Provider Farm

From our fields, for your family


July 18, 2012

This Week's Share

The hot crops are starting to come in now!  New this week are eggplants and peppers.  For peppers, we have Islander, Cubanelle and Jalepenos.  The Islander pepper is a purple bell.  Use it as you would any bell pepper.  The cubanelle are long green frying peppers, perfect for frying up with those sweet onions you'll be picking up in your share too!  Jalapenos are a great hot pepper for salsas.  You can moderate the heat of the pepper by removing the seeds before cooking with them.

We grow both Italian and Asian eggplant varieties.  The Italian types are round and great in eggplant parmesean or ratatouille.  The Asian varieties are long and slender and are amazing in stir-fries!

Recipe of the Week: 

Kerry's Easy Eggplant Parmesan

  • 1 Italian eggplant (the big round ones)
  • flour as needed
  • pinch of salt, a grind of pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup cheese
  • 1 jar of your favorite sauce, in the middle of the growing season I use whatever I can reach in a jar, but if you've got homemade, even better!

Slice your eggplant into rounds. Mix a cup or so of flour with a pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of pepper. Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk thoroughly. Put a frying pan on the stove on medium heat and coat the bottom with oil. Dip your eggplant rounds into the egg and then into the flour to coat. Fry in the oil until browned and tender and layer rounds in a deep baking dish. Add a little sauce between layers. When the dish is full of eggplant, pour the rest of the sauce on top and sprinkle on cheese. Bake in oven until cheese is browned for 1 hour at 350 and enjoy!

Farmer Kerry

Oh Tomatoes, I Hardly Knew You!

Tomatoes affected by late blight
Tomatoes affected by late blight

Dear Friends,

            The hot, sunny, dry weather has continued with little interruption on the farm. We have been busy irrigating like crazy, watering old and new crops alike, trying to keep everything healthy and happy. This past week we planted the bulk of our fall cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts, over 6,000 plants in the ground in just two days! We quickly got water to these little guys and despite the heat they are settling in nicely. The melons continue to move right along and this week also marks the first peppers and eggplants of the season! Things have been looking pretty good on the farm, despite over 3 weeks with little to no rain. It has taken a lot of work but we were feeling pretty good about things. It was on a foggy Saturday morning in the midst of our little drought when a dark cloud settled over the farm.

            Sometimes I feel like Kerry and I have a thirteen acre voodoo doll instead of a farm. Anything that happens in the field we tend to feel in our own bodies. Well, Friday night I had a pit in my stomach. I can't explain why but I had a sinking, sick suspicion that something unsavory was happening in our tomatoes. You might remember our previous letter warning of the presence of late blight in New England, despite weather conditions inhospitable to the disease. We have taken these warnings seriously and have been scouting our tomatoes religiously. Twice a week, every week, looking for signs of this dreadful disease and had seen no indications, but for some reason Friday night I couldn't help pouring over photos online and in general feeling sick. Late blight can be difficult to identify when it is dry, it tends to mimic other plant diseases and problems, but when it is wet late blight is unmistakeable. Well, Saturday morning was moist and I ventured out to our tomatoes with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I began scouting plants and checking for the disease, again only seeing signs of drought stress and leaf hoppers. I was about to give up on my search and return to the harvest when I noticed the first infected plant. The signs were unmistakable. Oily lesions, washed out, yellow leaves around the lesions and white spores forming on the underside of the leaves. The pit in my stomach had  turned in to full blown nausea.   

            After I saw the first infected plant, all I could see were infected plants. I began running through our half of acre, checking every single plant, feeling sicker and sicker. Even the best looking plants,  6 feet tall, dark green, healthy, full of green tomatoes about to ripen, began showing the earliest signs of the dreaded disease. The next thing I knew, I was on my knees staring blankly at our dying crop. Kerry kept calling me, trying to find me, and figure out why I stopped harvesting. My cell phone showed eight missed calls…funny, I don't even remember hearing it ring…..How could this have happened? How could we have missed this? I am still asking myself that. I still don't have an answer. I wish I did.

