Monday, September 30, 2013

Top of the Food Chain

Scenes from last Sunday's New Amsterdam Market...

We arrived early, maybe we were the first. A beginner's move. The tables were not ready so we spent some time standing around. Although trying to avoid the mad rush of setup while tourists and early birds ask questions, it ended up so anyway. 

People had lots of questions. Some folks appeared utterly dumbfounded by the sudden visual of garlic choice. I saw only one handlebar mustache. Several people took photos of our spread. I mean a lot of people did; hardly a moment went by without a full frame or phone camera. Business was decent, and we made our minimum, but speculated on lower than hoped for sales. For one, the Atlantic Antic and Dumbo Arts Festival were on. Another reason -few go down to the Seaport area so you don't get any incidental traffic. I think the NAM brand has been hurt by the discontinuation of weekly markets. And finally, we didn't bundle.

Well, we did at the Dumbo Arts Festival the day before, and we sold all of those, then made a few more. I had contemplated making tagged bundles of three (something other respected people agreed was wise), but I simply didn't have the time. People like labels, so we ended up bagging individual bulbs and labeling those during each sale -messy, fussy, and slow. We have enough garlic to attend the October 27 market, so if we do I will make tagged bundles of three in addition to the full variety bundles.

We sold maybe 20 percent of the elephant garlic and hardly any of the French shallots (I'm gathering folks do not cook with shallots all that much) and I'm now looking for a bulk buyer. The most popular selling garlic was the Marbled Purple Stripe (people were excited about its stinging, raw heat) and the Artichoke (juicy, sweet and light-bodied with little to no heat). Many people just bought one or two heads and wondered whether we would be back at the end of October. My pitch was the long haul, but some people didn't want to have garlic lying around -they wanted me to hold onto it until they were ready for more. Ahhh.

Market feels like the terminus of a year's activity, like an exhibition of one's finished work. I've learned enormously about myself, at least as much as working the land and growing garlic. I've developed more informed opinions on agriculture and the challenges of the small farm. I understand physically, emotionally, and intellectually what I am capable of achieving in this arena with little resources at my disposal. I've met several committed members of the agricultural community, including activists working tirelessly for local agriculture. And I've been witness to the legions of nameless, faceless workers who do the strenuous labor of providing for our enormous and fickle appetites. Finally, I thank everyone who has supported my project with kind words and purchases. 

Now, in the twilight of this year's work, I must decide how to proceed.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bartertown Works

Below are a couple of shots of several folks eager to help label and bundle garlic at Saturday's Barter Town at the Dumbo Arts Festival. Great job guys!

Barter, Baby, Barter

That's a blogger mobile link, above, to the BarterTown event, today, at the Dumbo Arts Festival. We'll all be bartering, in a lighthearted fashion, goods and services. Come tie a tag, help make a bundle, and you'll walk away with a handful of fresh garlic cloves and absolutely no back pain. 

12-6 pm on Water Street and Washington in Dumbo, Brooklyn.  Here's another link:

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Farewell To Barns

Last Friday was my last day at the barn until cleanout. I grabbed all the garlic and shallots that I expect to be saleable. This Sunday is my first public market, New Amsterdam Market, and I have little to no idea how it will go in terms of sales. I had anticipated cash only sales, but I well realize that cash runs dry, so I did pick up one of those nifty iphone card readers today. The idea that I can take credit and debit cards that way really seems far out. What, you like this painting? Yes, yes I do take cards. You see how easy that was.

Elephant garlic is a problematic product. It's big, sure, and that gets people's attention, but as a plant with cloves containing compounds of garlic and onion, it's flavor is somewhat confused, mild, and I think hits a bitter note on the finish when raw, although the scapes are really great. I have quite a bit of them and do want them to sell, but I don't think I will replant them this November.

They polish up well.

This is not my corn, but another farmer's at the barn. It glimmers in the sunlight.

