The Buzz About Bees

Everyone knows how much I love Halloween (or any other occasion that affords me the opportunity to dress up livestock and go to market). So far, I’ve managed a spider, a wolf – thanks to the generous help of one of Bethesda’s extremely talented customers, a reindeer, a few very young ones wearing the worn out gray wool sock with the red top that has been repurposed as a critter coat, and this year’s shenanigans, a honeybee.

As much as I wanted the ensemble to segue as a teaching moment between farmers and customers, the lure of something very cute and fuzzy completely overrode what I wanted to tell my customers I’ve been learning about bees.

Bees are something I have never kept. They’ve always been in the periphery; someone else’s work. When I had mentioned this to a fellow farmer during the fabrication of Purl’s costume, she suggested I give it a try knowing my enjoyment of animal behavior and carpentry. “Think of all that wonderful honey,” she said cinching the deal on my curiosity before adding, “Now you have a bee suit, get building.”

Indeed, the tools are idle with the completion of a set of portable pens. If I begin now they’ll certainly be done by spring when the bees get busy. My favorite designs so far are the Mason Jar Hive and Top Bar Hive, both well within my capabilities.

But the bees themselves, their history in America, their critical necessity to modern agriculture and the perilous issues facing the apiary (beekeeping) community today are fascinating. Here’s my chance to share with Central Farm Market customers how important bees are to the cultivation of your favorite fruits and vegetables, especially blueberries and cherries which are completely dependent upon pollination by honeybees.

Oddly enough, honeybees are not native to North America. They were brought here in 1622 from Europe by the early settlers. Now three out of four crops grown for food in the United States are dependent upon honeybees for pollination, an estimated $24 billion dollars each year to the U.S. economy.

Walking into the greenhouses of vendors who grow produce to maturity inside and you’re bound to see cardboard boxes with holes scattered about. These are purchased pollinators who have only one job to do—spread pollen.

Here’s the fun part about bees: anyone can do it! “This is perfect!” exclaimed a customer as he spied my big bee on Sunday. He was planning to spend his afternoon working with the two hives he keeps in his back yard. No sprawling farm in the country needed.

Unfortunately, over a quarter of bee species in the world are experiencing a steep decline due to a variety of factors – loss of habitat, climate change, disease, parasites and pesticides.

Here are some ideas of how you can help save the bees.

  1. Plant bee-friendly landscaping that includes flowers and flowering herbs.
  2. Don’t use chemicals and pesticides to treat your lawn and garden. White clover and dandelions are not weeds, they are bee food!
  3. Buy raw honey from local beekeepers and farmers. Or better yet, try your hand at keeping your own bees.
  4. Bees drink a lot of water. Consider a small bowl of water with stones for the bees to land on and drink.
  5. Understand that honeybees are not aggressive and out to sting you. They are vegetarians, not bloodsuckers.
  6. Remember, hives become inactive in colder weather which makes honey seasonal. Stock up now for the winter now.

Honey is available at all Central Farm Markets locations.

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What the heck is a quince?

The first frost arrived last week along with one of my favorite seasonal fruits at Central Farm Markets – quinces! Not exactly a mainstream attraction, yet this pear-like pome has its own cultish following who seeks them out to make seasonal culinary favorites including pastes, butters and tarts. Quinces also fare very well with savory dishes.

Quinces were popular in early America, cultivated throughout the mid-Atlantic region, most notably at Monticello by Jefferson. I’ve been passing the Quince Orchard Road exit on the way to market for how many years?

Native to Asia, quinces first migrated to the Mediterranean during the Roman and Greek empires, making their way around the globe in the following millennia, most often prized for medicinal purposes. Quinces are high in vitamin C, full of antioxidants, loaded with dietary fiber and rich in minerals including iron, copper and zinc.

Cydonia oblong is a one-off, a solitary member of its genus belonging to the same family as apples and pears, Rosaceae. Similar in cultivation, shape and size to apples and pears, quinces grow from deciduous trees and shrubs. You can’t miss quinces at the market with their fuzzy appearance and brilliant, almost neon color.

