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Adventures in agriculture

Berkshire County, Massachusetts, where I’ve lived since 1989, is farm country. The next town over from Lanesboro is Cheshire, MA, whose town center includes the Cheese Press Monument. The cast concrete cheese press is a reminder of the efforts of the dairy farmers of Cheshire in 1801, who donated a day’s milk production to make a giant cheese as an inaugural gift for President Thomas Jefferson. The milk from “nine hundred or more ‘Republican’ cows” produced a 1,200 pound cheese that had to be delivered to the White House via sledge because it was too large to be loaded into any available carts – as a result, it was delivered on New Year’s Day, 1802, after sufficient snowfall made cheese transport possible.

The Berkshires are actually more famous for raising sheep than for dairy cattle. In Hayward’s New England Gazetteer of 1839, the author noted, “This county is rough and hilly in many parts, but it affords considerable very fine land, and produces much wool, all sorts of grain, and exports great quantities of beef, pork, butter, &c. The number of sheep in this county in 1837 was 136,962.” At that point, the county’s population was about 40,000, implying a 3.5:1 sheep to person ratio, which approaches the contemporary Australian ratio.

Organic Rocks
Organic rocks, recently harvested in Lanesboro, MA

Note that most of the commodities mentioned in the Gazetteer are animal, not vegetable products. You don’t need to plow to raise dairy or sheep, and this is a critical factor in making agricultural decisions in the Berkshires. It’s very difficult to cultivate any crops in our soil without a healthy harvest of our most plentiful agricultural resource: the rock.

I spent much of this weekend harvesting a fresh harvest of organic rocks, pictured above. My original intent was to clear and turn over about a quarter acre of land so I can plant apple trees. I rented a Barreto 918, a machine referred to by the company that rented it to me as “the beast”, a 9HP, 210 kilogram monster designed to turn over soil 30 cm deep. It’s a very disconcerting feeling to have almost five hundred pounds of hot metal leaping out of your hands every time it encounters a substantial rock.

Midway through the process, I realized that I was clearly trying to farm the wrong crop. With a market for organic vegetables, organic milk, organic meat, it’s clear that the only obstacle to my roadside stall selling organic rocks is widespread misunderstanding of proper rock preparation and usage. As recently pointed out on my Flickr page by “plussed”: “Pan fried in some olive oil with garlic and a bit of white wine they can be great….”

Plussed is, of course, a New England native, experienced with rock preparation, cultivation and enjoyment. But I realize that many possible customers are less experienced in cooking with rocks. With that in mind, I offer an old family recipe for Pasta con la Pietre:

1 pound smooth rocks, preferably organic
6 cloves garlic
1 yellow onion, minced
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1 bunch italian parsley
2 cups white wine
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound pasta

Carefully wash rocks, removing dirt and small rocks. Place in the bottom of 8 quart stockpot, fill halfway with water. Bring to a boil, hold at rolling boil for five minutes. Drain rocks and transfer to sautee pan. Add oil, garlic and onion to rocks and sautee over medium heat until onions are lightly browned. Add white wine and red pepper flakes, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate burned garlic and onion into the liquid. Simmer over medium heat to reduce liquid, until rocks are lightly glazed.

Boil pasta in salt water until al dente. Drain, and toss with chopped parsely and contents of the sautee pan. Remove rocks and serve. Serves four.

6 thoughts on “Adventures in agriculture”

  1. You familiar with Donald Vermeer’s work on geophagy in Ghana and Nigeria? There’s a clay from Uzalla that’s pretty close in composition to what used to be the active ingredient in Kaopectate. So there’s obviously market potential here…

  2. I farm a field where boulders lie
    touching as a basket full of eggs,
    and though they’re nothing anybody begs
    I wonder if it would not signify
    to send some to you, out where you live,
    wind soil to a depth of thirty feet,
    clean as flour through a baker’s sieve…

    R. Frost, envying upstate NY. :-) You could take up stone wall building; it’d go well with orchards.

  3. I assume every culture tells a story about the poor funny person getting fed by teaching the stupid how to make rock soup. We (western Jews) call him Herschelle. Arabs call him Jucha.

  4. You may *think* it’s a joke, but that’s totally what I’m serving the TV night crowd this Sunday. Or it would be, if I could only get some good Berkshire organic rocks.


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