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Posts Tagged ‘organic farm’

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Blackberry blossom.

Picked blackberries last week. The plants (canes, they’re called) are long and trailing, and are trained to grow in rows across strong cables. This forms a kind of cavern of blackberry canes.

Most visitors to the farm go for the front-and-center fruit, which makes sense. It’s pretty. It’s right there. It’s an easy get. But experience has taught me that the berries on the outside of the cavern tend to be too tart. You’ll occasionally find ripe berries shimmering in the sunshine. But the tenderest and sweetest ones are not usually outside. They’re inside.

Out of the glare of the sunlight, it’s surprisingly dark in there. I have to lift the cumbersome canes even to see inside. And this is an organic farm, so it’s not like it’s just berries living inside. Many’s the time I will be about to pick a berry only to see a fruit fly on it. (Somehow he manages to look thoroughly irked, even when I say, ‘I beg your pardon. Enjoy your berry.’) There are spiders and their webs. Dragonflies, which can pinch. I get tired and sweaty and sore, contorting into odd positions to reach. A cane will slip and knock my hat over my eyes, or smack me across the face. I’ll lose my footing as I reach in, and slip. Luckily I tend to be alone when I pick, which is good, so people don’t tend to see me emerge with purple stains all over me like a virulent tropical rash and with a fistful of leaves in my mouth.

I do it because the berries inside, in the dark, with the spiders, are better. They’ve had longer to ripen because no one sees them. Because no one’s looking. I do it because they’re bigger, often twice the size of the berries in the sunshine. I do it because they’re sweeter and mellower. Invariably. Yes, sometimes I get bit; yes, sometimes I fall; yes, sometimes the berries are so overripe that they fall apart in my hands. But enough don’t. I do it because it’s worth it.

The good stuff is underneath. Every time I pick blackberries or peaches or whatever I’m picking I think of this, but last week it hit me especially profoundly—one, because we lost Robin Williams to the ravages of depression, and two, because I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a lot of friends recently about stuff that’s bugging them, stuff that you can’t tell by looking at them because they’re so good at keeping it under wraps.

And curiously—or heck, maybe it’s not actually a stretch at all—I’m finding that among the most expressive, the most brilliant (on the outside) in my own circle there is often great sensitivity (inside). They knock me out with their talent and charm, all of them. That’s the topside world that they show, and it really does shimmer in the sunshine.

But I’m lucky that after a while they trust me enough that they want to show the bottom-side world inside—the sweetness, the whole 3D person. I’ll lift the canes and come into the dark with them. Get cobwebs in my hair. I don’t mind. It’s nourishing. I have fallen, to be sure, sometimes when I get into the messy stuff with friends. I have run out of energy. I’ve had friendships fall apart in my hands. But I never wanted a life that was too sanitary. I’m shooting for sweetness.

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kids bounce up and down in their chairs waiting for christmas or chanukah. parents do the same thing around labor day for an entirely different reason. me, I’m a produce junkie, specifically a local produce junkie, and even more specifically, a local, organic, you-never-saw-or-tasted-produce-like-this junkie. so when the violets start popping up in may, and my favorite farm is due to open again, I get a little dizzy.

I wasn’t always this way. I was normal once. went to the supermarket to buy my broccoli and berries and potatoes until about 2007. then I took an innocent trip to a small organic farm in toms river and became a goner. now supermarket produce just doesn’t cut it. and as far as customer service goes, with very few exceptions, the chilly cashiers don’t care about anything but me getting in and out in short order. ‘thank you’ died out with disco, I think.

back to good vibes. it’s at silverton farms, where I shop pretty much every week from may to november. it takes half an hour to get there from where I live. south on the NJ parkway, a few miles up 70, a few more up new hampshire, then a few more blocks to the farm itself.

but maris, you’re saying helpfully, that’s a schlep. even if it is great, is it worth it for a few bunches of red leaf lettuce?

well, I haven’t been blogging for very long, but I like to think I’ve already established that I’m nuts. having said that, this farm delivers uncommonly delicious fruit, vegetables, eggs, honey, and herbs, and it’s well-priced to boot. so yeah, mental acuity aside, it’s really and truly worth it.

this post marks the first of a handful I’ll be writing during the 2011 growing season, chronicling the changes on the farm and the produce it bears. I’ll also be shamelessly teasing you with photos. let’s start.

the setting: a time machine of sorts, a quiet, peaceful de lorean permanently set to sane. the farm is off a fairly busy road, but you’ll only hear the wind and the occasional disgruntled chicken when you’re there. it’s a place where your blood pressure becomes barely detectable until you see the fresh eggs on the shelf…and they’re warm.

the lead: owner and farmer tom nivision, young, self-professed technophobe, organics-phile, and lively talker. when I was there last saturday, he was busy putting up deer fencing, but still couldn’t wait to show me what was going on in the greenhouse. inside, beautiful specimens of leek, broccoli rabe, and other edibles were in mid-seed production. once dry, the seeds can be extracted and planted or saved.  fervently anti-GMO (genetically-modified organisms), tom’s passionate about producing as authentic, as healthy, and as tasty a humble green plant can be.

the supporting cast: angel, tom’s niece, a veteran who knows the ins and outs of everything that grows in that soil; christine, who loves digging for potatoes; elena, who works part time for tom and is home-schooled the rest of the time. capable, friendly, warm, helpful young women. the chilly cashiers fade to black.

I love this place. I love seeing fragile, spring-green shoots tentatively pushing out one leaf, reaching higher and becoming more profuse as the season stretches on, and finally being handed a bouquet of warm, rain-soaked, late-season lushness. and I really love the old-fashioned idea that’s coming back into fashion: that of neighbors supporting neighbors. better late than never.

nice. but what about flavor?

for years I bought tiny, expensive, senile produce from california. last saturday night I ate eggs and asparagus which never saw the inside of the refrigerator.

the yolks were firm and a deep orange, and they tasted richer, eggier, than your average egg. (that last may be a useless descriptor, but maybe some of you will know what I mean.) the asparagus was butter-tender and assertively flavored. much like the good-quality chocolate I mentioned in a recent post, this tasted wholly of itself, and not of latent chemicals or even a lot of water, which fattens it up but dilutes the flavor. (up until very recently, I thought I didn’t like asparagus because the only way I’d ever eaten it was steamed. that waterlogs it, which may be why steamed asparagus always seems to be served with a heavy sauce.)

now, roasting it—that’s the way to get the most out of a stalk. just trim the bottoms of your asparagus about an inch or so, rinse them, and spread evenly on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. put them in a 375 degree oven until you can smell them. poke one with the tip of a sharp knife. if it sinks in easily, they’re done. bring them out, drizzle with some good olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, gobble.

next on the hit parade will be strawberries. bouncing in my chair already.

Broccoli rabe pod and seeds.

Asparagus and blackberry field.

New within old.

Leek flower.

Egg trifecta; the one at top is an Aracauna, sometimes called 'Easter egg'.

Asparagus ready for the oven.

Silverton Farms

1520 Silverton Road

Toms River, NJ 08755-2142

(732) 244-2621

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