Unlike apples and pears, quinces don’t bode well for snacking on raw due to their astringent pucker factor and dry, chalky, hardness. However, a little heat unlocks their sweetness and softens their consistency. Widely cultivated in Spain, dulce de membrillo is a sweet paste made from quinces and traditionally served with Manchego cheese.

Naturally high in tannins, quinces are a natural tenderizer when cooked with meat. Quinces are prized for making jellies, jams and preserves due to their high pectin content. Firmer than either apples or pears, quince flesh holds its shape when baked into pies and pastries or cooked in compote.

Quinces have held a place in literature and art throughout history. From speculation that it was a quince and not an apple that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden to the sacred emblem of Aphrodite, these golden fruits have been referenced for at least 4,000 years. Quinces were served in the court of Charles II during the 17th century and distilled into a delicate liqueur de coing in France.

With Thanksgiving only weeks away, quinces would make an excellent addition to cranberry sauce recipes that call for either apple or pears.

Even if you have no desire to eat quinces, they are aesthetically pleasing and have a fragrant aroma that lends well to sitting in a lovely bowl to naturally perfume your home. But trust me, you will want to enjoy their taste as well as their scent.

Quinces can be found at all Central Farm Markets locations.

Fall Fermentation

fermentation: an enzymatically controlled anaerobic breakdown of an energy-rich compound (such as a carbohydrate to carbon dioxide and alcohol or to an organic acid)

The heart of fall means making sauerkraut. Fermentation is an easy and nutritious way to preserve fresh vegetables for the coming winter months when the fields are frozen. With the first frost predicted this weekend, it was time to act.

My friend Tom announced he wanted to make sauerkraut, so I gladly procured over 100 pounds and headed to his house where we spent the afternoon shredding away with a wooden Austrian kraut cutter. Unlike an electric food processor, the ultra sharp blades on this wooden washboard-style cutter deliver a thinner cut with longer, feathery strands – something he deemed critical to making good sauerkraut.

We packed our crocks full of the gossamer brassicas, two teaspoons of picking salt for every pound of vegetables, and then topped each container off with several of the large outer leaves set aside earlier as we were splitting the heads. By the time each was two-thirds full, the salt had started to leach moisture from the cabbage shreds, creating a natural brine. This in turn would create the anaerobic environment for fermentation.

For the next six weeks I’ll be checking my crocks daily to make sure the cabbage remains submerged under a plate topped with a gallon jug full of water to keep the kraut submerged and to skim off any scum that has formed on the surface of the liquid. According to Tom, this step is critical otherwise the kraut will begin to rot or at the very least, have an off taste. And my house will develop a distinct odor. It’s been less than a week and I can tell all those little microbes are already hard at work.

Why do humans ferment food? Have you ever stopped to realize how much fermented foods we consume? Think about all the fermented foods you find at Central Farm Markets – pickles, kimchi, krauts, beer, wine, liquor, cider, vinegar, kombucha, charcuterie, cheeses, yogurt and bread. Yes, all those foods in one way or another have been fermented using naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria or have been inoculated with cultures to achieve a specific result.

There are two main types of fermentation – lactic acid and alcoholic. Sauerkraut and kimchi undergo a lactic acid fermentation using only the naturally occurring bacteria from the vegetables. Dairy products and meats require the additional exposure to specific cultures for their fermentations.

All those wonderful cheeses you see have varieties of cultures that create their individual flavors, colors and consistencies. For instance, blue cheeses are inoculated with Penicillium Roqueforti. Those lovely bloomy rind camembert are a veritable ecosystem containing Penicillium camemberti, Geotrichum candidum, Debaryomyces hansenii, and Kluyveromyces lactis all working together, keeping each in check to create color, consistency and flavor.

The white stuff on the outside of salami – you guessed it, good mold. There are many types and strains of cultures added which are good bacteria to outcompete bad bacteria that turn meats rancid.

