ARTfarm Q&A Wednesday! 3-6pm

Today at ARTfarm down the south shore we’ll offer a fairly small selection of items: Pineapples, a few tomatoes, sweet salad mix, microgreens, basil, chives, and a few cucumbers.

The lignum vitae is an important food source for honey bees in drought times.

The lignum vitae is an important food source for honey bees in drought times.

Q: What do you farmers do when it is so dry? What can grow in this extreme drought condition?

A: Not too much! We do our best to conserve water when conditions are this severe.

One plant that remains green and healthy with no watering in this dry weather is the highly drought tolerant lignum vitae tree. Slow and steady is how lignum vitae grows, rain or no rain. This tree species will probably outlast all the other trees that we have planted over the years. Most of the 30+ lignum vitae trees established at ARTfarm came from Kai and Irene Lawaetz at Little Lagrange. Kai was always a champion of the lignum vitae for its beauty and ability to withstand drought times and there are many prime individuals of the species on the Lawaetz Museum grounds.

Even in drought times when most vegetation is brown, the lignum vitae tree's evergreen leaves remain deep green and provide dense shade.

Even in drought times when most vegetation is brown, the lignum vitae tree’s evergreen leaves remain deep green and provide dense shade.

While it does not produce any edible products, the lignum vitae is a beautiful dense shade and ornamental tree and a food source for honeybees, particularly when nothing else is flowering. The wood of lignum vitae trees is so dense that it has traditionally been used to make ship pulleys.

The light purplish blue blooms and showy red and orange fruit are unique mainly because of their color. There are not too many blue colored flowers in the tropics. The tree sheds very little leaf litter and its leathery paired leaves remain a beautiful deep green year round.

ARTfarm Monday Q&A: Never the Same Salad Twice

It’s dry out here! Today’s pungent harvest: Sweet salad mix, baby arugula, baby and regular spicy salad mixes, arugula, onions, scallions, cilantro, Italian basil, lots of tomatoes, slicers and heirlooms, cherry tomatoes, and the last of the figs for a while.

Q: Why aren’t your salad greens as sweet this week as they were last week? Why are the stems larger/smaller? Why isn’t  the spicy as spicy as it was last time? etc. etc….?

A: While one could chalk this up to simple nostalgia, it’s more likely that variations are due to two main reasons:

(1) Mother nature’s treatment of our crops is the primary source of this shift in taste from week to week. Even as our recipes remain unchanged, small changes in the weather can affect the taste of our salad mix.

When temperatures are hotter during a portion of the growth cycle of the lettuce heads in our fields, they respond as many living beings do under stress: they attempt to defend themselves from being eaten as they try to propagate. Lettuce will tend to take on a more bitter flavor in hot weather as it accelerates toward the bolting and seeding cycle of its life (as it would during hot late summer months in the cooler parts of the world). If we encounter cooler and rainier weather, the lettuce will be sweeter. Even a brief few days of intense heat can alter the taste of plants. And variations in weather now can affect the salad flavor two or three weeks from now, as the plants are in their growth cycle.

Spicy greens become more peppery when the weather is very hot and dry, and will taste milder when we’ve had a lot of wet weather. Our formulas for the types of greens and their quantities in the various mixes stays consistent from harvest to harvest, but the weather can change the flavors in the bag of salad you take home.

Occasionally we do have to change the formulation of a salad mix because seed is not available for some of the tasty baby greens that add so much flavor to our mixes. We find a substitution that is similar, but this can also change the taste of our salad mixes over the course of the season.

(2) The other factor that comes into play in the consistency of ARTfarm salad greens from bag to bag is what we like to call the Jackson Pollock effect.

When we make the salad mix we use a very large sanitized stainless surface and mix in many different baby mesclun greens with multiple large chopped lettuce varieties.

When creating his splatter paint pop art creations of the 1960s, Jackson Pollock employed a similar technique. He would toss different colors in random patterns throughout his large canvases.

What we do next at ARTfarm is essentially like taking that large amazing Jackson Pollock painting and cutting it up into many small pieces. Each portion of the canvas represents a bag of ARTfarm salad mix. Some bags will have more large pieces of stem from the base of the lettuce head; other bags will contain a little bit more of the baby mesclun greens; others will be a perfect blend of all the different ingredients that we put into the salad mix. Every bag is a little different because they’re all prepared by hand, and the weather, the secret intentions of mother nature, and the randomness of our process ensure that your experience will always be fresh!

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We know that our customers seek us out because they want real produce that tastes like the place it was grown. We know you can handle a little variety. But, if you ever purchase a bag of salad greens from ARTfarm that you find inedible, please bring it back to us. We’d always like to hear from our customers, good or bad, how you feel about our products, and if we’ve goofed and a product is not up to our normal level of quality, we would be happy to replace it with something you find tastier.

We grow this stuff for you, after all!

ARTfarm Q&A Wednesday 3-6pm: Hold My Tomatoes!

