Guest Columnist Ellen Roggeman Dishes on Agricultural Biodiversity

For several years, Ellen lived in Thailand, where she became interested in agriculture while working on awareness campaigns about the effects of international trade regulations on the lives of small-scale farmers. Currently based in San Francisco, Ellen is completing the final weeks of her two-year stint as a product developer and gardener at McEvoy Ranch. In the following essay, she reflects on the farm’s failed stone-fruit crops this year; rather than letting the low yield portend failure, she came up with a creative solution for launching the McEvoy’s new boutique jam and jelly line. (PS: This will be Ellen’s last contribution from California, as she is relocating south of the Rio Grande, to Mexico, to be her fiancee. Her future posts will likely feature more tequila and tacos–oh, how I hope!)

Oranges

“Let’s just call it a wacky year and forget about the white tape.” That’s what McEvoy Ranch head gardener Margaret Koski-Kent and I decided. Why mark the trees that didn’t bear fruit with white agriculture tape if that would mean flagging 2/3 of the orchard?

Remember that week of summer sometime in May? Well, when it quickly turned back into winter our hopes for summer fruits were dashed. Once a stone fruit tree (think necatrines, peaches, plums) blooms it is very vulnerable. Rain can ruin the buds meaning that fruit never develops. And fruit that does “set” might not ripen if it doesn’t get the heat and day length it needs to sweeten.

So all summer we picked only five trays of peaches, about six very absurd looking necatarines, and maybe ten plums….maybe. Funny year to have started a jam line, no?

Apple Lavender Jelly

But life did give us lots of lemons. So, we made Meyer Lemon Marmalade and Crabapple Meyer Lemon Marmalade and a small batch of Elderberry Meyer Lemon Marmalade.

Lovely things can come from scapping a well-developed plan and then just working with what you have. A nice crop of cherries was turned into Cherry Lemon Verbena jam, which is available at our Ferry Building shop as I type. And an early flush of apples was quickly turned into Pink Pearl Apple jam, Apple & Lavender Jelly, Wild Fennel Applesauce, Apple and Almond Conserve, and other fun creations.

If this was a children’s story I think the moral would be: three cheers for biodiversity! Without it we may have only been able to offer some mint jelly and a “we’ll try again next year.”

Lisbon lemons & plums

It reminds me of the rice farmers in Thailand who first taught me about farming and what it is to depend on a crop for one’s livelihood. They spoke of a day years ago when they grew multiple varieties of rice. From one small province, Surin, there were over 100 varieties of rice grown. Some could float on top of the water in a really rainy year. Others were perfectly happy when water was sparse. So the switch to nearly everyone growing solely Jasmine rice was a dramatic shift. Suddenly if the weather wasn’t right or a pest invaded, a whole crop could be lost in a flash, and with it, a year’s salary.

It’s years like this one which make me thankful that Margaret is committed to biodiversity and that our customers are adventurous enough to try Rhubarb Orange jam instead of the strawberry standard. It wasn’t a typical summer, but it was a creative one, and, hopefully, that creativity will hold us until next summer when, fingers crossed, plums abound.

If you live in the U.S., you can find a selection of Ellen’s newly-released estate food products, including Apple and Lavender Jelly, Rhubarb Orange Jam, Crapapple Meyer Lemon Marmalade, Cherry Lemon Verbena Jam and Tomato Jam, in McEvoy’s San Francisco Ferry Building shop. To order, call +1-415-291-7224.

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