Adapted from an article in the Napa Valley Register on Feb 13, 2019
On the tail of a wet storm that drenched our state’s still-thirsty soils, I want to share a farmer’s relationship to rain. My husband and I have farmed through one of California’s greatest droughts and through one of its wettest years. Rain, and the lack of it, brings us challenges and solutions all in one meteorological event.
Rain in the winter season brings joy and relief to a farmer and life to a farmer’s land. Rain waters crops and the grass for animals. It replenishes creeks, reservoirs and the water table. It washes away all the summer dust and turns dry grass into decomposing carbon for soil microbes. It forces farmers to take a break from outside work so they can rest or finish indoor projects. Rain is a farmer’s salvation, but it is also our greatest source of struggle.
As we know, rain cannot be ordered ahead of time or planned for. Particularly with our climate’s increasingly erratic behavior, farmers can no longer count on wet winters.
The spring of 2017 marked the end of a five-year drought that ravaged California. While farmers rejoiced at this aquatic relief, it also presented a very challenging spring.
A farmer cannot drive a tractor in the field when the ground is logged with water, at the risk of compacting the soil and destroying hundreds of years of soil structure and microbial diversity. This means farmers may miss the tight window to cultivate their fields and delay the careful planning of crops for the season.
Rain is good for watering plants, but that includes weeds and grass. It never stopped raining during the spring of 2017, and many farmers lost crops to a sea of weeds.
Rain also affects farmers beyond its impact on the crops they grow. Rain turns a field to mud that pulls off our boots when we try to harvest. When someone asks if we can work in the field when it rains, we answer, “We can get in the field. The question is whether we can get out.”
Rain can also hurt our sales at a farmer’s market, as most consumers are sunny-day shoppers. Despite the rain, a farmer will still spend a day harvesting and prepping for a market, wake at dawn, stand in the cold rain all day, and only make half the money he or she would have made on a sunny day.
With all these challenges, you may wonder how farmers ever could love rain. But we still do. Farmers don’t become farmers because it is easy; we do it because it brings us closer to the earth and its temperamental seasons. So when the first rain of the season comes, you’ll see farmers running outside in a T-shirt with a big smile on their face.
I am sharing a recipe for a hearty and healthy soup you can make on a cold, wet day. You can find many of the ingredients at the Napa Farmers Market. And if it’s raining on market day, please remember how much the farmers and other market vendors appreciate your support.
Mushroom-Spinach Soup with Cinnamon, Coriander and Cumin
This recipe by Melissa Clark is adapted from The New York Times.
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-1⁄4 pounds mixed mushrooms (such as cremini, oyster, chanterelles and shiitake), chopped
1⁄2 pound shallots, finely diced
4 carrots, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1-1⁄2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground allspice
5 cups water or broth
2 1⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper
5 ounces spinach
Fresh lime juice, to taste
Plain yogurt, for serving (optional)
Heat 3 tablespoons butter or oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add half of the mushrooms, half of the shallots and half of the carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are well browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and repeat with the remaining butter, mushrooms, shallots and carrots.
Return all the vegetables to the pot and stir in the tomato paste, thyme, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and allspice. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Stir in the water or broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook gently for 20 minutes. Stir in the spinach and cook until just wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.
Using an immersion blender or food processor, coarsely purée the soup. Add lime juice to taste. Thin with water as needed. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Reheat to serve, topping each portion with dollops of yogurt if you like.