Sunday, December 26, 2010

December 25, 2010 – Two Years Reviewed

December 25, 2010 – Two Years Reviewed

“While still living in Aguas, I told Clara that she could have as many pets as she wanted after we moved to the farm. She made a long list of animals including a horse. I knew that a horse was too big a project, but I had considered free-range chickens, guinea hens, pigs, goats, lambs, rabbits. I wanted to have a “true” self-sustaining farm with all kinds of edible veggies, a large orchard, wood fired stove and oven.” – This is a writing of two years ago.
In reviewing my two years living on the farm, I can say that I have accomplished quite a bit, in spite of what I may say to myself.
It’s Christmas Day today. No sign of any festivity at home. We have no visitors nor my daughter is here. She is visiting her daddy in the US. I have had beautiful holidays before but also lonesome ones for so many years in a row.
I declined going to my neighbors’ house for lunch. The same people that had invited me for last year, but this year I don’t feel like. I have a broken heart. I feel slightly depressed and angry at some events that took place in my life the last few days. What I thought to be the announcement of a new era for my boring life, it turned out not to be. It got prematurely aborted. I became so furious that I have decided to change my life. I have decided to move out of the farm to an unknown place called Boulder, CO. That’s my revenge. To have a better life elsewhere. Or at least, to pretend that this is going to happen. And that I don’t need a relationship to a person for me to get out of the hole I am tucked in.
In my depression spell, I had realized that three years living in Brazil I accomplished very little. The relationship I was pursuing when I first moved to Brazil, failed in very few weeks. The small town I was living in, in spite of all the poetic aspects of it, was better written than lived; the beginning church I was attending didn’t feed me enough, on the opposite, I had to serve (I know, I know, this is a Christian purpose). The English classes I was teaching could disappear as a school break started. My daughter was living happily (a sitter just for her, school at walking distance, friends, activities, chocolate pizza...)
(My neighbor just called me. I love my neighbors! She saved me some roasted pork and grilled meat for dinner with my father. I can’t deny I will miss them. They have been very important part of my two years living here. They were decisive to my well being.)
When I left Florida, I not only wanted to pursue a relationship that I had left off, but I thought about saving the child support money, so that I could have money saved without sacrificing my much needed quality time with my daughter (I didn’t have to work nearly as hard in Brazil). But the child support money never came in the agreed amount and the income from my English lessons was irregular. I couldn’t bear the idea of not having enough money to pay the rent and meet with my financial obligations in that little town. I was trying to start fresh, with no debts. So I moved to my parents’ farm where I would pay no rent nor utilities. Even so, the little child support money that came was not enough for me not to go in debt for living expenses. I lived two years in complete frugality. I bought no single piece of clothing for myself, I went out with girlfriends just once, I had no fun or hobbies. My life was secluded on the farm, taking care of my family and the vegetable garden.
The only door to outside world was my Agriculture classes and daily trips to town to ride my daughter to school. And chat with my women neighbors.
The driver that hauled my stuff from Aguas to the farm took my last bit of money that I collected by selling my notebook. From riding a bike to go to work, going to a cafĂ©, stop at fine bakery, eating at all-you–can-eat pasta, evenings devouring wood fired oven pizza, shopping around, private health plan, therapeutic bath, massage, contact with students and friends, I went to be quiet on a farm.
The last two years I have had a spartan living, or I so call, involuntary simplicity, when I am in bad mood. It would have been positive, if I had saved some money. But two years slipped through my fingers. No savings, no exercising, no making myself younger or prettier. All my resources seem to be going away.
On the other side, when I feel positive, I have lots to tell. I have completed several short term and long term courses in Agriculture, including Rural Enterpreneurship and Beekeeping, besides the Milk and Swine Meat processing. I will leave my country with some knowledge and experience in Organic Farming. I will still attend some classes next year in Artesanal processing of chicken and vegetables, some artcraft courses, and, if possible, Electricity, Plumbing, and Tractor.
In two years, I had five dogs adopted, buried some, a few or lots of cats, a guinea pig, guinea hens, and bunnies. I couldn’t get goats or sheep, pigs or cows or a horse. They are all expensive and need much care.
I had a successful vegetable garden, with all kinds of roots, leafy greens, pods, herbs planted and harvested. I had a very few failure in the garden. I feel accomplished with it. The orchard I renovated is giving its first fruits, having harvested or to harvest a modest amount of mango, Persian lime, Thai lime, acerola. My father and I recovered the coconut patch, so now we have coconut water (an alkaline drink loved by Raw people) and other fruit trees. We had a bounty of lychee fruits.
Another project that I had have not come true yet, but my father is working on it. Besides planting Niagara grapes for me this week, he is going to build a wood fired stove.
Other small accomplishments are of making several batches and tried several recipes of household soap, roasting coffee beans, cooking from scratch, eating organic chickens, making tofu.
I managed to live two years without massage...Went to a movie theater just once to take my daughter. Had doctor’s visit at public health centers. Got free medication. Didn’t go on vacation. The farthest place for a visit was to a local waterfall. No sports (just a month of karate classes that my instructor canceled). No gym (just hauling manure and hoeing weeds). No pedicures. Hairstylist twice in the same week (the first one messed up with my hair. He cut 30 cm instead of 3.) Reconnected with old friends and neighbors. Visited new ones. Got to know some people through classes. Good wine and pizza once. A date, one time. Read some books borrowed from local library (Thank God, there is one). Watched soap opera every night religiously. No attending church.
Two full years of recovery and healing. I just read June 15th’s journal where I talk about Healing the Wounds. How I have been healed. I feel I am being so ungrateful for abandoning a place and people that treated me. On that day, I felt sure I was happy, and that future didn’t really worried me. Things were running smoothly the way God intended to be.
So, what is happening to my life, then?
I am sorry to inform that this healing place that I came to was a temporary place; that I didn’t know.
Again, I start to grieve the loss of all this. Aging parents, the farm, the friends, the friendship, the language, the familiarity of the town I was born and grew up.
I may pursue now something that I don’t really know it is. It may be a place in the world; a place in the sunshine; a place of self-support; a place of empowerment. I have learned that I am a citizen of the world, at the same time, I am not a citizen of this world. There is not a single place that I would plant my roots. Like some of my plants that I have sowed somewhere to transplant elsewhere and then somewhere else, I am like these. Eternally being transplanted. Would I ever feel tired or comformed?

December 23, 2010 – My Tara

December 23, 2010 – My Tara
After chasing what she believed to be the reason of her existence – the love of Ashley -, Scarlett finally remembered what her true love Rhett had told her: “Go back to Tara”, her land. Scarlett had gone far from the place where she used to be happy and powerful. All the effort to gain Ashley’s heart, Scarlett had left behind everything that made her what she used to be, including her self-worth, dignity and even her own identity. In this path, her man was gone with the wind. She had lost everything, but her land, the source of all energy and goodness.
The film ends at this point, with a hint that Scarlett would go back to Tara – the beautiful farm in Georgia devasted by the Civil War – that needed to be rebuilt, recovered, made fertile, and prosperous.
To “go back to Tara” is an alegoric idea that we should go back to our origins in search for those broken roots, in attempt to make ourselves whole again. A place for healing. It was not the idea of “back -to -the -land”, where the soil would replenish her lost self. The farm, actually, never played any important role, but a place named Tara.
I don’t know how much this scene played on my mind. This was one of my favorite films of all times, having watched at the age of 16, and many more times throughtout my life. It seems that it was unavoidable that Scarlett would follow the path of losing everything and everyone she loved because she was chasing one single love, which ended up rejecting her.
Subconsciouly, I may have thought that my father’s farm is my Tara. So that I brought my daughter and myself here. I wanted her to have space and time necessary to grow up healthy with unlimited thinking mind. Place where all her talents and inteligence could be prepared to some time flourish. And I needed a place and time to heal myself.
Tara is a healing place . We all must have a place such as this. A retreat to ourselves.
The time that I have being spending on my parents’ farm was, indeed, for my own healing and recovery. Had gone through divorce and losing everything material and imaterial - except my daughter, who is still under my care - I felt dilapidated. At the end, I had nothing to offer. So, I was famished for love and care. And, I went in search for it…
I moved from one country to another, chasing a spark of blissful love, hoping that it would turn into a lasting bonfire. There is no such a thing as lasting bonfire between humans. Passion is an energy that makes us feel alive, that in its unforgiving way, we are consumed by it. Passion is the fire we set to ourselves, just to be burned into ashes!
When I looked around, only ashes I found. Even ashes of myself.
How to gather thin ashes scattered on the ground? Homehow I did. And I came back to my parents’ farm.
Two years have passed. I sincerely thought that I was happy. I was at peace, this is true. I believed I was honoring my parents by caring for them. Doing what God had asked me to do. I have given names to the lifestyle I was leading: organic farming, voluntary simplicity, back-to-the-land, back to basics. But the truth is that, even though, they are a reality in my current life, I am living a lie.

December 22, 2010 – Involuntary Simplicity

December 22, 2010 – Involuntary Simplicity
In quest for voluntary simplicity, or just lack of option to make money in a reasonably agreeable way, I left the city to move back to my parents’ farm. Here, I found a home, dogs, cats, sunshine and a piece of land to grow vegetables. I am convinced that this is a good place for my daughter, in spite of her loneliness. She can breathe fresh air, have contact with nature, play with animals, and above all, lots of space and time to pursue any kind of physical, mental, intellectual or artistic activities. Silence is a rare commodity nowadays, and I much praise it. We need silence in our minds to stay healthy.
I came back to my parents’ farm under a hefty price of taking care of them. My mother is bedridden and my father is aging and fighting against financial hardship. I feel the burden of caring for them, while I see my youth fleeing away in front of my very eyes. Not only my youth is vanishing, but my resources is not growing. I have given up making money out of this land. It seems impossible. The debts my father has may well be almost the value of the property. If we lose it, then, I also lose my inheritance.
Something different happened in my secluded life. I was asked out. I felt flattered and at the same time angry for not having proper clothes, shoes, small jewels. I have only one pair of stained jeans and couple of T-shirts that I wear for my classes. Moments like these, the theory of voluntary simplicity seems to fly out of window. I had to rush out to buy some clothing and shoes with a credit card, just to learn that I blew my limit. Of course, I don’t have money to pay it in full.
In my involuntary simplicity, I don’t do nails, pedicure, epilation, eyebrows, or even color my hair unless they look indecent. My only claim is for sunscreen, which is a health concern above all, under the tropical sun. Of course, taking a shower and brushing my teeth. Everything else should be unnecessary for good living. If living alone and no wanting any date.
I feel empoverished, disempowered.
In a Brazilian culture, for my social class, it is important for a woman to be well groomed, with beautiful clothes and shoes, and smell fresh. How can we be all that with a voluntary simplicity? Is any man going to understand why I have chosen to be frugal?
I feel trapped here, in my reality.
The talk about organic farming, sustainability, back to the land, all is speech to justify mediocre living on my parents’ farm.
Now I want to get out of here!