Forget science fiction, real life has SCOBY molds. Drinks such as kombucha and kefir are fermented from a Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria & Yeast by means anaerobic fermentation of the yeast’s ethanol, the bacteria’s lactic acids and ethanol oxidation to acetate all happening at the same time. This complex process produces a gelatinous, cellulose-based biofilm called a pellicle on the surface of the liquid. Sometimes referred to as a mushroom, a SCOBY is not related to fungi. Other products utilizing SCOBY molds include vinegar and sourdough starters. Although the yeasts are eating sugars and burping out alcohol, the trace amounts of booze in these naturally fizzy beverages are far lower than those of beer, wine and cider.

And we all know about beer, wine and cider….right?

In addition to preservation, fermentation offers other advantages including increased digestibility, better flavor, safer to eat, more nutritious and lots of probiotics.

According to fermentation guru and author, Sandor Katz, humans have been fermenting food for approximately 12,000 years. “We still do it the same way today,” he said. “Why? Because it works. It’s hard to mess it up.”

A Day Off

“What are you going to do with your day off next week?” was the Question of the Day at market last week.

Since Bethesda Central will be closed on Sunday, October 14 due to the arts festival, customers were curious as to how their vendors would spend their day.

When there is no market due to inclement weather, there is not much of a chance for asking. But when a day with no market occurs on a sunny fall day with temperatures in the 70’s images of mountain hikes, long bike rides, sleeping in and a brunch buffet with bottomless mimosas tend to be the fantasy of choice. Unfortunately, it’s far from reality.

Many of the Central Farm Markets vendors participate in both the Bethesda, Mosaic and other markets on Sunday, so when I casually asked, their response was, “I’ll go to another market.” For those of us who only attend Bethesda we allowed thoughts of leisure to linger before admitting that we will use our time wisely to address projects that require our undivided attention for several hours.

“I’ve got so much that needs to get done before winter,” said Rob from Young Harvests.

Brian, over at Zeke’s, had grand plans for a mini vacation until his phone broke. “When did phones start costing $800 to replace? And that’s not even the newest model!” He’ll still get away, just not as grand as originally planned.

Audrey at Bending Bridge Farm is taking the time to head out-of-town to visit family. Nicole at Two Acre Farm is also devoting the day to family. “We have fall fest family days! We spend the day doing October festivals – hayrides, corn mazes, bonfires, eating lots of fall foods.”

“It’s nice to have a Sunday off,” said Josh at Cipolla Rossa Pizzeria

Yes, Josh, I hear you on that one. Now if I can remember to shut off my alarm clock.

Vendors aren’t the only ones questioning each other about what to do without the Bethesda market on Sunday. Just as we are set in our schedules, so are many of our customers.

“What am I going to do?” was our shoppers’ collective groan when reminded there would be no Bethesda market on October 14.

Savvy shoppers stocked up last week, but that’s not possible for some perishables or due to storage space.

Here’s what you are going to do for one week – shop at one of Central Farm Markets’ other three locations.

Pike and Westfield are right in Bethesda’s backyard, but you’ll have to shop on Saturday. Both are only five miles from the Sunday market location and both have ample parking. Many of the same vendors attend the Saturday markets – check the CFM website to see which vendors attend each market. If your favorite Sunday vendors aren’t at the Saturday markets, try someone new.

If you are unable to shop on Saturday, but want to patronize your specific farmers, you’re going to have to take a drive, about fifteen miles to Mosaic Central Farm Market in Fairfax, VA. Again, there is plenty of free parking and familiar faces.

What am I going to do? I haven’t decided. The fun side wants to spend the weekend in the city hitting up a show, going out to eat or visiting a museum before lambing season kicks off the following week. However, I think the practical side will win out preparing for a new batch of babies. Either way, I, along with all my fellow vendors, will be back in Bethesda on Sunday, October 21. See you then!

Year-Round Markets

Customer: When does this market close?

Vendor: 1:30 PM

Customer: No, I mean when does it close for the season.

I have that exchange at least twice a week now that fall has arrived. As a Central Farm Markets vendor at Bethesda, I get to see the faces of inquiring customers bloom with delight when I tell them the Bethesda and Mosaic markets operate year-round, with reduced hours (10 am-1:30 pm) January through March.

