Teenage Kale

The sun was slow to penetrate at nine am, and we talked tomatoes in the meantime, and breeding. Fred already had one variety that he would be selling through Seeds of Change, but he said he had ones that were even better that weren’t out yet. Secret tomatoes. The restaurants and caterers the farm worked with could name these new breeds, if they wanted to. I wondered what I would name a new tomato.

 We talked about the lessons learned from last years tomato harvest, and what would be different this year. There was a balancing act between growing for restaurants versus markets.  Markets like Draegers want large tomatoes, but restaurants want small tomatoes. There was also more work involved in harvesting smaller tomatoes.

Tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes. Breeding and watering and eating and naming and seeds and roots and sun and ripening. All the tomato talk  is making me excited to see 60 rows of heirloom tomatoes, trellised and ready for picking and putting in my mouth, come July.

When the sun’s warmth  finally made it to the skin on my back, it was time to work. The mustard we had harvested last week did well at the market on Sunday. But today it was all about  kale. The row needed weeding, because it would get out of control after the next rainfall if it didn’t get some attention.We needed to harvest some for the market tomorrow as well.  The kale wasn’t small anymore, but they weren’t as large as anything you’d get in the supermarket. Teenage Kale, Fred called it with a smile. When it’s  young like this, you can braise it without stemming.

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We were to harvest only the perfect ones, the ones that hadn’t been chewed by insects, and no bigger than my hand. “Harvest slow,” he said. It was a bit like pruning, leaving enough leaves on each plant that it could still feed on the sun. We pulled up the weeds with our fists and cleared them out with our hoes. As time went on, I realized how carefully and thoroughly he was weeding, crawling up the row, and I did my best to be as thorough, although my mind ran the way it does, and I just hummed a long, pulling all the weeds I could. The weeds grew like rabbits, going to seed as fast as they could, so it was basically a race against their desire to propagate, before there were generations of weeds living in the fields. There was still not much pressure to do things perfectly. If the weeds got too bad, he’d plow the whole row under. As we went, I saw ladybugs dotting the leaves, red ones and green ones, and wriggling grubs. Fred told me to kill those.  

Sean from Terra Bella came out, to trade seeds with Fred. He seemed mellow. We shelled some old scarlet runners and they combed through each other’s seed collections. It slightly reminded me of two old ladies trading beads for making jewelry or something, or going through each other’s yarn stashes. Fred looked for flowers, and wondered if the scarlet runners would look nice against the fence.

By the end, we had weeded a third of the row of kale, and Fred seemed pleased with that. I was given carte blanche to harvest from the mizuna, kale, and mild mustard, which I did with as much speed as possible, and it felt like playing. Harvesting mizuna is like cutting hair, grabbing it by the fistful and shearing it away in hunks. The row was thick, like a jungle, and you could almost get lost in all that green. It seems endless when you’re up so close to the plants, on your knees, your field of vision dominated by the green tufts of mizuna in front of you.

Some of this would be for Asiya, from Forage Oakland. I’d be trading it for passionfruit she’d found around the corner from Pizzaiolo. I didn’t know what I was more excited for, the chestnut pumpkin Fred had given me, or the first passionfruit I’d be eating this year. I didn’t go home after. I went straight to Daniel and Zhanara’s to share all the food I had gathered that morning. Zhanara’s face glowed, and Asiya’s too, and it is such a nice thing to make people so happy, in such an age-old way.

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