Having farmed on an teeny, tiny, infinitesimal, minute scale, I can say with confidence that there’s really no reason you would buy a farm unless you’re crazy-in-spades about food.
You are also probably a member of the food snobberati, meaning that no item can be less than the apex of freshness, that is, lifted from the ground and hurtled into a vehicle and straight to you as you wait, Moroccan straw basket gaping open, at a farmers’ market. And while you might allow those precious hours between harvest and purchase in Northern California, you simply couldn’t tolerate or trust this process to be as efficient anywhere else because, well, everything is better in Northern California. So you buy a farm because the food-transport quotient is as low as it will ever get.
Then there’s also the issue of variety. Hypothesizing an (obviously fictional) universe other than Northern California in which food can travel from soil to basket with the requisite speed, it simply could not be that such a place would offer the breadth of varieties required to make the meals that swirl about in your head. Golden Delicious apples, for example, would never do for an apple pie when a mix of Gravensteins, Arkansas Blacks, Ashmead Kernels, and Red Astrakhans would be so much better. So you have have a farm to plant an orchard of umpteen heritage apple varieties. Duh.
And there is breadth. What if you could not source the ingredients for the Asian pear, quince, and apple tart at the peak of late fall? A tragedy of no greater magnitude could befall anyone. Then add quince and Asian pear to the orchard. Or what of my favorite breakfast I recently mentioned (a thick slice of rustic bread smeared with chèvre and topped with soft-scrambled eggs, roasted tomatoes on the side)? Chickens, check; goats, check (though recently unchecked); 18 varieties of tomatoes on the verge of extinction, check; wheat, in process (see Homegrown Whole Grains: Grow, Harvest, and Cook Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Corn and More, which sits hopefully on my bookshelf). These necessities could never thrive on a modest single acre, say. No, decidedly not.
By now it should go without saying that you are also delusional. Massively delusional. This is because you think that you, almost single-handedly and in the first year of farming, are going to work full-time as a lawyer, mother a two-year-old, make a home, finally lose the baby weight and erect of a farm of heroic proportion with purity of practices no one has seen since the dawn of farming. Specifically, you will:
- till, fence, and cultivate a 500-square-foot garden;
- design and build a chicken coop and rear laying hens of several rare breeds;
- move the laying hens each week to new pasture so they can have the freshest, healthiest forage ever;
- raise geese (Cratchit Christmas dinner!), ducks (hello, confit), turkeys (pardoning their unthinkable stupidity), and chickens (please, heritage breeds only);
- assemble a poultry-butchering facility, including making an automated feather plucker from scratch;
- process nearly 150 poultry;
- plant an orchard;
- install a vineyard;
- plant many berry bushes;
- manage 24,000 honeys bees and the theft of their handiwork; and
- find a milking animal.
That’s all. You won’t do anything else. No really, nothing else. Not even cook, especially not those meals that were swirling in your head but are now hazy images barely hanging on in a deep, dark closet of your mind. So you’ll eat simple things, the type of things you can still conjure up after a day of doing all of your overambitious, perfectionistic, lunatic work.
In other words, you’ll eat radishes. They will hail from the roughly 5,000 French Breakfast radish seeds you ordered from the glossy seed catalog. They grow quickly so you will feel like a fantastic success when you harvest them. (If you can’t grow radishes, try plastic plants.) And you’ll rejoice in their beauty, a beauty that makes you wonder if nature erred by hiding that most vibrant pink under a blanket of soil. That pink. Your color ever since you saw it on the pergola of bougainvillea in Positano and the same flower later scaling stucco walls in San Francisco.
Raw vegetables alone can never really ascend to the level of dignity required to be a meal. Yet by adding butter and a pinch of salt, you can actually achieve the distinction and create a surprisingly pleasing mash-up of flavors and textures–crunchy, creamy, spicy, salty. The real question, however, is what meal you eat them for? As the name suggests, the French may eat them for breakfast. But this seems unlikely. It can truly only mean that they were intended to break the fast of the back-breaking work that is a day in the life of a start-up, crackpot farmer.
French Breakfast Radishes with Butter and Salt
Plant a few rows of French Breakfast radish seeds anytime other than winter, water a bit each day, whether by hand or rain, until a stem with little two small leaves springs up. Let the sun, water, and warmth work their magic. When pink bulges about the diameter of a dime emerge above ground, gently unearth a handful of the roots. Rinse thoroughly. Slice in half length-wise. Spread little pats of butter on eat half. Sprinkle with good salt. Pair with a glass of water, and you’ll really feel like royalty.