Week 7 of the CSA Season!

  • Fennel
  • Fresh Thyme - a good sized bunch. If you don't use it all fresh, dry it for later use!
  • Red Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Zucchini
  • Strawberries
  • Carrots - We've gone to bulk carrots for the rest of the season due to the fact that the green tops become weaker in the summer and bunching becomes painstaking. Rest assured we still dig fresh carrots for you every week; they are not from storage.
  • English Cucumbers
  • Sugar Snap Peas - bonus week! We usually only put them in the Harvest Basket for three weeks, but the pea patch is still yielding so we're sharing the bounty!

On Rotation

  • Walla Walla Sweet Onions
  • Red Long of Tropea Torpedo Onions
  • Broccoli

Strawberries and the Big Picture at Valley Flora: Cultivars, Crop Rotation, Diversity, Year-Round Food, and the Plastic Problem

At this time of year when people are in the fevered delerium of strawberry lust - when u-pickers are stripping the berry patch clean within 45 minutes and we're struggling each week to fill all the strawberry orders - we get asked one question all the time: "Why don't you plant more strawberries?" 

It's a great question. We could probably plant the whole farm to strawberries and for a few weeks in June and July sell every last berry. We'd pump a barrel-full of fructose into the collective veins of Coos and Curry counties and for a brief moment in time give people exactly what they wanted. 

But what would that look like for the farm? Inevitably as the strawberry zeal fades a little and the blueberries come on to divert u-pickers' attention, we find ourselves sitting on a big field of underpicked strawberries (ask my crew: none of us want to pick more strawberries than we currently do :)...). Solution: plant June-bearing varieties!? We've trialed many different June-bearing varieties to try to boost our production at the start of the season to meet the demand, but have never found an ideal cultivar that meets all of our criteria: it needs to hold up to the inevitable May/June rainstorm, be easy to pick, not be mushy, and have great flavor. Time and time again we come back to our standby variety, Seascape, a day neutral that yields steadily all summer long, is red all the way through, and flavorful. But it's a slow burn with Seascapes. A June-bearing strawberry plant will produce the same amount of fruit in one month as a Seascape plant will produce all summer. It's this unusual characteristic of Seascapes that has put us in the position of trying to re-educate the public about strawberry season on our farm: it lasts all summer, come in August! The fruit gets sweeter and more abundant! (For all of you on my special order list right now, late July/August is probably when you'll start getting your flats.) But it's proven challenging to re-program sugar-crazed humans who associate strawberries with early summer.

But let's just say we did decide to plant more strawberries. We have limited space on the farm, so planting more strawbs means less space for all the hundreds of other things we grow to feed folks year-round: greens, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, potatoes, fennel, cilantro, tomatoes, overwintering cauliflower, and scores of other things - not to mention all the cover crops we grow to feed our soil so that our soil in return can feed us. It would throw our careful crop rotation out of balance and the farm would become less diverse. In losing diversity the farm would also lose resiliency. It's because we grow hundreds of different crops that we can grow hundreds of different crops. That diversity creates mini-ecosystems on the farm that support complex biology above and below ground so our plants can thrive.

There is another dirty reason we don't plant more strawberries. They are the only crop on the farm that relies on plasticulture. We shape beds in September, lay down drip tape, and then wrap them in 1 mil agricultural black plastic. We then plant new crowns through the plastic in November and the plants slowly establish over the course of the winter until they start fruiting in May/June. We get a summer of production and then tear them out in October. The plastic goes to the dump (and for this I will surely be condemned to one of the nine levels of Dante's hell....perhaps the one full of organic farmers who are being tortured with hot melting plastic). Tragically, there is no longer an agricultural plastic recycling option in Oregon. There are some corn-based bio-plastic mulches on the market now, but they don't hold up for more than 6 months, which isn't long enough for the life cycle of strawberries. We've tried many times to grow strawberries without plastic, but we lose to the weeds every time. So here we are, part of the global plastic problem. I've capped our production at 20 beds, no matter how indignant our u-pickers get, because I can't bear to throw out more plastic each year when it's already too much.

So if you are among those clamoring for more strawberries from Valley Flora in early July, you have to stop and ask yourself: do I want them so much that I would forego the winter CSA or farmstand? At the expense of those sweet carrots? Would I sacrifice the diversity in this week's Harvest Basket? Do I want the farm to send more plastic to landfill each year? Or, might I in fact be able to have it all if I trust that there will be ample berries into September and I plan to fill my freezer in August instead of June (yes! fill your freezer in August!). I know we're pushing against some ancient biological hard-wiring (the human lust for sugar), and that as a species we aren't particularly prone to patience or delayed gratification, but if our customers practiced those two traits in the context of strawberries, it would help our farm maintain it's balance, it's complexity, and year-round abundance - and allow us to make the most of of the 20 beds of berries we put in the ground each year at the peril of my soul. 

Enjoy your VEGETABLES this week, and also that little pint of berries. :)