Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Farm Visit by Steve Hansen

On Sunday, Apil 5th, I joined about 50 other members of our coop on a field trip to Phoenix to learn a little more about exactly where our food is coming from. Since I worked on my own grandfather’s farm when I was about 12 years old, I remember how to do it and what it looks like. But that was quite a few years ago, so I thought it would be, at the least, fun to meet our farmer.

So, while some people may have been at the mall testing shoes with their personal shoppers, we traveled to the field by the highway to try some spring crops with our personal farmer, Frank Martin. After brief instructions and harvesting some beautiful artichokes, we gathered at the “field kitchen” in the middle of the field. Then, Frank told his story of becoming a farmer from scratch.

After many years of driving truck, he wanted to start a farm. A friend told him, “You get into farming by inheriting it or marrying it.” That was not in the cards for Frank, so he started small in his yard, later renting an acre from a neighbor and slowly acquiring the skills and experience he needed. Once he reached his weekly income goal of a consistent $300, he stopped driving and committed full time to farming. Today, some 15 years later, he has fields in several locations around the valley and a crew of employees to help him run the operation. The field we visited at I-17 and 19th is about 30 acres and has been farmed consistently since about 1928.

As Frank talked about his history and why and how he grows various crops, I soon realized how fortunate we are to have such a gentle, wise and generous man making food for us. Some years ago, he took over a farm that a Japanese family had been working for about 20 years. The farm was infested with a particularly invasive worm. The worms just thrived on the farm and damaged the crops, year after year. The family had spent a fortune on pesticides, trying to drive them out – to no avail. Undeterred, Frank took over the farm. First thing, he called in his contractor to disk the field (turn over the soil with a disk harrow). Almost immediately, birds appears in the sky – seemingly from nowhere –thousands of them, feasting on the exposed worms. Frank decided to have the field turned again the next day – another bird feeding frenzy. And… the worms ceased to be a problem.

He told us the history of the Iitoi onions he is growing, how they were named, and why they are revered by the Pappago and Pima tribes, how you can plant one and watch it multiply into a cluster of 140, harvest them, then plant one to multiply again. He then invited us to go across the field where they are growing and take whatever we might want to start growing our own.

After answering all our many questions, often with more fascinating and inspiring stories from his odyssey in farming, Frank invited us to enjoy the lunch he and his staff had prepared for us. I was struck by how pure and clean and flavorful it was. The beans were just about the best I can remember tasting in a long time, if not ever. By this time, my somewhat vague interest in “checking out where our food was coming from” had grown into full-blown excitement about being fed by a truly special personal farmer.

Agri-business marches on, but our Farmer Frank’s favorite time of the year is when the squash bloom, because then he gets to go out into the field at first morning light, lie on his soil and watch the squash blossoms open. Think about that the next time you take a bite!

By: Steve Hansen, Sedona

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