December 9, 2010 – Lessons from Two Years on the Farm

December 9, 2010 – Lessons from Two Years on the Farm
Two years on the farm…the lessons that I take from it are several:
1. One year is not necessarily similar to the following year
2. Climate is changing and so the weather is unreliable
3. Can’t expect nature to respond how it used to
4. I am going to need several more years to write about gardening
The first year came with lots of rain and cool weather in winter. My vegetable was not skillfully done, yet, the crop came out beautifully. I had just manured the bare land behind the house, and in a few weeks a had more lettuce than I could manage. At the end, I was so tired of looking at it, getting bigger and bigger every day, that I harvested everything and took to a friend’s house so she could give them away.
This year, the same variety of lettuce (oak leaf) suffered terribly from hot sun, strong wind, and drought. My daughter’s former teacher came to tell me how delicious oak leaf was, and that awakened in me the taste for this lettuce. The very few units I had went to my plate. No sales.
The broccoli heads were gigantic on my old patch. This year, we tried a different variety, which should have been more appropriate for this weather, but I gathered only a few stalks eaten by bugs.
I learned that the changing weather (sunshine, temperature, humidity, wind) and any other variables (soil type, position in the patch) ask of us to be very flexible and thoughtful about the care we provide them.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 3rd, 2010 – Slow Living

December 3rd, 2010 – Slow Living
In quest for simple living and always complaining about lack of time, I came across the concept of what Italians call for “Good Living”. Towns in Tuscany like Greve and Levanto have rescued the lifestyle of their ancestors to have life that is worth living. An interviewee used the term “slow”, which reminds me of “slow food” movement started in Italy. Time to do each thing: “eat when you are eating”, “drinking when you are drinking”, that’s the fundamental philosophy of Zen Buddhism: to be present.
I would say that there is a natural vocation to have a wonderful slow life in Cinque Terre or any small village by the Ligurian Sea. Old architecture, timeless culture, unfailing beauty. How different is the challenge to transfer such a concept to my life today. I believe that lack of culture, that means, lack of history - nacional, local and personal – may cause a sensation of rootlessness. Like people without memory. How freighful they become.
We, that search for the secret of a happy life in simple living, may be at loss when we have no roots, whether we are immigrants to the place or our family values were only lightly impressed on us. When we are willing to change values according to each new situation. It is necessary a deep belief that life stripped of everything else that the modern world offer us is the only way of living – not of happiness, though – but of living. If life had not giving us option, would be happier? No, I don’t believe so. But, believing that what life had offered us was the best that could happen to us, and besides that, we would be unhappy.
To become slow is to repel everything else, rather than deny it. It is to turn back, to scorn the notion of efficiency, that “time is money”. It is to comform to the loss of so many things that we could experience (or have) just if we did it faster.
I heard on a radio program once that we need to leave margins in our lives. Just like money we save for emergency. We save time for something else. Instead of driving in 10 minutes, alow 15 minutes instead.
My mind still works like in big cities. I just want to stuff my time with one more thing. I want to have, have, have, accumulate experiences, knowledge, culture, sensation. This was an impediment to make money, career, or keep a marriage, all of them require long term investiment.
My slow living can, perhaps, start with making my vegetable patch smaller. I wouldn’t have surplus, but I needn’t have to sell any. Selling produce means harvesting, selecting, packaging, delivering, and receiving payment. At the end of one harvest season, I see that I sold my produce very cheap and also I failed to collect all the money. Smaller garden means less time spent in taking care of it. I could also choose crops that require less intensive work. As my mind works toward simplifying, I may start going on the opposite direction, of soon, wanting to buy ready made food to save time. Of course I am not going to get to this point. But I thought it was so nice to furnish people with nice, fresh and cheap produce. But the principle of organic gardening is also social justice. It was not been just for me not to have profit in my business.
Today I had two ladies coming to visit my garden and taking home a trunkful of produce. I only managed to charge for lemons. They took eggplants, tomatoes, herbs, lychee, and even mulching material. All for free.
If it didn’t rain tomorrow, I am going to strip my garden.
Slow living is also an internal set up, a state of mind of each person. I am not naturally slow, or at least, I believe so. I do everything very quickly.
What is slow living anyway?
For things to be slow and I feel OK about it, I will need to change the value I atribute to time. Time is very expensive for me. I am 47, so close to 50. I am shocked just to think about it. What I did after my teenage years? I collected experiences only on abstract, personal way. All I have is memory that seems rather unstructured. That’s why I like to write. All my treasure is inside my mind e decoded into written words (in a non-native language!)
My daughter drives me crazy because she loves to collect what is garbage and clutter to me. I wanted to teach her to take only things that she can store in her mind, heart, and body. Things that she can take with her whatever she goes, and she would never think that she is traveling poor.
Slow living on a farm is going too fast: eggplants that were at peak a few days ago are now yielding imperfect fruits, Swiss chard has been infested with bugs, green onions are becoming pale and parsley yellow. Weeds grow so fast have taken over a half patch. Above all, I realize that my daughter is growing up so fast. She is a pre-teen with all the symptoms of a teen: lazy, critical, rebel. I want to cry. She will be flying alone to America in 10 days. Did I have enough time to impress my values onto her? She complains that I don’t have time for her, to play with her. I tell her that I am not a child that can run in the orchard after her. That I am a mother, with the obligations of a mother. But I will have to find time to play with her. Time goes so fast, even when we choose a slow living.

