    Some customers, especially those who aren't too familiar with farms or gardens, are disappointed when they don't have tomatoes every week and don't come back the following year. They don't understand the cycle in which vegetables are planted and harvested.

    This year I think will be particularly bad here, and probably in much of the northeast. We've had a very rainy and cool summer. That has been good for some plants but bad for others. I just found out our CSA also got hit by late blight so their largest crop of tomatoes is gone.

    I've been somewhat disappointed in what we've gotten from the farm this year but I also understand why that is: bad weather and late blight. I just hope that most customers will also realize this and not drop out next year because they aren't happy with this year's produce.

    This is the way nature works. Next year may be a bonanza of tomatoes. You just need to stick with it and support your local farmers.