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June Newsletter: Philotimo
Holding our cultural compass in the midst of climate change.
Strange Blue Skies
Hey friends, just a little note before we get started. Since this is our first newsletter, we’re including a little extra background information about what we do and who we are. We hope this gives those new to our farm a baseline for future newsletters.
It’s late June. We’ve had a month of drought followed by a week and a half of straight rain. Being farmers, we’re both branded with a strange kind of eternal optimism, but this kind of unpredictable weather is becoming increasingly typical. As our climate continues to change, we find ourselves questioning what the future of our work will look like.
When we started our farm in 2019, we baked climate change into our crop projections. Our world is warming. Every year, the weather becomes more erratic. Sometimes, Virginia goes full tropical: humid and sticky and hot. Sometimes, we’re a desert: arid, brown, and dry. We planted for both worlds. The polarity between the two grows with every season.
As a small farm with minimal infrastructure, we center our approach to climate change on crop selection. Larger farms rely on infrastructure to moderate climate extremes, but with such a low financial return on vegetables, it would take us years to build up the capital. In the meantime, we do what humans have always done: plant what makes sense.
In our three predominantly dry-farmed plots, we grow melons, squash, okra, beans, eggplants, peppers, sweet potatoes, garlic, and various herbs. All heirloom. Some quite unusual. Beyond what we grow for our CSA, we tend a few hearty botanicals for our wines: wormwood, rhubarb, artichoke, basil, and cardoon, just to name a few. In our meadows, we wildcraft nettles, garlic mustard, purslane, dandelion, black walnut, pawpaw, and chickweed.
It’s a small, beautiful world, still a little unfinished at the edges.
We take the same approach to our vineyard. European grape varieties struggle with the intensity of Mid-Atlantic disease pressures. Rather than lean into a heavy chemical spray regimen, we planted hybrid grapes. These have natural genetic disease resistance to common grape diseases thanks to their tough American parentage. It’s cheaper and safer: the capitalistic and ethically agreeable option.
Our vineyard site is just about two acres. It’s a wildly experimental plot with seven distinct varieties and one row of novel hybrids. From the east-most row to the west, we have: Cayuga, Prairie Star, Louise Swenson, Marquette, Sabrevois, Frontenac Gris, and Frontenac Blanc. Our last row is a mutt varietal mash up. In their third leaf, the vines are still young. In a few more years, they’ll be the base for our botanical wines. A lengthy circle, completed.
When we started our farm, climate change still felt like something distant. An indefinite, slow-moving timeline years in the future. It’s settling in sooner than we expected. We’ve arrived at a disconcerting place with many more unknown years to come.
Our experience is just once example of how climate change is impacting small farms. We’re all grappling with how to build a more resilient food system (and keep our businesses afloat while doing it.) The future of food and wine in the east will be a future defined by resilience. We suspect that the future of humanity, if left unchecked, may look much the same.
Beauty as a Driving Force
We see the experiential nature of foodways as our most accessible means of tenable social change. Storied foodways are a universal cultural treasure. The growers and makers behind our foodways are critical in maintaining our sense of cultural identity. Day by day, they infuse our lives with small moments of beauty. The most polarized communities can still unite around the charm and comfort of food.
Beauty has powerful psychological implications. When we encounter beauty or a sense of awe, we enter a holistic space of inclusivity. Think of music, art, poetry, and great science. These things remind us of the responsibility we have for each other and for the world around us.
Beauty is a driving force in our work. We design monthly recipe themes for our CSA members featuring different cultures and culinary techniques. These create a sense of play around their weekly deliveries. Engagement at a literally visceral level.
We craft our botanical wines and cocktail bitters in such a way as to bring that same sense of playfulness to the bar. Each is structured around botanicals native or acclimatized to this region. They’re atypical, imperfect, and encourage experimentation. Through accessible and unintimidating beauty, we teach placemaking to people wholly unfamiliar with the concept.
A Hellenic Mirror
June’s challenges found an unexpected parallel in our monthly CSA recipe theme. Our June feature was Greece. Food and drink play a central role in Greek culture. It’s the meeting point where people find each other amidst the busyness of their days. The Greek approach to cooking encapsulates everything we believe in. It also reminds us of everything we struggle to maintain. It was an unexpected pull to the heartstrings.
We love the art of the Greek table, the way it brings people together through story and sustenance. We revel in the Greek resistance to the industrialized work ethic. We have all the values of the Greek hearth but none of the culture. Seven days a week, we get up at dawn and work 12-14 hours. No breaks. No vacations (yet!) It’s hard to find the time to gather.
Sometimes, we get tired. We’re looking down years of slow growth and intense labor. This is what it is to build a business from nothing. On our best days, we embrace our bootstrapped scarcity full throttle. Other days, we quietly share fantasies of ease and comfort. It’s a fine needle to thread.
