Throughout the growing season, Nat Ratchen waits patiently for a first peek at the crops he’s lovingly nurtured. Ratchen is the Farm Associate at Tufton Farm, which also houses Monticello’s Center for Historic Plants. It’s here that dedicated growers are working to restore farming to Monticello through sustainable agricultural systems and practices. Today, we caught up with Ratchen to experience Tufton’s first harvest of 2019.
Ratchen has spent the past few months preparing, planting, weeding, and watering the garden beds at Tufton Farm. But today is a little different. Today, he gets to see the first payoff of the season – it’s harvest day!
Don’t be fooled, farming isn’t an easy process. Just to weed one of these 100-foot long vegetable beds easily logs 6 – 10 hours. “Some are easier than others,” Ratchen explains. “You’ve got to be careful with a crop like carrots.” To the untrained eye, the top of a carrot and the top of a weed look a lot alike. Sometimes it takes years of experience and patience for mistakes. “You’ll think you’re weeding and next thing you know, all the carrots are gone!”
It takes a sharp eye. But if you’ve got what it takes, you might spot what you’re looking for.
Ratchen brushes aside a few leaves to uncover what he’s been waiting all spring to see. A few moments later, he pulls a handful of these red beauties from the ground!
Radishes are grown all over the world, but they were originally domesticated in Europe during pre-Roman times. There exists countless varieties of radishes, varying in size, color and flavor, but one thing remains true about them all: they’re delicious and absurdly nutritious. After the radish harvest, Ratchen stows all of the vegetables at the washing station and heads back out for a second round of picking. This time, he’s tackling the garlic.
By the end of winter, it’s no wonder we’re so exhausted of root vegetables. Green garlic is a wonderful signal of the beginning of spring.
Before garlic grows into separate cloves, it starts out as a green stalk. Though you can eat both parts of the baby garlic – the green and white – Ratchen prefers cutting off the green stalk in favor of the tastier white bulb.
After the garlic harvest, Ratchen’s last stop was a bed of beautifully green arugula. This unsuspecting leaf offers a lot of flavor, and even packs some spicy heat. Similar to kale and spinach, arugula is a perennial favorite in the family of green edibles.
All of the plants harvested here at Tufton Farm are washed and sent up the hill to Farm Table, a café located at Monticello’s David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center. At our café, our talented chefs transform the produce into deliciously fresh dishes showcasing the bounty of our land, reflecting Jefferson’s own enthusiasm for local agriculture, seasonal produce and his reputation for hospitality.