Why have a winter market?

“It’s what our customers demanded,” said Mitch Berliner, co-founder of Central Farm Markets, emphasizing by adding, “They really demanded it.” That was six years ago at Bethesda, with Mosaic being added three years later. Both winter markets offer approximately half the number of vendors.

About the same time that Central Farm Markets instituted a winter market, Toigo Orchards, Twin Springs Fruit Farm and Bending Bridge Farm undertook infrastructure expansions allowing for extensions of their growing season and storage capacities to better facilitate year-round markets. “It’s important to us that our customers have year-round access to healthy food,” said Audrey Fisher-Pedersen, co-founder of Bending Bridge Farm which has attended all the winter seasons thus far with Certified Organic produce.

Farm practices and philosophies are as varied as our customers, meaning that not all producers are able or choose to sustain year-round production or invest in technical mass storage systems. January, February and March are the three coldest months in the mid-Atlantic region. Season-extending greenhouse technologies get put to good use by vendors such as Toigo, Bending Bridge and Young Harvests, but the reality is not everything can be grown indoors. Even with the use of greenhouses and insulating row covers, the growth rates are dependent on temperature and sunlight.

Rob Young, owner of Young Harvests laments having limited greens due to the weather fluctuations, “Our greens don’t grow much without sunshine or with extremely cold temperatures.” Even the recent ongoing cloudy and rainy days have had an impact Young Harvests’ production as anyone who has shopped the latter part of the day and found themselves staring at his empty bins.

Lucas Brownback of Spiral Path Farm explained why he chooses to not attend winter market. “Most of our crops are seasonally grown in open fields. We believe in giving our soil time to regenerate, and the farmers need a break, too,” but Lucas pointed out that come January the crew is right back at it seeding for a new season in the greenhouses.

Let’s all repeat the word together again – S E A S O N A L – and talk about the timeline for the transition from the regular market season to the winter markets.

November 17th will be the last Saturday market for the Pike and Westfield markets this year. However, on Tuesday, November 20th there will be a Thanksgiving Market taking place at the Pike Central Farm Market location that will host vendors from all the markets who have products such as fresh turkeys, prepared goods, fruits and vegetables, etc. Keep in mind that not all vendors attend this market. A full list of vendors will be posted online and sent out in the market’s weekly email prior to the event.

The Sunday following Thanksgiving (November 25) there will be no markets. No one will have any room in their refrigerator to store more food. Eat your leftovers and let the farmers enjoy the holiday weekend with our families. We will all return to Mosaic and Bethesda on Sunday, December 2 with the regular Sunday schedule until January 6, 2019 when the winter market schedule (10 am – 1:30 pm) kicks in along with the Customer Loyalty Program.

But my favorite part about winter market is when the regulars gripe about the cold weather. I remind them that during the summer when everyone was sweating off their turnips, I told them this day would come.

Hubba Hubba

Autumn officially arrived last Saturday at 9:54 PM. For me, that means goodbye zucchini, hello Hubbard. I’m talking winter squash, those uniquely shaped and textured cucurbits that have already begun to appear at Central Farm Markets.

In my youth, winter squash were merely decorations that sat on the front porch stacked around corn stalks, the big orange pumpkins carved with triangle eyes and a toothy grins lit with a votive candle. This tradition continues today with house-proud holiday decorators going out of their way to procure the largest variety of what look more like alien pods.

Humans have been growing and breeding squash for over 8,000 years. “You have a huge demand for squash and gourds that are aesthetically interesting and different from each other. That’s been popular for a while, and it’s been really trendy the last few years,” explained Adam Pyle, a horticulturist at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. in an interview with NPR.

