Monday, December 7, 2009

Legal Maybe, Unethical for Sure: Hanshaw Road Cell Tower Project

Note: In October 2013 I was contacted by XXXX and asked to take down this post. I have removed all instances of their name.

The XXXX cell tower project on Hanshaw Road behind Ludgate’s Farms Store just keeps whittling away at the surrounding landscape.
I spoke to Mike Ludgate today, and he told me a sleazy tale.

Seems that XXXX needed to take down some of Ludgate’s full-grown trees for an electric power right of way (see photo, taken today) as a followup, not-mentioned-earlier, environmentally-negative impact of this project.

Did they contact Mike, who runs the family business at this location?
No. They found his mom’s phone number and called her.
(Yes, she is the landowner.)

They told her that they “had to have” a right of way agreement signed by her in order to cut down the trees. She said that she could not come to their office, because she had just had surgery and was on medications that prevented her from driving.

“Oh no problem, ma’am,” they replied, and they were over there in a flash, and obtained her signature. Mike found out about this action two weeks later.

Now they have taken out full-grown trees on his property to accomodate higher power poles, leaving one tree-depth as a screen for his property from the road.

Earlier, I was feeling resigned about the fact that they apparently put up the incorrect, non-“green” type of tower at this site, as a technician informed Mike casually last month as the tower was completed.

Now, I want to know: What is the tower they were supposed to put up?
What will it take to require them to take the incorrect one down, and put up the correct one?

I also want to know what additional impacts are planned for this site, that are already resulting in excessive destruction of wildlife habitat and degradation of the wildlife corridor between the Fall Creek Unique Natural Area and the Sapsucker Woods Unique Natural Area.

Is XXXX behaving in an underhanded and punitive manner toward Mike Ludgate and this neighborhood, for having tried to stop this bad project in this vulnerable, neighborhood location?

As Friends of Hanshaw said in their comments on this project, this “upgrade” will benefit only Ithaca residents.
It is already having negative effects on Dryden residents.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Late Spring is Relinquished to Early Summer: The Moving Hand

I learned from the Floating Classroom folks that it isn’t summer in Cayuga Lake until the blue-green algae move to the forefront. Likewise on land, for me the season shifts from late spring to early summer with a taste of the first wild strawberries.

This morning I ate three, as I walked back along the top of the Fall Creek Gorge on the Cayuga Trail after dropping my car off for an oil change in Varna. The berries were not fully ripe, and thus a bit tart, but their wild red berry flavor loosed a flood of 45 year old memories of picking them by the small bucketful in fields filled with grasses and flowers and young white pines, now converted into a lawn, parking lot and business building. Also of the astonishing luxury of mashing a handful of ripe wild strawberries just enough to release the juice, and spreading them on white bread for a quick treat.

As this slow, cool spring has progressed, I have been watching the many areas in my yard and in nearby long-grass pastures for the small white strawberry blossoms that shine out briefly in the grass and then fade, replaced by ripening small berries. I am ready to seek a real harvest this year, moving beyond the tantalizing few berries to the many, so that maybe at least once this season I will get “enough.”

Meanwhile, promise of harvests to come are seen in the wild grapevines flourishing along field edges and in shady and sunny roadside tangles, and in numerous other fruits and edibles that are flourishing as the seasons relentlessly carry us forward.

From March onward to now in mid-June, I have had several felicitous encounters with wild foods as they emerged after the winter, and enjoyed the company of those who manage and harvest them. However I have foolishly but understandably (seeing as how I am working full-time or more) not allowed myself the time to write about each one fully.

Thus a series of regrettably brief summaries will follow, in order that I at least record some part of my enjoyment and explorations from this just-past spring. Topics covered will be (though perhaps not in this order): Nancy’s grape juice, maple syrup and ramps, new plantings for future harvests (raspberry bushes, apple trees and hops), making dandelion wine (“Front Yard” label), violets and nasturtiums, one small peach tree planted by the Cayuga Indians to begin to reverse a 200-plus year old genocide; and the Finger Lakes Permaculture Institute’s sustainable harvest workshops, from which I brought back a small log inoculated with shiitake mushroom spores.

