After a long wait you can now get your hands on some tasty certified organic Quarter Acre Farm heirloom popcorn.
I sold out of the 2016 harvest of heirloom popcorn months ago and just like my customers when I sell out of popcorn I too have no popcorn in the my own house. So I have been waiting and watching the popcorn like a hawk since I planted it back in May. Once planted popcorn takes about 100 days to reach maturity. Then it has to dry on the stalk until the husk turns brown. After it is harvested I begin to shuck it as I wait for it to dry even more. Popcorn won’t POP if there is too much moisture in the kernel. I test random kernels by trying to pop them on the stove top. Once I get constant pops, it’s time to shell the kernels off the cob.
Well I shelled the popcorn this week and have been busy bagging up the beautiful kernels for market. Heirloom popcorn has a delicious flavor some say it’s a bit nutty or buttery but its scrumptious taste, makes all other popcorn just seem bland. This year I have Pennsylvania Dutch Butter which is a pale yellow and pops yellow and Dakota Black whose kernels are a mahogany color and pops white plus a new variety Smoke Signals which is multi-colored and pops a creamy white. Now that my house is fully stocked with popcorn I have been eating a bowl every night.
If you can’t make it to the market the popcorn is available for sale on etsy,
shipping anywhere within the Untied States.
As a farmer your main focus tends to be getting your product out of the field and into the hands of your customers.
I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve come home from a long day of harvesting and delivering produce to find my kitchen, severely lacking vegetables. Or after a busy morning selling produce at the farmers’ market (surrounded by fellow rock star farmers and amazing food vendors) only to realize I forgot to buy a single item off my grocery list. Like many farmers I find the access to fresh local produce to be an awesome job benefit, if I can remember to access it.
When I do bring produce home to eat, it tends to be “seconds”; fruit that is misshapen, leaves that bugs have chewed on, and other aspects that generally make the items undesirable for market. Your farm business mentality is to sell everything that is sellable. Well, this fall I spotted two beautiful blue pumpkins in the field that I immediately knew I wanted all for myself. As I watched them grow I kept feeling a pang of guilt that I would not market these beauts. But by the time they were ready to harvest, all my guilt had washed away. As I hauled them into my truck I was beaming with pride knowing I had the perfect place for them by my doorstep.
I have been harvesting bushels and bushels of pumpkins and gourds. At the farmers’ market you will see the tables in my booth overflowing with these classic autumn symbols.
But what you won’t see much of is winter squash. I was only able to have a modest harvest because I let the weeds take over those rows in the field. The winter squash plants were too small and the weeds grew too tall blocking the sunlight. On the farm you have to prioritize tasks and when the winter squash needed to be weeded the cherry tomatoes needed to be harvested and taken to market, it was a tough decision but those sweet tomatoes won. So the winter squash was on its own to fend off the weeds.
In other farm news, I have finally gotten all the popcorn harvested and now I’m busy shucking it all. With a half an acre worth of popcorn shucking takes many hours. Since I’m pretty obsessed with heirloom corn, removing each husk is like unwrapping a gift, it’s a surprise to see what colorful pattern the kernels will be in. I hope to have it shelled and ready for market by early November.
Smoke Signals popcorn
The smoke has started to clear here in Wine Country. My home and farm were not damaged by the wildfires but that seems, to just be by luck or a random change in wind. These wildfires have been devastating, I know many people who lost their home or business and sometimes both. As I talk to friends or strangers in the parking lot the stories we share are similar; waking up in the middle of the night to fire reports, sights of glowing mountain tops, buildings reduce to ash, and the anxiety of waiting to hear more news.
The threat of fire loomed for so many days, I like many was glued to every screen watching the news, listening to the radio, and scrolling through social media to figure out where the fire was and where it might be going. I felt lucky to have time to pack up things before we evacuated.
As a farmer, I have always been humbled by nature, knowing full well that I am not the one in control. But the strength and speed of these wildfires were unbelievable, many people had no warning.
We may not be able to control nature but we can control how we react as humans. Giving back is a great reaction, this of course can involve donating to a nonprofit* but even just being kind to another human being is generosity. So remember be patience with one another, call your loved ones, take time to talk to your neighbor, smile and acknowledge a stranger. We are each a tiny piece of this larger community we call home.
*If you’d like to make a monetary donation check out these organizations:
- Just and Resilient Futures Fund resources from this fund will be provided to victims of fires, especially those suffering losses not covered by insurance or traditional relief services, and to support initiatives that build more just, healthy, and resilient communities and that better prepare us for future catastrophe. With immediate focus on relief funds for those fire victims who were already living on the margins.
- Redwood Credit Union is accepting financial donations to assist fire victims and aid relief efforts. 100% of your tax-deductible donations will go directly to support those affected.
- La Luz Center has the mission to be a catalyst for change in Sonoma Valley through health, education and financial security. During this time of devastation and crisis they are focusing on the following services: ‘disaster unemployment assistance’ as well as ‘individual assistance disaster relief funds’ application assistance, rental assistance referrals, and job placement referrals. They are also providing hot meals and basic need items for families that have been displaced, are without electricity, or need a safe day space.
October is here and I’m still harvesting tomatoes. The heirloom tomato plants are just barely hanging on having never really recovered from the intense heat wave from weeks ago.
