AgriCulture: Leeky and Creaky

Alright, already, I admit it. I’m getting old.

Boy, was that hard.

At 68, I’m not exceptionally old to be either a lawyer or a farmer. Lawyer demographic statistics are hard to come by, but it’s not hard to find lots of articles in legal journals about the coming “silver tsunami” of lawyers practicing past age 65. And everyone seems aware that there are plenty of old farmers.

According to the last Census of American Agriculture, the average age of the American farmer is 57.5. Here in Columbia County, New York, people 55-64 years old constitute the biggest single bloc of farmers, followed by those 65 to 74 years old. In the aggregate, those between 45 and 74 constitute over two thirds of the farmers in the County. There were more farmers in that last census 75 and older than there were in Troy and Victoria’s age group, 25-34.
It may be that statistics exaggerate the predominance of older farmers, in that lots of younger people probably have decision- making roles in agriculture without being formally in the owner / operator role that gets them counted as a “farmer” for census purposes. But the fundamental reality is that there are a lot of us older folks doing tasks that are popularly associated with young, vigorous people with glowing skin and sinewy muscle.

I have to admit that I’ve seen continuous engagement in hard physical labor as a pathway to fending off age. I looked at neighbors like Bob and Anne Rider, who until Bob’s death in his late 80s were actively working their orchard, and was convinced that it was precisely that work that kept them so wonderfully alive and engaged in the world around them for so many years.

As for myself, I always took great comfort in there being no tasks on the farm that my age restricted me from doing. That I could wrestle sheep, climb ladders, dig ditches, plant trees and haul feed gave me immense satisfaction. My partner Peter, who began to suffer a lot of impediments for which he required my assistance before he died in his eighty first year, kept telling me I should not revel so much in my physical capacities, lest I be devastated when those capacities declined. Such comments made me all the more resolved to just chug along.

The first jolt of reality came, I fear, last Saturday. I was digging a trench along a vegetable bed in order to plant leeks. I was using a shovel that was a little too short for the task. And in one moment, as I twisted slightly in the wrong direction, I felt a searing pain in my right butt. I worked on with a better shovel, but starting that night, compounding the effects of a bad cold and cough everyone in the house was enduring, I could barely sleep for lack of a comfortable leg position. Getting up and getting down were both moan- and groan- inducing events. Walking became hobbling. Stairs were always taken good leg first.

After three sleepless nights and incapacitated days I forced myself to the doctor, who blessedly prescribed anti-inflammatories, and sent me to an orthopedist for x-rays and evaluation. Catastrophizing, I dreamt at night of needing hip replacement surgery and how to decide between hospitals. I was much relieved when the doctor told me there was plenty of space still left in my hip joint, and that I had simply suffered an “over-use” injury.

I was considerably less happy, however, to hear the remedy. Not only will I need two to four months of physical therapy, but, he said, I will have to take things very easy. The minute I responded “this is a farm…” I could see the expression change on the doctor’s face. He’d clearly met my type before, and the lecture ensued. “You can ignore what I say and push yourself. You will have plenty of relief from the drugs and it may seem just fine for a while. But if you don’t do as I say, you may find yourself with a permanent limp and in chronic pain.”

I wanted to tell him how growing leeks means so much to me. Peter, born in Cardiff, used to tell me how on St. David’s Day (March 1), the day of Wales’s patron saint, the boys wore leeks, the Welsh national vegetable, in their lapels while the girls wore daffodils. The process of planting and growing leeks has always appealed to me. Each tiny seedling is transplanted into an individual hole in the bottom of a trench and firmed in with mud in a process my mother would have called “patchke-ing.” Being deep in the trench helps keep them appropriately moist, and as the leeks grow the dirt that was excavated for the trench is mounded back around them to blanch the stems. The row of leeks, with their deep flat leaves above the soil, stands like a decorative border army of soldiers in the vegetable garden.

And I love eating leeks – in cold summer soup vichyssoise, or steamed and served in a vinaigrette as a starter, or Turkish style braised in olive oil as a meze, or crisply sautéed with carrots as a side dish, or smothering a pork shoulder as a Macedonian casserole. Leeks were always a staple in our kitchen and our garden, where we grew hundreds each year until 2017 when the allium leaf borer arrived without warning and ate our entire crop. In 2018, we had done our research and knew how to combat the alien invaders. We were doing fine until Peter’s accident and death in September, just when the leaks needed to be kept covered against the next egg laying wave. With our attentions elsewhere, we lost the crop a second time. I was absolutely resolved that this year there would be bounteous leeks once again.

I could tell that none of this story – the satisfaction of growing leeks, the pleasure of eating them, the challenge of conquering the leaf borer, the imperatives of the farm – would sway the stern doctor from his order that I “take it easy.” After all, when I pressed him on what I could do without “overdoing it”, all I got back was a sphinx-like smile, as if to say, “you surely know.”

I don’t know that I do. I don’t know that I’ll accept the new limitations of my old age. I might turn out to be the stubborn sort who will live with a limp. Or I may get wise and trade chores like trench digging with Troy and Victoria, or bring in mechanized help. I do know that one way or another, we are going to have leeks.

WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK:

Currants, black or red, $6/pint
the first Gooseberries, limited quantities, $6/pint (if you like them quite green and tart quantities are not limited at all)
Swiss Chard is incredibly plentiful and beautiful, $2/bunch
Spinach is taking a rest

WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK

Favas are here, young and tender $4/lb

Lots of Rainbow Chard – $3/bunch

Giant scallions, $2/bunch

Mugwort, $1/bunch for infusions or tea
Beets, $4/bunch (mixed bunches Chiogga, Detroit Red, Golden, or tell us your preference),
Scallions, $2/bunch
Kale $3/bunch
Collards, $3/bunch
Purslane, limited quantities, $2/bag
Cilantro, limited quantities, $1/bunch
SPINACH $4/BAG
OASIS TURNIPS, $3/BUNCH
SORREL, $2/BAG
MINT: $.75 a bunch
DILL: $.75 a bunch
SHISO LEAVES, $1.00 FOR 10

Currants, black or red, $6/pint
the first Gooseberries, limited quantities, $6/pint (if you like them quite green and tart quantities are not limited at all)

EGGS: Production is now in overdrive. We can handle all your orders. $5/doz

MEATS: We keep some on hand, but it helps to order ahead in case we need to retrieve from our stash in the big commercial freezer

GEESE: One remaining, about 8.5 lbs. $10/lb.

TURKEYS: A few small ones left over and frozen $11/lb .

GUINEA FOWL, We are sold out!

ROASTING CHICKENS – We are sold out til Fall

LAMB: shoulder roasts at $10/lb, riblets $8/lb, small and larger leg roasts $14/lb, lamb stew $7/lb, shanks, $10/lb

PORK: Loin pork chops, $12/lb (2 to a pack, btwn 1 and 1.5 lbs), Jowl (roughly 2 to 3 lbs each), $12/lb,
Spare ribs and country ribs $7/lb
baby back ribs $8/lb
fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb
picnic or Boston butt roasts (roughly 2 lbs) $12/lb
smoked bacon, $12/lb
Kielbasa $8/lb

DUCKS: SOLD OUT

COMPOST, $6/Bag, approx. 40 lbs.

FARM PICKUPS:

Email us your order at farm@turkanafarms.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Regular pickup times are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., other days by arrangement. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call at 518-537-3815 or email.

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AgriCulture: Leeky and Creaky
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