Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lessons Learned

A lesson to me is when you know something is definitive-ly a fact, but for whatever reason you don't accept it as a law of truth. The lesson part comes as an example in real life as why that something, whatever it is, is a truth.

On Tuesday, June 18th, I learned a couple of important lessons on my inaugural visit to Cleveland's hippest farmer's market: the Tremont Farmer's Market. It was a crummy day in terms of weather, but the market itself was still well-attended. There were several producers on hand that day, a few folks selling plants, lots of bakers, live music, a blade sharpener, and a cooking demonstration. I learned my lessons from Ricardo Sandoval, the cooking demonstrator, and George Remington, a fellow OSU Extension Market Gardener Training Program Graduate, who was selling his plants.

Ricardo Sandoval is a mover and a shaker in terms of Cleveland restaurateurs, owning upscale places like Fat Cat's and Felice's, as well as my favorite martini bar, the Lava Lounge. He's also firmly dedicated to buying as much food as locally as possible, even having an urban garden and water barrels at his Fat Cat's. Ricardo taught me my second lesson that day, which is listed here first because of importance.

That lesson is one that any salesperson, anywhere, selling anything, could have told me and has told me, and my dad when he reads this is going to be rolling his eyes back into his head, and that lesson is MAKE THE SALE!

Earlier that day, I had harvested a five gallon bucket's worth of bok choy and needed an outlet other than my friends to unload some. Now mind you, Mr. Sandoval had said at a lecture that I attended that he sometimes buys at the Tremont Farmer's Market. So, I thought I'd put these two concepts together and try and sell my bok choys to Mr. Sandoval, if he just happened to be there.

When I got to Tremont, I walked north along W 14th on the sidewalk into the Market. About half the vendors were located along W 14th on that strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk. After my notherly jaunt, the market makes a half circle that could be described as southeast or counterclockwise depending on your way of thinking.

One of the last farmers in the northerly row, a farmer named Floyd of Red Basket Farm, was the only the only vendor with a hint of bok choy and that came in the form of taken-down signage. When asked about the sign, Floyd advised me that he was all sold out of bok choy that day, which made me feel like I wasn't stepping on any official vendors' of the Tremont Farmer's Market toes, if I were to see Ricardo Sandoval and if he wanted to buy my bok choys.

As I arced around counterclockwise at about 4'o'clock, Ricardo Sandoval was just breaking down his cooking demonstration. After introductions and some curious small talk that included a gift to me of my first green garlic, I mustered the courage to see if he would like to see, if not, buy some of my bok choys. Somewhat amazingly and surprisingly, Ricardo was receptive, just not at the Tremont Farmer's Market, which I naively/negligently didn't even consider in my scheme of things.

And here is where the lesson was learned. Ricardo wanted to meet me back at the restaurant in 2o minutes. But I already had a group of friends waiting for me at Taco Tuesday (I know this is totally all my bad). So I countered with how about in an hour and a half? In which, Ricardo reluctantly accepted.

Making a very long story finally short, and after my full belly of tacos and Mexican beers, and friendly chit chat, I proceeded with my five gallons of bok choy over to the restaurant, where of course, Ricardo was nowhere to be found, and I, of course, lost the sale.

The lesson learned here is when in the process of making the sale, hold on to that sale by all means, until that sale has been done sold. Me having Taco Tuesday plans and countering 20 minutes with an hour and half was just stupid. In the end I left some bok choy samples, but I was still left with about three gallons worth, which eventually made it to my friends.

Now the second lesson is less dramatic, and it comes by way of George Remington and (I think) his Morningside Farm. To put it bluntly, George has the best, biggest, baddest tomato plants around at ridiculously affordable prices. These things were three foot tall with monster stalks. He had about 20 cultivars, and the purple were mostly sold out.

A few weeks back this lesson had been alluded to when Subee-1 saved my plants when it acted like a greenhouse for a week. Now, George had perfect examples of what can be done early in Northeast Ohio to tomatoes with a greenhouse. Needless to say, it was impressive; and needless to say, the lesson learned is that I need a greenhouse or similar structure, preferably, a mobile one. Now, George did you do any supplemental heating?

The picture above is of another haul of bok choys, demostrating three different sizes, including some ultra-minis, which really couldn't stand the onslaught of slugs and extreme wind/rain and won't be grown again. The other picture is of my garden a few weeks ago; however, it doesn't look like that as of now. Over and out.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Rollercoaster of Regulations and Subsequent Emotions

It's been a while and I apologize for the delay. I assure you I'm still here. But sometimes it ain't easy being a pioneer. And that's what us, Re-Imagining Grantees, are. Pioneers. You see, the Federal government gives cities money all the time for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. And from what I can tell, cities do things like deconstructing abandoned houses and creating parks with that money. Cleveland, however, is trying something wholly unique with the Re-Imagining program in that Cleveland is actually funneling money directly to its citizens (and it neighbor's citizens, like me) for the people to do their own projects. This is a very grassroots approach. And when I write "wholly unique," I mean no city in the United States has ever given this kind of Federal money directly to the people before. Hindsight being 20/20, we all should have known their were going to be some snags to work through.

You can see a picture of one such snag above. On Wednesday, I went around my farm's neighborhood, taking pictures of houses with chain-link frontages and collecting their addresses. The city wanted a total of six residential frontages to verify that chain-link is normal for the area. Lucky for me, this is Cleveland, and chain-link is everywhere. So this task only took about an hour. Other snags have included water access, zoning laws in regards to permanent improvements on Land Bank land, soil lead levels, etc. Somehow and lucky for me, my soil's lead levels are low. Otherwise, I'd have to create giant raised beds on the entire property. You see, the danger of lead is not from growing veggies in it, but rather from when it becomes airborne like when you're tilling or plowing.

Please understand, I call these examples "snags." But really, they're just real-life laws and regulations that need to be worked through and sometimes formally changed. So that's why and how us, Re-Imagining Grantees, are pioneers. As I am not an anarchist, I accept these cogs in my narrowly-focused-Western wheel. I am not complaining, just stating the facts. That was the reason for the long delay in writing, I didn't want to be reactionary and complain.

In the meantime, I've been harvesting bok choys left and right in my personal garden. Today, I just harvested three different bok choys: extra dwarf, mini, and mid size. Easy and fast, I love bok choy (as do snails, hence the holes). "Real food doesn't always look perfect" should be some kind of mantra.

I've also been out morel hunting. Being in the woods always clears my head, and finding morels pretty much makes me ecstatic. If you can't tell by the picture, Sarah and I were successful in our hunt. We made a Buffalo Morel Stroganoff that looked completely disgusting, but tasted amazing.

Subee-1's transformation into a U.A.V. (Urban Agriculture Vehicle) is nearing complete. Back on the 11th, me and my buddy Mike hauled 16 32-gallon trash cans of leaf humus over to the farm. Also, during the last week of hellacious thunder and wind, I learned Subee-1 doubles as a pretty awesome makeshift greenhouse with the storage capacity of roughly 400 plants. Giving credit its due, my dad used to use my Plymouth Colt like this in high school. The extra warmth and muted light seems perfect for plants.

Going forward, I want to be writing a lot more, perhaps even creating a regular writing schedule. I also may be revamping this blog, or starting a new more graduated version of the blog soon. I'll probably be choosing the latter option. Anyways, over and out. I got trellises to build.