Stories of a Good Farmer (aka the beginnings of a big scary thesis and a highly digestible radio piece “teaser”)
Shizue RocheAdachi, an Environmental Studies senior and Senior Advisor/Leader of the Chicken Tenders at the Yale Sustainable Food Project, writes about how her summer trip to a farming community in Wisconsin shaped the beginnings of her senior thesis.
I spent my summer in kitchens and living rooms, knees tucked under worn tables as strangers tentatively, and then eagerly, retold the stories of their farms and their families and the things that tied these two histories together. This was all called “research,” and indeed it was: notes were taken, audio was recorded, libraries were visited. But, it did feel like a rather indulgent practice. I was welcomed into the homes of strangers to hear the stories I love to listen to–– stories of how farmers became farmers, how farms became farms, how cows were bought and sold, how communities came and went, how crops were laid in strips and then, to the horror of some, became planted fencerow to fencerow, and how the closing of the last dairy on the street cast a shadow felt by all. I was a collector of agrarian stories, narratives I never assumed to be “true” in the objective sense but rather resonated as truth for the particular individual and, perhaps, for the community they aligned themselves with.
My newly acquired archives of what it means to be a farmer to a community of a couple thousand in a unknown elbow of Wisconsin will become the foundation of my senior thesis for Environmental Studies, crafted as both a written piece and a series of short radio pieces. If I were stuck in an elevator with you and you were to ask, “Shizue, what is your thesis about?” I would reply that it is an exploration of individual farmer and community identity in a small agricultural county of southwestern Wisconsin, focusing primarily on how identity is tethered to agricultural practice. If further prodded, I would explain that understanding engrained conceptions of what it means to be a farmer, particularly a good farmer, and the agricultural heritage of this county is critical to understanding the region’s recent visibility as the county with the highest number of organic farms. I suppose I would name the region as this point as Vernon County, located in the Driftless region of Wisconsin so named for the hills the glaciers never came to flatten. Vernon county is populated by a diverse community of farmers and yet despite divergent practices and agricultural/lifestyle ideals, these farmers are hesitant to draw lines. This is important if you, like me, are curious about how identity structure can inform agricultural transition, by which I mean how narratives of personal and community identity may encourage or impede shifts to more so-called “sustainable” forms of agriculture.
At this point the elevator ride would be over and perhaps you would care enough to ask me to send you a copy of the thesis. Well, you’ll have to wait till March for that but for now consider this an audio “teaser.” This is just one story of agriculture in the Driftless, the story of one small scale conventional dairy farmer witnessing the end of his way of life.
Click here to listen to the first of Shizue’s radio pieces.
Today’s post comes from Yale Sustainable Food Project intern Shizue RocheAdachi DC’15. Shizue writes:
In a panel entitled “Earning a Living as a Farmer: Value Add and Niche Marketing”, including such local ag. “celebrities” and YSFP friends as Dina Brewster, Patrick Horan, and Steve Munno, I found myself particularly interested in a rather unrelated tangent: farming as an individual, as an LLC, as a non-profit, and with and without a board of directors. Steve talked extensively on his positive experience working with a board that oversees the Massaro Farm, a community farm that includes a CSA. Steve is the farm manager but is held accountable to a board of community members, most of whom were critical in the creation of the farm in the first place after the land was donated to the town to protect its undeveloped status. This sort of board-farmer relationship enforces extensive planning by the farmer (a good thing) and provides a much welcome safety net, ensuring community buy-in, support, and capital (and a guaranteed first batch of CSA members).
Yet for some farmers, having to convince a board of ten or more that the farm needs to buy such-and-such tool for such-and-such task and right now creates too many hoops to jump through than seems worthwhile. Dina expressed how frustrated she would be in Steve’s position. Dina is held accountable to a board but it is a board of family members. The land she farms is family land and so her relatives are co-owners but as a board they are more concerned with the overall vision for the land than the day-to-day operations of the farm and hold far less governing power. Patrick, on the opposite end of the spectrum, works with his brothers but has no board looking over his shoulder: he fails by his own hand (and his own savings) but he can also move forward faster and quicker and call his successes and the land his own.
What I took away from the tangent, as it related to my personal ambitions, was that although perhaps restrictive, it seems that coming into a farm manager position (with a long term commitment) could be a good way for young farmers to establish themselves. Young, aspiring farmers who can’t afford land on their own, don’t have a good source of capital, and don’t want to run into incredible debt and who are also new to the rural county they want to farm in, have an opportunity within this model to begin farming with less risk and financial uncertainty.