Then I will be able to write about the wonderful early June evening that I and Deb Grantham spent monitoring bats via a Bat Detector on the roof of my car, driving in the full moon’s light across high wild places around Ithaca. Bats are in very bad trouble due to White Nose Syndrome, and this was a small step we could take, helping with a statewide bat census.

And meanwhile we must feel fully confident that it is the right thing to do, to firmly say no to bullying cell tower companies, bullying land developers, and bullying rapacious shale blasting and drilling energy companies and their shady ex-government overlords. It is time to turn that tide back toward what we are for: love of the land, water and air; time to again be unashamedly pro-environment, and to get our excellent environmental laws working once again.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cell Tower: Nature Needs Protection Not Degradation

Dryden Town Board
93 East Main Street
Dryden NY 13053

June 8, 2009

Dear Supervisor Sumner and Dryden Town Board members:

I am writing to thank you for the opportunity to express the concerns of the folks who live in the Hanshaw-Sapsucker area regarding the Verizon cell tower that has been proposed to be built on the Uhls’ property near the Ludgate Farms store. It has been an honor to take part in this process over the past several months and I thank you all for your polite and patient time and attention.

I and others remain convinced that this is the wrong place for a cell tower, and that the Dryden Town Board is within its legal rights to say No to this tower proposal, or to sideline it until after a county-level review process is established.

The bases for a refusal or postponement remain the same: that Dryden would not benefit in any appreciable way from this tower, and yet a Dryden neighborhood would have to bear the impacts, among them lowered property values of nearby homes; and also that a residential neighborhood with Unique Natural areas on both sides is not appropriate for a cell tower, according to your own town zoning criteria.

Below, I address our concerns about the gradual degradation that would soon begin to eat away at this area were a cell tower to be built at this location. I have struggled for weeks on how best to explain this concern to you, and at one point planned to develop a mini-environmental impact statement complete with every type of technical and legal bell and whistle. In the end I decided to simply draw for you a word picture of what we think would inevitably take place as a result of a cell tower being built in this area.

To cut to the chase, we think that a proposal would soon arise to have the area re-zoned for commercial use, with resulting lights, noise, additional traffic and further physical degradation of this quiet residential and valuable natural area.

At present, the wooded property owned by the Uhls serves as a buffer, link, corridor and habitat for wildlife to use between the Fall Creek Unique Natural Area and the Sapsucker Woods Unique Natural Area. Well-used wildlife trails match up across Hanshaw Road. Also, although not mentioned or evaluated in any report, a stream significant enough to merit a culvert under Hanshaw Road runs from the Uhls’ property toward Fall Creek.

It has been argued by some that this area is already degraded by residential development (see tax map attachment) and that thus a cell tower will not do any further damage beyond its immediate footprint. However, we argue that this is exactly the reason why no more development, such as a cell tower, should be added to this vulnerable area.

While cell towers are most appropriately located in already-developed commercial-industrial areas, it is also common that cell towers placed in a wooded natural area soon attract commercial and industrial development around them. Why? Because the very presence of a cell tower signifies that the area is of lower value and is open for development. A cell tower degrades by its very presence.

Do you really want to actively contribute to the decay of this area by saying Yes to a cell tower here? Do you really want to significantly and measurably lower the natural and human values of this area by saying Yes to a cell tower here?

With the half-finished roadway that lies just east of the Ludgate property and the intense residential developer pressure along both the Ithaca and Dryden sides of Sapsucker Woods Road, a cell tower built on the Uhl’s property would be the tipping point to degrade this area into a commercial zoned stretch with a gas station and small shops.

