Organic Intensive, Jan. 6: Diverse Grains for Farms and Homesteads

In his role on the Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance board, John has been working to coordinate a day-long workshop on growing grains in Michigan. Serious gardeners and homesteaders, as well as farmers interested in developing markets for small grains will find this a valuable educational opportunity. A full description of the workshop follows. Early bird registration ends December 15!

Diverse Grain Options for Farms and Homesteads

If a truly sustainable and resilient food system requires a rich diversity of food crops, then it follows that small grains should be an important component of that diversity.  Small grain rotations coupled with legumes can contribute significantly to the soil health of our gardens and farms.  This organic intensive on small grains hopes to encourage the growth of this localized grainshed through skill building, exploring marketing strategies, and building networks.

The morning sessions will feature John Sherck of Sherck Seeds in Bristol, Indiana.  John’s focus will be on the backyard garden/homestead model of growing small grains. He has done remarkable work with many heritage and landrace varieties of rice, wheat, rye, and barley, among others.  John’s model points out the vital role small-scale growers can play by trialing these varieties and increasing seed supply.  Most importantly, he insists that we will not save this genetic diversity until it is fully re-integrated into our local food system. Essentially, we need to eat these crops to preserve them.

After lunch, Tom and Vicki Zilke will team up with Megan Phillips Goldenberg of Growth Associates and Macon Creek Malthouse.  Tom and Vicki run a CSA and farmstand and have used small grains in their rotations. They will talk about their organic oat project and the challenges of producing food-grade grains.  Megan has organized a niche grain workshop to encourage networking between grain growers and local markets.  Their project is an important model for supporting small grain growers and connecting them with local niche markets.

Later in the afternoon, Ashley McFarland, coordinator of the Upper Peninsula Research and Education Center will focus on their organic grain project. They are trying to encourage more organic production of food grade grains and livestock feed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Ashley has also done a great deal of work helping to encourage the growth of small grain production across the entire state.

If we take note of the phenomenal growth of craft breweries and distilleries in the state, that model teaches us that all parties must have a seat at the table to ensure ongoing success.  In that light, we encourage gardeners, homesteaders, farmers, artisan bakers, brewers, millers, and maltsters to attend this workshop and play a significant role in promoting small grains in our local economy. The last part of the afternoon will feature a roundtable of participants, including some MOFFA board members, which will focus on strengthening this network of collaboration.

For more details and to register visit www.moffa.net/oi-2018.html.  A limited number of scholarships for educators and others are available; please moffaorganic@gmail.com if you would like to apply for one.

For further questions about the content of the workshop, contact John Edgerton at jbledgerton@gmail.com or 269-870-0152.

—John Edgerton
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Sabbatical Season

Six days of work are spent

To make a Sunday quiet

That Sabbath may return.

 –Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997

 

But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the Lord: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land. And the sabbath of the land shall be meat for you.

–Leviticus 25:4-6, King James version

 

How precious this Sunday morning moment, looking out my study window at light rain tapping the pond, the red beacons of sumac berries along the bank, the black stalks of frosted ragweed standing like sentries at the field’s edge. Across the pond in the orchard, a few patches of green among the bare branches where the apple trees have not yet fully relinquished their leaves.

Today is not really a sabbath day for me, despite its being a Sunday. I have grading and lesson planning and un-counted emails to respond to before the press of Monday morning arrives. I have learned that a minute, an hour, or a morning can serve as a Sabbath as well as a day, a month, a year. But how we have to fight for our moments of rest and reflection in this culture of constant crisis and seemingly ever-increasing speed!

At the beginning of this seventh year of Harvest of Joy Farm, John and I declared a sabbatical season. We weren’t able to make ourselves follow the strict biblical directives of keeping our hands entirely out of the soil, however. Instead, we took a sabbatical from the marketplace, suspending produce sales so that we could indulge in projects that simply fed our curiousity and nurtured our souls. What luxury to garden just for fun! We eagerly brainstormed a list of projects that we could finally make time for, freed from the contraints of growing for market. As the list ranged down the length of one page and spilled onto a second, we had to remind our selves that part of the purpose of a sabbatical is rest!

And we did rest, yes we did, in between plugging logs with Shiitake mushroom spawn; raising a new flock of ducklings; bench grafting apple trees and creating an apple tree “nursery” in the old strawberry patch; planting a new strawberry patch; beginning the process of revitalizing an old asparagus patch; cultivating new crops such as upland rice, grain amaranth, and several varieties of dry beans; tearing out old fencing; and making compost.

Some of these projects may ultimately result in crops that make it into our CSA rotation; others are too labor-intensive on a small scale to grow profitably in the current market. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have value for us and our community. One of our personal goals is to increase our own food sovereignty by growing much of our own diet, including proteins and grains. Even if we aren’t able to profitably sell crops like rice and dry beans, we can support other local folks who want to grow them for their own use by offering seeds and support.