            On Monday, Kara took a sample of plants to the diagnostic lab at UCONN and we waited by the phone impatiently until their scientists confirmed what we already knew. We have late blight in our tomatoes. All of our tomatoes. After many lengthy conversations with our  extension agent, other growers and ourselves, we came to the conclusion our only option was to cut down the trellises and destroy the crop. The entire crop. I am sure that is hard to read, and I must assure you that is harder to write, but even more than that it is harder to cut down and kill 2,000 tomato plants because of a few dead leaves and brown spots.   On Tuesday, we trudged out to the field, and Kara, Tana, and Hannah began cutting down the trellises and Kerry mowed down the plants with a certain melencholy in the air.

             As much as we would love to cling to the chance that we would still get a crop, it is impossible. The disease moves to quickly, the tomatoes are too far from being ripe and the writing is on the wall. We have an obligation to the farming community as a whole to destroy our crop and disease that it carries, rather than letting the blight spread from our field into the rest of New London county and New England. There is now a blank spot in our field, between our sweet potatoes and winter squash where our tomatoes used to be. Where our tomatoes should be.

            In the past few days, we have travelled up and down the 5 stages grief. Feeling anger and depression, having those feelings subside into acceptance, only to feel angry and depressed again. This has been a real challenge for us, and by far the hardest thing we have gone through this season. We have been beating ourselves up. Thinking of all the things we could have done differently. Should we have scouted more? Should we have been more aggressive with our fungicide program? How could we have possibly missed seeing the disease until it was too late? Facing 100% loss of our tomato crop really challenges both the CSA model and organic farming as a whole.

            One of the reasons why, despite all the Whole Foods, farmer's markets and CSA's, organic agriculture still represents less than 1% of total agriculture in the USA, is because there is much more real risk involved in organic agriculture. Conventional growers can use mobile, systemic fungicides in battling late blight. These chemicals will land on the leaves of the plant, enter the plant, and than travel to wherever there is disease and kill it. Sounds impressive, but I don't think I would really want to eat that. If we want chemical free food, we accept the fact that their is the risk of loss, even to the crops that we really really like. This challenges the CSA model because when you signed up for your share you thought there were going to be tomatoes and now I am telling you that there are not going to be any tomatoes. When you buy a share from a farm, you buy the good along with the bad. Hopefully, the good will always out weigh the bad but sometimes the bad really is bad.

            As much as this challenges the CSA model I believe that it also reenforces the CSA model. While we feel a tremendous amount of disappointment that we were unable to produce tomatoes this year, and we hate the fact that we have let you all down, we are not going to lose our farm due to this loss. I can not imagine how we could weather this storm without the support offered to us from our share holders. If our only market for our crops were farmer's markets or wholesale accounts and we lost all of our tomatoes, we would be facing the very real possibility of losing our farm. Or at least having to borrow a large sum of money, or take on second jobs to keep the farm running. To add a bit more perspective to this, in the 1840's late blight caused the Irish Potato Famine. Over 1 million people starved to death and another 1 million emigrated from Ireland.  So far, we're not starving or emmigrating.

            What can you do when you are holding your tomatoes in your arms, watching them die? You can't do anything except focus on the living. On Saturday, the immense let down drove us to work really hard and Kerry and Larry laid 1500' of irrigation hose to access a new irrigation pond and I prepared and seeded 10 beds of late summer crops.  We have taken a lot of solace in country music and the serenity prayer. Despite this loss, we still have 13 and half acres of beautiful crops to fill your CSA baskets. Diversity is strength and though we may not have tomatoes we sure do have diversity; everything from pop corn to cantaloupe. Another silver lining in all of this, is that by some stroke of luck our potato crop is late blight free. We will be mowing our potatoes a bit earlier than expected to protect them from the disease but we planted loads of them and expect to get a substantial crop.

            I am sure that this is disappointing to all of you, this is disappointing for us. We are grateful that you have all made Provider Farm part of your family and part of your life. Our farm is our entire life, and we appreciate your participation and support. In farming as in life, it doesn't pay to dwell on the things you cannot change and neglect the work that must still be done. We have accepted this as a painful reality that we can not change, we can only move forward.

            Your Farmers,

                         Max and Kerry

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