I will not be growing any of my garlic grown this season, so I am able to bring to market not only a few larger bulbs, but many of the smaller bulbs of Asiatic, Creole, and Purple Stripe that I was going to try to size up. Maybe I will be able to convince a few folks that the smaller bulbs last longer if not taste significantly better than the large. If we're downsizing our NYC sodas, maybe we can downsize our vegetables too.

As part of artist Heather Hart's Bartertown project at the Dumbo Arts Festival this Saturday, September 28 from 12 - 6 pm, I will be extolling the virtues of garlic variety, offering tastes, and for those willing barter some handiwork making bundles or stamping bags, I offer a handful of loose cloves. You can use those cloves to barter for other goods and services. Consider it a way to participate in our agri-culture.

His golden locks Time hath to silver turn'd; 
 O Time too swift, O swiftness never ceasing!
His youth 'gainst time and age hath ever spurn'd, 
But spurn'd in vain; youth waneth by increasing: 
Beauty, strength, youth, are flowers but fading seen; 
Duty, faith, love, are roots, and ever green.

-From A Farewell to Arms, a sonnet by George Peele

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Retail Seed Garlic

I was at the Riverhead Agway to buy some Harmony 5-3-4 organic fertilizer for this fall's garlic planting and I noticed at the register countertop a small box of seed garlic. It came all the way from The Netherlands or so the packaged product had, if not the actual garlic. Notice the eight dollar price for two rather measly bulbs. At least the retailers are noticing the interest in growing garlic in gardens, but this looks to me like a last resort.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Clean Dirty

A handful of folks, respected folks, have stated that they prefer the dirty garlic to the clean. While I appreciate their aesthetics, this is food and I hate all the silty dirt that cruds up the countertop, so in practice I prefer the cleaned. Do you clean or do you dirty?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Autumn Special

I spent the afternoon at the beach farm with a friend, cleaning bulbs of garlic for market. He had never been and marveled at the tranquility, the ocean, and the idea of grilling and beer here, so close yet far from the epicenter of our city. 

The cold front, an autumn special, a perfect column of rain, wind, and climate transformation swept through overnight, but its aura of change came more in its approach than its passing. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

By The Bundle

Excitement is ramping up for New Amsterdam's Market. They believe it will be their biggest yet as anticipation has mounted over the long, marketless summer. Yesterday I built table-top, shallow produce "crates" to display my garlic. I will laser-cut signage today. But how to handle the fray? Should I have bags at the handy for people to drop their choices into or should I bundle their choices after they select them, or both? Maybe I should pre-bundle and tag so that the buyer knows what they are getting. Or should I just tag bags for each variety they purchase (although this could lead to a lot of brown paper bags)? I am stumped on the best way to handle the transaction. I believe education is part of what I am offering, so it goes that the buyer should be able to have labeled garlic at home, but labeling each and every bulb would be ridiculous. This leads me to the prospect of bundling by threes and labeling, but still priced by the pound. But what of the soul who only wants one of each or even just one of some?

We have only one two by six-foot table, with a bench behind us of the same thirtysix-inch height. If a buyer comes to the display and starts grabbing unlabeled garlic, but then wants it labeled, things could get confusing awfully fast. This leads me to the brown bag option -pre-labeled brown lunch bags at the foot of each variety crate. The buyer can drop each variety into its respective bag, which we will weigh and they will pay, placing all in a larger paper and handle bag. Seems overly fussy, no? So I come back to pre-labeled bundles of three. For those who want it all (and who doesn't?) I could have pre-labeled one-of-each variety bundles. Hmmm.

The fussy labeling and bundling is a lot of work. It seems unlikely that I will be able to bundle all my bulbs for sale before September 29 and I sorely understand that every label strung and knot tied is lost time and money. If you were to approach a produce table with seven varieties of garlic that you may want to buy, what would you find valuable?

