Friday, August 5, 2011

How Local is Local

Yesterday I picked the first lemon cucumbers of the season. I’m growing them up a fence among roses that are still struggling after last years harsh winter, a cold, damp spring followed by a hideous heat wave and random deer munching. The roses are not doing so well, but the lemon cucumbers were delicious. I also gathered handfuls of eggplants and jalapeños, some zucchini and a random squash, but I had to go to a farm stand for tomatoes.

The farm stands have been stocked with tomatoes for over a month, as well as melons and peaches even, but I have a question for the various farmers, how do you all have Brandywine tomatoes already when mine are just barely starting? Basil, I have by the armfuls, but where are your ripe, red orbs coming from when mine are still hard and green? And how do you all really have melons already? And the corn? Although it’s sweet and white and delicious, I remember being a kid and the corn not being ready at the end of June. Strawberries end and then corn begins right? They’re not meant to overlap are they?

I don’t want to be a killjoy, but I’m a little suspicious of the “local” produce at some of our local stands. As impressed as I am by the perfect raspberries, cherry tomatoes and blueberries I’m buying at all these stands, I’m looking around and I’m not seeing the plants they’re growing on.

Is anyone else thinking these thoughts? I know that tomato blight has swept through the area, but only one farmer that I know of has confessed to not having tomatoes this year. He took a big loss, but when the blight showed up in his fields, he did the right thing and cut down every single one of the infected plants. And he doesn’t, miraculously, have tomatoes at his stand anyway. Look, he took a tremendous financial loss, but he’s at least being up front about it. Not so much, some of the other folks out here. Actually from the way things are stacking up at all the roadside stands I’m frequenting, it seems like he is the only guy on the entire island that was hit.

I don’t begrudge the farmers trying to earn a living, they have a ridiculously short season and the hardest job out here, and I love the fact that I can buy something local and help support the way of life that truly built this community, but I don’t need lemons at my farm stand. Really.

There are farmers out there I know I can trust. Marilee Foster wouldn’t be caught dead offering anything she didn’t plant, weed and pick. I’d bet my last dollar on that. I know David Falkowski is growing his mushrooms, I’ve seen the oyster bags hanging in his mushroom barn, and I’ve been handed one of his eggs still warm from the hen that just laid it. The Halseys will not have Pink Lady apples until they are ready on the trees down by Mecox Bay, no matter how much I long for them earlier. And if you don’t get there early, Bette Lacina and Dale Haubrich will sell out of their incredible mixed greens. I know Art Ludlow would be shocked at the idea of buying in milk to make sure he can tap deeper into the pockets of the summer shoppers who crave his cheese. And that pleases me.

When I was I kid I worked for John White on his farm that skirted the corner of Sagaponack Main Street and Montauk Highway. He was trying to be 100 percent organic (ahead of the curve by at least 10 years) and I not only helped plant all those crops, but I weeded them, picked bugs off them, hoed them, pulled irrigation pipe across them (using twigs to clear the heads when they clogged with caterpillars), harvested them and sold them. So I know a little bit about the timing of our seasonal crops.

So I’m a little disappointed. Look, given a chance I’d always rather put my lettuce money in a local pocket, and I thank the heavens every chance I get for letting me live in a place where I can get the best, tiniest, baby fingerling potatoes I’ve ever had in my life last time I stopped at Briermere Farms in Riverhead. On the other hand I do want to support farming on Long Island not shipping and marketing, so when you see me coming, put the stuff you guys didn’t grow under the table, please?
Paige Patterson just brought home five new panicle hydrangeas called Great Star created by the renowned plants woman Princess Sturdza of Normandy.

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