Eating winter squash other than in dessert was a foreign concept to me. Grandma’s ingredients for pie came out of a can. It wasn’t until one of the vendors at my local farmers market when I was in college was handing out slivers of brilliant orange flesh cut our of what looked like a fifty-pound green-skinned hollow cucumber. Hesitantly, I took a piece and was instantly converted by the sweet, firm fruit (yes, squash are fruit). Each week I would purchase a large chunk as it was inexpensive, perfect for a student budget. I learned to cook winter squash every imaginable way—baked, sautéed, grilled, pureed in soups, raw in salads. Wanting to grow it for myself, I asked the farmer if I could have some of his seeds as my purchases never contained any.

“No way, this is my squash. It took me over ten years to come up with this,” he replied. Miffed by his rebuff, I never bought his squash again and instead, sought out other unusual varieties, though none ever came close to the flavor and size of his.

After I had begun farming, a neighbor asked if I’d haul away her fall decorations to feed to my animals. She had a full pick-up load of every imaginable color, shape and size of squash, gourd and pumpkin. There was even a giant pumpkin which required the use of a wooden pallet and forklift to load on the truck. While most of the bounty went to the livestock, some I took slices from several to see how they would cook up and taste. The bluish-green Hubbard was my favorite out of all. Some had warty skins so thick I had to use an ax to cut into them!

The best part, though, was watching as the animals rolled them down the hill running in hopes of getting a bite one they broke open. The old red mare became the barnyard hero after she discovered if she stomped on the squash the succulent flesh was exposed. The pigs crawled inside the giant pumpkin through a hole they chewed open, eating it from the inside out. Everyone ate themselves silly and the following year squash grew throughout the pastures, many making it to maturity before the residents broke into them.

Winter squash, especially Hubbards, have become a staple of my fall and winter meals. Their size, versatility in preparation along with their storage capacity—up to a year in a cool, dry place—means there are always one or two along with other interesting varieties such as butternut (aka: neck pumpkins), Cinderella and Spaghetti squashes.

One of my favorite ways to prepare squash is to cube up the flesh and place in a container along with other sliced/cubed fall vegetables such as beets, carrots, and parsnips, add olive oil, crushed garlic, rosemary and fresh cracked pepper. Shake until the vegetables are thoroughly coated in oil and then spread on a baking sheet and place in a 375-degree oven until the roasted soft and caramelized. Got leftovers? Put in a blender along with a few cups of broth for instant soup. Add a little curry powder and a dollop of Greek yogurt for an international flair.

And yes, just about all varieties of winter squashes can be used to make pie.

Here are some tips for choosing and storing winter squash.

  • Winter squash are prone to decay. Examine the entire squash for any soft spots or signs of mold if you plan to store them for any length of time.
  • Choose squash that are heavy for their size and have dull rinds. The rinds should be firm. The heavier they are, the moister and tastier they are.
  • Winter squashes can be stored in a dark, cool, well-ventilated space for six months. Varieties with very thick, warty rinds will last for a year.
  • Cut squash can be wrapped and refrigerated for several days.

It’s Not Too Early

A few weeks ago, I saw an exasperated lament on social media about a notice to order Thanksgiving turkeys. “It’s September,” she posted. And I knew immediately this was a topic for Dishing the Dirt to tackle.

Yes, if you want a locally raised holiday bird, reserve it now. But it’s only September you say. We’ve become an on-demand culture believing that everything can be ordered online and overnighted to our doorsteps. While most customers who shop at farmers markets get the concept of seasonality, there are those who fall short on understanding availability.

Let’s talk turkey.

If you are purchasing your Thanksgiving turkey from the farmers market, it’s coming from a diversified farm, meaning multiple species are raised by the farmers. Their flocks number in the hundreds, not thousands of birds as is with commercial growers meaning there is a limited number, often first come, first serve. Farmers with smaller flocks may require a reservation – even a deposit – in the spring when ordering poults (baby turkeys) since the young chicks can be costly – up to $15 per poult for some of the rarer Heritage breeds. This is a significant investment considering how quickly a flock of holiday dinners can be decimated by bad weather and predation.

