FARMER'S DIARY: PLENTY AND THEN SOME
Every fall, we seem to put up too much food for the winter. There is so much that comes out of the fields and gardens that we cannot bear to let it go to waste. So we put food up, disregarding any previous experience with too much of a good thing last year (or the year before). It’s the ‘ant and the grasshopper’ syndrome made famous by Aesop and it is resident in my head.
Every spring we plan our gardens as we do the farm fields and we try to grow in the garden those vegetables that tend to be experimental, trials with high expectations of new delight. Of course there are a few stand-by staples of a potager nature, the few crops that one needs at the last minute and at the absolute epitome of freshness. But certain crops, like beans and summer squash, inevitably over-produce. We freeze, pickle, dry, whatever can be done to assuage our guilt (real or imagined) at having too much of a good thing. It’s the same problem with berry picking: it’s addictive. If there’s fruit to pick, there’s another bucket to fill and, therefore, we will make space in the freezer after making cases of jam. Last summer we had to forego berry picking—we still had plenty of fruit from the previous year.
We try valiantly to palm our surfeit off on friends who come for supper or use our savory delights for house-presents if we are invited out. But it seems as though the larder (we call it ‘aisle 9’) is perennially well- (if not over-) stocked, even though we eat at home most nights and eat left-overs for lunch the next day.
Still, come summer, there is still more of last year to eat down. Too much space in the garden crying out for fulfillment each year may mean too little space in the freezer or larder. (We can’t bear to cut down the scope of the garden. Seed catalogues are the bane of my existence!). We can’t leave good food to rot on the vine. The bright and colorful jars that we’ve put up are beautiful in their bounty, the freezer is bursting and again we know we have plenty and that we are fortunate. Many of our friends are in the same boat; instead of swapping recipes, we swap product. That’s a zero-sum game. We do share with the backyard flock, the neighbors (who undeservedly reciprocate!) and the lovely couple who share our living space. But as always, come fall, a daunting surfeit of good food has accumulated.
This problem is actually easily solved. There are some folks in town who are either food-insecure or fresh food-deprived with whom we can quietly share our excessive bounty. No one need know who the provender may be. There is also a fresh food pantry and community supper each week in a neighboring town that works to meet the needs of area families in distress. Sadly it is well-attended and any fresh produce is greatly appreciated.
We know we will repeat our ‘sinful’ ways again this summer and we will face the same miracle of our good fortune this fall. ‘Gleaning’ is the balm that salves our would-be angst and keeps any sense of gluttony at bay thus annually excusing our enthusiasm. For those of us who are lucky enough to grow our own, the joys of sharing our good fortune with those less so makes our over-enthusiasm seem acceptable and worthwhile.
Of note: We solved the over-production of eggs by cutting back the flock from six ladies to two. Can’t imagine having only two tomato plants, however. At least six!
John Lee is the manager of Allandale Farm (Boston's last working farm), which specializes in naturally grown local produce. Each summer, John manages an outdoor children's program on the farm. He writes for local news outlets and is deeply involved with farming and locally grown issues in Massachusetts.