If that happened, the green link – already tenuous – between the two Unique Natural Areas would be irretrievably broken and destroyed. The water quality of the stream flowing off the Uhl’s property to Fall Creek would be degraded. Both the Dryden and Ithaca sides of Sapsucker Woods would be under attack from development. The green buffer so important to the Hanshaw-Sapsucker area would be riddled with holes that would grow rapidly, and the green continuity of the Sapsucker-Fall Creek area would be permanently severed.

Degradation is a slow but inevitable process, once it is set in motion. A cell tower here would be a mortal blow to this vulnerable boundary area. Saying No to a cell tower here means saying Yes to the possibility of a sustainable future for this area, instead of a future of degradation, decay and loss. Please say No to a cell tower in this location.

Sincerely yours,
Hilary Lambert
Nancy Morgan
Stephen Wagner
And other supporters of Friends of Hanshaw-Sapsucker

Winter Cress - Refreshing Late Winter Wild Food

Winter cress is easy to prepare, and provides a refreshing green flavor in the year's colder months. It is mild, amiable, unthreatening, and very good for you.

I took a simple approach to cooking the small bunch that I imported from Kentucky to New York (see previous entry for an account of the massive carbon-eating travels of two small plants): Boil briefly to remove bitterness. Cut it up a bit and saute in (olive) oil with salt and pepper. For about two minutes. Serve as a side dish or in a stir-fry. Add in garlic as desired.

In other words, it's a widely-available-for-the-picking midwinter substitute for spinach and other greens. Euell Gibbons ("Stalking the Wild Asparagus," McKay, 1973) says there are two main forms of this mustard family member. They look just about the same and between them can be found in low wet areas and in fallow fields. Gather the leaves in winter or in very early spring -- later on the leaves are bitter.

One warning: as with all wild food gathering, be careful of environmental problems with the gathering site. For example, I found winter cress in abundance down by Cayuga Lake in early spring, thriving under heavy foot traffic -- on a dog walk trail, next to an industrial site. Leave those alone, as with any plants growing in or near still or flowing water that might be polluted. No, that does not rule out every plant....not quite.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Not Quite Local: Well-Traveled Winter Cress

Being a committed locavore easily becomes confusing. In our complex world one can lose the True Way and get entangled in debates over harrowing questions such as the ethics and ecosystem wisdom of removing the plant and its roots, or of calculating the carbon footprint of transporting local plants long distances; or of re-planting at a distance from a plant’s original location.

I have a story from March that combines all three of these pesky puzzlers.
Nowadays I live in the family house near Ithaca NY. We are moving into spring by building raised beds for vegetables; we transplanted 50 raspberry bushes to the front and back yard; we have signed up for a summer Community Farm Alliance weekly basket of local produce; I started a gallon of dandelion wine yesterday! (More is coming on these topics and others.)

In late March, I drove 823 miles west and south to my cabin in Green County, Kentucky. I needed to catch up with friends, and was worried about the cabin, the home I was working on when the economic imperative of these rough times called me to move back to New York State. This one-room cabin with loft was built with the advice and encouragement of my friend Deb and the math skills and skilled brute strength of my friend Sam. Surrounding the cabin are 25 acres of recovering pasture, woodland and steep bluffs that descend to the Little Barren River.

At the end of the 823 miles, accompanied by two deeply dissatisfied cats, it was a relief to find the cabin as I had left it in early December – in fact, the windows were still open and the dishes were unwashed from last fall, because my car engine had imploded on the way there, just before I had to depart Kentucky for New York State.

I cleaned up, swept out two months of wintertime dead bugs, slept soundly in the deep country silence, and donated books to the Hart County school libraries with my friends from the Bacon Creek Watershed Council. I even locked myself out and had to climb in a secret way, with my cats watching in amazement.

With a pot of chili on the wood stove, I invited friends to visit. Duke drove over from Corbin with his dog Ernie Fletcher (named after an unloved Kentucky governor), and Julian showed up with Will. These two are Kentucky naturalists of the extreme pro-native plants ilk. They argue that a plant should be as local as you can possibly manage – not merely from “the Southeast” or from Kentucky, but if possible from the same Kentucky county, or even closer, to the land it will be planted on. The DNA tracking tools are not available to do this with any accuracy, but when they say native, they mean it.