I mentioned Heritage breeds. These are the much sought-after varieties that have not had their physical traits tinkered with through selective breeding to create a fast-growing, big-breasted snow-white bird known as the Broad Breasted White. These birds, along with their cousins, the Broad Breasted Bronze, are the de facto standard in commercial turkey production. They have been bred for generations to produce extra-large breasts for lots of white meat which has also led to their inability to fly. This is why many pastured poultry farmers have shifted their production flocks to these two varieties.

Although I no longer raise turkeys, for years I raised a small flock of Heritage birds – Bourbon Reds, Standard Bronze and Blue Slates. They were lovely birds, but I grew tired of clipping wings and explaining to customers why their Thanksgiving turkey had small breasts and lots of dark meat. One year I failed to clip their wings in time and returned home from a Friday night market after dark to find all 75 turkeys perched on top of the fence rail. They had free range not only of the farm, but of the entire neighborhood which did not bode well for my residential neighbors. After that I switched to Broad Breasted Bronze which still produced excellent flavor and texture on pasture without too rapid of growth, they looked pretty and most importantly, they did not fly.

Unlike chickens, turkeys are very seasonal in their egg production. Heritage breed hens will lay only two to three eggs a week starting in early spring going through June. Because the Broad Breasted hens are unable to mate naturally (those big breasts get in the way), they must be artificially inseminated. This intensive husbandry allows for practically year-round access to poults from production breeds.

The slow-growing Heritage breed turkeys require 25-32 weeks of growth to be ready for Thanksgiving harvest. That means starting poults in April as opposed to the Broad Breasted varieties that can reach harvest weight in half that time. The difference in growth rates is also why customers are most likely to have sticker shock when choosing a Heritage breed turkey. Twice the amount of time to grow means twice the amount of feed. Turkeys also require feed which is significantly higher in protein than chicken feed – read: more expensive.

Now it’s half way through September and the farmers can see the back stretch, a sprint to Thanksgiving. From now until November, these birds will consume a fearsome amount of food and water, requiring daily attention. By the middle of October farmers hope to have reservations for the majority of their birds as they begin chanting a daily count-down to the week prior to Thanksgiving which is a Herculean task of labor and logistics.

There’s always that person who shows up at the last-minute wanting the biggest or the smallest bird. Sorry, those went to the shoppers who called back in September and reserved what they wanted.

Turkeys, fresh or frozen are not exactly easy to pack in coolers for storage or transport so when the farmers can get a fairly accurate estimate as to how many birds to bring, it makes their lives so much easier. Trust me, no farmer wants to back-haul fresh turkeys. Even worse, leftover fresh turkeys are a pain in the cloaca to freeze. Think about stacking large bowling balls in a freezer.

So, if you are planning on serving a fresh turkey from your favorite farmer this year for Thanksgiving, talk to them in the coming weeks and make everyone’s lives a whole lot easier.

Florence & The Farm Markets

Before there were iPhones with news and weather apps, there was my dad who was always clicking between The Weather Channel, The History Channel and Fox News. On days he knew I was at market, he’d pay particularly close attention to the weather. Occasionally I would get a telephone call warning me of a fast-moving storm in my direction, him going so far as to tell me once to pack up and get out of there NOW. Other times when the sky would turn black, I’d call him for an update to see which way the storm was tracking.

Now there are multiple weather reporting outlets who rely on experienced forecasters, super computers and satellite images that can be called up on demand, but predicting the weather is still a crap shoot. Any farmer will tell you that with no uncertainty. Trust me, we are all glued to our weather apps right now, especially farmers in Virginia.

Customers have already begun asking, “Will there be markets this weekend?” The answer: we don’t know…yet.

We know there won’t be markets the weekend after Thanksgiving and there won’t be a Bethesda market on October 14th due to the Bethesda Row Fine Arts Festival, but to say with any certainty in advance about weather-related cancellations is about as predictable as the weather itself.

“We intend to stay open rain or shine,” says Mitch Berliner, founder of Central Farm Markets.

However, due to the agreement with Montgomery County for the Bethesda location, the market must close if the county closes the school for weekend activities due to a weather event like a major snow storm or a direct hit from a hurricane. Similarly, the other locations (Pike, Westfield and Mosaic) will cancel markets only when weather conditions such as ice becomes dangerous to patrons and vendors.