Today’s farmstand, 3-6pm: Sweet salad mix, baby spicy and regular spicy salad mixes, baby and regular arugula, microgreens, loads of cherry tomatoes, loads of tomatoes, onions, scallions, beets, Italian basil, Thai basil, dill, cilantro, parsley, purple Bodhi beans, assorted chili peppers, a couple cucumbers, baby carrots, escarole, a few bunches of kale, delicious Mediterranean figs and passionfruit. From our partner Errol Chichester’s beekeeping efforts we have local raw honey!

Radishes! Carrots! and Beets! Oh My!

Radishes! Carrots! and Beets! Oh My!

It's the scarecrow, the cowardly lion and the tin man. At the end of the yellow brick road, there was... freshly harvested MICRO!

It’s the scarecrow, the cowardly lion and the tin man. At the end of the yellow brick road, there was… freshly harvested MICRO!

Fresh oakleaf lettuces destined for ARTfarm's sweet mix!

Fresh oakleaf lettuces destined for ARTfarm’s sweet mix!

Q: Can you hold a couple of pounds of tomatoes/some dill/a few cucumbers/a bag of salad for me? I can’t make it to the farmstand on time today.

A: We hate to say no to good people. We love all our customers and supporters. We appreciate and applaud how important fresh, organically produced food is in your lives! This is one of our most common questions – we field several requests per week from customers to hold items from the farmstand.

Our policy for retail sales has always been that we are a first-come, first-served farmstand. We may have good intentions and want to say yes to you, but we do not have the manpower, the infrastructure, the time or the space to set aside produce on request. If you start to consider the logistics, we simply can’t accommodate custom retail pre-orders. We lose money on them. And they’d reduce the early-bird limited-supply offerings we want to have available for customers who came on time or even waited in line.

We are a family farm – mom, pop, and grandpa – with a couple of part time employees and loyal volunteers. Maybe someday we’ll be bigger with more staff, but for now we are tiny. We work literally from pre-dawn until after dusk, six to seven days per week year round, to care for the gardens and livestock and accomplish what you see at the farmstand and appearing on the menus of local restaurants. Our profit margins are narrow because of all the labor costs and handwork that goes into our harvesting and processing work and our organic gardening and resource conservation techniques. We love what we do and are dedicated to it, but it leaves us with very little downtime. Additional tasks and projects pull Luca and Christina away from the art studio. We have to limit the services the farm can offer.

We ARE open three farmstands per week in winter and spring, and at least once a week through most of the summer/fall months. We live in a modern world that values efficiency over all else, but coming to the farmstand is, we hope, a qualitative experience and not just another errand to rush through. If you can’t make it, there is always the next farmstand… we, and our family and friends, thank you for understanding and appreciate your support!

Monday Q and A, open 3–6 p.m.!

Fight the Monday doldrums with great piles of gorgeous greens and crunchy veggies! Today’s 3 – 6 PM farmstand: loads of sweet salad mix, teen arugula, spicy salad mix, Italian basil, cilantro, a tower of multiple big tubs full of heirloom tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, Bodhi beans, garlic chives, fresh ginger root, beets with big leafy edible tops, beautiful chili peppers, dandelion greens, scallions, passionfruit, Mediterranean figs, and freshly harvested zinnia flowers.

From our partner I-Sha we have locally crafted vegan ice cream!

How many heirloom tomatoes can YOU eat? Please, HELP US!!

How many heirloom tomatoes can YOU eat? Please, HELP US!!

Q: Farmer Luca, why do you look so sleepy in this photo of you with a giant tower of tomatoes?

A: I’m glad you asked. In fact, I have been up late for the last few nights. After putting excessive numbers of tomatoes to bed, I’ve been grooving to golden age hip-hop and working on paintings for a new art exhibit I will be having with Mike Walsh at the Walsh Metal Works Gallery, opening April 10th!

So, dear customers, when reaching for a bag today for your purchases, be careful not to mistakenly grab one of those under Luca’s eyes.

Monday Q&A with Farmer Luca! Open 3-6pm Today!

Q. What’s your favorite thing to do with lots and lots of cherry tomatoes?

A. Besides snacking on them like popcorn, they can be great in recipes that call for cooked tomatoes. Take a few pints of cherry tomatoes, rinse and toss them with some crushed garlic and olive oil and roast them in the oven until they begin to soften and wrinkle a little. If you like anchovies, you can also mash a few of those into your olive oil and garlic dressing to help cut the sweetness of the cherries and add a little saltiness. (Most classic tomato sauce recipes call for a little sugar, but in this case, the sweetness is already in these little teeny tomatoes.) Once they’ve roasted and started to wrinkle a bit, run them through the food processor or blender until the skins and seeds have been pulverized and you’ve achieved a creamy and smooth consistency. We use a Vitamix – and you wind up with an incredibly delicious and creamy tomato sauce/soup that even little kids and people who say they hate tomatoes will love. You can bag it up in plastic zipper bags or your container of choice and freeze, or get out your mason jars and can this delectable creation, or use it immediately topped with a few leaves of basil and maybe some fresh Parmesan in a bowl or on a pizza or pasta dish!

Monday’s stand: Buckets of cherry tomatoes. Sweet salad mix, teen spicy salad mix, teen arugula, microgreens, tons of tomatoes (all types and sizes), cucumbers, Italian basil, cilantro, garlic chives, ginger root, long beans, radishes, mint, recao and zinnia flowers. And loads of homemade coconut vegan ice cream from I-Sha in crazy local fruit flavors!

