News from the Conservation Farm: Harvest and Closing Down for the Season

Fall has been very busy at the Conservation Farm. With the help of friends and volunteers from the community, the apprentices harvested thousands of pounds of seed from the farm, and hosted the straw bale workshops and harvest festival. Native Seeds/SEARCH loved working with the 2013 farm apprentices and are happy to call Danielle, Matt, Pablo, Travis, and Francesca life-long friends.

Back in September, we began to harvest corn from the many accessions growing on the farm this year. We learned about how to identify diseased seed and how to select for disease-resistance. As the weeks went by, it became normal to see the bed of Farm Manager Evan’s truck overflowing with plump papery corn ears waiting to be de-husked and shucked. Soon, we were pulling in buckets of chiles, tepary beans, tomatoes, sorghum, and bins full of gourds. Windsong, a local youth organization, and the Patagonia Home Schooling group helped us to harvest giant sunflower heads and cut down the huge stalks to make way for next year’s field beds. One of the most beautiful experiences of the apprenticeship happened in mid October, when several of the apprentices helped to harvest Glass Gem corn grown at Forever Yong Farm in Aravaca, Arizona. The majority of the glass gem seed stock offered by Native Seeds/SEARCH will come from this grow-out where the seeds were grown in isolation from other corn varieties to prevent cross-pollination. Starting in the late afternoon, we pulled ear after ear of rainbow colored corn from the dry plants as the light faded from golden to pink to mauve, and the full moon rose above us.

Fall has also been full of events for the apprentices. Francesca and Danielle represented Native Seeds/SEARCH at the Santa Cruz County Fair with an educational booth, and the farm hosted two straw bale building workshops during September and October, which the apprentices provided seasonal, locally sourced food for. More recently, the harvest festival wrapped up most of the farm's activities and provided the public with an opportunity to shuck corn, stomp on beans and sample more locally-grown foodie delights. Throughout Fall, apprentice Danielle also worked on an educational project based in Tucson, called Seed Diaries. Seed Diaries is an ongoing collaboration with a University of Arizona illustration class, and has seen students producing artworks that tell the ethnobotanical story of selected seeds in the Native Seeds/SEARCH collection. It is hoped that the illustrations will be displayed in Tucson and eventually tour around Arizona.

The apprenticeship has been an amazing and enriching experience for all involved. We deepened our knowledge about the process of propagating, isolating, pollinating, harvesting and processing desert-adapted crops for seed, but we have also formed life-affirming and meaningful friendships with each other as apprentices, and within the Patagonia and Tucson community. Some of us will be staying in the Southern Arizona area, but for those of us that are leaving, we hope it will only be a temporary absence. We have had a wonderful summer – thank you Native Seeds/SEARCH.

The last recipes from the apprentices, Onion Soup, was a favorite at the October straw bale workshop and harvest festival and is a great way to use up extra onions if you have a glut. It is also a rich, comforting food perfect for the colder weather.

Onion Soup

15 onions, sliced into long strips

1 bulb garlic, minced

5 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons miso soup paste

Enough hot water to fill ¾ of a large stock pot

Heat olive oil and drop in onions and garlic. Fry on a medium heat for approximately 5 minutes, adding more oil if needed.

Add butter and continue to cook on a low heat for approximately 20 minutes, or until the onions are softened and caramelised.

Add the water and miso soup, season with salt and pepper, bring to the boil and reduce heat. Simmer for around ½ an hour.

Serve with bread, tortillas or grated cheese sprinkled over the top.