November 29, 2010 – November Notes

November 29, 2010 – November Notes
After so many years living in America, I still haven’t learn when Thanksgiving Day is celebrated. It’s doesn’t matter, we don’t celebrate it anyway here in Brazil. The weather in nothing reminds of the day. It’s springtime, but the temperature ranges 30⁰C even inside the house. With raising temperature and humidity, I start fighting badly slept nights with insects hovering over me day and night, not to say about fleas that moved inside the house. It’s maddening to touch the floor and be greeted by these critters early in the morning. My legs are scratched like of a small child (in the developing countries). I wonder how plants can survive in this heat. At midday, many plants just wilt. I have lost seedlings. No wonder that my lettuces, which are grown under sun (without the screen, much used by growers, commercial or not), become thick and tough. Some others seed early, such as cilantro or arugula. Nevertheless, they are still very tasty. Collard greens start to suffering from insects and diseases. The leaves are becoming smaller and deformed. The store owner told me that one can plant many vegetables, but he will need to spray (with commercial toxic products). Of course, I rather pluck them out of soil at once.
Leafy greens are becoming harder to grow, but I still have eggplants, cherry tomatoes, chayotte, squash, pole beans, sweet peppers. All ingredients for that famous ratatouille. But we rather eat it cooked separately, instead of in a big stewing dish. Last night, for supper, we had plain steamed Japanese rice, braised pole beans and sweet peppers in soy sauce, stewed chayotte, sauteed squash with tomatoes, salt wilted mustard greens (Japanese style pickles), tomato, arugula, lettuce salad, and leftover vegetable mix fritters (tempura.) It was a simple dinner without meat (very expensive lately), but very tasty and light. (No wonder we get insomnia. Pretty soon, my father should be up hungry – it’s not 3:30 a.m. yet.)
[Pause] I need to pick up a fan. I am sweating and being visited by domestic flies.
My vegetable garden is organic, but the control of insects at home is not. I haven’t found any natural way of eliminating fleas, flies, and mosquitoes once they take over. Sorry for not being politically correct. I must confess that I only control what I can. What I can’t, I resort to easy solutions. I am going to the store first thing tomorrow morning to buy some chemical to spray my home.
Most of the time, we get common flies, those black ones. But this time, we got bowfly outside around our organic garbage. A little chemical sprinkled over mango peel attracts thousands of them making a fluorescent green pile on the ground. Still, they don’t all go away.
Country living is not all poetic. As read above, we fight against domestic insects, not to say mice. We, country people, store things. Many things. Objects, food, supplies, recyclable things, memorabilia. We don’t throw away anything that could have a slight chance of being useful again. This way, in and around the house become cluttered or simply full of stuff. I have told you that our living room has three sets of sofa from different ages, my father’s bedroom has furniture from his early married days and other a little over twenty years, which we consider “new”. We have such a hard time of getting rid of furniture and appliances, even when they are broken. Old refrigerator could be used a storage for other things, as it is mouseproof. A cupboard can be transferred to a toolhouse to hold other supplies. An old TV set can be kept until the new ones breaks and we replace it in a rush. Not always we can buy new things.
In the midst of so many objects, appliances, furniture, things, and more things, and unidentified articles, papers, books, and organic matters, supplies, how to make our lives simple?
See, I am crowded not only by immoveable things, but by alive ones.
I have researched about “simple life”, my endless quest. I always read about “unclutering”, “eliminating” (to say “clutter somebody else”), “not buying”, “recycling”, some even say “become vegetarian”, “go live in the country”, so and so on.
My life has not become simpler just because I moved to the country. It’s not a matter of a mind set. I have tried to adapt myself to a new reality. I guess my main complain lyes on not having enough time to finish my tasks (chores), not to say about developing hobbies (yeah, this a city concept), have a leisure time (this might be a capitalist duality of work/leisure), and quality time with my daughter (modern Psychology term that means “do what your kid wants with you” – besides just telling him/her to do things they have to. ) All my chores are unfinished or badly done. I wanted to be like a regular Brazilian housewife that “springcleans” their homes every Saturday. (Of course, when I first heard of spring cleaning, I became amazed. In Brazil, most homes are cleaned that way once a week. That’s why so many illegal housecleaners in America are Brazilians. They know how to do it.)
My house is large for Brazilian standards, and also for some American. I have lived in much smaller homes than this one in California and in Florida. Organizing and cleaning it is a major task. I pressure wash the kitchen and the varanda, and often, the living room. Yeah, we love to wash floors with laundry soap. We don’t consider mopping. Actually, we don’t even such a non-hygienic tool. That hairy brush is an offense for us (and even for me). It makes the floor dirtier than it was. We can’t conceive of spreading the filfy water all over. We wipe the floor with a giant wiper wrapped in wet cloth every day. Not “we”, but “they” – the Brazilian housewives.
Some bad habits I have imported from America still remains. There is not a such a thing like “American Bad Habits Anonymous”. For example, even country people iron all their clothes. I don’t. I iron only what city people can see, that means, our city outfit. Everyone hand wash their tennis shoes and shine their shoes. I don’t. Brazilians suffer from wash fever. They love to wash everything in plenty of soapy water. A friend of mine washed their kids (stored) stuffed animals every week. It’s part of their routine to wash bags and backpacks. Our bathrooms have drain on the floor, so we also wash it from the top down. We throw buckets (literally) of water on the walls, doors, windows, on lavable things (sink, toilette bowl), and even on appliances such as refrigerators and stoves. The government has asked us to refrain from washing the sidewalk (!). Yeah, housewives wash varanda, paved areas around the house, and also the sidewalk in front of their houses. For not having sidewalk, country people love to sweep the ground around the house, leaving it bare. My parents never did that, they said that we would remove organic matters good for the plants and trees we have around the house.
If I ever confessed my American habits – sorry, these habits come way before I went to America, they are my personal habits. American way of living just reforced my habits. I don’t mean to offend Americans. They are clean and neat, at least, most of them. But the cleaning routine is slightly different for many people that I have met. America has great, concentrated, inexpensive cleaning products. A wipe just does it. The air conditioning, the type of soil (and therefore, the dust), the air quality produce a lot less dirt inside the houses.
[Pause for a luscious mango that still laid on the kitchen floor since my father brought home from the field]. I could say that the mango was delicious. It was tree ripened. But it was warm…At this time of the year, we have a commercial type of mango, large and eventually fiberless, and also a rustic, native small mangoes, which as more aromatic, sweet, but full of long fibers that get caught in between the teeths. It is so common even along the road that not many people eat it anymore since the fiberless kind came to the market.
Well, what cleaning homes has to do with simple life?
It may be my own concept of simple life. I think that simple life must include clean and organized homes. Time left for leisure and quality time.
Someone said the becoming vegetarian is to simplify life. A lie. Since my father asked me to reduce beef for its prohibiting price, my cooking has become more complicated. I have to find tastes, texture, density, consistency, nutrition that make a good substitute for meat.
What I don’t like in vegetarian recipes is that it wants to straight replace soy foods or any other vegetable for meat. Texturized soy with whipped silken tofu is vegetarian strogonoff. Strogonoffs can’t be made of anything else but good tender beef. At most, replace other cheaper cuts for filet mignon. It can’t called bbq a grilled marinated tofu topped with bbq sauce. The most outrageous thing that I have seen is the soy hot dog. Regular hot dog is already a second class food, so trying to reconstitute it in soy products seems so lame. That’s why I love my Japanese heritage along with Brazilian mixed culture and the California experience. I can fix ethnic foods without missing meat. Instead of making soy hamburger, why not to make cooked tofu in soy sauce with ginger and scallions?
I need to scavanger my mind to make vegetarian dishes at home. In these meatless days, I have made much eggplants. I am always learning new recipes as I talk to people. A friend taught me to make an eggplant salad by cooking it with oil, vinegar, salt and spices/herb and a little bit of water. I like to cook with garlic and add scallions and parsley after I turn off the fire. Refrigerate and eat with toasted bread! Another recipe I love that I even have it for breakfast (for its sweet aroma) is to dip slices of eggplant in flour-cornmeal mix (cold water and salt added for the batter) and deep fry. It smells like donuts.
Maybe I have a simple life, but a busy one. I got an adult dog (Border Collie mix) which may be a little neurotic. I can’t walk him without being dragged on the ground. He also wants to fight to our old black male dog, which I always thought little of him. He was not the dominant male of the pack, and need to be fed inside the house, as he also lost his food for other dogs. I despised him. He circled our new dog, sit close to him, and pretended that nothing was happening, while Tobby was barking and jumping like crazy. Once Tobby got free and went to fight with Totty. To this day, I have respected our old dog – he is a peace lover. As much as he could avoid, he didn’t fight. But when the time came, he won the fight! Tobby left with the tails in between his legs, with a few bites, and a crocked walk. Nothing happened to Totty.
I hope never to need the dogs to attack a stranger on the farm. But I felt more confident that if the dogs behaved the same way, we can have a badly hurt invader. My dogs were really mean to Tobby, by barking, biting, and attacking him.
Yesterday I collected coriander seeds. Not for the spice, but for the seeds to sow sometime later. They are still on the branches, on top of a sieve, on top of a box that I use for garbage bin, right besides the mangoes that are still in a bag. At least, I got to roast all the coffee beans that were parcially roasted. I also ironed my daughter’s clothes she is going to take on a trip to California the end of the year.
But I have so much to do! The vegetable garden is crowded with weeds after rain, heat, and shiny days. Oh, not to say that I had sowed something else thinking that they were marigolds. A whole plot planted with cosmos flower. (At least they are good for the bees. But I can’t let it seed – it’s a prolific one.)
I watered my garden all day yesterday. Several trips to the garden, up and down, and…it rained overnight!
My november adventures had more of a realizing of things than new experiences. Besides having driven to two different towns to get a passport and also to take my mom to a special dentist, everything else is old.
When I took my daughter to a middle size town, the largest one around here, I was a little bit aprehensive. I haven’t taken the road in Brazil in a few years, and I didn’t feel like facing the dangerous road. But everything else went well, besides getting lost (no, I don’t have a GPS). We also went to a shopping mall. My daughter wanted to eat at MacDonnald’s. “Mom, it has been a year since I eat at MacDonnald’s in Goiania.” Alright. So we went. I regret so much for having eaten there. The food didn’t get any better because it’s in Brazil. On the contrary, the bread tasted stale. She was happy… On my second trip to the same town (and same mall), I had Argentine beef empanada with cold ice tea with condensed milk and passionfruit pulp. What a discovery! I have made several times with other fruits such as acerola, and also alternating with green tea, instead of black tea, until all the condensed milk was gone. Of course, it is in my grocery list. Ice tea with fruit juice and condensed milk is a great afternoon pick-me-up instead of a sugary strong coffee.
A word on a special dentist I took my mother. As you may know, my mother had suffered from a stroke and leads a very constricted life style. Besides other things, she won’t open her mouth to the dentist. Her dentist referred her to a multi-professional clinic that attends special needs population, a public health system which has partnership with public university. She went through a cardiologist, neurologist, physical therapist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and finally, the dentist. She should go through an internist and nutritionist still. My mother will get a dental treatment for free. It’s only over an hour drive from home.
I am so glad that I can get medical treatment without any cost. I have being going to a public clinic since I moved to my town. My daughter has also been seen by a pediatrician at local clinic. Thank God we don’t have any major medical concerns, as many exams take a long time to be schedule, and the surgery as well. But, if I ever needed, I may get it.
5:43 a.m. – Almost time to wake up. I got to take a nap right now. Good morning!

November 13/19, 2010 – Coffee Roasting Day

November 13/19, 2010 – Coffee Roasting Day
My neighbor dona Rosa usually loads me with goodies that I still have plenty. For having a large family, she keeps giving me way too many squashes or mandioc starch fritters that we can manage to eat.
This time she failed to get me coffee ground in time for me not to run out of it. Reluctantly, after many months, I bought a meager commercial coffee bag. Not a bad brand, but lacked that fresh taste to it. Homemade roasted coffee beans has sharp aroma, much more than the body and the density of the drink. It tends to be bitter, and perhaps, with high caffeine content. This way, homemade roasted coffee tends to be lighter with thinner body, like French roast. We also like our coffee finely ground, resembling wheat flour, opposed to the coarse American coffee.
I was, then, inspired to buy a coffee roaster. It is a rustic piece of equipment, made artesanally out of tin or zinc. It is a cilindric tube with a crank and a little opening. That’s all. It cost about US$10.00. It is cheap even for Brazilian standards. It is painted black on the outside, and on the instructions read “burn it before roasting coffee”. Like many other uncooked food or equipments, it didn’t come with instructions on how to roast coffee.
My other neighbor gave me a brief tip on how to roast coffee, “when it starts smoking, you can take it out. Pile high if you think it is not quite done”. And that was it. I was also trusting that my father would help me with my very first roasting. When I showed him my new toy, he commented “this is not the good one. It doesn’t roast uniformily. The round one that I had hang you threw it away”. “It was all rusted”, I defended myself. It looked harmful to my vision as well to my health. My father brought me peeled coffee and told me that he was “running against time” on his farm job, meaning that he didn’t want to help me with coffee roasting. And he was gone with his tractor. I was left with peeled coffee, right, but mixed with impurities. I hired my daughter for 25 cents to help me picking cement pieces, dirt, twigs, irregular beans, and even bugs. I just didn’t want to find dog poops. You may not know, but after harvest, coffee beans are left air drying on a cemented patch on a open sky for days, until they are ready to be stored without risk of fermenting. During this time, birds, dogs, cats, dirty boots may pay a visit to coffee beans that are spread and mixed several times a day, heaped and covered at night.