Things were oddly quiet on Saturday, so we hope we didn’t scare anyone off with our roller derby joke! Looking forward to seeing you this afternoon, 3–6pm on the balmy and blue skied South Shore!

Love, ARTfarm

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ARTfarm Monday Q&A, OPEN 3-6pm today!!

The farmstand is open 3–6 p.m. today with lots of awesome winter goodies: Sweet salad mix, baby spicy mix, baby arugula, microgreens, sweet corn, cucumbers, loads of cherry tomatoes, more slicing and heirloom tomatoes, radishes, lettuce heads, garlic chives, cilantro, dill, basil, lemongrass, chili peppers, passionfruit, and zinnia flowers!IMG_7622.JPG

We got a great question from a customer on our website this week. Read on for more about zip lock bags!

Know Your Farmer:

Q: Can I bring my arugula and greens ziplocks back to you for recycling?

A: While we are exceedingly careful to reduce the waste stream from the farm, the plastic salad bags are an unfortunate byproduct of the farm’s resource cycle. Because of the nature of ready to eat food products and health code regulations, we can only use new, plastic bags or other sterile packaging for the ready-to-eat processed products we sell to customers, and we can’t take back used salad bags from customers.

We do make an effort to buy heavy duty foodgrade ziplock bags for our products so that they can be reused many times over by the customer. While some growers use clamshell packaging for salad products, we found the ziplock bags to be the most reusable post-salad, and they also maintain superior freshness longer. As an added bonus, by gently compressing our greens in the bags, we are able to fit more pounds of product of greens per square inch of refrigerator space. This also helps reduce our use of WAPA power.

What our empty salad bags are truly awesome for is: replacing your purchase of new zipper bags for your home! We open ours up inside out on the kitchen counter and let them dry completely, and then shake out any dried flecks of leftover greens. Then we roll them up and keep them in a large pickle jar, ready for any personal storage adventures we may need to embark on. We use them for bagging up dried goods like pasta to store in the pantry, encasing paper flour bags that are going into the freezer, repackaging of bulk food items, handing out leftovers after a party or gathering, general home food storage… you can cut the tip off of a bag and use it as a cake decorating tool or as a funnel for refilling a small necked container. We use them to extend the life of leaky freezer packs as well.

We also keep a few in the car for use on the go. They are useful for keeping a wet bathing suit enclosed, produce shopping at the store, rain proofing your stuff during yoga on the beach, cleaning up dog messes, garbage bags…

One of our customers has discovered that our salad bags perfectly fit a letter sized piece of paper. They can be useful for “lamination” of a document, sorting tax receipts, and other office uses..

We hope this gives you a few extra ideas of how to streeeetch the life of, and reuse, these bags. If you are not interested in using them yourself, you could bag up a bunch of clean ones and bring them to the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center (animal shelter). They can use them (along with clean old towels, and newspapers) for cleaning up etc.

Thank you for being such a great customer that you’re having this solid waste problem! 🙂

Love,

ARTfarm

ARTfarm Season Finale! Last Saturday

ARTfarm sweet cornAll good things must come to an end; summer, a great meal, a super dance club extended remix, and the season at ARTfarm. There will be a few weeks’ pause before the next season begins.

Today, 10am – 12 noon: Sweet salad mix, arugula, beets, sweet corn, onions, sweet potato greens, bunched arugula, Kang Kong Asian water spinach, Italian basil, holy basil, garlic chives, recao, mint, tarragon, bananas, papayas, and soursop! From our partners, we have dragonfruit from Solitude Farms, raw local dark honey from Errol, bread from Tess, and our famous “Shades of Joy” magic color indicator avocados from Tita & Diego.

Q&A: Someone stopped us in a parking lot the other day and asked us if our arugula was organic. For anyone who might be wondering, all ARTfarm produce is grown using organic methods, to the standards of USDA Certified Organic produce. In some cases, our sustainable practices exceed what is required by the USDA NOP (National Organic Program), and our farming philosophy and practices have continuously met our strict standards since 1999 on St. Croix.

BUT… it is against US law to claim that your produce is “organic” unless you have spent the time and money to achieve organic certification through a USDA approved agency. This involves lots of paperwork, expensive fees, a percentage of the farm’s profit going to a certifying agency on an annual basis, and flying an inspector to the island at the farm’s expense at regular intervals to examine our records and practices.

There are pros and cons to having the USDA organic stamp of approval. We respect those farms who have gone through the arduous process of becoming organic certified. We are considering the process, but are not interested in raising our prices to cover the cost. The official stamp from the USDA doesn’t seem to be important to most of our customers.

But is our arugula organic? If you really want to know, get to know your farmer. Ask about our farming practices. Ask how we raise food sustainably using organic methods. Ask us if we are involved in the community. Learn more about the debate and what growing organically really means, so you know the right questions to ask! You might just find the long answer as assuring and satisfying as the shortcut of a sticker stuck to your food. 😉

Love, ARTfarm

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