Sometimes I live in the country…


Sometimes I live in the town.

We’ve been going back and forth a bit, as we tend to this time of year when the weather’s not yet settled.  That requires a bit of a balancing act when it comes to food and clothing–minimizing trips back and forth requires a reasonable amount of prep-work.

I leave work clothes out here in the country, and my boots.  I also make sure to have something to wear should we venture back into the public eye.  I used to walk in the grocery store with my muddy pants and a smudge of dirt along my hairline, but you get looks.

I remember when I was a kid, growing up in the Champlain Valley of Vermont, which is a major agricultural area–mostly small dairy farms until the whole-herd buyout–but some families held on after that.  My mom and I were in Agway for something, and she pointed to a wizened character with manure on his boots, an old woolen coat, and a scraggly beard.

“That’s the richest man in this place,” she murmured, and I wondered why he wasn’t wearing a suit, or dressed in preppie casual as the resident Rockefellers did.  And then I thought later that she meant something else when she said “rich.”

Anyhow, when we’re doing the dance of between-seasons, I usually come out in my town clothes and change when I get here.  Throw my hair into a ponytail and pull it through the back of my Otter Creek Brewing cap, pull on my holey jeans and a flannel shirt, lace up my heavy leather hiking boots I got back in high school, and walk down to the gardens with a cup of coffee in my hand.

This time of year is also when I panic a little.  That the seeds won’t come up.  That they’ll come up and the deer will eat them all.  That I won’t get enough stuff in the ground and then out of the ground for the start of CSA deliveries on the 13th of May.

It has been a chilly spring, and right now, hardly anything is up, though I starting planting a couple weeks ago.  I went down to water this morning and there was ice in the hose–I’ll have to wait for the sun to warm everything up a bit.

So, since I was down there already, I got the rake out and cleared the area in the middle garden between Harry’s grapevines and the green onions–which was where I had a long row of purple, yellow, and green zinnias and fernleaf fiddleneck last year.

I had to laugh when I filled out my USDA farm survey late this winter.  They want you to list every crop you grow and how much land you grow it on, and how much money you made off it.

I think I made about ten bucks total off selling those zinnias at the market last year, but I dutifully put down that I grew them on something like .01 of an acre, and I made ten bucks.  I grow them mostly for the butterflies, bees, and other beneficial pollinators.  And because they’re pretty.

I can see the suits in their offices, scratching their heads at my dozens of vegetables grown on a tiny space and trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing out here in South Dakota.

Last night we had our first, triumphant greens meal of the season.  I’ve written about the spring garlic we’ve been digging up a little at a time to satisfy our craving for fresh stuff.  But yesterday afternoon, as I was raking out the main part of the middle gardens, I found a little stand of nettles.

Stinging nettles are one of the earliest and most nutrient-rich greens of spring.  It helps that they’re so early because then you’re probably already wearing gloves when you discover them, and you can clip a basket-full with your scissors without stinging the heck out of your hand.

They make a fabulous deep green tea when cleaning and boiled in water, and they make a great side-dish when sauteed until absolutely, thoroughly wilted with a little garlic and soy sauce.  You don’t have to blacken them–but for obvious reasons, you don’t want to put partially raw stinging nettles in your mouth.

Early in the season, when I panicking a little that nothing will come up, I soothe myself a little by thinking that if nothing did come up, I could at least deliver the standbys–asparagus (it’s been coming up for decades–both in planted patches and growing wild in ditches), green onions, and stinging nettles.

And I think how much I would like to deliver these fantastic mild greens.  But I wonder if my customers would hunt me down and swaddle me with them if they put an unsuspecting bare hand into the bag.

Hmm–that sounds like a good survey question.

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