|Jean Ann Pollard, CSA owner and author of The Simply Grande Gardening Cookbook, gave a delightful talk at Spring Growth about the history and uses of produce grown on her farm. English photo.|
MOFGA’s Spring Growth Conference, March 23, 2002, Unity, Maine
Jean Ann Pollard followed Doug Flack’s talk by complimenting him in his abundance of interesting information and then stating that both she and her husband are vegetarians. She explained that her husband is a follower of Gandhi, “so that takes care of him;” and that she has reached the point where she “can’t think of killing an animal,” at least not a four-legged one.
Pollard grew up on the 100-acre farm that her parents bought in Winslow, Maine, in 1934. When she was younger, she could and did raise, kill, pluck, eat – and thank – her own chickens. However, her philosophy of food changed when she was living in North Africa and had to feed her family. (She and her husband, hydrogeologist Peter Garrett, have two children.) Her mother had had cancer and her father had died of heart disease. “I thought, hmmm, there’s probably one thing in our lives that I can control, and that’s what I feed my family.” Then, “the reality of meat in Libya,” where Pollard and Garrett were for a while, fixed her vegetarianism. To buy meat there, “you go along to a garagetype place. Out behind is a sheep and camel standing out there waiting.” In front of the building is a table with the carcasses of slaughtered animals, which may sit on the fable all afternoon until someone buys a piece. Meanwhile, flies sit on the carcasses – and to control the flies, the butcher would spray the carcasses with DDT, which a U.S. corporation had sold to Libya, even though the poison was banned here. “That set me on the road to vegetarianism,” said Pollard.
“At first I cheesed us to death.” Later she learned to combine grains and beans to make complete proteins, and to serve lots of vegetables for vitamins and minerals. “The family is very healthy,” she reported. Her two children are now in their twenties.
Back in Winslow, Pollard inherited the family farm, where she and Garrett now live. Its heavy clay soil has been amended with “lots of compost” and organic matter over the years. “We’re lucky to have manure from a farm next door,” said Pollard. Garrett does most of the vegetable gardening when he isn’t doing hydrogeology, while Pollard is a writer, artist, and does most of the cooking, and tends the lawn and flowers. As if that weren’t enough, Garrett said to Pollard one day, “I think a CSA is a great idea!” So they started a CSA. “This really satisfies my husband particularly, because he wants to create community – and we’ve got community!”
Their CSA garden consists of a little more than an acre of certified organic vegetables. Their 20 subscriber families come to the farm on Saturday morning to pick up their vegetables, which are in a container that the subscriber left and Pollard and Garrett filled. Subscribers bring an empty container each week and take away a full one.
Two of their shareholder families are working shareholders, and this summer they’ll have a Colby College student helping who wants to learn about vegetable farming. The farm also feeds eight older people, and leftover food is donated to the Muskie Center in Waterville. If the work gets overwhelming on occasion, shareholders pitch in. “If there are too many peas, we call our families and ask for help,” said Pollard.
Shareholders come not only to pick up their produce, but to visit the gardens, the growers, and each other. “These people hang out on Saturday morning with us, and they talk and they bring their kids. They have a great time. They get all their vegetables together, and I cook pancakes, and we have a party for anyone who wants to stay.”
A Cookbook Evolves
Many of their shareholders are college professors “who often do not know how to grow things or even how to cook. They are very busy, and they have kids who don’t know that carrots come out of dirt!” said Pollard. Not surprisingly, then, many of these shareholders don’t know what to do with, say, celeriac or leeks. So Pollard started handing out recipes with whatever new vegetables were available each week, and eventually she had enough for a cookbook. Thus, The Simply Grande Gardening Cookbook was born. (Pollard was not new to cookbook writing; her previous delectable was The New Maine Cooking; published in 1987.)
With recipes and historical and cultural information about vegetables (Garrett contributed the gardening information), the Simply Grande book is one that can be used and read. Pollard points out the ease of following the recipes, because ingredients are not listed separately from directions; instead they’re in bold within the recipe, so you don’t have to keep looking up at ingredients and down at directions.
Pollard has become fascinated by the history of vegetables. “For instance, when did potatoes come to Maine?” she asked Spring Growth participants. They originated in Peru, she said, then traveled to Europe in 1493, and moved all over Europe. “If you’ve visited Russia, you see houses absolutely surrounded by potato patches. They absolutely depend on potatoes,” she relates, noting that the Irish, too, depended on potatoes. In fact, it was the Irish who brought potatoes to New Hampshire and Maine in 1720. Pollard pointed out that without Columbus, there would be no Italian cuisine “because tomatoes and peppers came from Middle America.” Tomatoes “may have come up from Peru, made their way somehow to Mexico, where they somehow may have crossed with tomatillos and made the tomatoes we know.”
Everyone in the Simply Grande Garden CSA bought the cookbook, and when Pollard and Garrett went to a CSA conference in New York last year, “the word was, every CSA should have one, because all of your shareholders will ask, ‘What do I do with celeriac? What do I do with leeks?'” said Pollard.
The book is arranged by the seasons, so it begins with fiddleheads, lambsquarters and dandelions. “There’s quite a bit of foraging in the book,” Pollard says. “Our shareholders love picking a weed and saying, ‘Oh, we’re eating a weed!'”
Pollard grew up cooking from scratch in a house with a wood stove and no bathroom – “and we were happy, it was wonderful! We didn’t know what we missed!” She learned to cook from her mother and grandmother and is surprised to find that so many young people today do not know how to cook. “It’s something I grew up with that seems like breathing … but it’s a whole new world to so many.” Her CSA customers “are so happy to learn how to cook” and if they see her making bread, they are amazed and want to learn to do it themselves. She says that she thoroughly enjoys doing “things that mean planet care and people care. This is a great pathway to be on.”
– Jean English