Thanks for the gifts from our Sonoma County farmers – Santa Rosa Press Democrat


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December 10, 2021, 6: 00PM
Updated 1 hour ago

A visit to any of our local farmers markets and farm stands reveals artistic produce displays worthy of Instagram. From mounds of white turnips and bronze lettuces that look individually painted to sculptural piles of winter squash and pumpkins, cosmic green Romanesco broccoli and glowing purple cauliflower, our eyes delight in the contemplation of produce so beautifully grown and presented to us as consumers.
Our local farmers deserve thanks. Their efforts in growing, making and displaying produce and jams, dried fruits and baked goods are far removed from the purely transactional. The bounty of the land they work is much more than a food source — our local farmers feed both our bodies and souls, connecting us to the surrounding landscape we love.
Growing food is a painstaking process
Much work goes into growing fruits and vegetables to such a state of culinary and visual perfection. Season after season, farmers carefully nurture and coax the soil with compost and overcrops into a living web of underground life that supports plants roots and health and brings out the very best flavors in produce. Each field has its own nuances that farmers become acquainted with and develop over years, like a friendship, rather than months.
The beautiful items displayed at farm stands are the result of months of work and hinge on a lot of preplanning, from reviewing the previous season’s notes, ordering and starting seed, transplanting, irrigation, weeding and pruning all the way up to harvest.
Farmers consider how well each variety performed in growth, health, production and flavor are weigh those outcomes against customer appeal. Each step requires careful supervision and oversight, is easily disturbed and can result in crop failure.
Post-harvest produce is very fragile and must be carefully stored and transported. All this is repeated with each crop, many times each season and season after season, with close observation and thoughtful action.
Growing organically means balancing many factors
To grow organically, farmers must track many fluctuating factors, working to develop and maintain healthy soil and growing varieties adapted to local climates in each season. But for many farmers, organic growing also means including flowering plants that attract and support beneficial insects and pollinators.
Some farmers plant insect-friendly plants like alyssum or plant extra coriander for its flowers. Others use native plants on field margins to support insects and birds friendly to gardens. It’s better for farmers to have a jay pluck tomato hornworms from the tomatoes to feed a nest of nestlings than to do it themselves. Better to have bluebirds living in installed nest boxes carry away cabbage white caterpillars to stuff fledglings’ mouths.
Farmers markets and farm stands appeal almost universally to people everywhere. The atmosphere is festive and uplifting, like a celebration. The sights are stimulating and warm. Friends meet; people taste and eat.
The farmers have stories to tell, and behind each piece of produce are many. What are the origins of the variety, how was it grown, what are the nuances of flavor, how is it cooked? How did the farmer begin farming and what is a farmer’s life like?
We can imagine ourselves on our own farms, our lives transformed. Beyond just a transaction, the produce represents anticipated experiences: simple, delicious and wholesome meals prepared for and with family and friends or just for oneself — experiences that constitute a fundamental aspect of life.
Visiting a farmers market or farm stand is like a visit to a proverbial grandmother’s garden and kitchen, evoking a comfortable and welcoming nostalgia both real and imagined. In buying the produce, we buy possibilities.
These days, our farmers have many challenges aside from the many that surround every crop. Extreme drought, extreme heat events, water restrictions, COVID-19 restrictions and wildfire smoke hamper daily life and affect growing seasons all too often now. Let’s give thanks to our farmers for persevering in these trying circumstances to create something very special for us all.
Kate Frey’s column appears every other week in Sonoma Home. Contact Kate at: [email protected], Twitter @katebfrey, Instagram @americangardenschool

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