AgriCulture: Looking Forward, Anxiously

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It seems almost everyone I chat with of late is gripped by a high level of anxiety. Many friends report disrupted sleep. I have it too. I find myself wakened by dreams in which my world is disordered. People come and release the animals or carry them. My car is borrowed, but not returned. In my dream last night, a judge, with whom I and my adversary were in some trouble earlier this week for missing a deadline to submit a joint letter, made a sudden appearance here on the farm. (Thankfully, my anxious reaction was alleviated when I saw that she was visiting as a veterinarian making a house call, albeit treating a person — not an animal — outside the barn).

A neighbor told me that this high level of upset has to do with the moon being in retrograde. I am relatively certain that it has much more to do with two identifiable sources much closer at hand: One, uncertainty over the election, particularly whether even a clear and decisive result will resolve our state of political instability or will send us into a cycle of disintegration and violence. Two, the long predicted fall spike of the COVID-19 pandemic. My own concern is much less about becoming infected than it is about a months’ long return to stricter social isolation and the economic consequences of a new extended lockdown.

There are of course many ways to address anxiety. One friend has begun taking medication, with not entirely satisfactory results. I have turned to the garden. I have long recognized the zen like peace which gardening provides. I didn’t require Rebecca Mead’s August article in the New Yorker on [“The Therapeutic Power of Gardening”](https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/08/24/the-therapeutic-power-of-gardening) to tell me that gardening, by connecting us with a cosmic order, soothes the soul.

mushroom
The garden soothes with beauty, too. A ringless honey mushroom? Edible? Photo by Mark Scherzer

The standard fall cleanup tasks (taking up stakes, bringing in hoses) give the illusion of restoring order. Harvesting the fall vegetables alleviates fears of want by provisioning to get through hard times. I’ve been experimenting with pickling thinly sliced black radishes and julienned daikon radishes to have as condiments through the winter. Turnip leaf kimchee, which I last made 10 years ago, is also on my agenda.

Perhaps most centering, though, is fall planting. This year, I’ve returned to planting garlic, which I skipped last year. But I also decided to do try directly sowing leeks. Frequently in past years we wintered over any large leeks still in the garden by heavily mulching them, and they always came back in the spring. This year, having missed my spring planting, I cleared trenches and planted leek seeds just a couple of weeks ago. Thanks to our ample recent rains I’m already seeing their tiny sprouts emerge (gorgeous mushrooms, too; see above). I will before the first really hard frost mulch these in, and fully expect they’ll give me a head start on the spring garden. What I’ve read suggests that it will work. And doing this reinforces the feeling that there’s a future with something to look forward to.

Which brings me to what we always look forward to this year, but may lose: the holidays. Dr. Fauci this week suggested that we write off Thanksgiving. It will come as a big disappointment to many who were counting on having the feast in some form or other. I know this because I’ve received four emails in the last week hoping to put in orders for a heritage breed turkey, to which I’ve had to respond, unfortunately, “no turkeys this year.”

It’s not because Dr. Fauci told me not to raise them. It’s because other setbacks intervened to erase our signature product. You may recall that when In September, 2018, my partner Peter died, it was our helper Peter Siegenthaler’s efforts that allowed us to bring the turkeys through that season. But that was our last bunch. The following year, my nephew Troy and his partner (now wife) Victoria valiantly undertook to continue all the farm’s lines of production, but in June, 2019, the barn burned with all the young turkeys inside. The fire was probably caused by a malfunction in one of the turkeys’ heat lamps . It was too late for us to start again and pretty impossible without a barn to brood them in.

By the end of the 2019 growing season, Troy and Victoria had decided this farm was not their future. They had other commitments that would prevent them devoting the time necessary to raise turkeys, so we did not start them. Since March, of course, I’ve been here full time, but by the time I realized it was going to be such an extended stay it was too late to order the birds from the hatchery. In past years I might have been able to put in a last minute order and get birds at the end of April (my preferred start time), but the pandemic instantly inundated all the hatcheries with orders from people wanting to raise their own backyard food sources, meaning a months-long wait for poults. The heritage breed birds need 7 months to get to size, and I was not interested in raising the fat flightless butterballs that could be raised in half the time.

For next year, however, there is a pretty good likelihood that the farm will be back in the turkey business. I’m in the process of leasing the back pastures to another farmer to graze cattle, but will keep sufficient space up front for a rump herd of sheep and to raise turkeys and chickens. And having found that I can work remotely from here just as effectively as being in the City, and that I am reasonably content living here full time, I am contemplating giving up my City residence and interspersing farming with lawyering from a Germantown base.

I’ve reached no final decision, but Nate Silver’s 538, which I read daily, is predicting that unless things fall completely apart there’s a 60% chance that Turkana Farms will have turkeys again next year. If so, I hope it will be part of a widespread return to normalcy from what seems like the worst of bad dreams.

WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK

Escarole $3/bag
Cheese pumpkins, $1/lb
Small White turnips, $3/bunch
Collard greens, $2/bunch
Large black Spanish Radishes, $1 each (or smaller ones in bunches)
Daikon radish, $1 each
Kale, (curly leaf or lacinato) $2/bunch
Swiss Chard, $3/bag
Fresh dug horseradish root, $3/lb.
Sorrel, one gallon bag, $3/bag
Mint, $1/ bunch
Coriander, $1/bunch
Garlic chives (the flat kind), $1/bunch

EGGS: $5/doz

MEATS:

LAMB: fresh back from processing, Legs of lamb and loin chops, $14/lb, boneless lamb shoulder and shoulder steaks, $10/lb, Ground lamb, $7/lb. For the Central Asians among you, lamb tails, $5/lb.

PORK: fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb

CHICKENS: They were quite uniform in size, all just around 6 lbs, a few under. We’ve already had one and the freedom rangers have been what you want them to be, deeply flavorful. They are now frozen. $6/lb. Separately, bags of chicken livers, also $6/lb.

FARM PICKUPS

E-mail 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. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.

AgriCulture: Looking Forward, Anxiously
AgriCulture

 
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