Wednesday, July 20, 2011

an accretion of karma

Once I foolishly spaced some tubers of the orange daylily along the sidewalk in front of my house. Ten years later it took axes and shovels, brute strength and an entire summer to dig them out. Inevitably I missed  a few chips along the way and they are popping up all over the place now. Do tell. The things are hardy opportunists, and plant themselves into the middle of more cherished plants more often than not and, unless you want to ruin clumps of your more esteemed lilies, you are reduced to pulling them out as well as you can.

I put the last of those that I supposedly destroyed in a big, tough, black plastic garbage bag and put that in an out of the way place in the woods. There they apparently ate that plastic and burst from it into a thriving colony.

We can imagine, in a singed, dystopian world, one lonely tiger lily pushing orange through the rubble. First one, then another, until they repopulate the world.

I DID mean dystopia a few columns back when I described a strawberry season from my childhood. Some of you assumed I meant utopian, and one of you sent me an entire encyclopedia page defining utopian, in an email with WRONG WORD? in the subject line. And no signature. Wrong word? Well, No. But that did let me know that I did not succeed in clarity in that column.

Being a young farm-kid in the era of my childhood was every kind of disconnected. For our news of the world we had Gabriel Heatter and Grandpa. Neither one of them inspired a person to feel easy in her soul. You took your joys as they transiently appeared – the first sun-hottened strawberry in your cheek or Grandma coming home from work. Sometimes food is the only thing we CAN rely on – not only can we touch and feel it, but we can taste it, and it nourishes us.

Perhaps the reason so many young people are going into farming  is our new connectedness with the land and with food without – these days –  the disconnect from outside society.  Without “the mental prison of rural subsistence,” is the way Ian McEwan described it in his latest book, Solar.

There is community in farming now that there wasn’t back in that Midwest that I grew up in, where we were reliant on family, which could be a little ingrown, and a very limited community. Now we can be connected by the internet to the larger world, and to an educated local community that helps solve the problems inherent in farming. And that might prevent us from getting too hateful,  perhaps, and narrow, or even too lonely.

When Carol Tashie of Radical Roots Farm broke her ankle recently, the event summoned lots of help from the larger community. When she thanked everyone on Facebook, saying “We are overwhelmed with appreciation,” the answering comment from Solarfest struck my eye. “It’s the good side of Karma,” they said.

Carol and her partner Dennis Duhaime have, all by their ownselves, brought an invigorating sense of community to Rutland over the last several years and now they’re reaping the rewards. And it was nice that they chose Rutland to put their cheerful and effective energy into. Rutland has always been a gritty place, a kind of a show-me place, and perhaps it is now attracting the kind of people who see work to be done here that they can do – not to change Rutland into Woodstock, but to help Rutland reach the height of being Rutland.

This is a matter of accretion – for forty years the farmers’ market has met every summer Saturday, then more recently on Tuesdays, and now for the last few years year-around. It is arguably the most exhilarating market in the state. How did it get there? By perseverance. And accretion.

Kara Fitzgerald, of Evening Song Farm in Cuttingsville, told me how she and her partner, Ryan Beauchamp came to be in the Rutland market. They’d meant to move their very professional operation to Hardwick from Pennsylvania but got sidetracked when they talked to Lindsay Arbuckle and Scott Courcelle of Alchemy Gardens, who had interned with Paul Horton of Foggy Meadow, who had been enticed a few years ago to become a new vendor at the Rutland Farmers’ Market by Steve Chamberlain of Dutchess Farm and Greg Cox of Boardman Hill, two of the oldest vendors. Lindsay and Scott talked of the wonderful energy in the Rutland area – and certainly Carol and Dennis are responsible for some of that wonderfulness – and of the numerous young farmers, of the knowledgeable older ones, and the opportunities for new ones. Kara and Ryan are pretty darned thrilled with their decision to settle here.

Another recent example of perseverance and accretion, if not karma: For years local restaurants kept repeating the mantra of ‘it’s more complicated than you know’ when I asked them why they weren’t serving local foods. Or else they got all paranoid and hysterical when I made a joke of it. But. Guess what? It’s not as complicated as all that now that Roots, the Restaurant has made such a splash by successfully serving, making it a point to serve, local food. Sustainable, at the very least, since not everything can be locally grown and/or produced.

All of a sudden our good tried-and-trues are asking – “where can I source good local meat or vegetables in the amount I need?” The answer is, of course, RAFFL will be sure to help you, and you could always look up on line and talk to some of the farmers. I know for a fact that Greg Cox almost always picks up on his cell phone.

Now, if that’s not accretion, I don’t know what is: It's like sand building on a rock through aeons until suddenly you have topsoil! That's what's made Rutland a big star in Vermont's bright food galaxy.

Rutland resembles nothing so much as those tiger lilies with which we started this ramble: Intent survivors, and beautiful, too. What to do with all those lilies so intent on repopulating the world? Well, you can revert to Rutland’s answer to almost every problem – you can eat them. They are rather delicious as well as pretty in a common sort of way. Eat them all up, but be sure to leave the tiniest chip of them to keep... slowly... propagating.

Last year at this time I made a little salad of slices of kohlrabi, mango, Hungarian wax pepper, and tomato sprinkled with sea salt, coarsely ground pepper, and chopped parsley and cilantro, then drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
photo by Janet Kennedy Farmer

This is a properly formulated salad from my friend and localvore Janet Kennedy Farmer. She notes, “Last years empire apples, from local grower, Brown’s Orchard, are available at the Co-op & taste as crisp & delicious as the day they were picked!” She used sweet, crisp, juicy kohlrabi from Radical Roots. Yum.

Mid-summer Salad of Kohlrabi & Apple  
serves 4
  • 2 kohlrabi roots, peeled and thinly sliced, the slices cut into quarters
  • 1 apple, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 spring onions, thinly sliced, including some of the green stem
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar
  • 1/8 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon prepared brown mustard
  • salt & pepper to taste
Place all the vinaigrette ingredients in a lidded glass jar and shake vigorously, set aside.
Prepare the salad ingredients and place in a bowl.
Pour the vinaigrette over the salad and toss.

“Great served with rustic bread and a local pungent or sharp cheese,” says Janet.

And I say, in honor of this column, you might garnish the salad with sliced unopened blooms of the tiger lily.

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