Friday, August 14, 2009

the vegetannual

Last December as I lay waiting for my legs to return to their usual color and my hair to fall out (thank you, dengue fever), I broke up long hours reading Harry Potter and watching West Wing with forays into Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (a singularly frustrating read in Chicago in the dead of winter). Kingsolver documents a year of her family's experience eating locally - only food that had been grown and produced either on their own farm or within 100 miles. One of the recurring images in the book is the vegetannual, "an imaginary plant that bears over the course of one growing season a cornucopia of all the different vegetable products we can harvest".

I remember thinking that this would only be an enjoyable experience year-round if one happened to live in southern California, where most things can grow most of the time, and the seasonal restrictions in more temperate climates would not apply. And sure enough - here is the list of what is currently being planted on a corner of the 10 organic acres I'll start working on next week: yellow, green and burgundy beans; ruby, romaine and butter lettuce; arugula, spinach, basil, cilantro and parsley; cucumbers; 8 ball, geode and crookneck squash; gold, red and candy striped beets; fennel, zucchini and edible flowers. A lot of the conventional farms around here are currently planting strawberries.

All this is a testament to two things:

1. The gorgeous Mediterranean climate. Most days (all year, or so I've heard) temperatures are in the 60s and 70s, kept in check by the ocean. It actually reminds me of Nairobi - eucalyptus, jacaranda and mimosa trees, bougainvillea, hibiscus plants...A local told me yesterday that this is God's country, and I believe it.

2. Some of the most fertile soil in the world. According to the farmer (Paul), whose family has worked on this land for just over a century, the soil is sandy loam, a combination of sand, silt and clay that traps organic material while allowing water to run through. This area wasn't always the best agricultural land - it was once too salty and alkaline to grow anything but sugar beets, but artificial drainage has pulled the water table down and made the Oxnard plain ideal for farming.

So much for the vegetannual...

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