The Root of Passion
Beets are a matter of faith at Gaining Ground Farm
BY Ashley English
After planting variety of beet seeds, Anne and Aaron Grier of Gaining Ground in Leicester watch and wait, both patiently and anxiously, for the Golden Grex, Chioggia, Early Wonder Tall Tops, and Robin seeds to germinate. “I really love direct seeding,” Anne says. “Such an act of faith. I can’t see anything now, but I’m going to water it, and it miraculously comes up, and it’s awesome.”
On their 70 acres of family farmland, the Griers keep the faith daily with a herd of Red Devon cattle, a Jersey milk cow, a flock of chickens, and vegetables growing in rich bottomland soil. Beets are one of the farm’s mainstays, planted monthly from March through early September in a “kind of a revolving door” scenario, Anne puts it.
As winter transitions to spring, she gathers the beet seeds she’ll be planting that year, in- stalls the seed plates—a device that ensures even planting—on her tractor, and climbs aboard. “I do this planting solo,” she says. “Direct seeding is a one-person job. It would be inefficient to tell someone else what to do.”
If all goes according to plan, the first beets are pulled from the field in mid-May. Workers strip off the least attractive leaves, wash the bulbs, and rubber-band them into bunches. Then the beets are either sent to market or bundled into CSA subscription boxes.
Of course, as Robert Burns famously wrote, the best laid plans of mice and men—and in this case, farmers—often go awry. “Our first seeding this year didn’t do too well, and some of the varieties we grow are a lot slower,” Anne says. “Then there’s the leaf spot that makes the leaves look terrible.”
A farm dog named Tinna Winna helps out with another perennial problem: groundhogs. The oversized rodents “love beets, and carrot, and fennel—they’ll mow down some fennel!” Anne says. “We have a really good groundhog-killing dog—keeps the population in check.”
Several years ago, the Griers discovered that not all of their market customers or CSA subscribers share their affinity for beets. In an attempt to win more folks to the beet-loving side, Anne took to the farm’s blog.
“I know many folks who love beets any way they are presented,” she wrote. “I know some folks who deeply dislike beets, mostly related to a childhood experience. I urge you to give them another try.” Those words of beet evangelism were linked to several beet-centric recipes and a website rife with information on the nutritional benefits of the root vegetable.
These days the Grier family, and perhaps a good number of Anne’s converts, enjoy beets in every possible permutation. I share that passion, as do my husband and young son. Roasted, steamed, pickled, chopped into relish, or—as I’m sharing here—rendered into crispy chips, I’ll take beets any way I can get them.
Planting a seed is a gesture of profound and abiding confidence, a hope for that which is invisible to be made manifest. The simple act of seed-sowing faith undertaken at Gaining Ground yields a harvest I can truly get behind, especially when those seeds grow into Beta vulgaris. I don’t need any coaxing to proselytize the wonders of beets. In my case, Anne Grier is simply preaching to the converted.
Ashley English is the author of Handmade Gatherings: Recipes and Crafts for Seasonal Celebrations and Potluck Parties. Visit her website, smallmeasure.com.
Anne and Aaron Grier of Gaining Ground Farm. Photos by Erin Adams.