With my spirit prepared, I hauled a good amount of orange wood and improvised a suport for my coffee roaster, an abandoned bbq grill frame. After dripping used kitchen grease, the fire burned beautifully.
The first trial batch of coffee seemed to take only a few minutes. It soon started to smoke, I called my father who (for his lack of luck) had come back to refill the water tank. He dumped the roasting coffee onto a large sieve and shuffled it a few times. He told me I could roast a little less.
My second batch was the one. Almost 4 pounds of coffee beans, I started to hand crank the equipment. “Don’t do it too fast or the beans with be stuck on one end”. It was a lot heavier than the first one, and soon the roasted started to move around, making it difficult to crank it . With poor control over the roaster and the fire, which was getting hotter and hotter, I howled for my daughter to bring me a pair of leather work gloves. She came 10 minutes later while I was burning. “Oh, I was playing with Tobby – the new dog”. I understood why all the farm women have that tan on their faces. It is not just the sun, but the fire of their roasting coffee, baking oven, wood burning stove.
Again, I tell you that farm job is always horrendously hard on repetitions. Mixing, mixing, mixing, or pounding, pounding, pounding, or kneading, kneading, kneading, or in this case, cranking, cranking, cranking. We cannot stop or the final product may suffer. That’s true for jam making, soap making, dulce de leche making, and no exception, coffee roasting. I was about to throw up by the time I finished roasting only about 5 lb. I didn’t know what to do first. To grind and try some, to take a shower (but afraid of suffering from temperature shock), to drink water and spoiled the taste of fresh coffee.
I took a warm shower, washed my roasted hair, fixed newly roasted coffee, sipped it while writing my journal. The coffee tasted a bit too “green”, not fully roasted. A bit disappointing. But I am hopeful on those batches that I roasted longer, defying my father’s advice.
November 19, 2010 – More about coffee roasting
For coffee roasting apprentice all over the world not to despair: badly roasted coffee can be repaired, in spite of what experts may say.
After several days leaving the half roasted coffee beans over a big sieve and feeling dismayed every time I saw them, I finally decided to re-roasted.
I opened the kitchen door that leads to the yard, even with all trees and shade, I gave up on going outside. It was too hot. But I was up after a nap, and in urgent need of a good strong sugary cup of coffee. Desire spoke higher than laziness. Should I say, desire made me creative to find an alternative to roasting coffee on a blazing fire outside, turning the crank squatted, while thick smoke brushed my hair and slapped my face, as if it was saying “take it, take it, don’t you want to be a country woman?”
I confess it was not my idea, I had seen on TV, but the credit is mine for remembering it. One can roast coffee in a heavy pot on a top stove. The good side is that I can see the coffee turning dark and stop at the proper moment (as if it was easy). The down side is when it starts to smoke ravenously and spreads in every corner of the house. Thank God I was fixing coffee beans for one cup of coffee only, otherwise…otherwise it was going to smoke the same way.
Just a little note (the experts taught me): take coffee beans out of the roaster (or the pot) before they become too dark, as they continue roasting with their own stored temperature. Then, quickly, spread over a big sieve and fan.
I believe, the more coffee beans, sooner we need to take them out of fire.
I took them a little bit too early, but then, I didn’t know what shade of brown they should have been. After roasting on a pot, I have an idea when to dump them. I heavily advice (if roasting alone for the first time), try to roast one cup at a time on a pot, so you can learn the right roasting degree you want.
Also, my father told me that the coffee beans should be very shiny when properly roasted. But don’t let them burn, or you will get a stomachache.
The half roasted coffee I drunk tasted rather sour and smelled like raw coffee, and made me wired. I don’t know if it is real, but it could have had a lot more caffeine than properly roasted coffee.
Now, my pot roasted coffee tasts fine. Still, I need to learn how to make it full bodied, with low to medium acidity, deep dark color, sweet tasting even without the sugar, natural bitterness, and generous aroma. Oh, yeah, superb flavor.

November 11, 2010 – Raw Thoughts

November 11, 2010 – Raw Thoughts
I still can’t explain the “exhile” I took to my parents’ farm two years ago. These are my roots – small town I was born, the farm I grew up in, and my family around. The first months of insomnia is now long cured. I wake up in the middle of the night, fighting my sleepiness, for a hot cup of coffee, a book or to write my journal for pure pleasure. The nice temperature allied with the silence seems to be the perfect condition to record my thoughts (rather than to reflect).
I have been thinking about going raw. The uncooking culinary, I mean. I am ready to buy a book on the internet, direct from I need the inspiration. Just when I was inspired for becoming “natural”, the charcuterie class took place. The current high price of beef made my father asked me to slow down on its consumption. I agreed.
My life long quest is for simplicity. Simple living. But I still couldn’t find even a definition for it. Sometimes I think that simplicity is to live like my neighbors; some other times, like the lifestyle of a waitress I had in California. Growing and eating (and sometimes selling or giving away) my organic veggies is not that simple. It is a complex task of daily chores, knowledge, trials and errors, bugs and mud.
My biggest frustration, though, is in not being able to keep my house tidy. It is always messy, disorganized, and dirty. I am not capable of starting and finishing one task from beginning to end without interruption, that sometimes lasts for days (or weeks).
My working hours are short. I wake up at 6 o’clock, fix coffee, watch the rural program for less than 30 minutes, wake up my daughter, and get ready to drive her to school. If I am straight back home without stopping at butcher’s or my cousin’s house, it will be 7:40 am, time for substancial breakfast. Soon, I need to take care of my mother, fix lunch, make a quick visit to the veggie garden/nursery, and it’s time to pick up my daughter at school, and perhaps, to run some errands in town before that. Soon after I am back home, I need to fix lunch and take care of my mom. After I put her for a nap, I am drowsy. That’s my time to go napping. Sometimes I go earlier, after my first lunch, about 10 a.m. I wake up again around 5:00 p.m. already late to work on my garden. Again, taking my mom out of bed, fixing dinner, watching soap opera, and going to bed without washing dishes. I am too tired for anything after dinner.
Just to clear up about my meals. I usually eat breakfast around 7:30 a.m., have lunch at 10:00 a.m., have another lunch at 1:00 p.m., have afternoon snack between 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., and dinner around 8:00 p.m. It’s a lot of cooking and feeding myself.
Just when I used to go on fasting, I had plenty of time for other things. Going raw may shorten my time spend if not cooking, eating. Well, it’s a big step, though. I am fearful. Of course, I don’t have to be strict raw. I could just substitute some meals and drinks. But…how can I give up my morning half liter fresh coffee? My afternoon sugary strong coffee after napping?
Simplicity is not only about food, though.
I have read books about simplifying life. They talk about uncluterring, eliminating credit cards and excess obligations. I wish I could uncluter my house. I can’t let go of any of our 5 TV sets, many mattresses, 4 refrigerators, etc I may need them sometime. On the farm, we keep everything we can for later use. But this is true. Any piece of rope can be useful, specially if at hand’s reach.
On the other side, to organize all the goods waiting to be useful is a time consuming job. My father still keeps old furniture from the time he got married (1960), surprisingly, in good condition, being used by mice and lizzards.
To use my time organizing old things will leave my present chores undone, and therefore, with more things for me to organize later.
I wanted to be like many Brazilian housewives. They scrub the stove, countertop, and the refrigerator after each use. They have time to store back all the appliances! I can’t do that. I will need it for next use shortly. It is just like making bed. Why folding comforters if they are going to be use in less than 18 hours? In my case, with the daytime nap, less than 4 or 8 hours.
My life can’t be simple with all the culinary expedition I take every day. I need all the ingredients and appliances at hand. I don’t stop fixing something for being time consuming or complicated. For instance, juicing. It seems simple, but it makes a tremendous mess afterwards. But that’s not the reason not to make it.
Sometimes I make tofu from scratch. Another messy job with lots of big pots and sticky milk. At least, it is not as messy as cow’s milk.
I was about to give up on charcuterie (making at least, not eating) after watching all those flies hovering around the hog. The nasty smell of raw meat was not the most pleasant experience. Of course, I didn’t touch the natural casings. Some even looked like raw oysters in texture and color. Oh, I didn’t touch it, but for sure, I ate it. It was divine!
I am getting into a conclusion that I am a person full of contradictions. I have voluntered at macrobiotic restaurant in Oakland, eaten at other dozen of natural food restaurants, kept vegetarian cookbooks, and at the same time, attended a charcuterie class and be a big meat eater. One of my favorite restaurants is the Brazilian barbecue/grill that serves all kinds of cuts at your table, all you can eat. Not too good one, but I have one of this restaurants just down the road, two minutes from home. Inconvenient.
My fantasy of eating healthy rarely becomes a reality. I buy brown rice, soy beans, texture soy protein, but nothing can replace that lucious place with generous aroma of white polished garlic rice, with garlic bean stew, some kind of meat, sauteed veggie, potato stew, and a big onion chicory salad. And a sweetened coffee afterwards. And a nap. And more coffee later on.
Zen like food lacks sensuality. It is so neat and controlled. It is an introverted kind of food, not inviting, not generous. It is rather a timid type of personality. Well, it is simple.
So far, natural foods seems to have this indifferent, cold quality to it. I actually have not taken much pleasure in so told natural foods I have eaten around. The vegetarian eastern style food smell strange. It may be the excess use of sesame oil, rice vinegar and sugar, besides too many ingredients mixed in one only dish. Those are the Vietnamese kind of vegetarian food.
The western type of vegetarian restaurants offer pasta and salads with creamy dressings and smells too much like oregano.
So far, the most inspiring food for me is the macrobiotic one. The dish is actually very earthy. Brown rice, brown aduki beans, brown burdock, brown carrots, some boiled collard greens, miso soup (brown, of course, even if used a white or red miso), and bancha (roasted tea). The taste of it is subtle, simple. It has some intrinsic value to it. I think it is alkaline type of food, that makes my body feels good. But I have to eat it slowly. I can’t devour it. Besides, I feel ravenous after 2 hours, wakening my animal instincts for real bloody meat. It provokes the opposite desire of what macrobiotic is all about.
Maybe one can’t eat macrobiotic food without meditation. I don’t mean sit meditation as a practice (that helps), but all-time meditation, being centered and not disturbed by the smell of fried bacon.
My fantasy is to work with holistic healing, wearing white breeze outfit with a touch of lilac, eating vegetarian, whole foods, raw things. And above all, to walk elegantly like floating on clouds, to be disciplined, organized, neat, and kind.
I read once that the greatest example of simplicity was Jesus. He was all that I described above.
Maybe I need to start a new sect. I think, Quakers, Shakers, Amish lead simple life style. I don’t think they will accept me.
I have seen on TV HareKrishnas eating veggie foods while living in a woodsy area with beautiful waterfalls (which worked as a natural washing machine). I just don’t like their incenses, smokes, and seasonings. Too Indian for my taste.
Another one of my young years idols is a singer and actress called Tania Alves. She is (or was) a hygienist, eats raw foods in a certain order to keep the intestine clean. She also owns a spa in the mountainous area of Rio State. If I had the money…

