Saturday, July 03, 2010

Farm Bulletin: Pent Up Energy

This past spring, I have been awaiting the resumption of Anthony's Farm Bulletins with bated breath, wondering how the excessive rain and cool temperatures may have affected the crops (not to mention the folk) at Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston. I shouldn't have worried, since it's abundantly clear that mere seasonal weather variations can't dim the enthusiasm of the Bard of Ayers Creek.

This spring has certainly tested the farmer's mettle and humor. The Spotted Wing Drosophila (Drosophila suzukii, left), an Asian vinegar fly, has prompted a lot hand-wringing among fruit growers. Using its amazing serrated ovipositor, this vinegar fly lays its eggs in firm, sound fruit. Last autumn, it made a big dent in peaches and blueberries. University entomologists and extension agents are predicting losses in every sort of fruit. The experts were solemnly telling the press that organic growers would be hit hardest because they did not have chemical tools to deal with the insect. Apparently, those agents never met any of our Zebra spiders (lower right), or other jumping spiders, eye-to-eye. Salticus scenicus have a total of eight eyes, so it would take four extension agents to stare down a single Zebra spider. Long ago, we threw our lot in with the spiders and other predaceous invertebrates. They are more entertaining companions than malathion, diazinon or carbaryl. It will be interesting to see how we fare with this new challenge.    

Far more disquieting than the new vinegar fly is having the Food Drug Administration (FDA) skulking around the state. In May, a FDA "listening session" took place in Portland. Produce industry representatives lined up to argue that all farms, even small local farms, should come under the jurisdiction of the FDA, in addition to being locally regulated as they are today. The proposal before congress is that we would have to send them a $500 check and an endless stream of paper work, and they will make sure the food we produce will be safe. A bit of a stretch, in our opinion, given their current track record. Having resisted regulation for decades, the titans of the produce industry are crying that no farm should be "exempt" from federal regulation. Facing justifiable regulation, the industry is using its muscle to stifle the sale of local fruits and vegetables in the name of "fairness." They have flipped from saying we have safest food system in the world, to arguing that no farm is safe. They have welcome ear in the FDA's Michael Taylor, formerly Monsanto's Vice President for Public Policy. The proposal is the 2010 version of Earl Butz's legendary "Get big or get out."

Both the Oregonian and the Capital Press had ingratiating editorials about how small farms are just as likely to cause food borne illnesses as large ones. We have included our response to the Capital Press editorial at the end of this note [see accompanying post]. The Capital Press is the region's agricultural weekly, and an important as well as infuriating source of farming news and opinion. As we point out, two trends are occurring: increasing consolidation and mechanization in the produce industry and the growth of small farms selling fruits and vegetables directly to the public. The consolidating produce industry is the source of the problems, not the expanding farmers' market sector.

The wet spring has also generated a fair amount of nail biting. On balance, the wet and gloomy spring was very good for the farm, even if it made a lot of extra work for us. This winter, we decided we would shift our planting a week or two later, or even three weeks in the case of peppers and tomatoes. We didn't expect to have our resolution so emphatically enforced. Whether it was the pent-up energy, or a desire to hedge against a short crop, we ended up doubling our plantings this year. We have also shifted the crop balance in response to the cooler spring.  Most crops look better this year compared to the last three years, especially 2009. Crops will be late, though, so we are hoping for a gentle autumn.

Look for the following at the Ayers Creek stand at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, Sun., 7/4, 10 am-2 pm: 


Cascade Dawn, the famous berry named after, not one, but two brand name detergents. In spite of that handicap, it is a wonderful raspberry, and we have grown it since it was the mere numbered selection WSU 1068.


The loganberry (top photo) is a great fruit. It is sprightly with a deep flavor only equalled, in our opinion, by the boysenberry. It is substantial, the fruit for inspiring a novel, not a Twitter post.

The loganberry is generally regarded as a natural hybrid between the native dewberry, Rubus ursinus, and a raspberry. Judge Logan wrote a letter to L.H. Bailey at Cornell describing the development of the Loganberry. It is excerpted in the U.P. Hedrick's Small Fruits of New York (1925). In his words:

"In the summer of 1883 these plants fruited and there appeared one plant which was undoubtedly a cross between the raspberry and the Rubus ursinus. The fruit was larger and earlier than the raspberry or any blackberry, except the R. ursinus, ripening about the middle of May…The leaves of the vine are almost identical with the wild Rubus, being somewhat larger. The canes are also like the wild Rubus only larger and more vigorous."

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