One of my most rewarding summer activities was participating in an online seed-saving course with Haudenosaunee seed keeper Rowen White, who provided teachings in the practice, ethics, and history of seed stewardship. This class connected me with a network of folks working to reclaim the means and methods of seed production in their backyards, farms, and communities. Inspired, I turned our back room (formerly known as the “orphanage for lost nails and screws”) into a “seed room,” where jars of seeds we saved this season sit alongside those we’ve purchased. I’m excited about continuing to learn and grow my seed stewardship skills in the coming year.

As I reflect back on this sabbatical season, there is a lot left undone on that beginning-of-the-year project list. But if I had to pick my favorite part of this summer, it wouldn’t be a long-anticipated task completed. It would be the mornings when I took my teacup to the garden and sat between the arugula and pepper plants as the sun rose behind the eastern treeline. The arugula, wet with dew and covered with tiny yellow flowers, buzzed with bees, syrphid flies, and other pollinators. Hummingbirds fought over the nearby runner bean blooms. Swallows flew in great cursive loops over the pond, snapping up mosquitoes. These moments were small sabbaticals in the course of each day and I found myself spontaneously offering the garden a song of gratitude before returning to the house and the day’s tasks.

We are looking forward to reviving the CSA next season and probably hosting a Saturday farm stand as well. It will be a busy year. I want to find ways to carry this sabbath spirit with me into the busyness, to find moments each day to pause in my work and rest deeply; to let the beauty around me feed my soul as much as the beans and greens feed my body. For each of you, our community members, I wish the same: that your bodies be fed from this good earth and that you have moments of rest and beauty which nurture your souls. We look forward to growing your food again next season!

Bumbleebee in the Amaranth

One of my delights this season: watching pollen-covered bumblebees in the Fercita amaranth flowers! Can you spot the bee in the yellow flowers?

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CSA Newsletter: Week 13, 2016

More than a few days late, but here’s our newsletter from September 8:

Dear CSA members,

Here it is, your final weekly share of the season! Thanks for giving us the opportunity to grow food for you again this season. Next week, once I’ve settled into my school routine, I’ll be sending out a short survey asking for your feedback on our CSA so that we can take that into consideration as we plan for next year. One thing we’ve realized through past surveys—everyone likes really different things! For instance, some of you make kale a regular part of your diet. Others of you wouldn’t miss it if you never had to eat kale again. We’ve tried to offer more flexible shares through the “fill your own” shares at the farm in response to this. Perhaps you have other idea for how we could make the CSA more valuable to you—we’d love to hear them!

One disappointment this year is that the blue potatoes didn’t do as well as we’d hoped. I’m not sure why, except that they were planted on a sandy slope and perhaps didn’t get as much water during that dry spell as the other potatoes. We’ve got just a few for you to sample today but we’ll definitely plan on growing them again next year. They are a nice all-purpose potato, as are the Kennebecs. I like them baked, boiled, or in soups like this classic from epicurious.com:

Portuguese Kale Soup

Ingredients: 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided; 1/2 pound chouriço or linguiça (smoked Portuguese sausages) or kielbasa, cut into 1/2-inch pieces; 1 medium onion, chopped; 2 garlic cloves, minced; 1 pound russet (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces; 6 cups water; 1 pound kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves very thinly sliced

Accompaniment: piri-piri sauce or other hot sauce.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then brown sausage, stirring often, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add 2 tablespoon oil to fat in pot and cook onion and garlic with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper over medium heat, stirring often, until browned, 7 to 8 minutes.

Add potatoes, water, and 1 teaspoon salt and simmer, covered, until potatoes are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Mash some potatoes into soup to thicken, then add kale and simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in sausage and cook until just heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper.

And if you like Indian flavors, try this with the last of your tomatoes and eggplant. It’s a little involved, but really good. I would try substituting parsley for the cilantro, since that’s what I’ve got right now. It is adapted only slightly from www.manjulaskitchen.com:

 Aloo Baingan (Potato and Eggplant)

Ingredients: 1 medium purple eggplant (baingan), un-peeled, cut into 1/2″ cubes; 2 medium russet potatoes (aloo), peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes; 4 medium tomatoes (tamatar) cut into 1/2″ cubes; 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (hara dhania); 1 tablespoon oil; 1 teaspoon cumin seed; 1 chopped green chili adjust to taste; 1 teaspoon ginger or ginger paste (adrek); 1 tablespoon coriander powder (dhania powder); 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (haldi); 1/2 teaspoon paprika (dagi mirch); 1 teaspoon salt, adjust to taste; 2 tablespoons water; Oil for frying

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Frying pan should have at least 1 1/2 inch of oil. To check if the oil is ready, put one piece of potato in the oil. The potato should sizzle right away. If vegetables are fried in low heat they will be very oily.

Fry the potatoes till they are cooked through, turning the potatoes few times while frying. Take out potatoes with a slotted spoon (this allows excess oil to drip back into the frying pan) and place on a paper towel. Test the oil again with a piece of eggplant. Fry the eggplant pieces same way.