Ice won’t be an issue this weekend, but the remnants of Florence, depending on where it makes landfall, may result in conditions – high winds and rain – that necessitate closures. Sure, vendors go without tents on breezy days, but tent weights only work so well before either the frame collapses from the sustained stress or a strong gust whips the entire structure into the air (weights included) and plunks it down on shoppers, on vehicles, on other vendors’ tents. Over the years I’ve witnessed several tent wrecks due to high winds. In an instant there were injured people, broken windshields, damaged products and destroyed tents.

If there is rain coupled with extremely high winds, that’s when it makes sense to pull the plug. According to the Capital Weather Gang, “based on the best available computer model forecasts, the storm’s extreme rainfall is likely to remain south of Washington.” That does not mean the region will not experience the effects of Florence as their forecast added, “There is still some chance that the region will endure disruptive rain and wind from the storm.”

Chances…

Some vendors travel over two hours to and from Central Farm Markets. That means that the producers traveling from the south are much more likely to be impacted by Hurricane Florence. Westmoreland Produce, located in Virginia between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers has chosen to err on the side of caution and will not be attending markets this weekend. Other vendors located closer to the estimated path of the hurricane are weighing their options as well. It’s not that vendors want to skip a market due to inclement weather. After all, we must work in all types of conditions to get the food to our customers.

Experience has taught us that picking and loading during dangerous storms is an unwise choice, that even though we are loaded and rolling flooded roads, downed trees and power lines can thwart our efforts. With supersaturated ground from all the recent rains, a blast of high winds can quickly bring down trees and poles. When state governors and the District mayor all declare states of emergency ahead of a major storm, we give pause and consider our trek into the city.

Other times we take a chance on an ugly forecast, standing for hours in the first bone-chilling rain of the season such as last week and are rewarded with patrons showing up in full support and colorful rain gear.

Yes, this still doesn’t answer the question will there be markets this weekend.

“We will wait until Friday IF we are to call off the markets, but at this point we intend to go forward,” says Mitch Berliner.

Here’s how you can stay on top of how Hurricane Florence will impact all the Central Farm Markets.

Another New Year

One of the things I love the most about the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity of urban farmers markets is the multitude of New Year celebrations. And you know what that means – feasting! It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you believe, food is central to practically every holiday. After many seasons of selling at farmers markets, I’m starting to get the hang of all the holidays enough to plan on the special requests for foods associated with each one, my lessons far better (and flavorful) than any college cultural geography course.

While the global population bases day-to-day living with the Gregorian calendar, many of the cultural and religious holidays follow lunar calendars leading to multiple “new year” celebrations that occur on dates other than January 1st.

I start out by wishing customers a happy new year on the first day of January. In my tribe, we opt for pork and sauerkraut for good luck. Approximately a month later, my Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean customers following their lunisolar calendar prepare for spring celebrations, aka Chinese New Year for which I have been on the receiving end of awesome pork dumplings.

I learned about the Mongolian New Year when customers special ordered a sheep’s head and stomach along with assorted offal a few weeks ahead of their celebration. Their new year occurs on the first day of the traditional Mongolian lunisolar calendar which denotes the new year as the new moon two months after the winter solstice. They were kind enough to bring me a small container of leftovers to taste. It was quite good, but the neighbors’ at their condo didn’t appreciate the aroma which was quite different from American norms.

In March, the Persian New Year brings a new set of flavors – dolmeh – which are grape leaves filled with ground lamb and ethereally sweet baklava, another tradition to which I look forward.

Rolling into September, the requests for brisket begin which means Rosh Hashana is on the horizon. My self-appointed Bubbe has educated me on the culinary points of Judaism over the years, leading me to grow a large patch of horseradish for Passover and package individual shanks for the Seder plate.

Several years ago, a young man asked for a ram’s horn to make his own shofar. I had to explain that the breed of sheep I raise don’t have horns. As disappointed as he was, maybe I should have substituted a goat horn, of which I have plenty.

