Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pen and trowel

Janna Goerdt built two plastic-covered houses for growing vegetables for selling at farmers markets. The houses aren't fancy, but they have everything she needs for growing. She amended the soil under cover with horse manure.

Food writer Tom Wilkowske reports on duluthdish.com that Janna Goerdt, market gardener and former DNT reporter, has agreed to do some writing for the Northern Minnesota foodie web site.

Janna left the newspaper business recently to devote her energy toward Fat Chicken Farm near Embarrass. She's growing edibles such as heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, sweet potatoes, basil and squash in the two hoop houses she built last spring. When I visited in mid-June the tomato seedlings were just starting to rev up and the basil was tiny. The plants apparently liked their new digs because as of last week, Janna says, "the hoop houses are like jungles, the tomatoes and cucumbers are taking over and I have to LEAP over and around foliage to get from one end to the other."

Sounds divine!

I'm all for supporting farmers like Janna (you can find her at farmers markets in Ely and Virginia) or growing your own if possible. I like being able to pluck lettuce for tonight's salad from my back yard or buying a few tomatoes from the farmer who actually grew and harvested them or purchasing eggs from the folks up the road who have a henhouse of Black Star chickens.

But I hadn't really thought much about the connections between my home garden, Janna's venture and other agricultural pursuits. In the New York Times, Dan Barber, a chef and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, shares some thoughts on the food web in light of the late blight that has decimated the tomato crop in the Northeast. Here's a taste of what he says:

"There’s another lesson here for the home gardener. When you start a garden, no matter how small, you become part of an agricultural network that binds you to other farmers and gardeners. Airborne late blight spores are a perfect illustration of agriculture’s web-like connections. The tomato plant on the windowsill, the backyard garden and the industrial tomato farm are, to be a bit reductive about it, one very large farm. As we begin to grow more of our own food, we need to reacquaint ourselves with plant pathology and understand that what we grow, and how we grow it, affects everyone else. (Potato farmers in the Andes, for example, plant disease-prone varieties at high altitudes where the cold keeps pathogens in check — to protect themselves and their neighbors. They don’t get as big a harvest, but they decrease the risk of an epidemic.)"

If you want to know more about late blight (Phytophthora, the same fungus responsible for the Irish potato famine), read this post from Leslie Land's blog. Wow!

Janna gives some individual attention to a few plants on a warm day in June; she's also installed a drip/weeping irrigation system.

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