In a small bowl, mix the shredded ginger, green pepper, coriander powder, paprika, turmeric, and 2 tablespoons of water to make a paste.

Heat the 1-tablespoon of oil in a pan. Test the heat by adding one cumin seed to the oil; if seed cracks right away oil is ready.

Add cumin seeds and after seeds crack, add the spice mixture and stir-fry for a minute until you see the oil start to separate from the spice mixture.

Add chopped tomatoes and stir-fry for a minute. Then add fried potatoes and eggplant and mix gently. Let simmer for three to four minute on medium low heat. If needed, add 3-4 spoons-ful of water to moisten. Turn off the heat and add chopped cilantro mix it well.

We look forward to seeing and celebrating with you on October 15!           Amy & John

Posted in 2016 Newsletters, Cilantro, CSA, Eggplant, Kale, Potatoes, Recipes, Tomato, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

CSA Newsletter: Week 12, 2016

Our newsletter from September 1:

Dear CSA members,

The first of September already! This is the time of year when I look back on the season and wish I had a time machine to transport me back to Spring so I can fix all of the mistakes we made and try out all of the new ideas I learned over the summer. But that’s what next year is for!

Next week will be our last regular distribution for this season. We hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of our farming adventures this year. Speaking for myself, this has been one of the most enjoyable seasons since I started this business. Usually at this time of year, I am exhausted and not at all sure that I ever want to do this again! But we did a much better job of managing our time and energy this year, so I’m actually looking forward to next season for the first time in several years. We also took the time to attend workshops and visit other farms this summer, which has given me new ideas that I’m excited about—tools and growing techniques that I think will help us be more efficient, which means that we’ll have more time and energy to devote to producing better quality and more diverse crops for you.

Of course, there are lots of things I wish we’d done differently this year and lots of crops I wish had turned out better in one way or another. We continue to struggle with pests that burrow into roots, like onion maggots, carrot flies, and seedcorn maggots. Our plan this year was to grow all of our onion crops at John’s farm, hoping that the flies wouldn’t be as bad over there. But we don’t have a good way water to crops there, so that long dry spell wiped them out. Seedcorn maggots knocked out a big portion of our melon crop early in the year and even though we were able to get some carrots to you, we could do a lot more if the carrot flies weren’t giving us heck.

We’ve tried a variety of strategies for dealing with these root pests over the past couple of years with minimal success. Over the winter, I’m going to do a little research into using predatory nematodes to control them. It’s an expensive technique and I’m always a little cautious about importing organisms onto the farm, even beneficial ones, because sometimes they interact with the ecosystem in unanticipated ways. But I really want to find a solution to these beneath-the-soil pests. I miss onions and I miss leeks! We used to grow big beautiful leeks before the onion maggots showed up. I want to find a way to be able to do that again.

Speaking of insect pests, you may have seen my email this morning regarding earworms in the corn. If you didn’t, well—there are earworms in the corn. This isn’t surprising, since it’s really hard to grow corn organically and not have earworms. There are more of them than I’d like to see this year, though, and I’m sorry about that. As I mentioned in my email, the good thing about earworms is that they usually eat at the tip of the ear, so you can just break off the part they are on and the rest of the ear will be fine.

Of course, you can just boil or grill your corn and slather it in butter and salt. But if you want to try something different, you could make this salad:

Fresh Corn and Tomato Salad

Ingredients:  9 ears of corn (cooked, cut off the cob, cooled); 6-7 tomatoes cut up / cubed; 1/4 cup chopped basil; 1/4 cup (or less) Italian dressing; Tsp salt

Mix tomatoes, salt, basil, and dressing in bowl. Add corn. Serve immediately or put in fridge to serve cold.

Thanks to Kerry for sharing this recipe with us! Since our basil is mostly done now, I think I’ll try this with parsley instead. Cilantro could be good too, if you have that.

Even though the weather has cooled, the eggplants still keep producing. They’ve actually done a lot better than even the zucchinis this year. I don’t think I’ve put my baba ganoush recipe in a newsletter yet this year, so here it is. It makes a great potluck dish and is a good way to use up any quantity or types of eggplants that might be languishing in your crisper drawers:

Baba Ganoush

Ingredients: Eggplant; Lemon Juice; Tahini (sesame butter); Olive oil; Garlic.  Optional: Salt, Parsley or Cilantro, Chili Powder, Cumin, Olives

Some people like a smoky flavor in their baba ganoush and so char the eggplant skins over the flame on their gas oven, under the broiler, or on the grill before roasting them. If you don’t want the smoky flavor, skip this step. Cut the eggplants in half and place cut side down on an oiled baking sheet. Roast in the oven at about 375-400 degrees F until the eggplant is soft. Cool, scrape the pulp out of the skin and place it in a blender, food processor, or bowl. Add tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt to taste and blend or mash until smooth. I’d start with a couple tablespoons tahini, one small garlic clove, the juice of half a lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil per medium-sized eggplant and go from there. Add any of the optional stuff you like and anything else that sounds good to you. Serve as a dip with pitas, crackers, chips, or sliced veggies. Or spread on your favorite bread. Since I have a digestive sensitivity to garlic, I make a variation on this which involves blackened jalapenos and chopped tomatoes instead of garlic. Some people add roasted red pepper and onion to the mix as well. Go nuts.

