Beauty and Efficiency on the subjective scale

June 3, 2011

First CSA week at Drumlin yesterday. We distributed spinach, lettuce, scallions, hakurei turnips, shunkyo and easter egg radishes. Delicious, fresh, and beautiful food. Judging the beauty of veggies is similar to measuring attractiveness in people.  Some people are objectively pretty, like Taye Diggs or Keira Knightley.  Same goes for vegetables. No one can deny the sheer beauty of hakurei turnips. Their light green leaves hold strong to their beet shaped bottoms when pulled from the soil. The dirt runs off in the wash station revealing brilliantly white bulbs that are sweet and juicy inside. Once you bite into one like an apple they look even more perfect bunched on your kitchen counter.

Spinach and lettuce are more difficult. Matt, farm manager at Drumlin for the past 8 seasons, had us re-harvest 200 heads of lettuce because the first round wasn’t up to standard. There is a lot of Boston Bibb in our compost pile!  It is truly amazing how many decisions, inspections, and thoughtful planning goes into serving our shareholders food.  All of that is also a lot of learning. Developing a consistent standard of quality is one of the hardest bits to grasp as an apprentice.

A standard of quality is also a standard of efficiency, not sacrificing too much time for flawless produce.  As the more experienced farmers work in my peripheral vision, never wasting a movement, I often wish I could suspend time or acquire x-ray mathematician super powers so I could make the layers of spinach float in the air and calculate the percentage of weeds, leaf mined pieces and long stems that accidentally made it through and divide all that by time.  Before harvest Matt tells us all to constantly push ourselves to go faster, but it is as much about inner drive as it is about comparing the self to others. Efficiency is subjective too, though surely thought about less than beauty by shareholders and market goers.

Efficiency is a driving force on the farm.  There is an optimal condition for every task. Hot and sunny is for killing weeds. Wet or expecting rain for thinning. Afternoons for planting. Mornings, before the hot sun beats the turgidity out of leafy greens, is for harvesting. In reality, the weather could care less about our repeating schedule. By the time I’ve finally posted this Greg has already sent out the newsletter for the next CSA distribution.  Share is the same as last week plus cilantro, bok choy and pick your own herbs. Like juggling beauty with efficiency, there is a similar sentiment and balancing act with my time as a farmer–trying to savor it all and soak up as much knowledge as possible while the season ticks by.

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