November 5, 2010 – Brazilian Charcuterie Class

November 5, 2010 – Brazilian Charcuterie Class
Great part of my country life fantasy included homemade sausages. I was perhaps 10 years old when I first saw a man pushing his fist down the meat grinder to fill a hog casing. Like anything inginious, the thin tripe quickly got filled transforming into sausage. I wanted to have it. I never had it. Not that one.
After I left home at 18, every time I came to visit my parents in my little town, I asked my parents to buy me beef pork mixed sausage made by a butcher. For some reason, regular supermarkets in big cities never carried these kind of sausages, resorting only to pale pork sausage twisted into links, industrially made. I used to take some to Sao Paulo as I went back.
I love to have it cut into an over inch pieces, deep fried (yes, that’s how we prepare sausages in Brazil) and eaten with cold Japanese steamed rice. That’s my way.
Several years later, as I moved to San Jose, California, I found a little Italian store that sold garlic and Italian sausage. It was a feast for me.
As one can see, artesanal sausages are part of my childhood (and adulthood). I had a long held dream of learning charcuterie. I even considered taking a special course at American Culinary Institute in Napa Valley for a high fee.
I am now fully satisfied with my free course in Pork Meat Artesanal Processing I took for three days. It’s part of extension course offered by the same institution that offers Organic Horticulture and all other courses I had taken in the last two years.
First appeared a big half a hog without the head weighing about 80 pounds. Hog itself didn’t take the whole scene. Some people usually robbs the show, and this time it was not different.
The instructor himself was a huge man reminding the hog laid on top of the table. They could be relatives. He soon started to encourage us to cut it up. We learned to separate meats into to be used for different purposes (sausage making or smoking). Absolutely all parts were used.
The instructor was not alone in teaching. Two men were enrolled as students, but they used to be themselves master butchers. Every time the instructor opened his mouth, Jose, the butcher with bad knees spoke like an echo with additional information. He even offered me his homemade sausage saying that it was made with prime meat, good white wine (from his son’s wedding party – so does good wine get left over any party?), natural seasonings (no cure salt or commercial seasoings) and else. I immediately comprimised myself into buying it, but the high price make me change my mind after a few hours. Besides, the raw smell of the pork was making me slightly unwell.
Later I learned that nitrate and nitrite are not too bad, considering that it’s better to have a little chemical in the body than botulism.
The first thing we made was pancetta. The fatty meat near the spareribs became seasoned with table salt and urucum (natural food coloring) and then rolled, wrapped in cloth, tied, and then hang to air dry.
The instructor was not too adamant about us wearing all the gears such as cap or a mouth mask. Some washed their hands only on the first day, in the beginning of class. Soon everyone was handling meat and talking over it unashamely without the mask. One of the pictures showed the details of very dirty nails of a dear classmate. Yes, no gloves were offered to us. Yuck.
The Boston butt, ham, bacon, and spareribs got injected with seasoning (ham flavor), tucked in baking plastic and then smoked. The skin was stripped and air dried (and later refrigerator dried) to be made into cracklings.
At one point, a chunk of meat fell onto the ground. The student butcher (the retired one with bad knees) quickly pick it up, and, as he saw me observing him, he put it iside on the table, suspiciously too near the tray. When I got distracted, he added it into the big marinade. (And then he doesn’t know why some people cancel their orders… Yes, I took that into consideration). But he is a nice man, so I promissed to look for him whenever I needed some good sausages.
The rest of the meat and fat turned into salami (with added ground beef), Portuguese, Italian (we call it Calabrese), Tuscan sausages, which only difference between them is the seasoning. Some takes fennel seeds, colorings, peppers, others take commercial seasoning. Some were added red wine, white whine, rum. All the sausages (except for paio) were hand cut first, seasoned and left marinaded from one day to another, and next day ground through the machine. Paio meat was not ground. It was filled in chunks. Commercial paio looks and tastes very different. It is more like a big hot dog with better seasoning. But the novelty for me was the “codiguin” sausage, made with cooked pork skin mixed with minimum sausage meat. Codiguin can only the cooked (like in bean stew) otherwise it will splatter if fried.
Two advantaged weightwise ladies were hard to stand ones. Too bossy and roomy. Besides being bossing around, they also remained sit most of the time. Only their mouths were busy (either talking or eating).
The last processed meat we learn he called “hamburger”. Cut up pork and half measure of breadcrumbs, mixed with eggs, herbs, garlic, and salt. At first, the mix looks rather dry, but as soon as it is pass through the meat grinder, it becomes well combined to be made into patties and pressed with any small lid to take a shape.
“All those men are retired, right?” – so asked my father. He was right. All older men was taking the class as a leisure, while the younger ones had just leaving the teenage years. None of them was taking the class to become a professional or even to make sausages at home. Most women were either curious or a gluton. One even declared that she had a depression and the class was a blessing for her. She left early one day to go to the mental health clinic (I gave her a ride). A more strange case was of a woman who is vegetarian and came to class. I still couldn’t understand her presence there. She ate half of a durian someone had brought for dessert (and a pomegranate a lady had brought for table decoration).
The first day we cut up the hog and seasoned it. The second day, we filled the variety of casings and placed some sausages and meat to smoke. The smoker and everything used in the kitchen were common household tools and some were adapted ones. The ham casing was filled with the help of a medicine bottle cut on the bottom, the seringe was cow’s mastite treatment used one, the needle used to poke the filled tripe was from a regular shot, and hamburger was shaped with a large mouth bottle lid. But the best one was the smoker. Two 100-litter metal barrel were made into the most perfect smoker. The instructor recommended us to use a 200-litter barrel. The smoke was produced by sawdust, fruit tree ones being the best. The meats got smoked for less than 6 hours in a hot method. They turned out beautiful colored and tasted fine. The meats that could drip fat were tucked into baking plastic that held the fat, and therefore, avoided all the fume to impregnate them. After they were cooked, they were put to brown.
The third and the last day, it was the feast day. We started eating crackling with French bread and sweet coffee. For lunch, we prepared a all famous national dish called feijoada. It’s black bean stew with all kind of pork parts. It was traditionally a slaves food that kept all the spare parts to make a bean soup. Later, the lords learned about this delicious dish and started to prepare it themselves. But still today it is a popular dish. Not “tres chic”. Feijoada takes side dishes such as garlic rice, sauteed collard greens, hot pepper sauce, mandioc flour and sliced oranges. As my contribuition, I brought my organic collard greens partially washed and aphids left untouched. One of the “like to give instructions lady” rolled the leaves into her hands, sit down with a big bowl and started to cut into thin strips. “Come here, instructor”, she demanded. “I am going to cut all the greens, as I know how. Don’t let anybody else do it”. Too bad she didn’t know how to wash them before she cut it up (and I told her it was unwashed). As one may have noticed, hygiene was not the special of the day. Nevertheless, I hushed to brush off the aphids and asked someone to wash them for me. If I were lucky enough, I wouldn’t eat the aphidical portion”.
After we all had feijoada, we took home the leftovers and the meat we shared equally. It’s late night, but I am getting hungry and I am heading to eat some more swine.