I’ll be sending out more information on this later, but for those of you who need to plan ahead, our harvest party will be on the afternoon of Saturday, October 15. We hope to have some winter squashes and apple cider for you at that time, along with our regular potluck/hayrides/bonfire celebration. Fingers crossed for some lovely fall weather this year!

Have a great week!                             Amy & John

Posted in 2016 Newsletters, Basil, Cilantro, Corn, CSA, Eggplant, Parsley, Pest Management, Recipes, Tomato, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

CSA Newsletter: Week 11, 2016

Our newsletter from August 25:

Dear CSA members,

Ah, some cooler weather at last! That certainly has made this harvest morning more pleasant, despite the humidity. As I was cutting parsley for you this morning, I had to pick around a half a dozen or more Black Swallowtail caterpillars munching on the parsley leaves. Black Swallowtails are my favorite garden pests. You’ve probably seen the butterflies—they are the black ones whose wing-fringes look bejeweled with yellow and blue spots. The caterpillars feed on Queen Anne’s lace (wild carrot), but they also love domestic carrots, dill, and parsley. The caterpillars look really cool too—they start out looking black with a white band around their middle, but as they grow their colors expand into green and black stripes with yellow spots. I’m always happy to share a bit of the garden with them in exchange for the extra bit of beauty they add to the farmscape.

The tomato vines are starting to suffer from early blight spread about by all of the rain over the past couple of weeks. But as the leaves die back, the plants are working hard to reproduce and ripen up their fruits. There will probably be fewer tomatoes over the next couple of weeks, but for this week, there are more than plenty to go around. John has done several batches of roasted tomato and vegetable sauce to freeze up for the winter. Here’s his recipe for basic roasted tomato sauce:

John’s Roasted Tomato Sauce

Ingredients: Tomatoes, Olive Oil

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Core and then halve tomatoes. Lay them with cut side up on an oiled cookie sheet. Bake 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of the tomato. Take tray out of the oven and pour off liquid. Reserve the liquid. Flip tomatoes over and bake for another 30 minutes. Cool slightly, then run tomatoes through the food processor, adding reserved liquid to make the sauce whatever consistency you desire.

After you’ve made the basic sauce, you can add to it whatever herbs and spices you’d like. A couple of weeks ago John made the roasted tomato sauce and then added lots of chopped fresh basil. Then he grilled sliced eggplants and topped them with the sauce and parmesan cheese. It tasted like eggplant parmesan, but was much simpler and less soggy.

If you’ve got extra zucchinis, eggplants, or peppers languishing in your refrigerator, you can roast them up in the same way as the tomatoes (brush their tops with a little olive oil when you stick them in the oven) and then blend them up with the tomatoes to make a roasted veggie sauce with lots of flavor. You can use it fresh or freeze it for winter use. It also makes a great base for enchilada sauce if you add some garlic, chili powder, and cumin.

A couple of our friends made us dinner this past week with some of the leftover vegetables from last week’s distribution. It was a simple, satisfying supper based around this salad:

Pasta & Vegetable Salad

Ingredients: Garlic, Olive Oil, Tomatoes, Sweet peppers, Cucumbers, Scallions or Onions, Penne Rigate pasta (the tube kind with the ridges), Grated Parmesan cheese, Salt & Pepper, Basil or Parsley.  Optional: protein such as shrimp or chicken

Mince garlic and soak in a few tablespoons of olive oil until the oil has absorbed the garlic flavor. Cook pasta al dente. Rinse and drain. Chop vegetables and add to pasta. Drizzle with garlic-infused oil and toss to coat. Stir in chopped basil and/or parsley, salt & pepper to taste, and parmesan cheese. Our friend also tossed in some cooked shrimp, but you could add chicken as well or simply leave out the protein altogether.

This might go really well with the gazpacho soup John made earlier this week, which was really flavorful and refreshing. It’s a variation on a gazpacho recipe from the Moosewood Restaurants Favorites cookbook:

Gazpacho

Ingredients: 1 quart chilled tomato juice, 1 cup diced cucumber, 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes, ¼ cup finely chopped scallions, 1 minced garlic clove, ¼ cup fresh lemon juice, 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil, 2 tsp ground toasted cumin seeds, 1 tsp salt. Optional: tabasco or other hot sauce, cubed ripe avocados.

Combine all ingredients in a big bowl or pot and chill for at least an hour. John threw everything in the food processor and chopped it up that way rather than doing everything by hand. He also put in some sweet pepper. You can vary this to your liking by using different vegetables and herbs. It’s good with a dollop of sour cream in the middle. You might also sprinkle on toasted bread crumbs, tortillas, or crackers for texture.

