Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Over the past few days, the very first corn of the 2013 summer season has started to come to the Market!
During the many years that I've been involved with sustainable agriculture and farmers markets, I've noticed a very interesting phenomenon. Lots of people who shop at farmers markets and with small farmers are interested in purchasing organic or sustainable or no-spray vegetables and fruits, but the idea of bugs crawling on their food is too much to handle. On farms all over the world, farmers, crops, and bugs live together -- I wouldn't say that they necessarily live in harmony, but they do live together.
The bugs that live on farms can generally be classified into two categories: Pests, the bad bugs. And Beneficial Insects, the good bugs. The Pests do damage to crops. These bugs tend to be the herbivores and are low on the insect food chain. They are looking for their next meal in the crops that farmers have planted. The pests chew holes in fruits and vegetables, eat leaves of plants, which makes photosynthesis and growth more difficult, some even chew on roots and stems, causing the whole plant to die. The Beneficial Insects, on the other hand, are the predators. They eat the pests and do other work, including pollination, while leaving the plants and vegetables alone. Some farmers go to great lengths to attract Beneficial Insects to their farms.
If you compare bugs hierarchy of bugs on a farm to the hierarchy of the animal kingdom. The Pests are like rabbits or deer -- there are lots of them and they reproduce quickly! The Beneficial Insects are similar to predators in the wild, such as wolves or foxes or bears. Their ranks are fewer and they don't reproduce as quickly. When there is a good balance of Pests and Beneficial Insects on a farm, the beneficial population keeps the pest population in check.
A good balance can be hard to strike and can take years and years to try to achieve on any single farm. Factors that are outside of the farm and beyond a farmers control can upset the balance very quickly. Often, no matter how hard farmers try to attract Beneficial Insects to their farms, the population of Pests is bigger and more voracious than beneficials can keep in check. So, farmers sometimes have to resort to other measures of pest control. Those measures can include picking off the pests by hand, using organic sprays to keep the pests off the crops, or using chemical pesticides to kill the pests before they do too much damage.
So, why does the first corn of the season lead me to a long discourse of insects on farms? Well, it is because of corn earworms, the little brown worms that like to chew on the tip of an ear of corn. These little worms are ever present in organic, sustainable, no-spray, and even low spray corn. They are an ever present factor in corn production and they are difficult to control. The good thing about these little worms is that they don't damage the whole ear of corn, they usually just chew on the end of it. They are easy to flick off the corn cob and they the damage can quickly and easily be cut off and thrown away before cooking the rest of the ear of corn.
When I was little and my parents would stop at farmers' markets or farm stands to buy corn, they would check the tip end of the corn and see if any of the ears there was evidence of corn ear worms. They wouldn't buy an ear if it was heavily damaged by a worm, but they would buy ears that had been chewed on by the worms. They told me and my sister, "If the corn is good enough for the worms, it is good enough for you!". It was our job to shuck the corn, so it was our job to pick off the worms. As a result, corn season and corn ear worms are synonymous to me and just part of the fun of eating fresh, local corn! Don't let a little worm keep you from buying corn, it is all part of the natural cycle of farming!
See you at the market!
Fruits: BLUEBERRIES, RASPBERRIES, PEACHES
Vegetables: CORN, CELERY, RADICCHIO, BEANS - Green, Purple & Yellow, CHERRY TOMATOES, Artichokes, Asian Greens (Bok Choi, Tat Soi, Mizuna), Arugula, Beet Greens, Beets, Broccoli, Broccoli Raab, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cucumbers, Collards, English Shelling Peas, Fava Bean, Fennel, Frisee, Fresh Garlic and Garlic Scapes, Green Onions, Herbs (including Holy Basil, Cilantro, Thyme, Oregano, and Greek Oregano, Marjoram, Dill, Holy Basil, Bergamot, Chammomille, Bay, Lemon Balm), Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Onions, Napa Cabbage, Potatoes, Pea Shoots, Radishes, Salad Mix, Swiss Chard, Sugar Snap Peas, Summer Squash, Greenhouse Grown Tomatoes, Turnips, Zucchini
Meats: Beef, Chicken, Duck, Goat/Chevon, Pork
Eggs: Chicken and Duck Eggs
Flowers: Statice, Lilly, Calendula, Peonies, Zinnia, Lupine, Batchelors Buttons, Sweet William, Zinnia, Sunflower, Agrostemma, Snapdragons and mixed Bouquets
Plants: Vegetable and Herb Seedlings, House Plants, Landscaping Plants
Specialty Items: RAW HONEY!, Mustards, Flour, Yellow & White Cornmeal, Grits, Goat and Cow Milk Cheeses, Baked Goods - Breads, Pastries, & Pies, Preserves, Gluten Free Baked Goods, Fermented Items, Nut Butters, Pasta, Herbal Teas, Herbal Salves,
Crafts: Wood Crafts, Pottery, Goats Milk Soaps