Digging into the history of Rosh Hashana, again I have found another celebration deeply rooted in agriculture. In the modern world, we tend to forget how many traditions have emerged from 5779 years of agrarian cycles. This is when new fruits, such as apples and pomegranates are coming into season, and honey is plentiful.

Also observed at the new moon this month is the Islamic New Year. Raʼs al-Sanah is a low-key event after Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha that is more of a cultural celebration that includes traditional meals based upon seasonal ingredients.

After this month, there’s still one more New Year to celebrate – Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights which celebrates new beginnings, the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. It is also when goat meat is traditionally served. That’s a new year to which I can totally relate.

My customers at Central Farm Markets sometimes ask which holidays I celebrate. As a farmer who feeds people from all walks of life, I gleefully smile and tell them I celebrate them all.

The End of Summer…Unofficially

Triple-digit heat indexes for days this week, yet signs of autumn’s arrival are on the horizon.

Kids going back to school, whites and seersucker get closeted until Memorial Day, colorful mums taking the place of sunflowers and pumpkin spiced everything is already everywhere – yes, it’s Labor Day weekend. However, on the farm, summer is full steam ahead until September 22nd when the fall equinox officially shifts the seasons’ gear.

August and September still constitute summer when field-grown produce is peaking. These are your heat lovers, the ones that turn sunshine into sugars – sweet corn, stone fruit and melons. Other summertime crops like okra, peppers, tomatoes, tender squashes (aka: summer squash) and eggplants are overflowing.

Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, farmers can see the waning season and if you pay close attention to what’s disappearing and showing up at market from week-to-week, so can you.

Seasonality

Although farmers live by the weather report, at times hour-by-hour, the growth cycles of our products are the tell-all of seasons. We know with a fair degree of accuracy how long it takes for individual products to mature depending on environmental conditions. Greenhouse technologies, growing practices such as row covers and storage innovations like nitrogen chambers can extend the availability of many fruits and vegetables to practically year-round.

Dishing the Dirt has tried to convey the environmental impacts on your food choices from a late spring to a wet summer, as opposed to the artificial year-round availability created by the modern grocery industry.

When the first killing frost hits – anywhere from late September to early November, hot weather loving field-grown products are over until next year. This is when green tomato lovers will find fruits that were picked prior to frost to squeeze every last bit of income out of the patch before pulling the vines for good. There’s fried green tomatoes, tomato relish, pickled tomatoes, green tomato pie…the list goes on.

The Up Side of Fall

Not all produce is damaged by the cooler temperatures, including frost. Some fruits and vegetables are better after exposure to frost. These plants, such as leeks, beets, carrots, parsnips, kales, Brussels sprouts, chards, turnips and rutabagas transform their starches into sucrose – a natural form of anti-freeze – which is basically sugar. Similarly, some apples are harvested only after a frost, especially those for making cider. This is what you have to look forward to in the coming months.

Meat, too

Customers don’t always think of animal products – meat, milk, eggs, even honey – as seasonal, but they are. Try buying a fresh, local, pasture-raised chicken from December through April. Not going to happen.

Laying hens’ egg production is directly tied to amount of light during the day. Shorter days mean fewer eggs. Hens can be “tricked” daily by putting a light in the hen-house as 14-16 hours of light is needed to maintain peak production. Hens will tell you the days are getting shorter without ever making a peep. That’s why there isn’t an egg to be found at winter markets after 11 am as even with lighting there is a decline in production.

As fresh poultry season ends with the year, red meat season is ramping up as farmers harvest their flocks and herds to provide the much sought-after calories customers crave in colder weather. Cooking a roast all day right now seems outright ludicrous but give it a month and that’s what everyone will start asking for. Whether or not customers realize it, buying habits are also seasonal. Currently, no one is asking for large roasts to slow-cook all day. Once the official start of fall arrives when the weather cools,  buying habits will also shift. Until then, it’s still burgers, sausages, chops, steaks and yes, chicken.

Happy Labor Day everyone.