The Kentucky land that hosts my cabin is far from pristine. Home to Native Americans for centuries before the 19th century Europeans tore it up big-time, the area is now calming back down into wildness, but in two visits Julian has not found anything wonderfully native except for the tall, dense creekside thickets of beautiful Kentucky cane.

However, Julian is no plant snob, and he emerged from the woods with his hands full of a pretty little green plant – roots and all. “Winter cress! Fresh winter cress!” he called as he approached. “Delicious cooked as a winter green! Boil it twice to get rid of the bitterness,” he advised as he gave the plants to me.

To make an 823-mile long story short, the winter cress ended up traveling back to New York State with me, in a cooler atop locally-produced Kentucky ice. What carbon footprint formula is subtle and nuanced enough to calculate the energy cost of digging up a local food, then transporting it that far – and then, after consuming its green parts, re-planting the roots in New York State soil?

I am not up to these subtleties, but next I’ll tell you how to cook winter cress, with thanks to the classic advice and common sense found in Euell Gibbons’ Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1973 reprint).

Cell Tower Siting Should be at the County Level

May 4, 2009

Dear Editor:

We write to encourage readers to tell their elected officials that cell tower siting in Tompkins County should be determined at the county level. A county-wide moratorium on cell tower siting would provide time to develop a task force for intermunicipal coordination of responses to cell tower siting requests from Verizon and other companies.

Why is this important to Tompkins County municipalities? Cell companies are playing off differences in municipal ordinances, siting towers inappropriately. Sites are proposed that degrade community and natural values, benefiting one user group or municipality over others. Meanwhile, large areas of Tompkins County have little or no basic cell coverage.

At recent Dryden Town Board meetings we learned that Verizon will neither discuss long-range planning and siting nor agree to meet community needs, although municipalities and the county have worked hard to accommodate cell company requirements.

We encourage Tompkins County to take the initiative to ensure cell tower coverage that is equable for all areas and protective of neighborhoods, land values and natural areas. We recommend the formation of a citizens group to assist with coordination and communication among the municipalities of TC.

Sincerely yours,

Hilary Lambert
Hanshaw Road
(Dryden resident)

Nancy Morgan
Hanshaw Road
(Dryden resident)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Microwave to Nowhere: Proposed Cell Tower Impacts

Here are two photos that demonstrate how the Verizon cell tower proposed for Hanshaw Road would impact Ludgate Farms Store and the surrounding neighborhood.

The two red balloons were hoisted on April 16 2009 as a demonstration of the approximate height and location of the cell tower, at the request of the Dryden Town Board at its April 2009 meeting.

Keep in mind that the cell tower would not consist of two pretty red balloons with a gap in between, but a metal tower bristling with attachments. There would also be a microwave installation that, as the Verizon rep admitted under questioning from a Town Board member, would point "Nowhere."

Because this demo was arranged at very short notice with nothing like adequate public notice, working residents along Cardinal and Meadowlark Drives on the Dryden side of Sapsucker Woods Road may not get an opportunity to view the pretty red balloons. Hence a photo is provided here of what the tower would look like from midway along Cardinal Drive. The other photo shows the impact to Ludgate Farms Store on Hanshaw Road.

Thank you to the Dryden Town Board and to Verizon for this demo, which illustrates how inappropriate this tower is at this location. It would intrude on Ludgates, on all hikers using the Cayuga Trail across Hanshaw from Ludgates, on all residents along Hanshaw Road to Monkey Run, and for many on Cardinal and Meadowlark Drives.

