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Our Perfect Imperfections

Posted 7/18/2017 2:21pm by Aaron Lichtenberg.

"Perhaps it is our imperfections that make us so perfect for one another."

- Jane Austen

Today while we were washing vegetables, I came across a beautiful head of fennel that had been left behind in the washing station by Aaron. When he came back around, I asked him why it was still sitting there. Was it because it was one more than a case could hold? His answer, "It's ours to eat. It's bolted."

I continued to ponder this thought the entire time I washed and packed boxes of vegetables from our harvest. Radishes with holes in the leaves that I have often caught myself feeling embarrassed about. Beets with black holes and spots that just didn't get enough boron during their growth, possibly because all the rain washed the of it away. The occasional weed that entered the salad mix from the fields... 

When you walk into the grocery store, everything looks glowingly perfect. The lighting is just-so, the herbs have just been lightly misted, and everything is perfectly ripened. But, this is not reality. Real food is not always pretty...in fact, the majority of the time it is not.

Because we are farmers, people think we must eat spectacularly well. The truth of the matter is that we do eat rather well, but we are eating what many would discard into the trash (or best case scenario, compost).

There are two main reasons why there are no holes and no blemishes on the foods you see in the grocery store:

1. Pesticides 

2. Waste

Estimates are that 40% of the food that is produced annually in the United States and one-third of the food globally goes straight from farm to landfill. 

Luckily for us, there is very little that hits our compost pile because we are willing to eat everything. Brown spots get cut out, wilted greens are rehydrated to their original glory in an ice water bath, and insect-gnawed vegetables get cooked up just the same. Because the reality is that it all tastes the same!

This year, Aaron made the decision to not grow heirloom tomatoes. The reason being that we ate almost every single one of them last summer because they were not marketable. Now this was fantastic for us, but not great for the "bottom-line".

Those that recognize the telltale "ugliness" of heirloom tomatoes are thrilled to see them hit the farmer's market table, but the rest of the customers continue to reach for the perfect, baseball-sized, red round slicer. However, even the diehard fan of heirloom "uglies" will pass by the tomatoes with soft spots, assuming they have passed their prime. The truth is those soft tomatoes were picked at the same exact time, with the same level of ripeness as the perfect red rounds. The problem is heirlooms are not bred for transport. In other words, they are missing that thick protective skin, and consequently bruise very easily.

So, try that crooked squash that has grown around your grade stake, the tomato that is soft or cracked, or the potato that has a couple of wire worm holes. You might be surprised to find how much you like it and you will be helping fight waste and hunger in the process!

Some common imperfections you see on vegetables and their causes:

 White cracks on tomatoes: inconsistent watering, often due to heavy rains, followed by dry days

 Discolored spotting or "wet" spots - frost damage

Black holes in radishes: flea beetle damage

 Leaf Miner Damage on Swiss Chard

Sunburn on bell peppers

 Black spots/holes in beets: Boron deficiency in soil

Check out these interesting reads, http://www.dirt.online/posts/ugly-fruit-vegetables-are-more-affordable/ and http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/03/global-food-waste-statistics/ for a different take on imperfections.

For Aaron's take on the issue this past fall: http://winniwoodsfarm.com/blog/a-note-on-imperfect-produce-a-growers-perspective

 

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