Getting to Know the Farm

By Sara Lipka
lipka june11 harvestpeas post.jpg

Photo by Emily Cook


Last Monday I had never heard of scapes. On Tuesday I sat clinging to the back of a four-wheeler, off to harvest them.

Here's the thing about scapes. Well, wait. I'm not exactly qualified to go "Here's the thing"-ing, but during my first week on the farm, I spent some quality time with scapes. They are, I discovered, the flowering stems of the garlic plant, slender and curved, sort of scallion-looking. Also: garlicky sweet and ready to be crushed and sautéed ahead of the flaky bulb.

In fact, plucking the flower diverts the plant's resources toward growing the bulb. So harvesting scapes produces better garlic and, in the meantime, a tasty ingredient and way to ward off baby vampires.

Even if I sometimes feel like I'm at summer camp, there's no movie when it rains. There are yellow rubberized overalls, slickers, and muck boots.

The thing about scapes is that they challenge you. It's easy to snap off a scape where it emerges from the main stem, but the fun, as my fellow intern Casey taught me, comes from gently, steadily trying to pull it out of the plant whole. When I bent my knees and grasped a scape low, I could tug it till I heard a soft pop. The flower would reveal its tender, white tail, like the one on a young blade of grass.

That first afternoon I filled a half-bushel green plastic basket with scapes and wonder. Wonder welled in me all week, as I tromped through lettuce patches and cherry orchards.

lipka june11 scape post.jpg

Photo by Sara Lipka

Just before I left for the farm, a friend in Washington, D.C., had already rolled his eyes. I'd been telling him that after that day's farmers market, I helped the Sunnyside crew carry boxes of asparagus to Restaurant Nora. Right into the kitchen! Local organic produce! Delivered by the farmers themselves! My friend laughed and said I'd drive people crazy with my "hyper-romanticization of everything."

Even once I got to the farm, for my third asparagus harvest and everyone else's thirtieth, the crop still amazed me. Stretching over an expanse of straw mulch stood a proud army of green and purple spears that pierced the ground and shot up several inches a day. I hailed their defiance as I moved along the rows, lowering my knife in swift slices.

Week One on the farm also brought cucumbers to seed and tomatoes to transplant, Echinacea beds to weed, carrots and frisée and onions to harvest. In drizzle and downpours. Even if I sometimes feel like I'm at summer camp, there's no movie when it rains. There are yellow rubberized overalls, slickers, and muck boots.

But I relished even the muddy harvests. A tornado warning, poison ivy, fire-ant bites, and four ticks have been no match for the fresh air and food, like stuffed escarole and pickled beets. And with all this time, there are many puzzles to ponder.

Did the peas cross-pollinate? Why is one row of shell peas growing pods as sweet and crunchy as snap peas'? How do we keep harlequin bugs off the squash, and bears off the peaches? For now, those are questions for the experts, not the newbie. I'm still trying to figure out, when I drive the four-wheeler, how to put it in reverse.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/06/getting-to-know-the-farm/19077/