All the negative impacts would be in Dryden, while the tower would be invisible to the Ithacans who would reap the cell coverage benefits. Meanwhile many areas of Dryden have little or no cell tower coverage -- and stand to gain no more from Verizon over the next 5 - 7 years, according to the Verizon rep at the April Town Board meeting! Remind me again -- what is Dryden getting out of this proposed deal?

Verizon seems to be playing off one municipality against another, apparently hustling to feed its own business strategy and competitive edge while ignoring the real needs of the community it is supposedly here to serve. It claims special legal privileges as a so-called "public utility," but that's a two-way street.

What would Dryden get in return for allowing Verizon to taint this Dryden neighborhood? Absolutely NOTHING.

It is hoped that the municipalities making up Tompkins County can work together in cooperation with Verizon and other cell phone and internet companies for a better, wiser tower placement policy -- starting with this proposed cell tower. There is no right way to do the wrong thing -- and placing a cell tower at this location is the wrong thing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Where the Woods Meet

Where Fall Creek’s woods meet Sapsucker Woods, Hanshaw Road curves between them. A small stream is culverted there under the road, carrying Sapsucker Woods runoff toward Fall Creek. Residents know to take it slow on Hanshaw Road through this wooded corridor to avoid hitting the deer and other wildlife who use the continuous woodland cover to traverse a gap between one county-designated Unique Natural Area (Sapsucker Woods) and another (Fall Creek). Those are probably not the place-names used by animals.

Big birds are often perched in the trees here, maybe for the view to be had at this wooded crest of the long slope up Hanshaw Road from Cayuga Heights, Ithaca and Cayuga Lake in its deep valley below. The wooded corridor at the Hanshaw Road crossing is narrow, just a couple hundred feet wide, but it spreads outward to the north and west into the wetland woods on both sides of Sapsucker Woods Road, surrounding the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Across Hanshaw Road southward, a five-minute walk through the arc of woods that widens between Hanshaw and Freese Roads brings a hiker to the steep crumbling bluffs high above Fall Creek, and onto the Cayuga Trail. Just beyond the woodland edge in old pastures is Cornell’s Dyce Laboratory for Honey Bee Studies.

To the east of this wooded corridor, Hanshaw Road curves around the edge of flat Cornell farm fields, bordered on their southern edge by Fall Creek and its woodland cover and on the north by Sapsucker Woods, old pasture lands, and wooded wetlands that extend along Hanshaw as it takes a sharp turn northward (and Lower Creek Road continues straight). Here again there is a narrow wooded meeting place, between the Hanshaw Road wetlands and Monkey Run woods. Again, Hanshaw Road parts them and a stream, culverted under the road, joins them. The stream travels on next to the hiking trail (beloved by dogs and their owners) that was once Monkey Run Road, downhill to Fall Creek.

West and south of the Sapsucker-Hanshaw woodland corridor, blue-hill vistas can be seen beyond patches of woodland as the open Cornell farmland drops away from both Hanshaw and Freese Roads toward the wooded Fall Creek valley below. Westward and downslope lies Ithaca, its suburban homes infringing upon the edges of Sapsucker Woods.

The northern extent of Sapsucker Woods and the Hanshaw wetlands are abruptly cut off by a strip of intense human development. The heavily-traveled, limited-access Route 13 highway is an ever-humming backdrop to this quiet area. The road severs Sapsucker, Hanshaw and the area’s birds and beasts from wetlands and woodlands to the north. On the north side of Route 13 from Sapsucker Woods is the Tompkins County Airport. Its need for landings, takeoffs, wide beds of flashing lights and extended runways makes it a noisy, light-polluting neighbor for the Hanshaw-Sapsucker area.

Invisible, destructive boundaries cut through the heart of this unified natural area. Sapsucker Woods Road is the border between the Town of Ithaca and Town of Dryden. The southeast border of the Village of Lansing runs east-west across the northern quarter of Sapsucker Woods Road, and contains the airport on the north side of Route 13. This division among three municipal interests has resulted in neglect and misuse on all sides of these arbitrary, highly unnatural straight lines and right angles. An understanding of the whole has been discarded.