October 31, 2010 – Fun in October

October 31, 2010 – Fun in October
Last day of October to get the entry of the month. As the time passes, year after year, the cycle is permanently over. Summer savings time is on again, the much expected rain has fallen, hot and humid days announce a few more months of lush green landscape around.
Today I picked the first lychee fruit and shared with my daughter. It still carries that sour taste like thin lemonade, nevertheless, delicious.
“From now on, nothing can be harvested from the veggie garden”, so said many people. They meant, no more leafy greens on our table. Specially if the garden is not protected with a sunscreen net and sprinkled with effective irrigation system.
We were not able to buy the net yet, but after fixing a three thousand litter tank in the middle of our orchard for water supply, my father brought home some kind of soft hose with small holes that allow water to sprinkle. For the first time, my garden could be watered as if it was rain. But rain started right after. Now, I am secure that I am going to get water one way or another.
In spite of the announcing hot weather, I am harvesting crispy lettuce with plenty of flavor. I don’t want to bad mouth my friends who give me their commercially produced greens with lab seeds, but my small heads of lettuce from cheap seeds has much more color, it’s vibrant and even when cut, its juice exhale the slightly bitter taste very particular of the kind. My snack has been lettuce salad.
The regular tomatoes got struck down by viruses carried by thrips, causing them to drop their tops, shrink, and yield bad fruits. But the rustic eggplants I ignored after learning that I was going to get the hybrid type are giving me a whole bucket of shiny purple, firm to touch, but soft to eat. That’s a delicacy to me. The only advice is to salt it first and let it drip for 30 minutes, so all the dark bitter juice runs away. The also ignored cucumber vine allows me to have one or another fruit once in a while. It has been so badly treated that I didn’t put back up the the wigwam of bamboos that have fallen with the wind. The Summer carrots I sow three times is now yielding some timid roots. My helpers, so eager to clean up, end up hoeing the weeds on the carrot plot (with carrot seedlings altogether). That happened a few times. I have to remember to put up a sign or tell them every time that what seems to be an empty plot is actually sowed and something may be growing there besides the weeds…
My biggest failure cropwise besides brocolli rabe was cauliflower. I suspect of poorly fed soil, besides lack of water and care. They never grew properly and the cauliflower had strange purple stain on it. I picked them down completely yesterday to make room for coming seedlings.
Where tomatoes failed to thrive while young, I sowed pole beans. Only two plants are giving me a handful everyday.
Some veggies are not of my favorite, so I have planted only a few, like prickly lemon cucumbers (it looks like a cucumber shaped like lemon, but cooks like zucchini – much appreciated by country folks) and Thai eggplant (again, lemon shaped dark green fruit with firm eggplant meat inside with bitter taste. As anything with lots of personality – this one is bitter – some hate it. I don’t particularly, but I prefer eggplants.
Romaine lettuce, I ate cut into strips, but never got around to make that famous Caesar Salad. The heart was never formed and therefore, not blanched. But it was crispy and somewhat tough. It replaced regular lettuce well while I had none.
Swiss chard, even though small in comparison to American standards, I can cut some leaves regularly and feed my parents (I don’t appreciated much. Too watery. I ‘d prefer collard greens). I have used to make Quiche Lorraine just once, and can’t imagine how Europeans love it so much. Yes, collard greens had yield a lot, but after being attacked by aphids, they are yielding less. And I am also sick of eating it, so I have forgotten to add to my meals, even though it is considered on of the best greens on the face of earth.
I have a whole plot with scallions and Italian parsley. The green onions are chopped finaly and present on my plate every meal. I love it. Like last year, it’s green onion festival! It has 5000 times more vitamin A then the bulb counterpart.
My Godness, sometimes I think I don’t have much, but I still got leeks and celery. For not remembering that they were biannuals, I cut them down when I didn’t want to water them anymore. A few leeks that survived, showed to be thick and good for soups. This year, I provided them with shade and plenty of water. My daughter ate the first celery today.
The New Zealand spinach is another green that I often ignore. I sell them though.
Of the “spontaneous” kind, the self-sowed or the plants remaining from last year such as squash are yielding first fruits. I have two kinds, the watery one, and the other darker skin and drier meat.
Again, I have plenty of food to eat. I have made gazpacho. Today I added raw eggplant instead of bread. For a touch of originality, I mixed some okara, collard greens and soy cream, which was leftover from a dessert made with collard greens, soy cream and lemon jelly. I saw it on TV. The nutritionist actually used grape juice, sugar and unflavored gelatin. For lack of grape juice, I used lemon flavored gelatin for a uncommon dessert. My daughter said she was not going to eat that weird thing. Let’s see.
Last year I resumed working on the veggie garden when Summer started. I plan to continue with lettuce and other greens, just to see what happens.
Another good news: I have concluded my Organic Horticulture Program. The last day we had a bbq party on a rented space, I fixed eggplant salad, inspired on a Moroccan dish, ommiting spices but adding fresh garlic and mint. It was successful. The young squash salad was not as successful, but everyone tried. (Squash is not a noble veggie down in Brazil. A farmer told me that he plants squash on the farther plot otherwise there is squash everyday for dinner. My father also runs away from it. I don’t know why. It’s so good. I breaded and deep fried some. It was so good and reminded me of America. For dessert, I fixed some kind of coconut pudding using condensed milk, coconut flavored gelatin, milk and cream. Velvety. Sensuous. Delicious.
I gave a bottle of Chilean Chardonnay to my instructor. He was nice from the beginning and always helpful. To finish up the party, I had brought all the veggie sampler from the farm. I drew lots and everyone went home carrying something organic. My October was fun. Oh, yeah, I was forgetting. I went to the annual church fair in my neighborhood. I had to go. I had bought a roasted chicken in advance along with donation I had to give. My all times favorite neighbor dona Rosa came to fundraise. I couldn’t say no. Also, my other friend who rides with me and buys and sells my produce invited me in a way that I couldn’t say no. That’s country living. Better, community living.

September 26, 2010 – Mantiqueira Sierra

September 26, 2010 – Mantiqueira Sierra
I was in my twenties when I heard of three little towns nestled in Mantiqueira Sierra, between three Southeast major States. They were called Visconde de Maua, Maromba and Maringa. Being a sierra and surrounded by woods, the place is bucolic. Waterfalls, water springs, fog, cold winters, wood burning stoves and heaters, fantastic views, rustic life style, calm and peace.
After all these years, I heard that the place has become elegant retreat for the rich, with good restaurant and great hotels. Some kind of Carmel, CA for city folks. But there are still many towns in the Sierra that are untouched by the money.
I wish I were part of back to the landers in 1970’s and had joined hippies to move to the sierras. Many of them still live in artistsy homes with no need to color their hair. They have become less dirty and more enterpreneurs. They sell their arts and crafts, including gourmet type of food for tourists.
My escapist dreams are in full force. I guess I got scared by nematodes. My enemy is invisible.

September 26, 2010 – The First Spring Rain

September 26, 2010 – The First Spring Rain
It finally rains, unexpectedly. I have clothes and rags hanging on the wires, gardening tools and oilcake out. In spite of all need for rain, I wanted at least one more day of sun. My father finished coffee harvest, leaving one of the workers free to help me. For one reason or another, the hauling of chicken manure were postponed for a few days, and now, it’s impossible to collect it. It gets too heavy and smushy, messy and smelly. As we pay by the ton, extra water makes it more expensive. I have been waiting for weeks to spread manure over the already existing plots and I want to fertilize new parcel for other kinds of crops such as okra, corn, squash, sweet potato, yam, gourd, sesame, which takes up more space, grow taller or spread wider than green leaves.
I had been getting a cheaper kind of lime, but this time, I bought a high grade dolomite lime with faster absorption. I also bought powdered castor oilcake, 1,5 times higher in nitrogen than chicken manure, but 5 times more expensive. I heard from a vegetable farmer that this kind of oilcake prevent nematodes to attack the roots of lettuce. For my horror, I found lettuce and beets full of pearls around the roots. The advantage of oilcake in comparison to chicken manure is, no doubt, the neutral smell of the first, while chicken manure get to a toxic level when not composted.
I had a problem composting chicken manure with grass last year. It heated too much but it was too wet. It is said that white mold appears when it heats and lack water. Not in my case. I have still not found an answer for my problem, and it has been difficult to find a specific direction for composting chicken manure. The proportion of manure/green matters must be different for each kind of animal manure. Anyway, this year, against all recommendation, and specially for absolutely lack of bulky organic fertilizer, I wanted to spread raw manure between the plant lines and dig in new plots, and help for the best. The farmers I visit often told that he uses it neat between lines and no coffee bean straw necessary as ground covering, as he uses a net for sunshade.
Along with the use of castor oilcake to avoid nematode action, I also started to plant marigolds between tomato vines, and more seedling being made to cover a whole raised bed in the middle of the garden. It is said that marigolds act as an insecticide, but I have found some of them with leaves all eaten – it must be ants?
My house helper told me that a young couple returned from Japan and now is growing and selling veggies door to door in her little town. They live near my farm. I was curious to meet people that were willing to move back to the farm after living in big cities, and specially, living abroad.
For my surprise, I had gone there a fews days prior to buy salad veggies (or to spy their technology). My neighbor told me that a big cover plot with huge lettuces were grown just across the road. As I located the farm, I remember I had been there before to invite the farmer to join Milk Farming classes that were supposed to be held on my farm. But as I didn’t get the financing for the cows, the program never happened here. At that time, I didn’t know that an Italian landowner was married to a half-Japanese woman. Their son, being one quarter Japanese went to work in Japan. His wife is also of Japanese ancestry. That means, just like me. Being racially and culturally closer, I went to meet them.
Their gardening plot made me envious. Tall posts held sunscreen net and sprinkling system irrigated their four times bigger plot, covered with huge lettuces (of expensive seeds, the hybrid kind). They moved in December of last year and are activelly selling their goods. And has a young man as an employee. Oh, what an envy! Specially after battlering so hard watering my plots with a hose which desconnected at each pressure of my thumb in attempt to spray the water. The soil was constantly dry and the veggies never grew properly. The last few days have been even more difficult with aphids covering my broccoli and nemathodes attacking other plants. The lettuce I grew came out small, tough, and bitter. The beets never reached a decent size. The cauliflower has not still flowered, and I am not sure it ever will. The weather is not helping and the lack of technology (meaning money for the investment) made of my garden a big disappointment. My classmates were here yesterday and they didn’t seem impressed with the condition that my garden meets. Regardless, they took home cabbage (which supposed to be soft for being hybrid, but turned out very tough), green onions, parsley, mustard and collard greens by bagfulls. I would have charged some in another situation, but my morals were low that day.
Well, my garden will someday have a sunscreen net and a sprinkling system. My father is fixing a place to leave the water tank (in the middle of my orchard!) My classmate made a comment of very few seedlings I have in the greenhouse nursery. Right now, I only have lettuce, white onions, Swiss chard and chicory.
But it rains, and it will get hotter. That means, I got to sow different crops and go through summer eating scallions like last year. I feel so tired right now that I don’t care much about growing tender veggies. I want a worry free veggie. Those kind that God waters. Corn, okra, squashes.
I am also disappointed with my tomatoes. Many of them got viruses and I needed to pull them out. But there are still many left, some with heavy yield. I will be so happy if those bigger kind of tomatoes could finish the cycle yielding edible fruits. It’s widely known that cultivating tomatoes in Brazil is not easy at all. It is one of the veggies that carries the most chemicals and it is always a risk to eat it, along with bell peppers, strawberries, and watermelons.
I am not totally won yet. I don’t like the flavor of hybrid greens, and I may continue sowing common seeds, cutting them earlier, and selling pre-washed and packaged as baby mix. I don’t want to be just like any other commercial grower. I don’t want to make money (as if they made money. As my father said, he never saw any veggie farmer moving up), I want to make something different. Along with packaged mix, I can also sell dressings I learned in America. How about “Caesar Salad”? Greek Salad? Herbed oil? Herbed vinegar? Compotes?
One thing I know. I won’t pay to have an employee. I would be his slave to be able to pay his salary and all the benefits I wouldn’t have myself, besides all the headaches and possibly deal with lack of knowledge and enthusiasm. Today, I thought about joining someone willing to work and take half of the yields, and that would free me for other projects. I am not giving up my organic garden, but I need more time to develop my ideas.
Nobody told me that it was going to be easy. Nobody told me it was not. I just thought it was going to be romantic. Hopefully I am going through some cyclical crisis and not a pre-divorce phase.