Enjoy!             Amy & John

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CSA Newsletter: Week 10, 2016

Our newsletter from August 18:

Dear CSA members,

The old adage “when it rains it pours” seemed just a bit too literal this past week. Of course we are grateful for the rain, but I was sloshing through puddles between the tomato rows this morning and that’s just a bit too much!

On the bright side, the rain sprouted more of the buckwheat we seeded as a cover crop and that’s off to a good start, outrunning the weeds so that we’ll have some nice clean beds to work with next spring. On the not-so-bright side, all this moisture is great for spreading pathogens around like rust in the snap beans and fungal diseases in the tomatoes. Getting so much rain all at once also caused many of the tomatoes to swell and split. We picked the best of them for you today, but it looks like we’ve got a canning project on our hands this weekend to try to use up the ugly ones. If any of you are interested in ugly tomatoes for canning, let us know. We’ll try to pick through the patch either Friday or Saturday to get the badly cracked ones off.

Yesterday I spent the day at Clay Bottom Farm in Goshen, Indiana at a workshop sponsored by the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service. Clay Bottom farmers Rachel Hershberger and Ben Hartman use “lean” principles borrowed from the Japanese automotive industry to make their farming more efficient. I was familiar with lean manufacturing, but I didn’t realize that the foundational principles actually originated with Japanese rice farmers who brought their farming ingenuity into the factories when they took manufacturing jobs.

It might seem a little odd that a person who teaches a class called “Slow Farming” (that’s my senior capstone class at Kalamazoo College) would be interested in “leaning” her farm. But I think we have a lot to learn from these principles, which involve eliminating all kinds of unnecessary waste, both in energy and materials. Ben and Rachel were super-gracious hosts and I came back with many new ideas for restructuring our operation to make better use of our time and energy. One of our goals in shortening the CSA season this year (besides preserving a little bit of my sanity when I go back to teaching) is to have some time this fall to work on some of these projects, including reorganizing storage space, reconfiguring growing and compost areas, and possibly putting up new infrastructure. If we can get some of these projects done this fall, we should be set up for a great start to next season.

In the meantime, if we manage to squeeze in some canning time this weekend, here’s one thing I’ll probably be making:

Tomato Soup

Ingredients: 1/4 bushel or about 35 medium-sized tomatoes; 1/2 dozen onions, chopped; 2 stalks celery, including leaves, diced; Chopped green pepper; 1/2 cup flour; 1/2 cup butter; 1/2 cup brown sugar (I sometimes use less); 1/8 cup salt

Blanch tomatoes, then dunk in ice water to cool. Slide off skins and chop. Cook together with the other veggies for 20 minutes at a soft boil. Stir to prevent burning. While the veggies are cooking, mix together the flour, butter, sugar, and salt. Add this to the vegetables, stir, then bring to a boil. Pour into sterilized jars and seal. Process 15 minutes in a water bath canner.

I love having a can of this ready to heat up on those winter nights when I don’t have the energy to cook. Sometimes I add different herbs like oregano or basil. Sometimes I throw pasta in too, for a heartier soup (do this when you are heating it up to serve, not before canning). You can also make this in small batches and just have it for dinner without canning it.

Here’s a nice, simple cabbage recipe you could try from http://www.quietcreekfarmcsa.com:

Butter Braised Savoy Cabbage

Ingredients: 1 savoy cabbage; 3 tbsp. butter; 3 tbsp. water, chicken broth, veg. broth, or white wine; sea salt. Optional additions: Carmelized onions, julienned or grated carrots, herbs: thyme or marjoram; spices: nutmeg, caraway seed; heavy cream, etc.)

(This recipe is a method. You can use whatever optional additions you like to make it your own.)

Cut cabbage into quarters and remove core. Slice into 1 inch thick ribbons or bite-size pieces. Melt butter (and optional spices if using) over medium heat in a large skillet. If using onions, add now and cook over low heat until very soft and just beginning to brown. Add cabbage (and optional veggies if using) and sprinkle with salt. Add braising liquid of your choice. Stir to combine. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until cabbage is tender and liquid is absorbed. If using herbs, add near the end of cooking time. If desired, you can add a few tbsp. of heavy cream at the end. Serve warm.

Wishing all of you the wonderfulest of weeks!

Amy & John

 

Posted in 2016 Newsletters, Cabbage, CSA, Food Storage/Preservation, Onion, Sweet Peppers, Tomato, Weather | Leave a comment

CSA Newsletter: Week 9, 2016

Our newsletter from August 11:

Dear CSA members,

Summer just keeps on coming, doesn’t it? We’ve got our fingers crossed that the forecasted Friday rain materializes, since everything is dry, dry, dry again. Irrigation is a poor substitute for a good shower and a lot of the plants are showing some heat and drought stress. Of course there are a few crops (like eggplants) that love the heat and are pumping out the fruit. That sneaky woodchuck has found its way under the netting we put over the plants—while harvesting I found a few eggplants with their ends gnawed off. On this weekend’s agenda is constructing an electric fence around that garden patch to keep the raccoons out of the corn as it begins to set ears, so we hope that will deter Mr. or Ms. Woodchuck as well.

