The First Bird of 2023 or Oh, Canada!January 9, 2023
AIA Case Study: Cold Brook Farm — Net Zero in New JerseyMarch 7, 2023
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” couldn’t be more descriptive for the 2022 growing season here at Cold Brook Farm. In the end we got 95%+ of our new permaculture plantings into the ground including fruit and nut trees, berry bushes, native plants for pollinators and we even managed to harvest an extraordinarily high-quality (albeit painfully small) crop of Glenn Wheat that’s currently being featured on the Winter menu at one of the country’s finest farm-to-table restaurants, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Unfortunately, all of this took place during a severe labor shortage and the fiercest drought our area has seen between late April and August in over twenty years (“Worst of Times). If newbie farmers were looking to be tested, 2022 came through in spades!
There’s no question in my mind that our modern society takes many of the necessities in our lives for granted. I certainly know that Deborah and I often do. Flip a switch and we have electricity, put our garbage out by the curb and it disappears, when we want food there are grocery stores. Other than a clean source of water (provided to most of us by simply turning on the tap), arguably nothing is more vital to us than food. But how often do we stop and think about the choices we make regarding the food we eat and how these choices affect those who grew and raised it for us?
Farming is back breaking work. Farming is expensive. Farming is full of risks from things outside of one’s control. Although most of us know these things, even if we grew up in a city or the suburbs (as Deborah and I did), how many people have you met recently who think that food is too cheap?
There was a time when most people in the United States either grew their own food, or had direct, personal relationships with the people who did. And, as a result, consumers could make decisions based on a deep knowledge of the foods they ate – “Ann’s tomatoes are always sweeter than Ralph’s,” or “when I bake with Mr. Jenkin’s flour my bread tastes better.” Over time this allowed pricing structures to develop (i.e. those who produced better goods could charge correspondingly more) and, since customers were often buying directly from the producer / grower, the lion’s share of money (or bartered services) was kept by the farmer.
Contrast this with today where according to a recent article published by the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, American farmers currently receive an average of just 7.6% of every dollar consumers spend on food (see graphic below)! Furthermore, our largely industrialized, international system of agriculture often purposely hides the people (farmers) and the unique geographical attributes of the food they grow (the French call this, “terroir”) from consumers so that corporations can both “buy low and sell high” and “offer a consistent product year after year.” These market dynamics are especially true for cereal grains, such as wheat, which have long been traded as commodities and where consumers have been led to believe that flour comes in just a few “types” – All Purpose, Baking, Whole Wheat and possibly the organic versions thereof.
Thus the painstaking work that Old Man Jenkins did in his perfectly situated and cared for field to ensure that the wheat he grew was the very finest (“Jenkins Family Farm Einkorn Wheat, Small Town New Jersey, Harvest of 1796”) no longer makes any difference when blended and milled, along with hundreds of other farms’ grain, into “All-Purpose White Flour.” We lose place. We lose person. We lose the tremendous variety and nuance brought about by each year’s growing conditions, the specific variety of grain planted, the people and the care they took (or didn’t take) raising the grain and the flavors contributed by literally billions of micro-organisms in a site’s specific soil – all to the “economics of sameness.”
Deb and I have never thought of agricultural products as commodities and have long done our best to get to know (whenever possible) the people who grow our food and why it tastes the way it does. And, yes, our thinking in this regard has become even intense since moving to farm country and growing food ourselves. Cold Brook Farm is a special place. We want to honor it’s terroir alongside the work that we personally do each season as part of that delicate dance with Mother Nature by offering single farm, single variety, single growing-season (“vintage”) grains of the very finest quality.
The Best of Times? Despite the horrific drought and having to hand plant, irrigate and care for 1,000’s of new plantings we harvested 13,000 pounds of absolutely fabulous Glenn Wheat that will be at market through River Valley Community Grains by the time you read this. For those of you who love the numbers? We harvested on July 20, 2022 with 13.3% protein and a Falling Number of 368. Deb and I have been using this for all our baking the past two months and more importantly than numbers? It’s delicious!
So, just say “no” to the economics of sameness – and rid your pantry of the dreaded “All-Purpose White Flour.” Support Local agriculture whenever you can and know thy Farmer. You are what you eat, so why not eat healthy, flavorful, locally grown, whole grain goodness?
Proprietor Cold Brook Farm
February 1, 2023