To paraphrase Mr. Rogers, it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood last Sunday when the Mt. Washington Farmer’Stand set up for business in front of . The weather wasn’t necessarily beautiful, although it was certainly tolerable with milder heat than usual for midday in July.
The gathering of neighbors over beets and beans, though? That was special.
On Saturday night, University of Southern California graduate Zack Christensen sent out a flyer (see above) to a neighborhood email list announcing that the stand's mid-day debut would be held on Sunday, and that it would offer fresh vegetables grown on the Hill as well as prepared foods made from the veggies.
When noon rolled around, Zack was still working on the prepared foods: the beet salad, the nopalitos (prickly pear cactus) salad, the garlic tahini spread, the herb salad with grilled carrots and zucchini, the vegan pesto (with cashews instead of cheese) and the habanero, devil pepper, and carrot relish.
Alec, Zack’s brother, fellow farmer and a UC Santa Cruz graduate, pulled up in his truck, which was filled to the brim with produce, and set up the stand.
The People and the Produce
At 11:55 a.m., eager produce buyers were driving, dog-walking and bicycling back and forth in front of the school, waiting to get their hands on the fresh vegetables that had been pulled from the ground that morning. Patrons, many of whom have known Zack and Alec since they were toddlers, helped set up tables and position umbrellas before filling the bags they’d brought with bunches of beets and carrots and mint, bags of purple pole beans, Blue Lake green beans, pale green and orange zucchini blossoms and boxes of herb medley. Alec assured everyone that if they sold out of produce, he could just run down to the farm, pick more, and bring it back to the Stand.
Neighbor Andy Landrini joked that the stand and farm went beyond “locavore” to “next-door-a-vore”.
The Mount Washington Farm
The “farm” is a quarter acre of land off Avenue 37 that the Christensen boys and their friends have terraced and planted with fruit trees and vegetables. According to Alec, he and his brother have “saturated the land with as many edible things as we could fit in a small space.” No pesticides are used.
Because the plot is small, the yield is small as well. Accordingly, Alec estimates that, at most, they’ll be able to do a Farmer’Stand every two or three weeks.
For the next stand, they’re anticipating a bumper crop of tomatoes of all varieties: Early Girl, Better Boy and Sungold cherry tomatoes and Fat Boy heirlooms--tomatoes that are zebra-striped burgundy and green. Some of their tomato plants are seven feet tall.
Local artist Ann Dudrow offered to share her mother’s recipe for pickled green tomatoes. Fiber artist Connie Rohman speculated on how to stain fabric with beet juice and keep it vibrant. I asked Alec if he and Zack would interested in harvesting the pads from my prickly pear cactus in exchange for other produce. A tall, young woman, who looked as if she’d spent the last ten years knitting and crafting, nibbled some raw carrot greens and announced that they tasted like "the garden."
Lynn Sosa, who teaches at Mount Washington Elementary School, was about to go out of town so she didn’t buy anything. Instead, she donated an armful of lemons to the Stand. Alec and Roxana Eslamieh--Zack’s girlfriend--gave them away as a bonus to vegetable buyers.
I bought one of everything. The delicious prepared foods kept me fed for three days. The garlicky tahini is potent and positively addictive. On Monday and Tuesday, my neighbors and I sent emails sharing what we were making with our Farmer'Stand produce: beet and carrot borscht, Moroccan carrots, mint vinaigrette.
It's wonderful, of course, to have our own little mini-farmer’s market in the neighborhood, especially one with such lovely, fresh produce.
There's an unexpected side benefit of the Stand: since Mount Washingtonians have no central place to gather, the Stand offered a spot for friends and neighbors to meet and mingle and chat. Dan Koeppel, , told me about some upcoming hikes. Parents exchanged news about where all the “kids” (now actually young adults) on the Hill are headed since graduating from college. Friends swapped vacation stories and told about daughters headed home from Italy or their own upcoming travels to Nicaragua and Amsterdam and China to visit offspring still in school or working abroad.
At the end of the day, a dad was hanging out and chatting with Zack and Alec. The urban farmers were pleased; only a few bunches of beets and boxes of herb medley were left.
The seeds of community sown? Priceless.
NOTE: To get on The Farmer'Stand email list for future times, dates, updates, and other notifications, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org