September 7, 2010 –Guava Season

September 7, 2010 –Guava Season
Guava like many other simple life fruit is not eaten neatly chopped in a bowl, at the table; rather, it is eaten still while walking off the tree. Differently from mango which makes a mess leaving hands and face sticky, and the teeth holding the thin fibers, guava is clean. The green guava, in my opinion, is the best to eat. It smells greeny, has firm texture, and after finishing, I get an impression that I have just brushed my teeth.
We haven’t had so many guavas in a long time. A few trees (which is a lot for a family) in front of our kitchen being tall and old, I had asked to prune them drastically, with the intention to cut them down someday. That was last year during my Fruitculture class. To my surprise, this year, we had a generous amount of the fruit that even those trees that had never bore any fruit, gave us plenty.
All guavas have green skin until they ripen, but the pulp and the seeds vary in color. With at least ten trees that we have, some is deep rosy red, other pale pink, and many, white. My favorite one has a pear shape, even when ripe it is firm and has that “after brushing” taste.
My daughter devoured first guavas we got as a gift from my uncle that grows this fruit commercially. When our trees started to yield fruits, she traded it for meals. The bucolic picture of seen her walking around under the trees in search for the best fruits. Until she found a worm inside of it. My father says that there is nothing more harmless than the guava worm. That the guava worm is guava. A popular joke says “What is worse than finding a worm in your guava? The answer is: half a worm.” Guava worms are just part eating non treated fruit. It is also part of our childhood.
A lady showing how to make guava sweet (marmelade type consistency) on TV recommended using rustic guavas. The commercial fruit is poor in color and in pectine, in spite of the size (which must be water only).
Guava, even though I said it gives you’re a fresh sensation in the mouth, is very filling. Ripe guava may give you an indigestion just by smelling their scent. Like any other tropical fruit, it is not a shy fruit that holds its smell, rather, it exhale it in hot waves.
The most well known way of eating preserve guavas are in a “marmelade” form. Just add sugar and cook it for several hours, like any other hillbilly’s food. (you remember – they have lot of spare time, so they can spend hours resting their bellies the at stove). Actually, it takes some peeling and separating seed from the pulp. The seed must be boiled and sieved. Nobody could eat “goiabada” with seeds as we do with blackberry jam. They are unpleasant to bite and also they stick in the little depression of our molars. My father thinks twice before eating a guava. He doesn’t like the sensation of the seeds on the teeth. When I eat guava, I chew the seeds very lightly, or I just don’t eat it. My daughter does the opposite, she just eats the seeds and throws away the pulp.
A friend taught me to make guava jam to be a concentraded form of juice. She does the same with blackberries. Not a bad idea.
One of the most precious memory I have of food making, it is the guava jam used in a jelly roll. When teenager, I once visited a friend whose mother was baking the sponge cake while the guava pulp was boiling ravenously on the a stove top. She sweet smell of the cake mixed with overpowering smell of ripe guava made a mark on my glutonic memory. Whenever this memory comes back strong, I can’t hold myself to prepare them, even if I have to buy a commercial preserve devoided of its characteristic smell.
Perhaps I get encouraged by all this I am writing that I may collect 20 pounds (minimum) of the ripe fruit for jam making. I had actually started the other day, stopped for some reason, and ended up throwing away the fruits that were getting rotten inside a bag. It takes inspiration, courage and time. Hours processing the jam, and months eating it.

September 4, 2010 - Trip to a Waterfall

September 4, 2010 - Trip to a Waterfall
Hot and dry winter, being at least at 600 km from the nearest beach, the solution came with my daughter’s school project on a waterfall I heard of since I was a child, but had never been there.
I drove my daughter through a two-way country road, in a desolate scenery. What used to be a lush wooded forest had been cut down for coffee farms, and in a few decades, it was transformed into cattle pasture. Acres of dry grassy land, alternating with sugar cane plantation, a more recent invasion in our State. We crossed a few small bridges, some with no water running below it. Soon, we went through a little village with three dingy looking bars, an abandoned church, a wooden house, rare nowadays. A few more kilometers, we drove by a city jail. The gray concret walls with four watch towers showed nothing but some kind of austerity, opposed to lazy looking sheep grazing outside. “Poor sheep, it must be very hot. Look at the yarn!” – I observed. They were miserably dirty with the hair tangled like long hair homeless person.
Several signs warning of big sugar cane truck crossing the road. In spite of it, I found no trucks and very little cars, if any, heading to where I was.
From far, we saw a tall chimney releasing black smoke up the sky. Soon, a nasty smell invaded our car. On one side, a gigantic pile of what must be crushed sugar cane, as tall as two story building. “What a great mulching it would be” – I thought. On the other side of the road, a large puddle with mud, resulting from plant processing. It reminded me of Erin Brockvich film.
Just past the sugar cane plant (sugar and alcool fuel factory), everything went back to look just as before. Just a parenthesis here to tell that sugar plant is not as sweet as we taste. It is disgustingly destructive to nature (and to our health).
Thirty three kilometers after we took this road, we finally arrived at the waterfall. In spite of short height, the view was impressive, and it made us very giddy. The strong fall produced some welcome fog, cooling us a bit. We sit down on a rock to sink our feet in water. That was the most we could do. The unfriendly water flow didn’t allow us for any mellow swim.
I went after the information for fish a friend had told me about. I dreamed of buying some fresh fished tilapia as I had seen some large bones on the beach. “No, it’s forbidden to fish now. Police has been here. It’s piracema (time when fish swim up against the stream, just like salmon). But if you want, you can drive past the big bridge and knock at the first house on your left. You may find some fish there.” – a local man informed me.
As I was at the waterfall for my daughter’s research discussing ecology, I pondered that it was somewhat unethical, immoral, and illegal to buy some fish to satisfy my glutony. Thank God I decided so. Two patrol cars suddenly appeared in front of my car. They were stopping suspicious fishermen or drunk drivers. I was above any suspicion. I was a lady driving a girl that couldn’t in the world do such a thing. Well, just in thinking. A cold beer would be good in a dry hot Saturday afternoon.

July 25th, 2010 – Mid-year

July 25th, 2010 – Mid-year
“It’s like an early spring morning!” – exclaimed a man stepping out of the house first days of January, in Virginia. “How horrible spring must be around here”, I thought. It was freezing cold, with streets covered with ice. I had been having miserable days in the East Coast during the Holiday season. Being a guest at somebody else’s house was not my idea of good vacation. It started with dinner: store bought salad and roasted chicken. No warming food such as boiling creamy soup, thick piece of grilled steak, and perhaps some fried something. What I really missed was the whole combination of salad-rice-meat-cooked veggies, and why not, soup. I couldn’t stand the smell of comercial Italian dressing over wilted leaves and some darkened shredded carrots. Taking the risk of being rude, next day, I refused to eat the cold cereal breakfast and run to eat a hot bowl of Asian noodles covered with dark sauce, fresh cucumbers and mung bean sprouts. I felt well nourished until next meal.
All this memory was evoked by the scent of white flowers in a “just like an early spring morning” down in Brazil, on my farm. Of course, it is not spring, but winter. Winter of average 25⁰ Celsius, plenty of sun and dry wind.
We had months of low level of rain, few days of cold weather, and mostly sunny and dry. My vegetables didn’t grow as lush as last year. Leafy greens don’t grow well, turning dark and though, seeding early, before reaching their regular size. I had been bringing veggies from somebody else’s farm, in exchange for English conversation meetings.
I have chicory every day. The wild type, even though it is not really wild for us. I had never seen this kind of green in America. But it is very popular in Brazil. I love to eat finelly cut with sliced white onion, and seasoned with olive oil, balsamic vinegar or lime, and salt. It is a kind of salad that it is good with food, just like hot peppers. It is not like lettuce that we can eat just that. It is slight bitter with somewhat fibrous texture. It needs chewing.
The payback of sunny and dry winter is that white flowers are blooming everywhere. They not only bring that sweet scent in the air, but plenty of nectar and polen for bees. Yes, I care about what kind of flowers are blooming now. I learned that bouganvillea, pretty but no nectar. It’s almost like a sterile woman. Inviting on the outside, but empty inside. Bees won’t need any white sugar syrup any longer. Maybe my bees will starting making wonderful honey that I can collect sometime in September.
Mid-year and I have already concluded my Beekepping course. My Organic Horticulture is progressing slowing, had we transplanted seedlings today. I have lettuce, kale, beets, arugula, cauliflower, brocoli, green onions, parsley by the hundreds. Several yards of raised beds, professionally built. They don’t look like my garden around the house. The distance between seedlings was meticulously marked. I have now the big responsibility of keeping these greens alive after I almost killed them for not watering enough or more often in the greenhouse.

July 30th, 2010 – Cold Meal and Me

July 30th, 2010 – Cold Meal and Me
If there is someone important in farming and for me, it’s the “cold meal” professionals.
“Cold meal” is rural worker that leaves in the town and works in exchange for the lowest wage available, in a system of daily pay. They formerly lived on farms and moved to town in search for better life style. As most of them were illiterate with no other trainings, they found no jobs and had to go back to work on the farms. Before, they had a house and the land to work on, some animals, but following a massive city migration movement starting in the 70’s, they moved into shanty towns and many of them still live in worse condition than ever before. But they didn’t come back to leave on the farm. They rather work at their will, with no job contract, and without any kind of benefits provided by the paternal labor laws in Brazil. The fun of living among thousand people, forming their own community and culture, the attractiveness of consumerism, and total lack of interest of their children for farming finally destroyed the already empoverished population. But most “cold meals” now are older folks, women, or men with some type of handicapp that can range from light mental problem, some illness, incapability to adapt to work in organized big sugar cane industry, rather in the field or in the processing plant. What was left to work on small farms is, unfortunatelly, men and women without full ability to work at modern job market. On the other side, small farmers are empoverished and uncapable of hiring legally and paying good wages. The social duties are heavy even for hiring a house helper such as elderly care person or a domestic worker. Small farmers, themselves, moved to towns and some that still lives off their land, drive every day to their property. I don’t have to tell that my father (and maybe me) is one of the in a way-to-extiction people that want to work on the land and live there. Many of my neighbors may still live on the farm, but have depend on an income that flows from the urban areas. Men and women full of knowledge and wisdom work as housecleaners, truck drivers, or salesperson for local stores. Many families depend on the meager retirement money to continue living on the farms. I can’t fully express my sorrow to see all the old wisdom to vanish. Many of my neighbors still bake their handknead breads on a wood fired oven, raise range free chickens, make soaps, but the new generation is not interested in such a life style. I must be one of the youngest one to be interested in these things, even though, it’s part of “back to basics” type of “movement”. I am acquiring all the farm skills now. So far, I am the only one around here to be interested in rescuing such culture.
I feel like I found out a great party but I arrived at the end of it when people are going home stumbling drunk. And those drunken ones that can’t make it home, come back to the party just as “cold meals” do with farm work.