Preservation at its Sweetest: Candied Yale Farm Ginger, Turmeric, and Galangal
Farm Product Development Specialist, Shizue RocheAdachi DC ’15 documents a Friday workday spent candying the fruits of our greenhouse-grown bounty.
From left to right: galangal, turmeric, ginger, and Margaret (the human).
This year we made an unusual addition to our crop plan: tropical roots. While New Haven might not be the ideal climate for such equatorial heat-loving roots as galangal, ginger, and turmeric, the Greeley Greenhouse (where we start our seedlings in the spring) had space enough to accommodate our experiment in climatic deception.
It’s not entirely accurate to call galangal, ginger, and turmeric “roots.” Technically speaking they are rhizomes: continuously growing, subterranean, horizontal stems that put out lateral shoots and roots from its nodes. Planted in the summer in wide burlap sacks using root stock (little chunks of fresh turmeric, ginger, and galangal), the roots had sprouted great towers of lush greenery by September. Though our success varied between crops––the turmeric never quite fattened up as well as the ginger and galangal––we managed to produce a formidable crop.
Over the course of the year we’ve been slowly harvesting them, carefully pulling apart the entwined roots and extracting the attempted deserters that had pocked through the burlap to wedge themselves between the grating of our seedling tables like stubborn, fat fingers. Though we’ve been consistently selling the roots at farmers market and to Miya’s, a few burlap sacks remain. As the farm’s Farm Product Development Specialist [read: preserver, pickler, tea maker and do-er or random odd jobs] I had been tasked with the duty of figuring out what to do with our remaining crop. And so, with late winter malaise weighing heavy on my shoulders, I figured a much needed pick-me-up of tropical candies would be appreciated by all.
One of our steadfast Friday volunteers, Margaret, slices the turmeric on a mandolin.
Little can be found on candying turmeric and galangal online. I ended up basing my methods on these two sources. Candied ginger searches yield a plethora of information but my main source can be found here. I used them as guides, however, and so I’ve included my basic instructions for candying any sort of rhizome below.
From top left to right (and top to bottom): turmeric with cardamon pods, galangal, and ginger in syrup.
- Peel your roots using a spoon or butter knife and rinse clean.
- Using a mandolin or a knife, slice your roots into thin medallions, about 1/8” thick I chose to make my ginger slightly thicker due to a personal preference. *WEAR GLOVES if using turmeric. It dyes your hands temporarily and leaves some with an unpleasant tingling feeling in their fingers.*
- For galangal and ginger, in a medium-sized pot, cover the slices generously with water, bring to a boil, and let boil for 50 minutes. Drain (and save the water for cold or hot tea, for an herbal tea kombucha, or as the base of a soup or curry)
- For turmeric, fill a large nonreactive pot with water, bring to a boil, and blanch turmeric for 8-10 minutes. Empty turmeric water and repeat, blanching and straining a second time. The roots are boiled to draw out their bitterness and soften their flavor profile.
- Once strained, return the roots to the saucepan, and cover with equal parts water and sugar until the liquid rises about 3” above the roots. This sugar-water ratio produces what is called “simple syrup.”
- Cook the roots over medium heat (the sugar water should be boiling continuously) for thirty minutes, or until the root medallions are soft to the teeth when bitten and the simple syrup has reduced by about 1/3rd. *I chose to add about two tablespoons of cardamon pods to the turmeric during this process (a really good choice, if I do say so myself) but any additional flavoring, such as whole spices, citrus peel, or ground spices (less preferred as they can become scorched) could be included.*
- Remove the medallions from the syrup with a slotted spoon and spread on racks resting on top of sheets of parchment paper (for easy clean-up of the dripping liquid). I didn’t have enough racks for all of my candies so I dried some just spread out on a single layer on a piece of parchment. This worked for the galangal but the not for the ginger since it was thicker and let off more liquid.
- Let the candies dry on the racks for several hours or overnight if the slices are thicker.
- Once tacky but no longer wet, pour sugar into a bowl and coat the medallions generously, a handful at a time in the sugar. You can add ground spices to the sugar (I added ground cardamon to the turmeric sugar) but be sure to keep freshening up the sugar mixture as it is used up and absorbs moisture.
- Enjoy finished candies wholeheartedly and use the leftover sugar for cookies!