Peaches today! As most of you know, we’ve been working to transition my parents’ orchard from conventional to organic management. This year we have not used anything in the orchard (pesticides, fertilizers, etc.) that isn’t approved for use under organic certification standards. Of course, organic management is a lot more than not spraying synthetic chemicals. We’re also working to increase the fertility and diversity in the orchard floor by selective mulching and companion planting. That’s a process that will take awhile but should result in healthier trees and a more robust beneficial insect population in the long run.

One of the major diseases of stone fruits like peaches is brown rot. Sulfur is commonly used to control it in organic orchards and that’s what we’ve used this year as well. You may notice some sulfur residue on your peach skin, so wash that off before you eat them. You may need to let your peaches set out for a day or two to finish ripening, but keep an eye on them! Because they haven’t been treated with hard chemicals, they are going to be more susceptible to rot even as they ripen. If they start to get brown spots, that’s a signal to eat them now! You can keep them a little longer by putting them in the refrigerator if you’d like, but they aren’t going to last forever in there either.

Here’s a recipe that uses both the peaches and the basil in your shares. I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds super yummy. To keep your basil fresh longer, treat it like a cut flower: trim the ends and put it in a cup of water.

Fresh Peach and Basil Salad (from aspicyperspective.com)

Ingredients: 4-6 ripe peaches, pitted and cut into bite-size pieces; 1 tablespoon honey; 6 basil leaves, thinly sliced; ½ cup lemon chevre (or plain chevre with a little lemon zest); A pinch of salt

Place the peaches in a bowl. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat. Gently fold in basil and chevre. Serve immediately.

My friend Crystal made this recipe a couple of weeks ago and shared it with us. It made a nice savory but light summer lunch:

Roasted Eggplant, Onion, and Tomato Tian (From the book Ten Dollar Dinners)

Ingredients: 2 tbs olive oil; 1 small eggplant, trimmed and sliced ¼ inch thick; ¾ tsp salt; 2 small onions, sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds; 1 garlic clove, smashed; 2 small plum tomatoes, sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds; ¼ c grated Parmesan cheese. Optional: eggplant can be swapped for zucchini – do not precook zucchini if you do this.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the eggplant, sprinkle with ¼ tsp salt, and cook until golden brown on both sides, 4 to 5 minutes total. Transfer the eggplant to a plate and set aside.

Pour 2 teaspoons of olive oil into the skillet and add the onions. Season with ¼ teaspoon of salt and cook until soft and just starting to brown, about 2 minutes. Slide a spatula under the onions and turn them over to brown on the other side, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Rub the smashed garlic clove all over the interior of a 9 ½ inch deep dish pie plate. Alternate adding an onion round, then an eggplant slice (or more than one, depending on the size of your eggplant), then a tomato slice. Repeat, working your way around the edge of the pie plate first and then repeat with a smaller circle in the middle to create two concentric circles. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and drizzle with the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil.

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake until the vegetables are heated through and the tomatoes are soft but still hold their shape, about 20 minutes. Remove the baking dish and turn the broiler to high. Sprinkle the vegetables with the Parmesan and broil to melt and brown the cheese, about 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve warm or at room temperature.

Enjoy! Have a great week, everyone. Stay cool and hydrated!

Amy & John

Posted in 2016 Newsletters, Basil, CSA, Eggplant, Garlic & Garlic Scapes, Onion, Peaches, Pest Management, Tomato, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

CSA Newsletter: Week 8, 2016

Our newsletter from August 4:

Dear CSA members,

After three years of beekeeping, we finally have a honey harvest! Just a bit, because we want to make sure that the bees have enough to get them through the winter—that’s why they’re storing it up in the first place, after all! As most of you probably know, honeybees (and wild bees and other pollinators too) have been having a tough time of it this past decade or so. We have yet to get a hive of bees to survive through the winter, but we’re not alone—one national beekeeping survey reported a 44% loss of bees over this past winter. We think our losses have been due to several factors including harsh weather, varroa mites, and in one case, very possibly newbie beekeeper incompetence. (Knocking over four supers full of bees is not a great feeling, let me tell you.) But this hive appears to be the strongest one we’ve had so far and we’re hopeful that this will be the one that makes it to the next spring. If it does and is still strong next year, we’ll try to split the hive and increase our colonies that way.

Unlike most honey you’ll find in stores, this honey is raw and unfiltered and we have not used any pesticides in the hives to control mites. Parasitic mites are such a big problem for bees right now that most beekeepers feel they have to treat their colonies with miticides in order to protect them, especially if they are large beekeepers with many hives that move around to different parts of the country during different times of year. Other beekeepers think that by over-relying on pesticides, we are not allowing the bees to develop their own methods of surviving mite infestations. There’s some interesting work being done right now in trying to breed “hygenic” honeybees which kill mites and “mite biter” honeybees, named for their habit of biting the mites’ legs, causing them to fall to the bottom of the hive.

