living underground in the real world

lettucey gossip (weirdly, a little bit NSFW)

This is what a local-produce-lovin’ chef is reduced to in Upstate NY in late October: emails seriously begging farmers for their scraps. I sent two tonight, one begging every good farmer in town for onions, and the other to Kira, pleading on seriously bended knees for Kira’s Mix.

Maybe now is the time to pass along a bit of lettuce-related gossip I have been witholding from the internets for months now. Oooh, it’s as juicy as an Integrata De Wild romaine (Lactuca sativa) when you harvest it at the stem and that milkiness gets all over your hands.

I sell a salad mix called Kira’s Mix to my clients, and everyone loves it. It’s ridiculously fresh, it’s diverse yet balanced, it truly explodes with flavor and goodness. It is named for farmer Kira, previously mentioned on this here blog as my “main squeeze farmer.”

Oh, Kira.

At the beginning of the season Kira made me a copy of the list of vegetable varieties she would be growing that she submitted to the Union Square farmer’s market in NYC (farmer’s markets make farmers tell them what they are growing so they can make sure not everyone will be selling the same veggies.). To say that this handwritten, 18-page document astounded and amazed me and gave me chills of anticipation for the season to come is an understatement, but I can’t think of any more hyperbolic language, so that will have to do.

Kira. Kira, who grows 36 varieties of winter squash, 14 kinds of summer squash, 17 kinds of taters, and more than a handful of varieties of eggplants, broccolis and brassicas, turnips, carrots, radishes, hot peppers, sweet peppers, onions, escaroles, lettuces, cabbages, melons, strawberries, peas—and the tomatoes: 18 cherry tomatoes, 7 paste tomatoes, and THIRTY SEVEN kinds of non-cherry non-paste tomatoes (for a grand total of SIXTY TWO varieties of tomatoes). And did I mention dozens of greens and garlics and beans, cukes, beets, edible flowers, nonedible flowers, herbs, celery, raspberries, and radicchios?

Vegetables! My heart is racing just writing about them. Is there anything in the Western canon that can touch the pure, singular poetry of vegetable variety names?

Can you guess what vegetable these names belong to?

Clemson Spineless, Red Burgundy, Silver Queen, Perkins Long Pod, Green Velvet, Alabama Red, Thai, Fife Creek Cowhorn, Milsap White.

Oh my gosh, feel the beauty of those names. We can make a poem out of them without even trying:

I came to you tonight

red burgundy heart

alabama red

green velvet dreams

milsap white breath in the cold air

my silver queen

.

You don’t even need punctuation for that kind of shit!

We could also do a crazy dirty one:

Perkins long pod

your legs spread

alabama red

clemson spineless i am not, O

silver queen

velvet green

you said – milsap white

i whispered – red burgundy.

.

.

Hoo boy! I think I have found my new career!

Anyway, did you guess?

What north country farmer grows nine varieties of okra? You know who.

Back to the story: I used to get most of my produce from Kira, but this summer she became so overwhelmed with her zillion farmer’s markets and her CSA and her commercial soup- and salsa-making and articles being written about her that she had to let something go.

That something was me, and truly, I understood.

Kira does more in a day than everyone who ever will read this page do in a week combined. She does way too much and needs to cut back, and I can’t deny that my crazy hyperbolic emails might also have been making her nuts—I own that.

(“RADISHES! I am SO EXCITED. I see from your list that you are growing French Breakfasts and Easter Eggs – could I get 10 lbs of each, and which do you think is better for roasting? Roasted radishes are SO GREAT, are they not? No one really does it! I am going to guess Easter Eggs are better roasters. And if the greens are fresh, feel free to leave them on – yum. I’ve never heard of the 8 other kinds of radish dudes you are growing, which ones are awesome? Can I come take pictures of them? You’re not growing watermelon radishes? Man, watermelon radishes are so amazing – when they are really red inside, you know? Hey, that reminds me: you know I’m good for at least 10 watermelons a week when the season starts up, right? Don’t forsake me watermelons! Anyway, watermelon radishes: Do you not like the flavor? And oh—what is the difference, really, between radishes and turnips? I secretly think they are the same plant. Oh, and do you have any spring carrots yet? I am super psyched for the Nantes and the Chantenay…”)

My wild produce excitement made her sad when the varieties that she was growing sometimes failed (as heirloom varieties do sometimes no matter how great of a farmer you are). I know I amused Kira, but farmers don’t have tons of time in their lives for insane people who are in love with farmers as a species and want to talk carrots all day, you know?

Sometimes I feel that farmers are true adults while I am a child—flouncing around on the sidelines in an inappropriate dress, waxing poetic about burpless cucumbers while a dirt-streaked farmer is slumped on a tractor, eyeing me wearily. Farmers are not chefs, they are not food writers. They can be sisters in the produce excitement club, but when it comes right down to it, they are deep in there, every day, wrestling with the earth so we can eat dinner.