But the cherry tomato plants are happy and healthy with fresh green growth and loads of fruit. I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer but I look at the cheerful cherry tomato plants and think aren’t you guys tired, aren’t you ready to stop producing and go to sleep for the winter?
Well I’m obviously projecting my feelings onto vibrant tomato plants. I have been steadily picking cherry tomatoes since June and it’s been a great tomato season for me but I’m totally ready for it to end. The production on the cherry tomato plants has slowed down a bit and the fruit is much smaller than it once was, which means it takes more time to fill up the pint baskets. But since there is ripe tomatoes in the field and customers still buying them, I will keep harvesting, until the plants are finished for the season. I’m just counting the days.
Each day I find myself moving slower. I’m getting up later, just leisurely drinking my coffee, taking longer to leave the house, sluggishly harvesting tomatoes, and I think I’m even walking slower. At first I just chalked it up to being lazy and I tried to push myself to move faster and shake off the desire to procrastinate. But each day’s energy seemed to be slower too.
Sunrise over the cherry tomato rows
The sun taking its time to shine its golden light, the wind blowing a crisp air, puffy clouds parading through the sky, and a stillness from the wild critters. Then I realized the equinox is upon us and autumn is here.
Now is the time to start slowing down to take inventory of what you have and what you still need to stock up on for winter. Mid-September is an abundant time at the farm because the summer crops are still producing steadily and the fall harvest of pumpkins and gourds is in full swing. I’m doing my best to not fight my slowness, I’m trying to go with the flow and be present in the current autumnal season.
September at the farmers market
I’ve been spending my days hunting for pumpkins. What started as nice little pumpkin plants in neat straight rows has grown to vines with big green leaves stretching far and wide. It’s hard to walk as every space is either covered in vines or weeds. I watch each step I make so I don’t accidentally crush a perfect pumpkin. Harvest involves a lot of searching under leaves and close examination to see if the various pumpkin varieties are ready to be picked. The process is similar with finding the gourds except they tend to be smaller and easily hidden amongst the weeds. I’m sure from afar I look like a confused chicken moving my head from side to side and quickly pecking at the ground before wandering off in the opposite direction.
Thursday I started to harvest the popcorn but it is a slower process than normal as this field didn’t get weeded, what can I say, I was busy this spring. So the popcorn field is truly a jungle, as I enter I’m not only surrounded by tall cornstalks but six-foot weeds. A couple of steps in and it’s hard to see where you entered. But I just keep moving forward tossing popcorn cobs into my burlap sack. I eventually make it out the other side with a bushel or so of popcorn and lots of scratches.
After our recent heat wave it has been nice to have some days with cool breezes and cloudy skies. But I was still caught off guard by last Thursday’s rain, well more like a heavy mist but water from the sky nevertheless.
This fall weather just seemed so out-of-place, until I remembered that it is September. Signs of autumn are popping up all around the farm; pumpkins ready to harvest, the sun’s angle creating long shadows, dead tomato plants, and shorter days.
It seems like just yesterday I was ordering seeds and making my planting schedule for the season but now I’m starting to think about removing irrigation and putting things away for the winter. Having a seasonal workload was one of the things that drew me to a life a farming. I like how your tasks have a cycle and the work ebbs and flows throughout the year. This just feels natural to me I have more energy in the summer and enjoy taking on more work; in the winter I want to slow down and get cozy reflecting on life. So as we enjoy the last days of summer filled with tomato sandwiches, I look forward to windy fall days surrounded by pumpkins.
Lately it seems like everyday is a race. A race to pick as many tomatoes as possible before it gets too hot. My race day starts the night before, I load the truck with boxes, pint baskets, snacks, and water. To figure out when to wake up, I look at when tomorrow’s sunrise is, so I can plan to be out in the field as early as I can. Sunrise is getting later and later, right now it’s happening at 6:38am to be exact, that is not much time before 12 noon when it becomes too hot to pick tomatoes (cause nobody wants soft pre-cooked tomatoes). I would like to start harvesting before 6:30 am but as you can imagine harvesting in the dark is hard. So I start harvesting at sunrise and I fill the flats that each fit 12 pint baskets as fast as I can.
Sometimes I have cat supervision
This time of year with the plants aging and the heat wave happening a lot of the fruit that is hanging is split or soft, so it’s a bit like an obstacle course. Cherry tomato harvest in late summer is not as fast as earlier in the season so you really feel the time speeding by as pint baskets slowly fill.
Once the day has become too hot for picking, I go inside to start sorting the tomatoes removing damaged fruit and mixing the colors. By the time this is finished it’s time to prep for tomorrow and load the truck with supplies. It may be a race but it won’t last forever.
The tomatoes are still the star of the farm, requiring my full attention most every day.
But across the field a successor is lurking in the weeds. The pumpkins are growing well, the vines are curling up the tall weed stalks and sticking out past the edges of the field. I’ve even spotted a few orange ones already. There is also gourds and winter squash keeping the pumpkins company.
It is hard to think about autumn during the hot sunny weather of August but we are less than a month away from the fall equinox. The seasons move along at a quick pace, so make sure to take time to enjoy what tasty produce is currently at the farmers’ market, take a moment to soak up the warm weather, take a minute to watch bees buzzing from flower to flower, and take a deep breath of the summer’s afternoon breeze.
Before you know it juicy tomatoes will only be a memory and we will be pulling on our rain boots and cozy sweaters.