A note about the remaining syrup: it’s infused and delicious––don’t let it go to waste! I cooked down some of mine to become a slightly more viscous galangal and ginger simple syrup perfect for use in cold or hot drinks or even cocktails. The turmeric syrup I cooked down even further until it was hard-candy ready, pouring it out onto parchment paper, letting cool, and breaking up into shards perfect for sucking on or dropping into black tea.
The farm family favorite? The candied galangal. Farm managers were snacking heavily on it at CT-NOFA.
Hours later, the candies are mostly dried and ready for coating.
Product Development Specialist intern Shizue RocheAdachi ‘15 makes a mean salsa. Here, she shares a radio piece reflecting on her time as a ranch hand.
There is a grace to death––a beauty to be found in the heavy moments that linger as present becomes past. The slaughter of an animal is rarely afforded such moments of grace, however, as carcasses are hung and processed in rapid motion, each worker on the slaughterhouse floor making a repeated slicing motion. Yet when I had the opportunity, as a ranch hand, to participate in a field slaughter after one of our steers had broken his leg in the cattle guard, I discovered that there was another way to carry an animal into death.
This is a five minute piece I put together of some audio taken on that cool morning, as wet clouds hung low providing a welcome respite from the summer heat. It is not a somber or gruesome piece, rather I like to think I captured the sweetness of the event and the sense of ceremony. There is a respect afforded as the eighty-year-old butcher, Tom, pulls the skin from the steer he lovingly refers to as “sweet pea” but there is also an understanding that this is not something to treat as precious. A steer breaks his leg, he is shot, he is skinned, he is cut open, he is gutted, he is sliced in half, and he is loaded into the back of a pick-up truck to hang in a cooler before being broken down into cuts. This is the way it goes.
Chasing cows—and sustainability
Aaaand we’re back! With the spring semester in full swing, watch this space for more weekly contributions from our student interns writing and talking about what they’re cooking, eating, reading and thinking. Shizue RocheAdachi ‘15 starts us off with some thoughts on winter break snacking and the importance of pickles:
In fifth grade I used to watch Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites obsessively on the Food Network. In between episodes of The Saddle Club and Full House I would sit immobile, mouth slightly agape, as Nigella promised me “sinful” chocolate pots au creme and a lemongrass-infused trifle. My favorite part of the show, though, was always the credits, when Nigella waltzes across the screen in a nightgown, opening the refrigerator door to illuminate the darkened kitchen. She peers about before retrieving a tupperware of leftovers—perhaps some cold chicken and sausages, or a piece of chilled honey bee cake—and devours it, her eyes casually glancing to the audience with a look as if to say, “what? you can’t say you wouldn’t do the same.”
Returning to my parents’ home for December vacation inevitably results in my gorging on the forgotten delicacies hidden in the back of their generously sized refrigerator. Unlike Nigella I do not limit myself to the dark of night, lurking around the refrigerator in the light of day with an unwavering determination. I lunge my spoon shamelessly into the last jar of marma-butter (my mother’s concentrated version of marmalade) and crumble the last bit of precious furikake (a Japanese rice sprinkle) sent from Tokyo onto last night’s cold rice. The true gems of the refrigerator, however, lie in the back left corner of the top shelf. Precariously stacked I find the carefully hidden treasures gleaned from my two-month apprenticeship at the Cultured Pickle Shop
I discovered Cultured at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market, and was instantly seduced by their French breakfast radishes pickled in coriander brine. Overwhelmed by all that pickling magic they seem to cultivate so freely, I signed up to stage at the store, which also acts as the production facility for their raw, fermented goods.
My time at Cultured was spent scrubbing purple carrots, quartering and coring an endless supply of cabbages, mixing giant bins of sauerkraut, and packing jar upon jar of beautiful, seasonal, fermented delicacies. The vegetable to finished product process is a long one when natural fermentation is at play and so as weeks passed and I watched the stainless steel vats bubble up with candy-corn orange and even cobalt blue brine, I came to appreciate what it meant to savor a good jar of Super Sauerkraut Salad. With time, unassuming vegetables witness a transformation of epic proportions—flavors integrate and mellow and the vegetables wilt, or rather settle, so that they yield to the teeth without resigning themselves to mush.
Returning home I find my pickles just as I left them. Emerging from the fridge with arms laden with fermented goods—burdock pickled in miso, Kitchari Kraut, and recently-gifted pumpkin pickled with espellete and scallion—I am sure my ten-year-old self would beam with pride. And to be sure, my refrigerator beats the hell out of Nigella’s.