I could never be a farmer. I sleep until eleven, dislike exersion, can’t stand the cold. I generally assume I’m the kind of person who could do any job if I had the right tools and clothes, but I could never hack it as a farmer, and perhaps this is part of my extreme excitement at their jobs.

There is another factor complicating my relationship with farmers. My business lives in a weird in-between zone: I order just enough produce that farmers don’t feel they can charge me retail prices, but I don’t order so much that they save a measurable amount of time by packing it up for me instead of for the market, where they get much more for everything (especially at those money-printing NYC markets). Many farmers also need to save their best produce for their CSA customers. I understand this and I of course don’t blame them, but what it means is that every week I consult with my primary farmer (the spot formerly held by Kira), then I email and call down a long list of farmers, begging for what my primary farmer doesn’t have. If that doesn’t work it’s off to the farmer’s markets, paying retail prices to farms whose practices and histories I don’t know.

Sometime around August—just when we were about to turn the corner into that explosion of early fall vegetables—Kira asked if I could get produce from one of the many other great farmers in our area, and I understood.

The search for a new primary farmer began, and though I can’t say I liked switching horses midstream, I landed on my feet (oh, tortured metaphors) with Dave.

Dave is a great farmer and—can I say this now? Everything is out in the open these days, right?—not coincidentally, is Kira’s former beau. Kira and Dave learned to farm together, and their farming styles are somewhat similar.

What I’m trying to say is…

Oh, blogreaders of mine, I can finally unburden myself to you, it feels so good to no longer live a lie:

I’ve been buying Dave’s mesclun mix for months and selling it as Kira’s Mix.

It feels so good to say it out loud.

Here’s the thing, before you sue me for lettuce defamation, O clients o’ mine:

It’s the exact same mix!

They developed the top secret recipe together, and it is perhaps the only vestage of their union.

Don’t feel bad for love lost, though—it’s been years, and they are friends now and each have new loves.

Dave has fallen into the arms of lovely Jessica of Veritas Farms, a genius farmer in her own right (yes, she is the beet grower mentioned here), whose produce I’ve been enjoying mightily this summer as well.

Last week, Dave didn’t have Kira’s Mix (he found out my stubborn name for it one day when I idily mentioned in coversation that “the Kira’s Mix was particularly good this week!”), so I got some lovely mesclun from Jessica. Calling that Kira’s Mix didn’t feel quite right, but what could I do?

Well, I could explain the whole thing here, I guess.

And now Jessica is off in San Francisco at a Critical Mass ride-vacation thingie (oh, farmers, always up to crazy schemes), and Dave doesn’t have a greenhouse big enough to grow Kira’s Mix, and so tonight I found myself composing the following email:

“Kira, I write to you tonight truly on bended knee! My source for Kira’s Mix (as I will always call it), Dave, will not have it all winter! I am not trying to butter you up when I tell you that my clients will not accept any wimpy [redacted] Farm mix (all lettuce, nothing interesting, shh!), which is the only other mesclun mix I know of available throughout the winter (and I might be wrong about that) – I have hooked everyone on Kira’s Mix!

If I slip in and out of your walk-in each Sunday (or Monday! Whatever works for YOU!) and don’t beg for any other produce and leave nothing but a check and a few ear scratchies and pets to sweet Jalopy, could I possibly get just a few measly pounds of your famous mesclun every week?

I am batting my eyelashes at you, but you can’t see it over email!

Pretty please?

Hopefully yours,

Lusting for lettuce,

Lagusta”

Yep.

This is my life.

I beg for lettuce.

So there you go, blog world—one summer in one small town, trying as hard as it can to feed itself without going crazy. Gossip and greens, that’s about all we make up here.

6 Responses to “lettucey gossip (weirdly, a little bit NSFW)”

  1. Veronica

    Ha, I love your poems! You should hand write them on nice paper and sell them to your clients…..

    And watermelon radishes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    My fingers are crossed for the Kira’s mix.

    Reply
  2. lagusta

    Update! Though the status of the KM is still uncertain, Kira wrote back and reassured me that she didn’t stop selling to me because I made her crazy, but because (as I thought), she was just too busy with her one zillion other projects.

    But she might not have mesclun at all this winter because of high fuel costs (to heat the greenhouse) and because she wants to take time off to focus on other things (like sleeping, which I really don’t think she ever does in the summertime).

    Do any New Paltzers (New Paltzians?) have hot tips on organic or CNG tasty winter mesclun hookups?

    Reply
  3. Sara

    FYI–
    The permaculture farm http://thegoodlifefarm.org/ provided local green (grown in high tunnels using passive solar) for the coop in Ithaca this past winter. High demand and not super local to you, but they plan on expanding and they are regional…. FYI. The greens were expensive but delicious.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      I don’t know why more farms around here aren’t doing that…passive solar is the way to go! I’ll keep an eye out if they expand, thanks!

      Reply

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