farm box wednesday...

this week's box included a big bunch of long-stemmed spinach, a bag of delicious and perfectly ripe bing cherries, a pound of red potatoes, super-fragrant cilantro, a container of beautiful strawberries (which i am eating right now with freshly-whipped cream... yum!), and a half-pound of walnuts. 

our notes from the farmer this week were of major interest to me. he wrote about the difficulties that come with running a farm during the unpredictable season of spring--and the battle that arises in growing fragile crops such as strawberries, cherries, peas and salad greens. apparently crops such as these cannot be harvested in temperatures over 95 degrees without spoiling quite quickly. it seems other members of our CSA were also a bit disappointed with the quality of their box last week--our cherries last week were certainly a bit worse for the wear, and a few were inedible. 

our bay area weather has recently been all over the place, with the mercury swinging from the low 100's to the low 50's, all within a matter of weeks, and sometimes days.  we have had freezing wind rolling off of the bay, only to find ourselves sleeping with the bedroom windows open a couple of nights later. we watched as it poured for 3 days straight during the first few days of may--lucy's birthday party would have been quite soggy had she not gotten sick and forced us to postpone. what we don't think about, while we zag up and down the aisles of the grocery store, is how directly this weather affects our food. 

here's an excerpt from our farm letter that i found particularly interesting: 

"five days of 105 degree heat will render lettuce inedible, cook strawberry plants along with their fruit, and shrivel pea plants and pods both. that's why, when last week's weather forecast called for a major heatwave, we assumed the worst and tried to harvest some lettuce before it burned up. in order to do so, we picked it 2 days before your boxes were packed. instead, we simply should have let the weather play itself out. the salad mix we picked for the wednesday CSA ended up breaking down quickly after we shipped it to you. meanwhile, the hot weather only lasted 2 dyas or so, and only some of the lettuce in the field turned bitter. most of the salad greens pulled through and we were able to harvest them in much cooler conditions for the thursday and friday CSA boxes. 

in the strawberry field, the heat cooked thousands of berries which we had to pick and throw on the ground. but there were also plenty of berries that seemed to have survived the heat and tasted great. unfortunately, these berries had an extremely short shelf life and several subscribers informed us that they were mostly or totally unusable. we should have maybe guessed that this might happen, and simply not sent any berries to you last week. 

heat damage to cherries, however is a new one for us. we are accustomed to losing cherries to the rain--as we did a few weeks back at the start of the season. however, it is now clear that 105 degree temperatures are almost as bad. the cherries we harvested monday and tuesday for your boxes looked good and tasted fine when we packed them. but after just a few days, the apparently got quite soft and some became moldy. 

harvesting the multiple crops that we grow requires dozens of decisions every day; what day and what time to harvest; how often and how much; what size, shape, color and ripeness. time is always an issue, and when it's hot we are running not just against the clock but against the thermometer. we start the day at 6 a.m. this time of year, but during a heatwave it will be 90 degrees by 10 a.m.--basically too late to harvest salad greens or strawberries. on these days we wish we had 100 people working for us instead of 30, and that we could send them all home once the mercury hits 95 degrees. there are few crops that should really be harvested when it is 100 degrees, but sometimes we don't have a choice. we triage the situation as best we can."

as a subscriber, i wasn't too ticked by a few moldy cherries. our berries and greens were fine--jeremy commented the other night the the spinach, which was a much thicker variety than we are used to, was quite tasty. but the above excerpt notes certainly gave me some insight into the challenges faced by my local farm operators. even at the farmer's market, i rarely give too much thought into what goes on behind the scenes--i just sniff and squeeze and sample and toss stuff into my bag--pretty much indifferent to the whole thing.  i'm happy to say that my CSA membership may be changing my mindset!

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