The Weather & FDA Logic

Once again, the primary driver of the news here at Terra Firma this week was…the weather. After over a month without a drop of rain — and two months of almost entirely dry weather — we got three storms in a row that dropped almost four inches in as many days. What was really amazing was that the ground here, bone dry anywhere we hadn’t been watering crops, soaked up so much of it so quickly. Finally though, Monday’s downpour overwhelmed the dirt’s capacity to absorb it and many of the fields were full of standing water for a few hours.

Of course we were happy to have the rain, and we’d be happy to have more. We are still at only around 30% percent of normal with the wettest months of the season now behind us. At this point it would be very difficult — and very unusual, historically — for us to catch up. In other words, this is probably going to be a pretty dry year. Given that last year was so incredibly wet, we’re not necessarily in a drought yet. But we could be at the start of one.

As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter,legislation passed by Congress last year now requires farms like ours to create a food safety plan — called a Good Agricultural Practices document (GAP). The new law will be enforced by the Food and Drug Administration, which has has traditionally regulated food and drug manufacturers. Their lack of understanding of agriculture is blatantly obvious in the recently released (with the assistance of the US Dept. of Agriculture) guidelines for farmers to create a GAP for farms. For example, there is a section regarding groundfalls. It reads “Do you have a written procedure for what to do when harvested product contacts the ground (e.g., drops)? Unless the product normally grows in contact with the ground (i.e. tubers) it is recommended that it not be harvested.” Leaving aside completely the terrible grammar in these two sentences, this concept is bizarre. Spinach leaves grow from a stem that is touching the ground, but they are not tubers. They are normally covered with dirt blown on them by wind and splashed by rain. Which is why, after we harvest it, we wash it. Just as every spinach farmer does. And yet, if a spinach leaf drops on the ground after it is cut, we’re not supposed to harvest it…because it is now dirty?

As I laid in bed Monday morning and listened to the wind-driven rain lash the windows of my house, I visualized the same weather splattering mud all over the vegetables in the field. Then, I imagined an FDA inspector suddenly realizing that on a farm, you don’t have to drop vegetables on the ground for them to get dirty. Taking the ridiculous logic of the FDA at face value would mean declaring any field of produce that was growing during a heavy rain or duststorm to be unsafe to eat due to the amount of dirt that might have “contaminated” it.

As an organic farm, Terra Firma has spend thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars investing in the soil on our farm. We believe it is the key to the health and quality of our produce, and thus to the health of our customers. We don’t necessarily recommend eating handfuls of it — which is why we wash the produce after harvesting it — but we also don’t believe that it is going to make anyone sick.

Thanks,

Pablito

In Your Boxes

It wasn’t a coincidence that I picked Spinach as my example in the section above. Harvesting spinach is never easy, but doing it when there is standing water in the field is painfully slow and difficult. We have plenty of spinach in the field right now, but we made a decision Monday morning to take it off this week’s box list. In case I’m not being clear, the spinach is not contaminated or damaged, but the field is so muddy we decided to give it a week to dry out.

Instead, we substituted Pistachios from the 2011 harvest that we recently received back from the processing facility. It’s been a while the little green nuts — always a popular item — have been in your boxes. Enjoy.

Cabbage is another item in your boxes this week that we didn’t have to harvest in the mud. Because the heads keep well in the cooler (unlike spinach), we can pick them in advance of a storm, and that’s exactly what we did last week. This is TFF winter cabbage, tender, sweet and crisp — good for salads, stir fries or topping off your fish tacos along with a squeeze of Meyer lemon.

Navel Oranges, too, were picked before the storm. It’s a bit of an adjustment to go from the juicy zipper-skin Satsuma Mandarins to the navels with their thick skins and meaty flesh. But as always, the later-ripening oranges are dense with flavor and aroma. Navel season goes until early March. We are still evaluating our later season citrus (Tangelos and Grapefruit) to see whether they escaped damage in last week’s freeze.

The stems of our Dino Kale were damaged in last week’s sub-20 degree freeze, making it difficult or impossible for us to bunch them together like we usually do. Instead, we are cutting the tips off the plants and bagging them up for you. The clusters of small young leaves are easy to shred or chop, and the kale itself is still 100% tasty, edible and good for you.

Medium and Large boxes each have a round, crisp Asian root vegetable this week. Watermelon Radish, greenish-white outside and pink inside, are in the Medium box (Large boxes got them last week). Like most radishes, these are best eaten raw in salads, sliced thinly, diced or grated. The roots in the Large box are snow white inside and out, Tokyo Turnips. They can be eaten raw like the radishs; sauteed; or even cooked until soft and pureed in soup.

About halfway through this week, we used up the last of our own Sweet Potatoes and have purchased the balance from Atwater Packing, about 100 miles to our south.

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