Polyculture: Strength in Diversity

If you’ve had a chance to get out and visit our farm, when you walk through the restaurant, farm stand, the barn, the fields, you’ll notice one of many things.

Everywhere you look different looking people are doing different things. Women, men, old and young, white, Latino, some dressed in dirty work clothes, others dressed to present themselves to the public. Some of us plant seeds, some harvest food, some of us wash and pack, some sell, and some cook. What we all have in common is that regardless of what our individual job is, we are never really alone in our work. We belong to a greater system where we are just a piece of a bigger picture.  In agriculture this is called polyculture, a style that works to imitate the diversity of natural ecosystems, because nature has a way of making everything a little different in order to better its chances of survival. The basic principle being that diversity is strength, and when you think about it, you can apply this logic to almost anything

One tour through our fields and you can see this ideal reflected; we have tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos plants growing side by side, and while we may have many rows of lettuce, or squash, they are different varieties. This mixture among our plants makes them more resistant against pests and disease, even though the various pieces may seem separate and different, really everything is interdependent. Nature very rarely is stagnant, when one plant dies; a different one grows up in its stead. We try to keep with the same principle, when one crop finishes, we replant with something different to replenish the soil so that we can keep farming. Just a week or so ago John cut down all oats that had been growing as a cover crop in one of our fields to make room for the corn that is going in now. The oats cut back on harmful weed growth, prevent erosion, and will help to revitalize the soil for the corn. A general observation is that if a plant grows well somewhere, there must be something in the soil that it likes or needs, however if you constantly push that plant to grow in the same soil again and again, without the natural rotation of other plants, over time the soil will lose what it had to give in the first place.

The opposite of poly (many or multiple) is mono (one or single). You’ve probably heard the term monoculture thrown around, what it really means is that diversity is eliminated in favor of large scale identical production. Planting monocultures is less labor intensive because you can use machines to systematically work your fields, but it destroys the natural biodiversity, depletes soils, and requires heavy treatment with pesticides so that plants aren’t wiped out by a single threat. That being said, there is definite danger in monotony. When variety is eliminated from anything, it becomes much easier to figure out where weaknesses lie because they are more apparent.

I’d like to draw the analogy that a well planted field with a good variety of plants is not unlike a town, or even a society. The differences that set us apart are also what make us strong. The next generation of plants will carry the knowledge and resilience that helped their parents to survive, so how different is that from people? The variety of plants in a field is just another type of community. Every community needs certain dimensions; its farmers, teachers, leaders, musicians, bakers, and brewers in order to continue to grow and prosper. Natural selection has designed us to be different, because a multitude of differences bring a wider set of skills, and a greater chance of survival. Those different human faces, and abilities, or different plant varieties and traits, are what ensures that the life that we love can continue to be possible.

Devon Sanders, CSA Coordinator

What’s in the box?

Pink Fingerling Potatoes— 4.50$

Cilantro—2.00$, to keep your cilantro fresh, cut the bottom of the stems off, and put them in a glass of water and keep them on your counter, looks and smells nice, lasts a long time!

Arugula—2.50$- you can store Arugula like cilantro, it will last longer. The spicy flavor is great when set off by lemon juice  or oranges in a simple salad with olive oil, a dash of vinegar, and salt and pepper.

Cabbage—1.00$ a pound

2 Cucumber—3.00$

Carrots—3.00$

Lettuce—2.00$

Summer Squash—2.75$ a pound,  everyone should have a long striped squash called Cocozelle, and another variety, either a light green Italian round squash called Magda, or little yellow crook necks.

Walla Walla Onion—1.50$

Zucchini—2.25 a pound

Strawberries—3.00$

If you were shopping at market this box would cost you between 27.50 and 30.00$

Recipe Suggestions

Grilled Summer Squash

Summer squash is going to start coming out your ears soon, and for me one of the easiest and most delicious ways to eat it is simply to marinate and toss it on the barbeque. You can use whatever kind of squash you have, in whatever quantity you like.

Summer Squash-(for zucchini shaped squash slice length wise into quarter inch thick pieces)
Extra Virgin Olive oil– enough to coat both sides of the squash
Balsamic vinegar– about 2/3 as much vinegar as olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
A sprinkle of herbs like rosemary or thyme (optional)

– Slice your squash first and set it into a large bowl.

– Pour olive oil and vinegar over the squash and gently turn and stir your squash slices until they are fully coated.

– Sprinkle salt, pepper, and herbs over your coated squash and make sure that there is enough oil and vinegar in the bottom of the bowl to allow the squash to marinate a bit while you get your barbeque going.

– Light up your grill, and wait until you have good coals, or until it is hot.

– The squash are thin and will cook very quickly once they are on the grill, have a plate ready at your side for cooked squash, and a set of tongs for pulling them off.

– It shouldn’t take more than 3-5 minutes on each side.  A little black is a good thing.

These make a great side dish for any meal, or filler for a sandwich, but my favorite thing to do is to serve them alongside toasted French bread, fresh tomato bruschetta, and cheese for the perfect light summer meal.

Strawberry Skillet Jam

2 cups of Strawberries, tops removed
1/4 cup of sugar
A teaspoon of lemon juice
A splash of vanilla extract (optional)

– In a bowl, roughly mash your strawberries with a potato masher (you may need to lean into it at first, to get them going) or squeeze them with your fingers.

– Put them into a large skillet (cast iron is perfect!) with the sugar and lemon juice and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often and breaking up large chunks of berry with your spoon, until it thickens and your spoon leaves a trail across the bottom of the pan. (It should take about 10 minutes.) If you like, stir in the vanilla.

– Let cool, and store in  clean glass jar in the refrigerator

This will keep well for about two weeks, it’s great as a jam, poured over vanilla ice cream, served with scones, whatever you like really. But the best part is that it’s quick, and unlike many jams doesn’t require a huge commitment of time, fruit, and energy. Enjoy!

Cool Cucumber and Onion Salad

This salad is great because you can make up a dish of it and eat it for a couple of days. Just prepare in a plate with a slight rim around the edge, and store covered in your fridge.

2 cucumbers, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
Walla walla onion, thinly sliced
White wine vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

– On the plate arrange a layer of cucumber rounds, and then on top a thin layer of onions.

– Repeat  alternating layers of cucumbers and onions until you are out

– Lightly drizzle vinegar and even less oil over the plate, sprinkle with pepper and just a pinch of salt

– This refreshing salad is best slightly chilled, so cover and set in the fridge until you are ready to eat