Carol Ann Sayle
Tomato season arrived on the farm a month ago. We harvest them at first blush and put them up to ripen in our cool, dry guest bedroom, but breakfast is not included. Twice a week, rested and fully ripe, they are booted out to the farmstand tables, but with each day's harvest, more of their relatives move in. The visitations will continue almost to the end of July, and then tomatoes head up north, I suppose, for a change of scenery.
The customers at our market are enchanted by them, but inevitably, at the peak of the harvest, there are always too many beautiful tomatoes to sell, and too many cosmetically imperfect ones we deign not to sell. And you know they can't go back to the bedroom. That holiday is over.
In May, there were too many squash and cucumbers. At our country farm in Gause, Texas, at the one-week high point, Larry was forced to dump tractor buckets full of Asian and English cucumbers into the compost pile. Of course he made some pickles, and he fed the chickens as many as they could eat, and cucumbers do make a great addition to a compost pile with their pure moisture, but there is always angst when we can't readily sell everything we produce. A one-week supply of cucumbers is not enough to take them to Whole Foods Market's flagship store in downtown Austin.
These over-abundant periods, however, don't last long. Each crop cycles through the farm stand, dribbling in like a misty rain, building into a downpour with thunder claps and lightning, and finally dying away without a sound.
Demand is always highest at the puny beginning and at the finale. And whichever crop is in the first or the last phase is always the one that draws attention from our customers. The okra harvest is now just starting, and after the first pickings are on their way to private kitchens and restaurants, the plaintive question from the next customers ("Is there going to be any more okra?") is repeated over and over to the end of market. "Yes," we say, hoping they believe in the future, "we'll have much more next market!" At least we were able to divert them with melons for a few markets, but they too peaked and are now gone.
Carol Ann Sayle
Currently, here on the city farm, our heirloom tomatoes are at their height, but not so abundant that we've enough for Whole Foods. The perfect ones, on our padded market table, if not snatched up quickly, will be driven by the heat in our open-air stand to develop a few dings by the end of market. But that's ok, as we have other plans for them. Handed "lemons," we haul them to the kitchen, wash them, perform minor surgery, and slip them into freezer bags. From there they travel to the farm stand freezer for fall and winter soups and sauces. Our motto: Have the fresh tomato today or have its sibling, frozen, a couple of months later. Fabulous either time.
A great option for our customers is to buy the tomatoes fire-roasted and packed into quart jars, or fire-roasted with chiles and made into a hot sauce. Larry and his assistant, Pamela, make these concoctions in our commercial kitchen at the country farm. Larry has a sense of taste that, combined with the natural goodness of our produce, turns out nutritious, organic products that are very popular. These jars now line the shelves, which sit right next to the check-out line, in our farm stand. The tempting condiments are our substitute for candy and magazines!
Determinedly selling our crops, in whatever form necessary, makes our farm successful. From fresh to the customer, to frozen or canned for the customer, to being converted by the chickens into great eggs for the customer, and finally in service of the compost pile which amends the soil, it all works. And, there's even enough for our favorite charity.
Nothing is really wasted; nothing is "thrown away."
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