The idea of working with nature to develop resistance to pests and diseases rather than having to continually use toxins to keep pest problems at bay is at the heart of how we approach farming, so that’s how we’re approaching beekeeping as well. But we’re also trying to learn how to better monitor the colony for mite problems so that we can better understand how mites are affecting our bees and how our beekeeping practices may play a role in this.

Because the honey is raw and unfiltered, bits of pollen and beeswax caught in the honey may cause it to crystalize more quickly than honey that’s been heated and forced through a filter. If that happens, simply put your honey jar in a pot of warm water to re-liquefy it. Or just use it as is—I sometime like using crystalized honey because it doesn’t drip all over when I try to spread it!

One pest problem that has been plaguing us for the past several years is the carrot fly. This year we rotated the carrots into an entirely different garden plot and purchased an expensive insect net to put over them to exclude the fly. Well, we dug them this morning and guess what we found—lots of carrot fly damage. Plus because this plot has a little heavier soil, the carrots didn’t turn out as pretty either. But we found enough undamaged ones to put a few in shares today even if they are a bit blocky, twisty, and not very uniform! Here’s an adaptation of a simple recipe for cooked carrots from the cookbook From Asparagus to Zucchini by the FairShare CSA Coalition that uses both honey and carrots:

Honey Glazed Carrots

Ingredients: 1 lb carrots; 2 Tbsp butter; 1 ½ Tbsp honey; salt and pepper. Optional: 1-2 Tbsp fresh mint, parsley, or basil.

Cut carrots into chunks. Combine carrots, butter, honey, and ½ cup water in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Bring to simmer and cook until carrots are tender and most of the liquid has reduced to a glaze, 10-15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you like, sprinkle on chopped fresh herbs and toss well before serving. Or you could splash on a little lemon juice at the very end as well.

We haven’t yet caught our woodchuck, but we threw a shade cloth over the eggplants last week, which seems to be keeping him at bay at least for the moment. Thus, the eggplants in your shares today. One of our favorite ways to eat zucchinis and eggplants this time of year is to slice them and grill them. John makes up a marinade (which is essentially the same as his basic salad dressing) that he brushes on them prior to grilling:

John’s Salad Dressing/Marinade

Ingredients: 3 Tbsp Olive Oil; 1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar; 1 tsp (or so) of Mustard; Salt & Pepper

Whisk all this together and use to dress greens or brush liberally onto zucchinis and eggplants before grilling.

If you like garlic (and if your digestive system, unlike mine, is able to digest it), you could also mince a little garlic into the dressing. We grew three different types of garlic this year. We pulled it several weeks ago and hung it in John’s barn to cure. We’ll be pulling it out for your shares over the next month. This week we have Nookta Rose, a variety with small cloves that we grow every year because John really likes its mellow flavor. We’d love to hear which variety you like best, so keep notes and let us know!

Happy eating!   Amy & John

Posted in 2016 Newsletters, Beekeeping, Carrots, CSA, Eggplant, Garlic & Garlic Scapes, Pest Management, Zucchini | Leave a comment

CSA Newsletter: Week 7, 2016

Our newsletter from July 28:

Dear CSA members,

We had a wonderful vacation full of rivers, waterfalls, pine trees, and some magnificent oaks. One of the hardest sacrifices for me in farming has been giving up so many summer camping opportunities, since living outdoors in nature feeds my soul so deeply. But as I waded down the Ocqueoc River the evening before our departure from that beautiful place, stubbing my toes on the sharp rocks, I felt enormous gratitude that the work I was about to return to also feeds my spirit in a deep way. Increasingly, I’ve been thinking about this farm as an experiment in what conservationist Aldo Leopold described as his “land ethic,” which “changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it” and what botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer calls “being naturalized to place . . . to live as if this is the land that feeds you.”

This is the land that feeds me, quite literally. And feeds you too, at least in part. What I do to its body, I do to my body. And to your bodies, too. Farming challenges me to be continually aware that I live within an ecosystem; I don’t just visit one when I go camping. And the question that pesters me is how I can farm (and live) in a way that enriches the beauty and well-being of my ecosystem without depleting ecosystems in other parts of the world. It’s a hard standard to live up to and I do it imperfectly almost all of the time. But I’m grateful that I get to spend my days engaged in work that feels so meaningful—even though some of those days have been awfully hot this summer! So thanks again for supporting us in this work.

The only casualties of our vacation were the purple eggplants which were severely “pruned” by an eggplant-loving woodchuck. We found his trail and have been trying to live trap him for the past few days so that we can make him a relocation offer (move or die), but so far he’s outsmarted us. Darn wildlife! I suppose the woodchuck thinks he has a right to live in this ecosystem too. Hmmm . . . but not the right to eat my eggplants, not if I have anything to say about it!

If the eggplant plants are looking a little puny right now, the zucchini plants looking oppositely. I gave them an extra dose of compost this spring and they’ve responded by growing as big as shrubs. So far, we haven’t lost any to vine borers, though I did see a borer moth flying around a few weeks ago. In any case, they are in their glory right now, so we’re loading you up with them!