From the micro-scale of backyard fences to the international interfaces between countries, borders and margins are places for sloppy land-use at best, and criminal behavior at worst. Farthest from the nearest seat of power and governance, borders are where unwanted land-uses are dumped. At the edges of things, planning and zoning wear thin and can become slipshod, and are more easily set aside for convenience.

Less powerful than residents nearer the center, the human residents of border areas often have the least say in how their land is used. They lose out when land managers and agents of governance are swayed by those with attorneys and a thumb on the scale as the laws are written and the regulations are enforced.

Within the Sapsucker Woods and Hanshaw Road wetlands and woodlands, the non-human residents have the least power and have lost out most of all. Over the past fifty years their land, water and air habitats and travel routes have shrunk and shriveled, severed by new residential roads, Route 13, and airport expansion, and gouged by the bulldozers and bullying of builders who have carved suburbia out of the woodlands and wetlands on the edges of, and driving toward the heart of, Sapsucker Woods.

On the Ithaca side of the line, builders are poised to eat further into Sapsucker Woods very soon, if the planning wizards can be convinced that no real harm will be done. On the Dryden side of the line, businesses were allowed into the wetlands along Hanshaw Road before residential zoning was put in place to slow their spread and impact on this wetland area that feeds Fall Creek. There should not be, but there are, big parking lots and warehouse-sized businesses set on elevated fill pads in the wetlands at Hanshaw Road’s intersection with Route 13.

At the moment (February-March 2009), Verizon is playing games with the governments and planning entities on both sides of the Ithaca-Dryden border, trying to get a (possibly non-complying) cell tower placed on the Dryden side of Sapsucker Woods Road in order to serve Ithaca residents. Verizon proposes to place this tower in that woodland along Hanshaw Road which serves as a corridor from the Fall Creek Unique Natural Area to the Sapsucker Woods Unique Natural Area. The landowner has informed neighbors that if the tower does not go in, he will sell the woodland to a developer.

This immediate situation has prompted me to write this essay, to illustrate how these woodlands, fields, and wetlands make up a unified (though under siege) natural area of semi-wild nodes and corridors between Sapsucker Woods and Fall Creek. I argue that these natural functions outweigh the value to the three adjoining municipalities of continuing to use this area for a dumping-ground of unwanted land uses and zoning waivers.

Our informal group, Friends of Hanshaw-Sapsucker, is made up of neighbors (in Ithaca and Dryden) who see a center here, not edges. We want to protect this wonderful natural area from further fragmentation and neglect. We support the work of the Save Sapsucker Woods group. We invite you to join us.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A locavore salad to kick out the midwinter jams

Call it “late winter” or “pre-spring,” these are difficult weeks with their apparently endlessly repeating pattern of snow, freeze, thaw, rain.

But the deeply cold nights bracketed by dark mornings and afternoons are already giving way to a softer light that lingers longer each day. The snowdrops have poked out of the brown oak leaves beneath the old lilac bush. No season lasts very long: our beautiful planet spins us relentlessly from one to the next, and around again.

While brooding on these verities, a person needs a salad. The soups, stews and other warming dishes of winter can cloy the body and mind, and a sharply sparkling crunchy bowl of fresh-tasting exclamation points helps us begin the climb up and out of midwinter torpor.

How to begin? After only a few months on a strongly-locavore diet, the pallid globes of plastic-wrapped iceberg lettuce trucked in from the distant California desert look a little comical; but their green freshness is a siren’s call.

Feigning deafness to that call (.ie., walking out of the hissing grocery store doors without the damn lettuce), I return home to do a fearless inventory of the refrigerator bins, heavy with locally organically grown root vegetables. With a little bit of work, a near-rainbow of sparkling crunchiness is quickly unleashed.