July 30, 2010 – The Long Drought

July 30, 2010 – The Long Drought
Still winter down South, but the temperature has risen several degrees. Like summer, I have been waking up earlier and earlier. Sometimes it’s too early (like now, it’s 2:00 am) that I can’t go work in the garden. It’s good, actually, I can update my journals.
I have been very busy the last few weeks. The long period without rain left my new vegetable garden requiring, every day, more and more hours of dedication (hours spend watering my plants with a hose!)
Last year, I told you about my heartbreak: failed gardening attempts due to total technical ignorance – no soil preparation, no mulching, no proper sowing, no spacing between plants, no nothing. I only spread some seeds expecting that it would turn into a lush garden. It did at certain point, as I was lucky with the rainy season and later, with lower temperatures averaging 18⁰ to 23⁰C. But I had to battle against pests and diseases, having even seen a grub swallowing my seedling from its roots. A friend, then, told me about working the soil with compost. “Silly me, you probably know about it” – she wrote me in an email. Yes, I kind of knew, but I didn’t really believe it. I just saw the soil moist and inviting for planting. Later, I got a man who works here temporarily as a “cold meal” to help me to haul and spread the chicken manure. I almost intoxicated my whole family with the ammonia released by a ton of it. I actually saw a fume thick as a smoke to come out of the compost pile. Needless to say that the compost didn’t turn out right, but I used it anyway, messy as fresh big animal feces, or sometimes, dry and hard as a rock. No “nice aroma of fresh forest soil, lightly moist, uniformily colored, without any trace of former elements” type of thing.
As you may know, I got a partnership with an Organic Horticulture Program. I have the land and they have the instructor. Hard thing is to get enough students interested in the course. I had to beg people that attend all courses to join this one. Most courses are short term – just a few days (4 to 8). But the Horticulture is a eight-month long program, and it requires perseverance. We started with 20 people, and we are down to 10. As I tell people “country with such a school drop out like ours, no wonder that people will drop out a program like this”. Free courses with free meals, and with a certificate at the end, are one of the things in life that we can’t ignore. I finish Beekeeping program totally able to start the activity if I wanted. I can imagine how much this course could cost in the US. Or even in Brazil, taken at private schools.
Anyway, I chose the location below our orchard to be the new vegetable garden. I was tired of slopy looking one that I had in the orchard. I can’t complain as I harvested beautiful oak leaf lettuce, brocolli, carrots and several other veggies last year. But I became ambitions and wanted a professional looking, neat plots. I wanted a nursery greenhouse so bad that I thought that even if the program got canceled (for number of drop outs), I would be happy to be a place where the seedlings sowed in trays could survive. It never did before, as the place where I used to leave them were too windy.
Talking about being windy, I found out that the new location I choose is too windy as well. It is one of the highest part of the farm. It was the closest one to my house, with easy access, near the water, with the uncultivated plot of land. Perfect, but full of defects. We planted tall grass as a wind breaker, which helps, but it didn’t solve the problem. I can’t complain of my luck, but not only the location was windy, this year we had no winter and no rain, essencial for horticulture in the tropics. I was left with scorching sun, drying wind, and … lack of manure!!!!
This year, my second attempt to grow seedlings succeded (the first attempt didn’t. The trays got ready before the nursery. It was a disaster. I lost about 10 trays, that means thousand of seedlings. Another heartbreak and extra work later on.) With the proper substract used in trays for seedlings, the transplanting was a breeze, even though we transplanted in the hottest day of the month, with the hardest wind of all times. Incredible to believe, but the little plants survived! I credit the technology of tray sowing. I never want to sow on the soil again. Most seedlings turn out irregular, get roots damaged, and the crop is actually bad. The loss could reach 100% in this system. The only good thing of sowing on the soil for later transplanting is that the soil keeps the moisture longer than in trays. I confess that I lost some seedlings in the nursery for delaying watering. I forgot to tell that the nursery is a rustic construction of six stakes, covered with plastic and surrounded by a net that allows breathing. It’s 8m X 4m. The textbook doesn’t show it, but I had to add plastic from ground up a meter high to stop the wind.
My complain here is about the place I chose to be my garden. I didn’t know it would be that windy, that hot, and that dry. To make matter worse, the instructor didn’t suggest me to place a netting to stop the sun. And he was not peremptory about the irrigation system.
I worked hard for the whole month after the students and the instructor that come one weekend a month. I transplanted a big plot, I built support for tomatoes, I made new trays of seedlings, I planted “trap veggies” to attract insects to later control them, I sprayed with biofertilizer and neem extract/oil. Above all, I watered, watered, watered. I felt proud to display the green carpet to my classmates. But the first thing my instructor said was “it should be looking better! The lettuces didn’t grow.” Yes, it was too windy and sunny. It went several hours without water, drying the top layers of the soil. But another unforgiving mistake that my instructor made was not to require more manure. We simply used green manure (a beneficial seed cocktail that is grew up to flowering and then cut to serve as a ground cover and a fertilizer) and scampy amounts of cow manure (that one that I had to beg my neighbor for). I was mad as I live on a property that has leased chicken batteries and plenty of manure to be bought.
I was lucky last year that the plot I had chosen was protected by the wind, had mild summery winter, lots of moisture and chicken manure. I harvested commercial size vegetables. I was so proud of myself. I thought that this year, with “professional looking” raised beds, neatly planted seedlings, and extra help, it would be successful.
Of my new plot, I had to harvest all the lettuce that was extra “crispy”, most of arugula that was deep green, not to say that they were small in size. I needed to sell as fast as possible for a meager R$1,00 a bunch. I went to my daughter’s school with a flier that said “Organic Veggies: grown in full sun: more vitamins and more fibers”. I had to announce my veggies in an apologetic way. My greens were tasty, nevertheless. I delivered them last Friday. I am now afraid to face all the school teachers today, Monday. I have to keep telling them that though leaves are actually a characteristic of being “organic”. Or I have to convince myself of it.
I am specially disappointed as I visited two vegetable farms in a last few days (reality check, or reality shock). They had giant sized lettuce heads, soft and mild tasting. Nothing pungent like my greens. Remember, organic veggies have personality. Another detail that was left behind was that the need of special seeds. Those expensive ones. While I pay 50 cents for an envelope, the hybrid types (lab seeds) may cost over fifty times more (but the veggies grow equally 50 times more). Once once, I lavished R$20,00 for a hybrid salad cabbage. This was a must, as regular cabbages weighs a ton a head and taste bitter, chewy, and though. Oh, I could sell them as “organic”, I forgot. Jokes apart, I am worried about my reputation as a good vegetable farmer. I don’t want to be known as a “though greens farmer”. I want to be knowns as a top quality organic farmer.
But looking back, I have made great progress since I adventured myself in the field, just a year and a half of my first gardening attempt. The problem is that organic farmers go ambitious too. I started wanting a nursery, I now want a net covered plot and an automatic irrigation system. Not to say, the expensive seeds. I am afraid that pretty soon I am becoming like any other commercial farmer that uses chemical in our salads.
In truth, some crops don’t need any chemical at all. Chicken manure alone can do much for leafy greens. Some doesn’t even use mulching. I have paid for loading coffee bean shell. Instead, I could have invested in chicken manure. The two farmers I visit often don’t use chemical in most salad greens, except for wintery greens such as Chinese cabbage. But I am sure they load sunshade plants (tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers) with it. Most consumers don’t know that salad greens take little or no chemical. In that sense, I have no merit of selling organic greens. I know, though, that organic doesn’t mean solely the absence of chemical, it’s the whole system. My big challenge lies in growing the sunshades. I have started with four varieties of tomatoes. I think it is adamant that I succeed in tomato crop, as we eat it in great amount, and in Brazil, sunshades suffer from chemical abuse.
In spite of small sized vegetables, from my old plot, I have harvested iceberg lettuce, which is a lot greener and crispier that pale colored, tasteless American counterpart. The leaves are not tightly formed as a cabbage head, but rather, they are loose, making a very refreshing salad to eat. I harvested great tasting regular lettuce, three different varieties of wild chicories (not wild at all. But I haven’t found a right translation yet, as I had never seen this veggie being sold in the US), six brocolli heads, some good sized carrots, collard greens, one fennel bulb, New Zealand spinach, a few red radishes, and purple collar white radish. The last tastes like a wild root, that I may not even transplant new seedlings. I need to change the variety, that means, to buy the expensive kind, a more palatable one. I even harvested a handfull of black beans that I added to our bean and pork stew yesterday.
The new plot has Grand Rapids and Oak Leaf lettuces, arugula, brocolli, cauliflower, cabbage, collard greens, mustard greens, Chinese cabbage, Swiss chard, scallions, parsley, cilantro, red radish, tomatoes, beets, cucumber, eggplant, purple collar white radish, wild chicory. I have sowed green beans, snow peas, carrots, and still to transplant yellow and purple onions, celery, leeks, more lettuce (Veneranda, purple and Romaine), purple chicory, hot peppers, bell peppers, lemon cucumber.
Besides the two locations, I also have other edibles planted around the house: prickly chayotte, purple meat yam, Chinese chives, barely alive squash vines.
The drought is so severe that ranges desert humidity levels, so said the TV news. I can’t water all I have scattered around the farm. Things that I care less go dry, such as squash. August is here, and I can’t predict when to sow other things such as okra. I may sow it on my front garden that I can easily water. So I can eat okra (or maybe sell) way before others.
Commonly ignored vegetables such as chayotte or squash are now expensive. The temp laborers that work on coffee harvest fight for crocked ones that I put out for sale. I had a great idea of watering the squash vines, which is unheard of. But I am expecting to have a good harvest sometime soon in spite of the drought.