Posts Tagged ‘farm work

23
Apr
10

East Austin urban farms tour

On April 11, I took a tour of four East Austin urban farms. At Boggy Creek, the grande dame of East Austin farms, I asked Carol Ann whether her eggs vary by season, and she said no–Austin grows yummy things for chickens to eat year-round, and in fact, winter’s cole crops make “fabulous” eggs. Carol Ann also protects her chickens from predators by stringing solar-powered red LEDs on their coop’s fencing. She says the lights make possums, raccoons, and other pests think “somebody else is already in there doing the job.”

At Boggy Creek I also learned about Treaty Oak Platinum Rum, which the tablers said is distilled in Austin from molasses processed in Texas from Texas-grown sugarcane, and available at Spec’s. They claim their rum is unique in its local sourcing and production, but a Google search turned up three other rums that may rival it. Railean Rum is distilled near Houston from “Gulf Coast” (though perhaps not Texan?) molasses and will be on the market July 1. And Texas-based Au Naturel Spirits distills two rums, also not yet on the market, under the Temptryst label: Cherrywood and Mesquite. No word on the source of Temptryst’s molasses–and no word from any of the companies about who works the cane fields, or under what conditions.

At Hausbar Farm, which supplies all of the eggs for East Side Cafe, I saw Jim Hightower roaming the grounds. At Shady Lane, I admired the clever use of spare parts from the Yellow Bicycle Project, especially this bamboo chicken tractor with a bicycle wheel:

But my favorite story of the day belonged to Springdale Farm, which the owners of Texas Trees and Landscape founded about a year and a half ago as their business began to suffer from the recession. The urban farm would give owners and employees alike something to do and, they hoped, a new revenue stream. In fact, the farm had to expand due to its success in selling its produce through a farm stand, CSAs, and contracts with local chefs. Although they at first feared that Boggy Creek would see them as interlopers, Carol Ann was happy to be their mentor, and sales at both farms have been brisk. Said a friend of the owners, “There’s a market here that just really wants this.”

And despite my strong misgivings about the disconnect between urban farmers and most farm workers, the phrase “my soul feels fed” crossed my mind and wouldn’t leave as I walked between Springdale and Hausbar, pausing to block a runaway soccer ball and kick it back to the kids playing with it in the street.

More pictures here.


Also, a belated thanks to Mission Local for yesterday’s link to Stuff White People Like.

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22
Apr
10

My grandmother and the Food Network

Since she was released from hospitalization for a heart attack and a hernia, my grandmother has been under doctor’s orders to stay away from stress and physical effort—including cooking. Less time in front of the stove means more time in front of the TV, and she and my sister have been bonding over the Food Network.

It turns out, though, that English-language cooking shows pose some challenges for her. “Sometimes I don’t understand the ingredients they’re talking about. What’s the word he’s using for that pasta? I can see it’s noodles, but I don’t know what he’s calling them.”

They were rigatoni, and I explained to her that different shapes of pasta have different names. I left aside the issue of different uses, figuring she’d pick that up with enough watching. But I did notice that the Food Network had already taught her “pasta,” which she hadn’t known a few years ago, when her vocabulary there was limited to “noodles” and “fideos.”

She’s also having a hard time deciding what this “basil” thing is, sometimes deciding that it’s “bay leaf,” instead. But cilantro is a cinch–she was inspired enough by its television celebrity to ask me to buy her a few plants and pot them for her on her porch. And, prohibitions on cooking aside, she had a pot full of lovely poached chicken soup, with garlic, celery, potato, and cilantro, ready when I first arrived.

Another Food Network addition to her English vocabulary is “scallion,” as part of what they’re apparently calling GGS, or ginger-garlic-scallion: the Asian mirepoix. Garlic she got, no problem. Ginger, ok. (It’s familiar as a medicine, if not as a spice.) But, “What’s that last thing, mi’ja?” “Son cebollinas, Momo.” And maybe it’s time to see the eye doctor as well as the cardiologist…


In other news, this is the first Stuff White People Like entry that I’ve enjoyed in a long time.

21
Apr
10

link round-up

Labor
My friend Guille came back yesterday from a week of pressing OSHA and DOL officials for better legal protections for domestic workers, day laborers, and farm workers. It looks like Secretary of Labor Solis is on board.

Meanwhile, in North Carolina, federal marshals are trying to keep H-2A guestworkers out of a Friday court hearing that could affect their working conditions. They’re being excluded, presumably in the name of homeland security, because they don’t have US-issued IDs, though they all have their Mexican passports and H-2A visas.

Cuisine
Robb Walsh catches Mi Abuelita’s Homestyle Mexican Restaurant in Galveston mixing restaurant and homestyle versions of Tex-Mex by offering a chile relleno served with beans and fideos. Fideos are pasta, usually vermicelli, for those not in the know–like commenter Mary, a life-long Texan who nevertheless had to Google the term.

Mexconnect reports that “creative Mexican chefs” are now using hibiscus juice “in a variety of both sweet and savory dishes, including marinades, sauces, sorbets, granitas, jellies and trendy cocktails.” The article makes me think about how the status of the people doing the cooking–in this case, “creative,” “trendy,” and “Mexican”–affects what we think about the food’s authenticity. It also makes me wonder how long before the jamaica craze sweeps north.

And more east-meets-west Tex-Mix from Taste of Beirut: Lebanese quesadillas.

31
Mar
10

Cesar Chavez Day

In Days of Obligation, Richard Rodriguez reminds us that even when César Chavez “made the cover of Time as the most famous Mexican American anyone could name,” he and the UFW directly touched the lives of only a small percentage of Mexican Americans. Many farmworkers were (or still are) Mexican-American, or Mexicans in America, but most Mexican Americans were (and are) not farmworkers. At a gathering honoring Chavez, Rodriguez remembers being among “the Mexican-American haute bourgeoisie, as we stood to pay our homage … stood applauding our little saint. César Chavez reminded us that night of who our grandparents used to be. Then the Mexican waiters served champagne….”

I am another member of the Mexican-American haute bourgeoisie, and as a child I played a lot of make believe around picking and planting crops, thinking of real farmworkers, if I thought of them at all, as part of a rather romantic past. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been that callow: the waiters keep serving me champagne and the farmworkers keep growing my strawberries.

Our society does a lot to keep us from thinking about who grows our food, and under what conditions. Here are a few links and reading recommendations to get and keep you thinking about the people who produce most of the food you eat:

  • Coalition of Immokalee Workers
  • Harvesting Justice
  • Dick Meister and Anne Loftis’ A Long Time Coming gives a good historical overview of farmworker organizing in the US, including the United Farm Workers up to the late 70s.
  • John Bowe’s Nobodies tells the story of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and explores some of the reasons for the continued exploitation of farmworkers.

And, if you’re going to eat strawberries, try to get them locally from a farmer you trust, or else try to get ones from Swanton Berry Farm–the only strawberry grower with a UFW contract.