I am doing the Dumbo Arts Festival again this year, under artist Heather Hart's Bartertown project. This time around I'm considering my barter project on the order of Work For Cloves. I'll have folks on a leisurely art stroll come to my booth to tie and label bundles for barter of loose garlic cloves. I've never been much of a Tom Sawyer, so the event should be rather amusing. How many can we get done that day? How many people want to participate in the local food system? How many people will work for cloves?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Little Red Riding Berry

Is really a monster. If you spot it and you don't want it covering anything under 8 inches, pull it. Potentilla indica didn't behave itself. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Big Melons

Our van is in the shop again. No surprise that my mechanic, a fair man, told me that I got robbed at that AAMCO in Ohio. That mechanic should have replaced the bearings on the used axle, but didn't. Now the axle has to come out, again, to do so. And, I need rear brakes, which I knew, but was putting off until school started and the income that comes with that. Even though my mechanic, Saleem, is taking out the axle, replacing inner and outer bearings, replacing my rotors and disc breaks, and plugging a nail hole in my tire, his price is still only a third of what the Ohio mechanic charged us for simply taking out the old axle and putting in the used one. When you're in that kind of trap, I suppose you have to eat price gouging.

On my walk home, I passed these gigantic melons or gourds growing in a front yard. I like how they are supported by additional stringing. The fruit were maybe 16 inches long and 8 inches in diameter and gravity's pull was palpable.

Now I am off to the studio to make some more garlic bundles, one of which is going to a local nursery that happens to have some spectacular wooden bulb crates (for carting my garlic to New Amsterdam Market) they are willing to give me just for the asking.

Monday, September 9, 2013

New Amsterdam Market

In a little less than three weeks I will have my first garlic sale event at New Amsterdam Market. I've never been, so I've been image searching the market to get a sense for the space, tables, and overall aesthetics of the market. I think the pictures give a good sense of the atmosphere. Don't laugh, either, it is that kind of creation. Robert LaValva, the architect of the market, has insisted on designing a sense of place so that all the tables, signage, and what-have-you are identical no matter what the vendor is selling. It's as if the civic space/marketplace has become the product, not only the venue, and the local producer/vendors participate in his work. I get that and I think Hudson Clove's aesthetic sensibility fits well into his scheme as far as I can see from my Google image search.

Now I will make some low-rise pine wood crates to cradle the different varieties of garlic and shallots and maybe a two tier pine tower to display garlic bundles. Should saffron come into play, at a later market, I will need to devise a system for packaging and selling the threads. Maybe you can tell me how much saffron is enough saffron in a package? Marie, ideas?

Finally, you should know that New Amsterdam Market and it's environs are under threat of corporate development. Please read this article in Serious Eats, as it tells you all about it and why New Amsterdam Market is worth saving. The horror of the American suburb is its utter homogeneity, its total fear. Every new mall and false village filled with the same franchises dulls our collective senses. Fearful people who dream of opening new businesses but have little new ideas or the stomachs for risk -they open a franchise. Risk-taking residents try the new Potbelly sandwich instead of Subway. High end or low end, it's all the same, and I hope ingenuity can withstand the forces of homogeneity this time around.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Retiring Field

And so wraps up a season of growing in Amagansett.

A sea of buckwheat doing as it should.

Thick and flower full, rising three feet above the earth.

It's flowers give way to green and white seed pods which turn mahogany as they mature.

No weeds can be seen, or none seriously, under the buckwheat, and that is its purpose.

Yet only ground well tilled or disced and mellowed will allow the buckwheat to take hold.

Toward the end of my day of pulling potatoes and crocus, I stopped to take in the bucolic scene.

And the sun then set on the buckwheat, and on my field.

But before I left, the dew point shifted, the air then scented, and the clankery of aluminum batting adrift from athletic fields, as I plucked greens from self-seeded spring peas.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Favorite Tomato

As for Roma types, it is the Speckled Roman. Large, juicy, meaty, pretty. Perfect.