Sometimes I find myself caught up in the “growing aspect” of things and forget that there is an educational part of this project that must be addressed. If you are used to eating food that is prepackaged and shipped across the United States from wherever, it would come to quite a shock for you to discover a little inch worm in your salad greens. This was a problem that we came upon after our first harvest of salad mix last Wednesday. (I do have to give props to that little inch worm for surviving a harvest, two washings and a pick through.) I would love to lie and say that I didn’t get offended when this complaint was brought to my attention, knowing all the work I put into planting, weeding, harvesting and washing that delicious bed of greens, but I then tried to put myself in the client’s shoes. I can definitely see where that would be a shock and I am sympathetic to the poor boy who had a “guest” for dinner that evening. It is not enough for these college students to know they are getting fresh vegetables (out of the ground that morning) but they need to know the difference between the product they are used to getting and the product they are getting now. Not only is the taste substantially better but the longevity of the product is better as well. Unfortunately the downfall is the occasional outdoor pest that has found its way into the final product. Hopefully the communication between the grower (me) to distributor (delivery person) to buyer (chefs) to client (students) can be improved and we can convince the customer that this really is a better product, just different. We are starting to get standing weekly orders for the salad greens (which I am super pumped about) so it seems the little incident hasn’t deterred people too much. Fresh is best! 🙂
While harvesting the salad greens we quickly discovered that our salad spinner, which only holds 1.5# of salad at a time, was not convenient for our time restraint of getting 65# of lettuce harvested, washed, dried and shipped out by 10 am. I am not sure we could have started any earlier, considering we were using the headlights of my car to see the bed at 5 that morning. As I was licking the wounds of the blisters on my knuckles from holding the salad spinner, I thought there has to be a better way to do this, considering we have six more weeks of salad green harvest for the season. Kevin and I have regrouped, healed our wounds from that day and have a new plan to set in motion. We have since received a new salad spinner, so there will be two of us drying at a time. I have also added another harvest day to my week to cut down the amount of greens we will have to process in one morning. I have sought the help of the head of the U of I student farm (Zack Grant) and we have a schedule to use their salad greens harvester, which should shave off an hour of our time. All we can do is learn from our mistakes and try to make it more efficient in the future. I can’t emphasize enough what an amazing learning experience this has been and what amazing training for the future when we acquire more land.
The weather is turning cooler and I am nervous about the first frost date, which is quickly approaching according to the Farmer’s Almanac. I cut the tops of my tomatoes on Friday afternoon which will cause them to ripen faster, ceasing new growth to develop on the top of the single leader. Kevin and I had another great harvest on Sunday, getting almost 350 lbs of tomatoes and peppers. I am excited that we will have green beans in about a week and the spinach seedlings are already starting to come up and look forward to that as well. Occasionally I find myself missing the restaurant life and the friends/ family I have made along the way. One of the perks of working in great restaurants is that you get to eat the most amazing food. I would go into a restaurant with the intent of ordering an appetizer or two (probably because that was all I could afford) and leaving having had the entire tasting menu and then some. I have had the pleasure of eating the finest foods prepared by some of the best chefs in the country, my friends/ brothers and sisters in the industry. This farming experience is very similar to what I just described but instead of chefs they are growers. I have met some of the most amazing people this summer and what I hope to call lifelong friends. They have not only provided me with knowledge and physical help, but have also shared the fruits of their labor. I have had bushels upon bushels of some of the best sweet corn I have ever tasted. Kevin and I have been given salsa, pickles and more peaches than you could imagine. I was just given 20 lbs of fresh edamame on Friday. I am truly fortunate to have met the people I have. Thank you Jeremy Shafer and Bryan Warsaw! You guys are two of my most favorite farmers and I appreciate everything you do for me!