Cut off a big hunk of knobbly, root-encircled celeriac to release a whiff of fresh energy. Pare off its dull exterior, along with the grimy outer skin of two golden beets, and chop them into small chunks, either by hand or with a bit of mechanical help. Suddenly the kitchen is scented with bright outdoor memories, and the vivid gold of the beets tangle in a heap with the pale white morsels of celeriac.

Chop a chunk of green or red cabbage and a handful of carrots to a slaw texture, and pile them on. A turnip cut small adds bite, as does a white winter radish with its ruby core. Chop fine a garlic clove and chunk of ginger, and stir the whole thing up really well. You now have a wildly colorful, aromatic winter salad that will blast your brain free of its midwinter slump. I’d dress it with olive oil, a dab of sesame oil if you have it, a flavorful vinegar (not much), salt and freshly-ground pepper.

Serve the salad from a big bowl, and set out a few toppings for those who like to complicate matters: raisins or currants, sunflower seeds, walnut chunks, leftover peas or chickpeas, sprouts. My own favorite topping for this crunch-fest is almonds, roasted quickly in a pan and mashed into small chunks.

It’s time to wake up!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Midwinter Locavore Update


Dirty Hairy Salsify

The midwinter locavore is prey to soul-searing temptation at the grocery store: "DON'T touch those hothouse imported tomatoes -- we have parsnips back at the house!"

"It's been ages since we had a bag of potato chips...(long, sorrowful pause)...maybe I can make ... parsnip fries with salsa."

"No mushrooms for us, until we finish the damn salsify."

The parsnips have been the roughest part. Ben says, edge of menace in his voice: "I am ready to be DONE with parsnips." Peggy is dogged with the haunting conviction that they taste like pee (we do not want to know how she knows).

In comparison to parsnips, most of the other vegetables in our weekly box of locally-produced, organically-grown, seasonally-available midwinter vegetables are light and cheerful, and we greet them with comparatively glad cries:"Onions!... a teeny garlic!" "More turnips -- yummm."

Potatoes and the beauteous beet (both purple and golden!) are the gods of this weekly boxed assortment. Celeriac, peeled and used as a root-veg form of celery, is also lovely. Not to mention tart and crunchy big white radishes.

BUT below parsnips lie worse vegetable snakepits.
These are the salsifies. There's salsify, and then there' salsify, or oyster plant. The local farmers who are in this experiment with us to make a better world (and who have to suffer the email and verbal commentary on what they send out each week), have dealt us the black salsify hand in only one weekly delivery -- so far.

That week, I cooked both the salsify -- white tubers that arrived bearing their original soil -- and the black salsify -- black tubers with black skins -- and set bowls of both on the table for us to taste-test. Both salsifies take a lot of rugged preparation: you basically have to shave them (see photo). Cleaning off the dirt and excess skin and rootlets is detail work -- not quick. When you prepare salsify, you are worshipping Mother Nature at her most basic. Digging up and cleaning native sunflower tubers is just a little bit more onerous.

Ben has a frequent diagnosis of "It tastes like dirt!" (and he's a caver, so he knows), and when we sampled the two salsifies we heard that comment quickly, although we were fascinated by the oyster scent and flavor of the black salsify. The white has that 'slightly nutty' flavor found in so many marginalized yet nutritious foods: bland, starchy, filling.

This is Thursday afternoon: a new vegetable box looms, and there's excitement coming our way -- leeks!!

It will be St Michael's Day in mid-March (still a month distant). He's the patron saint of Wales, and the Welsh celebrate their rainy, blustery holiday with leek soup feasts. The Scots wash down their haggis with whisky at Burns night feasts: is there a liquor to brighten leek soup?

Actually this is great fun, and we are learning a lot and liking almost all of it. But we do look forward to the lighthearted joys of spring and summer crops (some of which we grumbled about last year) -- Swiss chard, spinach, and eventually the pinnacle: summer-grown tomatoes, green beans, and corn on the cob.

BUT for now: "Don't touch those tomatoes, we have a whole bin of carrots to work our way through before Thursday."