I felt a sense of satisfaction yesterday as I got in the car to head to the Berkshires to my friend, Tom. Things were going well. Though it was still light out, I had easily lured the chickens into their coop with cracked corn, enabling me to close them in without worrying about predators entering in the darkness. More important, I was bearing with me my contribution to the evening: long, fat, meaty Turkish pole beans that I had volunteered as the green vegetable for dinner.
You may recall my difficulties growing Turkish pole beans this summer. My first planting seemed to be doing fine when suddenly, over the course of a couple of days, all the vines shriveled up. The next planting, in a bed enclosed by a fence to prevent rabbits munching on the vines, failed to make it because something larger, I assume a ground hog or raccoon, knocked down the fence and ate the vines. This bunch of beans represented my third try, planted in the beginning of August, in a gamble that we would not have an early frost.
Normally a failure to successfully grow a vegetable would simply send me to the farmer’s market to buy it instead, but in this case it seemed urgent to me to succeed. It’s not that you can’t get these at the market (though you can’t) or that they’re sweet and flavorful (which they are, similar to very long romano beans). It’s that these beans are descended from seeds my late partner Peter smuggled in from Turkey many years ago. Although a reader did, upon reading my lamentations earlier in the summer, generously offer to provide seed for me next year from her own carefully shepherded stash, I felt that taking advantage of the offer would constitute failure to preserve one element of this farm’s unique features, as Peter and I nurtured them.
Thankfully, the gamble paid off, though it seemed strange to be enjoying for the first time on October 15 what is in most years a summer-long vegetable favorite of mine. Now, I have not only beans to eat but also some large pods I’m leaving out there to dry on the vine to be the source of next year’s Turkish pole bean crop: a special product of the farm preserved.
When I came back from some errands this morning I sat quietly for a few moments at the kitchen table. I heard a verbal “knock knock knock” at the back screen door, and there found Valerie Schaff, a well known portrait photographer who has a particular focus on animal portraiture, bearing a gorgeous set of prints she had made of yet another special feature of this farm back in 2016 or 2017 — the heritage breed turkeys we raised every year, but which I have not raised since the barn burned in 2019 with all of that year’s turkeys in it.
Valerie had spent a lovely afternoon back then with me, Peter, and the turkeys, and had taken numerous portraits. She had told us she would bring us copies, and we were always curious why she never had. Valerie explained to me today that the day she came was the day before the turkeys were to be picked up to be “processed”, meaning it was the Sunday before Thanksgiving. She was touched by the turkeys’ harmonic call and response when Peter and I assured them that they were BEAUUUUUUTIFUL , which they seemed to echo in reply. She had every intention of sharing the images with us but delayed out of sadness about their fate.Then Peter’s death made her feel like such vital pictures would be ill timed.
I am grateful to Val for bringing them today. The photos, two of which I’ve reproduced here with her permission, show both the beauty and the sociability of the birds. They capture the pride the tom turkeys take in their appearance, strutting for the enticement of the hens. They show the contrast between the turkeys milling and strutting and the quiet presence of the grazing cows and ruminating sheep behind them. Had she come at a different time, Val might have captured how the turkeys interacted with the others, even pecking at bugs on the sheep’s heads sometimes, an action the sheep invited.
The vitality in the photos Val referred was, I think, as much Peter’s and mine as the birds’. I am sure our vitality was inspired by theirs. The turkeys were by turns silly and affectionate, intelligently curious and entertaining. These are qualities I would find engaging in a human friend. I believe their infectious joy, as reflected in Peter’s and my response to them in the pictures, was the reason we so enjoyed raising them and what led to such a sadness (which Val felt too) on that fateful day each year that we sent them off for “processing.” (I recently told my friend Éric that I found him to have an infectious joi de vivre, and I’d like to assure him that this is not a prelude to a similar fate.)
The turkeys were always the farm’s largest revenue source but also required much more work and attention than the other livestock. It’s been disappointing to tell callers looking for turkeys this year that I decided not to raise them because I did not think I could manage operating the farm on my own if turkeys were in the mix. But these pictures in which Val so profoundly captured the turkeys’ presence have reminded me that one cannot think about the farm’s operation solely in terms of hours of work or dollars and cents. One has to consider its unique features, the ones that spark joy and satisfaction, and ultimately the spirit of the place. From that perspective, the turkeys do need to come back.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
NEW: Daikon Radish, $2/lb
Asian pears, $3/quart
Long Hot Portugal peppers $.50 each
Jalapeno peppers, $.50 each
Poblano peppers $1 each
Collard greens $3/bag
Fennel $1/bulb – next wave coming in
Oasis turnips, $3/lb
Rhubarb $4 a lb.
Mint $1 a bunch
Frisee lettuce, $3/bag
Sorrel, $3 a bag
EGGS: $5/doz Production is dropping off, but there are still some coming in, so ask
CHICKENS: They were quite uniform in size, all just around 6 lbs, a few under. These freedom rangers have been what you want them to be, deeply flavorful. $6/lb, frozen.
Email us your order at email@example.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.