AgriCulture: With a Little Help From My Friends

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I return to this bulletin after a brief break. It is the season when I feel comfortable in communicating less than weekly because there is virtually nothing being harvested in need of immediate sale.

Not that that there’s nothing still growing. Up until last week I could still harvest high quality black radishes and escarole. Even with several nights when the temperature has hovered closed to 20 degrees, the kale and collards soldier on. The Thanksgiving feast included items that had been harvested well in advance; I brought in the pumpkin for the pie in late October, and used a small frozen turkey on hand from 2018. But it also included Brussels sprouts picked Thanksgiving morning. And last week I managed to extract two full bags of sorrel from the garden for sale. Some plants are amazingly resilient.

The cause of my break was a brief and not entirely anticipated stay-cation, with guests. I admit, somewhat guiltily, that I failed to adhere to the household-only guideline that public health authorities asked us to observe around the holiday. I am generally highly compliant. A diligent masker, I shop rarely, and will often go for a stretch of four or five days without seeing anyone or leaving the farm. But, like other folks I’ve spoken with who made calculated Thanksgiving choices, I did not restrict myself to a holiday with just my one-person household in attendance.

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As a lawyer is wont to do, I have worked up my defense against the tsk-tsking of my friends, especially the epidemiologists and infectious disease doctors among them. For the Thanksgiving meal itself I hosted Eric. My “legal” defense (a far less outlandish argument than might be presented by Rudy Giuliani or Sydney Powell) is that Eric should be considered a member of the household, having lived here full time from March to August and returned with his dog, Lillie, for approximately every third week since. We were joined the following day by friends Paul and Steve, who along with another friend, George, and neighbor, Adam, have comprised almost all of my pandemic in-person social world, at least since it got too cold to socialize outdoors at a 6 foot distance.

I call this group my “pod”, though I recognize that ‘s probably a stretch since each member has a small group of people they see outside this “pod.” Recognizing that we are essentially socializing with each other’s contacts, making the risk higher than in a true pod, means that we also maintain a little more distance from each other than if we were living together full time. For example, Eric, Steve and I went to George’s for dinner on Thursday, but we ate outside on his screened porch, surrounded by propane heaters (and ultimately wrapped in blankets) in the 40 degree evening. Ultimately we must rely on each other’s judgment, reflected in our respective social practices, and on our perhaps incomplete scientific understanding in determining how much risk is reasonable to take. I, for example, have assumed that Steve presents no transmission risk, since he is approaching full recovery from a long course of COVID that started in March and still has strong antibody counts to show for it.

Epidemiologists are apparently divided over just how much of a factor “living room” spread of Covid is in fueling the pandemic. Clearly it must contribute at least a small amount. But I would argue that, if approached judiciously, there’s a countervailing public health benefit that makes it reasonable to allow for this degree of small scale social interaction. We are inherently social creatures; we are no more meant to live alone than are sheep or cows. Craving for social interaction may in fact promote reckless risk taking. We may need low risk ways to satisfy the craving, and in these glum times to be reminded of what makes life worth living.

Take, for example, how we eat. Cooking for a one person household can often be a rushed and rudimentary affair, reducing meals to just basic energy infusion and satisfying hunger pangs. Cooking by and for a group is something entirely different.

I told Eric just before Thanksgiving that I thought we should make pumpkin ravioli after the holiday with the pureed Long Island cheese pumpkin that remained after baking my pumpkin pies. By coincidence, Steve brought me a pasta maker a friend had given to him that he had no use for. On Saturday Eric spent the afternoon painstakingly making the raviolis (with me helping catch and lay the dough out as he rolled it), while Paul made a cauliflower-based Alfredo style sauce to accompany them. The ultimate meal, accompanied by escarole salad, was delicious, but was really just the punctuation mark at the end of a process of preparation involving all four of us, which was part creative challenge and part occasion for fostering fellow-feeling.

To spend three hours preparing for myself what I might eat in twenty minutes seems pointless. To spend three hours working together to prepare a meal to be eaten together becomes the point.

Working with Eric on redecorating the rooms left by Troy and Victoria when they moved back to North Carolina, and working with Steve on unloading hay into the barn, had similar benefits of turning arduous, daunting tasks into a shared kind of pleasure. It was a lovely week.

Social isolation is an enemy of mental and ultimately physical health. I am hardly free of anxiety — about the pandemic, the state of the economy and therefore of my business, and any number of other stressors. But the sense of well-being I derived from being with my friends is of an entirely different order of anything I ever got from a zoom call. It worked as an antidote to that anxiety. Even in intermittent doses, that kind of contact makes it easier to sustain surrendering all the other parts of our lives we’ve given up to get through this thing.

WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK:

Egg production is down for because of the shortened days, but not entirely gone. First come, first served.

Vegetable sales are suspended til Spring except we still have cheese pumpkins.

Frozen chickens and lamb still await you

WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK

Cheese pumpkins, $1/lb

Large black Spanish Radishes, $1 each (or smaller ones in bunches)

Fresh dug horseradish root, $3/lb.

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.

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AgriCulture: With a Little Help From My Friends
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