The Bitten Leaf

Comment

The Bitten Leaf

For six seasons we have fought against an admirable foe no bigger than the tip of a pin. After six long seasons of battling we have lost, and for now, we have pulled up a white flag. But as we have faced this defeat we've also learned to love bitten arugula.

Don't look too close or you will see the love bites of our least favorite visitor.

Don't look too close or you will see the love bites of our least favorite visitor.

Arugula, one of the most well loved salad bowl components of the mustard family is a tried and true food group favorite of the wiley flee beetle. Around these parts, it is pretty hard to separate the beetle from the brassica. Flea beetles do especially well in Canola Country which Edmonton finds itself smack dab in the middle of.

Every year Arugula is one of the earliest seeds we put in the ground, and every year it gets totally annihilated by the beetle by mid May. But you know what? As we mix a generous portion of riddled well rinsed leaves into the mix each week, it adds a wild attacked look to our hyperlocal salad mix and, it tastes better for the addition of that wild leaf.

'Just buy the damn Arugula'

'Just buy the damn Arugula'

For the first few years as we wrestled with the "damage" from the beetle I was ashamed. We came up with marketing ploys like "twice bitten" or we priced with deep discounts thinking for some reason we should take a loss because we couldn't spray or manage our pest populations correctly. We debated endlessly with chefs who claimed they couldn't sell a salad if it had leaves in it that looked the way our arugula did. And in dark fits of desperation, we spent late nights and early mornings trying to figure out how to smuggle pyganic certified organic beetle killer from the United States. We never figured it out.

But, as we continued to drag our inferior looking product to our farmers markets customers, our customers helped us realize something.

There is nothing more visible in a bowl of lettuce than a shot-holed leaf of Arugula. But when anyone, and I seriously mean anyone, took three seconds to look past the holes and tasted a Lactuca field grown leaf of Arugula, full of holes in all its unsightly glory, an absolute truth emerged.

Nobody is perfect. I just want to be eaten.

Nobody is perfect. I just want to be eaten.

I've seen it instantly in people's eyes and heard it in their voices. They connect with real Arugula in a completely visceral way. I refuse to define it. In that moment I've seen the deception dissolve. True field grown arugula doesn't need a fancy slogan or even an unbitten leaf, it just needs to hit the taste buds.

The dupe that is revealed is not that a small scale urban farm shouldn't be pushing a shotholed arugula as an equivalent leaf to the status quo. The dupe that is revealed is that an entire industrial chain has pulled a stunt on the everyday consumer. That they have convinced most shoppers that perfect arugula should be untouched by hungry nature, twenty one days old, slightly yellowed, mostly dehydrated and without the mildest kick. In that moment, the taste buds call bull shit.

I've seen the look of understanding a hundred times over the last few seasons. As a result of that moment we now have countless customers that come back every week to enjoy another 100 grams of the good stuff. To each of you that has had that moment while standing at our table. I say thank you. That moment of clarity reconfirms to us what Lactuca is about.

Travis and the Gang at Lactuca

 

Comment

Comment

The Soil

When is the last time you connected with the soil? I don’t mean a heart on IG for a farmer in Kentucky who grows amazing straw mulched garlic, or brushing the dust off a carrot at the farmer’s market while you discuss the complexity of an industrial food system alongside the craft movement and associated escalating prices.

I mean when was the last time you plunged your hand into the ground and gripped a soft silky mit of the good stuff, the life giving cocoa we tread across on a daily basis. Let’s dig. Have you pushed soil through your thumb and forefinger? Was it gritty or silky or did it just smear against your knuckle? Do you, right now, remember the smell of humus? A rich glob of ripe invading your nose. And on the tongue? Flint or mineral or maybe decomposing leaf litter? Let’s keep our mug out of the wine glass. Have you tasted soil? The grit between your teeth, the clay mouthfeel across your tongue, around your gums.

Soil, dirt, mud, clay, sand or the silt. Soil underpins us, it feeds us, it surrounds the foundations of our dwellings, it filters the water we drink, it grows our food, it cycles pollutants. But my experience sadly is that nobody knows much about it, and very few care.

I can’t change the mind of too many folks on the importance of soil, I’ve mostly decided not to any longer. I could wax to you about glacio lacustrine deposits, or the sand dune development across alberta and watch as you stifle a yawn, but why bother. What we have been able to do over the last six seasons in Edmonton, is to demonstrate that even if you don’t care about our soil, Lactuca Urban Farm cares about about you and your soil.

As odd as it is, we fertilize our fields and provide organic matter back to our plants using compost made right here in the City of Edmonton, by you, at a nominal cost to us. Your inputs are amazing and rich and sultry. By the time they arrive at our farm, the sweet rich smell is intoxicating, the surest sign that spring has arrived on the farm. The plants growing at Lactuca absolutely rocket out of the ground with a vigour that can only be the result of imperfectly nourished Edmontonians sending their night soil to us via a highly complex process of tubes, settling tanks and balanced composting practices that are regulated through federal testing facilities.

A quick salvo on the ethics of fertilizer. Most modern fertilizers are mined. Mined hard. Some are hand harvested gently from the bottoms of groggy bats as they return in the morning full of sweet wildcrafted cactus nectar and then shipped across several continents before they land in your pro mix organic petunia planter. Now back to the Humanu. Flush the toilet and you’ve made a deposit. A local state of the art facility takes that deposit combines it with your garbage and turns it back into perfect humus. It comes with caveats: It isn’t certified organic, because we Edmontonians aren’t and it does carry some levels of the City life within it. But it is managed extremely well and it is tested regularly. Best part about it for us is that we can haul it in each spring and spread it across our entire acre without even having to think about managing an on site compost operation.

I’m almost always asked where our compost is on site. I almost always answer the same way: We don’t have one. At Lactuca, the intensity of our production pushes us to use cultivation methods that would make my University profs have a meltdown. 5 rotations per season on the same square metre of land is insanity, unless you have an ace up the sleeve. We do, we have a million of them, each depositing their love to us on a daily basis to keep us going in a locavore’s delirium.

Comment

1 Comment

A Global Climate Change Kinda Spring.

Unheated cold frames in Edmonton. Germination March 18th.

Unheated cold frames in Edmonton. Germination March 18th.

I guess it's time to plant folks. I was out at the farm with Donna Balzer this morning. She's in town speaking at the home and garden show this Saturday. We were talking over wintering and shoulder season gardening among other things while looking across bare soil and live spinach plants...

Mustard Greens germinating. 

Mustard Greens germinating. 

When I got home I took a peak at my open unheated cold frames and yes. Things are growing. Seeds are germinating...

 

If I use Seedy Sunday as a guide I seem to remember about half a foot of snow last year still on the ground. I'll be there tomorrow talking about shoulder season gardening. But this shoulder is something else.

upload.jpg

It doesn't look good for natural systems this year, but for those of us with water access, this will be one of the earliest starts #yeg has seen in the last 10 years at least...

T

1 Comment