I have been thinking about the TO for a while and this is probably not the last time you will hear about this from me. In some ways, the TO is the most important part of Farm-to-Table. If you think about it, without the TO what difference do the farm or the table really make. Let me explain.
You have a farm. You grow beautiful broccoli and you are so proud, as well you should be. You prepared the soil with fertilizer (perhaps you cured your own after your cow made it for you, making your preparation even more layered and complicated), you built a nice fence to keep the bunnies out, you planted at just the right time dictated by the celestial tables from this year's Farmer's Almanac, you watered, you weeded, you prayed for sun and rain and finally... florets. Amazing. Exhausting. Miraculous.
Now what? Maybe the broccoli goes to your table which means you pick it and cook it 20 yards from where it grew. Fantastic. But if you are feeding anyone else, you harvest it and you need to get it somewhere fast, before it wilts. Like a farmer's market or a grocer. But first it goes on a truck and then it's off loaded. So many steps. So many hands. So not easy.
Do you think about these things too?
Just before Thanksgiving, Marc and Susan Jaffe arrived in front of my city home in their van with the fresh turkey from their farm for my family's harvest meal. They do it themselves. They farm it, they harvest it, they deliver it. They have my respect.
Jennifer Grossman -- lawyer, farmer, friend -- has a guinea hen farm for 6,000 fowl serving the best chefs in the Catskills and in New York City's star-studded restaurants. The birds are sensitive and wild. They take detailed care. Followed by one bad day of careful slaughter and then... delivery. Jen worked her tail off to find an effective and efficient delivery system. Weeks of work and negotiations. Good thing she's a lawyer!
This year, against the advice of my mom to just write down my project ideas instead of actually doing them, I started a honeybee cooperative where shareholders can invest in a beehive and possibly get honey as a reward/dividend. Sounds easy, right? Stick with me on this for a minute... I am getting to my point.
First, recruit shareholders (farmers do this too... for their CSAs which is basically seed money for their, um, seeds). We got 77 shareholders, eventually, for a 100-share honey farm (we even held a contest). Scale up from two hives to ten... with 20 hive boxes, 200 frames, 5 double stands, 15 supers & 150 super frames. Upgrade the fence to really nuke any bears. Install 10 nucs with 5,000 bees each. Tend them 3 times a week to see how they are doing. Feed them sugar water. Oh, make the sugar water first. Gallons and gallons of it. Think about building a second kitchen. Call every beekeeper you know to find out why the bees have stopped producing. Feed them more sugar water to make up for the nectar dearth sneak attack. Treat each hive for mites before they start producing honey, once a week for three weeks. I go on and on and so does the work.
THEN, we have honey! YAY!! Remove the supers. Invite folks over to cut the wax and spin out the honey in a manual centrifuge. Thank goodness people came because many hands make light work. Three giant food-grade plastic tubs of honey. Now what? Strain out the bee parts and wax. Three times. Transfer it to a tub with a spout (note to self: only tubs with spouts next year). Buy jars and more jars. Wash jars. Dry jars. Fashion some funnels out of plastic cups. Fill over 300 jars with honey. Scrub kitchen. Twice. Wash outside of jars. Label jars (after designing logo, formatting labels and swearing at the printer). Review the list of shareholders and do high level math on fair shares. Package honey into bags and label them with names. I think the TO started somewhere in here... maybe with the removal of the supers... maybe with the jarring part. The lines are blurry.
But the major TO starts here. Walk the dog. Carry honey. Go house to house, walking because taking a taxi would be wrong. Plus, it's nice out. Invite yourself over to friends' houses so you can sneak them their honey. Bring honey in a giant bag to a holiday party. Hi five yourself because you only have 50 to go.
I am not complaining. The process was fun. I like delivering honey. I love that folks have already eaten nearly their entire shares because it's so damn good. But Thursday after driving five hours just to deliver honey to Main Street Farm in Livingston Manor -- an essential part of the TO story for Catskill Mountain Honey (my honey project) and so many farmers (Neversink, Tonjes, Somewhere In Time, Snowdance... the list is endless), I started to obsess about the TO. And I had to share.
Think about the TO for everything you eat this week. Some of it came on a plane, some of it in a van, some by hand. It's all amazing and overwhelming. I walked a mile in the TO story over the past several months and I know that I can do it better next year. The TO is a challenge. The TO is fascinating. The TO is under-respected.
If you know a farmer, talk to them about the TO. If you are a farmer, my hat's off to you and however you accomplish your TO. Respect. If you are the TO, love.
To the TO, xoxo farmgirl