The growing season has begun its slow and certain ebb from the farm, and in an almost absurd panic to inhale as much green as possible before a winter of chlorophyll privation, I find myself grazing in the beds like a ruminant. Not on all fours, mind you. More like a vegan biped with opposable thumbs..
I’m in among the greens in the late afternoon, and after picking out the last stubborn weeds of the season, and straightening out rows where soil had spilled onto sod, I begin to forage.
I eat the tender inner blades of Toscano kale right off their ungainly, palm tree-like stalks. Their leathery, astringent flavor is full of life, but challenging. I feel like I’m chewing tobacco. If a spittoon were within sight, or a dugout, I might take aim, but instead I opt for a stalk of rainbow chard. It’s crisp and nutty and mild and puts me back in neutral.
I pull the last of the pole beans from their top-heavy tangle of vines. The sweet snap of flavor is delicious and fun, almost unseemly. Soon I’ve turned the trellis inside out to get at every tender pod. Only an encounter with raw mustard greens sobers me up. Mustards are heat all the way through, from tongue tip to epiglottis. They are the swaggering habaneros of the leaf world.
I grab some of the last Sun Gold cherry tomatoes to put out the blaze. Their boundless growth has been checked by the cold, so the heat-sweetened flavor is only a suggestion now. I end the forage with arugula and nasturtium, both with their own take on savory: Arugula has a warm, peppery intensity, while nasturtium’s heat is more complex and perfumed; liked the foreign language version of a savory, where you need subtitles to understand why on earth you’re eating a flower.
Eating raw is as intimate as you can get between plant and palate. And it’s the healthiest diet out there. Cooking destroys most of a plants vital phytonutrients and enzymes, all necessary to maintain health, fights chronic disease and reduces cancer risk. There’s also nothing quite as magical as eating straight off the vine or stem.
This close affinity with the food you eat is one of the true pleasures of farming. Only by taking it all off and farming in the altogether could I get any closer to my food-shed. In fact, my wife and I were advised to do just that when we started growing here, as a way to determine microclimates of warmth and cold with our own thermally sensitive parts. For those of you eating our food, you’ll be pleased to know we never did take on the Book of Genesis approach to horticulture.
This kind of raw grazing is a fleeting grace in the fall. Soon, only the stalwart brassicas and those greens given protection from frost with a row cover will be left standing.
When winter starts to seemlike a bleak eternity, this moment of heightened intimacy on the farm, when you’re eating as fresh and local and as possible, will have slipped into some lovely, dreamlike place.
Photography by Matthew Benson Foto