Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Perspire under the elms

Due to some recent changes to my employment status, I have significantly more time on my hands of late. As such, I have spent the past couple of weeks catching up with those people and activities I was forced to neglect during my 4-month tenure with Arcadia: friends, family, writing, gardening, dancing, and going on bicycle adventures. Most of this has taken place around The District, but I had the good fortune to spend the past week visiting my friend Nathan on his family's farm -- the only organic plot for hundreds of miles -- tucked away below stands of cottonwood and elm in the windy southwestern corner of Nebraska.

While farm laboring wasn't my primary reason for visiting -- among his many fine qualities, my gentleman friend is a fantastic cook and salsa dancer and it was high time we spent some time together tackling the NY Times crossword puzzles (and it *was* the tail end of morel season) -- I couldn't help myself when the inevitable outdoor activities got underway each day. Planting, weeding, laying irrigation line, mulching, watering, and, my favorite, harvesting. ("One asparagus spear for me, one for the soup....") Needless to say, we spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen, and the culinary highlight of the trip was a fairly authentic Coq au Vin made from scratch. While the dish did not feature the usual french wine, we made up for the omission with the inclusion of multiple bottles of a tasty red zinfandel, a hefty handful of morels, and two rather bothersome roosters that Nathan and his brother Brian butchered themselves on Wednesday night. True, the two-year-old birds were a bit tough, but, oh, that sauce! Such flavor! And you'd better believe I made a giant pot of stock with the leftover carcasses. You know, for the creamy asparagus soup. And some chicken soup. And a big pot of risotto. (Well, I couldn't let it go to waste.) I had a chance to sleep in the following morning without that 5am cockadoodledoing, which was another side perk....

I've never been to Nebraska before. I was equally alarmed by the lack of food options in local grocery stores as by the bounty and variety of food grown on the windblown farm where I was staying. [No, seriously, that wind is like nothing I've ever seen. The gales were so intense I half expected a tornado to form during the latter part of Monday's barbecue. I don't know how the little bitty baby bok choy that we'd planted the day before were still in the ground.] Nathan's mom has quite the green thumb and was definitely in the lead during much of my time at the homestead -- planting and weeding and directing various menfolk on where to rototill -- but it was her son who decided last year to start a small CSA on the property. The brother who started the project left town, disgruntled, near the end of the first growing season, but there was enough demand among their neighbors that Rylan and a few other members of the family decided to continue, even expanding a bit. In its second year, Green Elms Community Farm is offering 10 shares of tasty, organic produce plus pastured eggs from their hens, if folks want, and potentially mushrooms as well, if Brian's winecap growing scheme proves fruitful. (Personally, I think Nathan should offer beer shares -- his homebrews are darn tasty, and they are growing hops -- but for now production is limited to family-only consumption levels. But imagine: a beer CSA! I'd sign up.) Yep, community supported agriculture is growing in some of the most unexpected places. I mean, rural Nebraska??

Okay, well, I'm just now back in DC. Guess it's time to get unpacked and do some laundry (after a *very* thorough check of all clothing and body parts following my week in Tickland). Stay tuned for posts on other small organic produce operations starting up, including a collaborative market stand with offerings from DC's urban growing spaces....

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