Although I am sad that summer is closing, my friend Shannon Brines I think is happy about it. His operation growing fall and winter crops in a 3,000 square foot hoophouse comes into its own with the colder weather. He had a work day last weekend with his mom and 4 others of us to prepare for his second fall planting.
So, what's a hoophouse? As I understand it, it's a kind of high-tech passive solar greenhouse that has been designed to extend the growing season in cold weather climates. Shannon's hoophouse has a metal frame sunk into the soil and which he trenched around to insulate. The cover is some kind of 5-layer extruded plastic that he got from a company in Ontario that specializes in that stuff. Inside is a series of baffles and wire frames that hold fabric "blankets" around the plants when the temperatures drop below freezing. And there are also long hoses for drip irrigation.
It was over 90º in the hoophouse as we took out tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. I helped take down a wall of 8 foot tall Malabar spinach plants that grow like morning glories without the flower, unraveling each one by one, wishing there was a worthy goat nearby to eat all the excellent nutrition that was going into the compost.
Shannon maintains organic practices, building healthy soil and reduction of carbon inputs in what he and others call "authentic agriculture," although he is not certified organic. I think Shannon may be a disciple of Steve Moore, a farmer in Pennsylvania who preaches the gospel of sustainability and has has been called the "Gandhi of Greenhouses."
Along with some tomatoes still left from summer, Shannon already has some very nice salad greens. Things he'll have at the market all winter long (yes, the Farmer's Market is open all winter on Saturdays) include: Mache/Vit/Corn Salad, Claytonia (Miner's Salad), Arugula, Minutina,Kyona Mizuna, Mibuna, Tatsoi, Red Giant mustard green, Red Russian Kale, Space Spinach, Dark Lollo Rossa lettuce, Rouge D'Hiver lettuce, Winter Density lettuce, Hakurei Turnips, and Tadorna Leeks.
Here's something else I like about Shannon - his logo. It says everything you need to know to cut through the confusion about where your food comes from and what happened to it before it reached your plate, about what's organic and what organic means. Certified organic is a label that has now also become a marketing tool. Since it's often the only information a mainstream consumer has about how food was produced, it has become a kind of touchstone or shortcut signifying "healthy" or "politically correct." And if that's the only information you have, at the grocery store for example, it's certainly better than nothing.
I think of the Farmer's Market as a kind of grocery store that cuts out the long chain of middlemen that would otherwise lead from the farm to my fork, each one taking away a piece of my food dollar for little or no value to me. At the market it matters to me that I'm buying something from a person, not from a giant conglomerate that doesn't give a rip about my community. It matters that to me that I can find out what they value by talking to the people that grow the food. And I can spend my food dollars accordingly. Perhaps it's not surprising that the people who really care about growing food are anxious to talk about it too. Lesson learned: if you want to know your food, know your farmer.