Kitchen Garden

In the Tomato Patch

Spring Vegetables
Spring Vegetables

LAKE MACBRIDE— The U.S. Drought Monitor shows Big Grove Township to be abnormally dry, even with the recent rainfall. Gardeners and farmers need rain, but this year the cold, unevenly dry conditions of early spring made for late planting and a tough job preparing the soil for transplanting seedlings from bedroom to garden. The weeds have started to take root, requiring some hoe work to break up the clumps of earthworm and bacteria-laden loam.

A gentle rain fell yesterday— the perfect kind for nourishing new seedlings, had they been planted.

“We farmers pray for rain, but it must be the right kind and at the right time and when we need it most,” wrote local farmer Eric Menzel. “When we get it, it’s more than often a torrential storm that washes topsoil and comes with a cold front that stunts growth to new tender annuals, while giving naturally-occurring perennials (a.k.a., weeds) just what they need to thrive.”

While inventorying tomato seedlings, it turned out that some were only lightly connected to their root structure. The rain had me in the garage transplanting them into larger containers for further development before putting them in the ground. It was probably for the best. There are enough extra tomato seedlings to make up for deficiencies, yet I would like the tomato plan outlined in yesterday’s post to come together. All tomato plants are not created equally, nor are the soil conditions in which they germinated uniform. These are challenges of trying to grow a diverse crop of tomatoes.

Turned Over
Turned Over

On Wednesday, former Reagan administration secretary of agriculture turned lobbyist John R. Block published an opinion piece about organic marketing in the Des Moines Register. This thinly veiled advocacy for big agriculture may be well received among fans of the late president, but its vapid positioning was transparent.

“We’ve witnessed a remorseless campaign based on junk science or no-science attacking food grown with modern fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs and other technologies,” Block wrote. His argument failed to recognize that the same corporations that prop up high-tech agriculture have a vested interest in organic marketing— corporations like General Mills that also owns Muir Glen Organic and Cascadian Farm, and recently introduced GMO-free Cheerios. That’s not to mention large organic operations like Earthbound Farm Organic in California that benefits from technology, if not the one Block defends. Block’s ideas could only gain traction among people already drinking the Kool-Aid. There is a strong case to be made for small-scale farming without fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides to solve the world’s food production problem.

Any farmer who uses organic practices is well aware of the deficiencies of the “USDA Organic” label. If the limited energy and resources of small-scale local food growers were diverted to the straw-man argument about labeling, there wouldn’t be enough time for farm operations. What I know is the quality of vegetables I delivered to CSA customers last night was superb and well received. A CSA is based on a simple concept, that is impossible among producers of fungible crops: know the face of the farmer. More than the land-locked limits of conventional agriculture, this represents the future of feeding the world. My garden is a small part of that.