Our study of Greece reminded us of what it means to live in this time. Each of us has a responsibility to the future inhabitants of this world. Each of us has to use the tools we come to for good. The two of us have only our arts of agriculture, wine, and storytelling. This is our arsenal for changemaking. It’s a challenging path, but it’s the only one we know how to walk.
We came across a Greek word this month: philotimo. It literally means “love of honor." More generally, philotimo means a sense of what’s right. It’s the ethical compass that drives us to do and be good.
We believe in philotimo. Everything we do on our farm is done in the service of our community. We made our CSA a delivery subscription so that everyone could benefit. We started a nonprofit called The People’s CSA that connects underserved individuals with fresh, local produce. We write about cooking and making because these are the arts that make us human. Above all else, we want to preserve what makes us human.
We spend a lot of time thinking about role of community in building a better future. What could it look like if we could work together in a more deeply collaborative way? Maybe this newsletter will spark some answers.
What We’re Thinking About
We’re both mulling over Ezra Klein’s podcast episode What Communes and Other Radical Experiments in Living Together Reveal. As farmers and entrepreneurs, we constantly run up against the financial and temporal barriers to entry. From the cost of land to the buy-in for production equipment, our market isn’t made for aspiring agrarians.
We know too many other farmers and makers in the same small boat. Our society loves the romanticized image of the visionary farmer, but few understand how precarious the road to an agricultural lifeway can be.
We dream of a shared space: land shared and businesses mutually built. We imagine a setting in which we share equipment and buildings and labor, each benefiting the other, all living in a sense of cooperative intentionality. We dream of making beautiful things that wake people up, and of eventually living a life that allows some measure of rest amidst busy days.
We walk this path one step at a time. One day, we’ll get there.
What We’re Eating
“I’m addicted to our last Greek recipe of the month, a Broccoli-Lentil Salad. It’s hearty and filling without being too terribly rich. I’m a total lentil convert now. The broccoli florets (roasted with plenty of aromatic red scallions) are little bonus bites along with the earthy lentils.”
“I’m really excited by our take on Hortopita, where we used horseradish greens to fill the pie. Not infrequently we feel a pushback when any week’s CSA share has multiple cooking greens—as both a Southerner at heart and as a lover of Mediterranean foods, I am always dumbfounded by this. Further, nothing is more sustainable as when you can eat the whole plant, and so championing horseradish, in this case for its greens, strikes a cord for me. Pile in salt, olive oil, feta, and loads of fresh herbs, and my enjoyment well fills.”
What We’re Drinking
“Can I plug my own wine here? I’m really happy with how our 2022 Solstice Plum Vermouth came out. The full skin contact of the traminette grapes and santa rosa plums makes it a very textural element in cocktails. Considering the fact that I injured my rotator cuff pitting all of those plums, it seems like a price fairly paid.”
“I’m following Kelly’s lead here and plugging our (possibly) most under-loved wine: 2022 Mentha. So many minty aperitivi are dark, brooding, and intense (think Branca Menta). I love when cocktails utilize fresh herbs rather than citrus to verve the experience, but at the dawn of summer I want that experience to bright and jovial, and our Mentha hits that note for me. While it can certainly play in cocktails, I’ve been taking to pouring 2-3oz, chilled, as a way to wind down after dinner after a long hot day’s work.”
“Jay Shetty is a big name in the self-help. I’d normally shy away from that, but his journey from aspiring monk to mindfulness educator is actually quite striking. I specifically enjoyed how he cites examples from the Bhagavad Gita as they apply to our modern lifestyle.”
“Time management is one of our greatest challenges working in agriculture. With a schedule that’s 90% weather-dependent, we’re constantly rearranging our workload. It always helps to brush up on techniques for streamlining our mental processes.”
“Sharon Salzberg took an uncommon path to mindfulness, and her story is a relatable one. Sharon’s journey is the quest to cultivate kindness towards oneself. It’s a lesson I constantly need to relearn.”
“This novel touches on many of the themes in this month’s newsletter: climate change, Greece, the importance of beauty and connection. Doerr weaves together multiple storylines in a way that is as fun as it is powerful.”
“A wonderfully confounding story about the American Territories and a strong reminder that valuing beauty and culture doesn’t always align with valuing rights and freedoms, and so sometimes only nuanced solutions are actually viable. Well-timed too: falling between Juneteenth and Independence Day.”
Vermuteria Artemisia Playlist
“We put together a playlist for our wine release event earlier this month. We’ve been really feeling these vibes over the course of this month: a nice balance of high-tone and chill, this is continually been revisited as we’ve been cooking, packing CSA shares, or out on the road.”
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