There are lots of zucchini casserole recipes out there. This is one of my favorites. You can make it vegetarian by substituting mushrooms for the meat. If you dice them finely and brown them, they take on a satisfyingly chewy texture.

Zucchini Pizza Casserole

Ingredients: 4 cups shredded unpeeled zucchini; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 2 eggs; 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese; 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided; 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese, divided; 1 pound ground turkey or beef (or portabella mushrooms, finely minced);1/2 cup chopped onion; 1 can (15 ounces) Italian tomato sauce; 1 medium green pepper, chopped

Place zucchini in strainer; sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 10 minutes. Squeeze out moisture. Combine zucchini with the eggs, Parmesan and half of the mozzarella and cheddar cheeses. Press into greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Bake, uncovered, at 400° for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook beef (or mushrooms) and onion over medium heat until browned; drain. Add tomato sauce; spoon over zucchini mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses; add green pepper. Bake 20 minutes longer or until heated through.

Also while we were gone, the cucumbers and tomatoes started to ripen. There are just a few this week, but there should be more in future weeks. The tomato crop looks good at the moment; cucumbers not so hot. There’s some kind of scarring on some of the skins—I need to do a little research to see if I can figure out what’s causing that. Anyway, here’s one of my favorite summer salads that uses both:

Tomato, Cucumber, and Feta Salad

Ingredients: Tomato; Chopped Fresh Basil; Cucumber; Feta Cheese. Optional: Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Salt.

Chop cucumber and tomato into bite-sized pieces. Mix together in bowl with crumbled feta cheese and basil. Eat plain or drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and salt to taste. Especially good if chilled a bit before eating.

If you find you aren’t using up all of your vegetables during the week between distributions, you might consider starting a “broth bag” in your refrigerator or freezer. I started making my own vegetable broth last year. It was such a treat this past winter to be able to heat up a cup of homemade broth on cold evenings and to have our own supply to use in soup. I collect vegetable trimmings (onion tops, carrot and potato peelings, zucchini ends, tomato cores, herb stems, etc.) and chunked vegetables (like zucchini) that I know I’m not going to use otherwise until I have a pot-full, then I do this:

Vegetable Broth

Throw vegetable scraps in a pot (fill about one half to two thirds of the pot), fill the pot with water, and then bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and let simmer for a few hours until it tastes good. Turn off the heat and let it cool for a few more hours.

Freeze in ice-cube trays, then transfer to freezer bags for a quick thaw or pour directly into a freezer container. Experiment with different combinations of vegetables until you find the flavors that you like the best. I find that a little bit of potato in the broth-pot adds a richness that I especially enjoy.

Have a great week, everyone! Stay safe and cool.       Amy & John

Posted in 2016 Newsletters, Basil, CSA, Cucumber, Food Storage/Preservation, Tomato, Zucchini | Leave a comment

CSA Newsletter: Week 6, 2016

Our newsletter from July 14:

Dear CSA members,

Even though the storms that passed through the area yesterday managed NOT to bring us any rain, it sure is nice to have the humidity a little lower this morning! Overall, things look pretty good. We’ve had some great volunteer help with weeding these past few weeks, for which we are enormously grateful. I think I mentioned in a previous newsletter that one of my goals this year is to not let so many weeds get away from us and go to seed. Once we harvest out a particular crop, it’s easy to let that garden bed fall to the bottom of our priority list and get filled up with weeds. This year I’m trying to make sure that doesn’t happen by covering those empty beds as soon as I can with mulch or planting a cover crop of buckwheat into them. These patches of buckwheat should also provide a good nectar source for the honeybees when they flower in late summer.

An unusually large population of cucumber beetles set the melon and cucumber plants back quite a bit during their first few weeks in the ground. They are recovering, but I’m a little worried about diseases like downy mildew, which can be spread by cucumber beetles. For now, we’ll just keep an eye on them and make sure they have good water and nutrition. On the other hand, we’ve had only a few potato beetles this year. I squish them whenever I walk past the potato patch, but they aren’t posing any real threat to the crop. The red potatoes are almost ready to dig—look for those in your shares the week after we get back from our vacation.

Speaking of which—next week is our vacation week! My cousin Bryan will be holding down the farm fort while we sneak away for a few days of tent camping near Lake Huron. Last year was the first year that we scheduled a vacation break into the CSA. We found that getting away for a few days made an enormous difference in our spirits and stamina for the rest of the growing season. So, thank you for accommodating the renewal of our spirits!

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, your share contents are starting to shift away from the green leafy spring things to summer vegetables like zucchinis. Thank you, Zinta, for sharing this recipe from thetoastedpinenut.com that uses both the zucchini and the beets in your shares today:

Zucchini Beet Salad

Ingredients: 3 medium zucchini, rinsed; 2 large beets, rinsed; 1 cup walnuts, chopped; 4 oz. crumbled blue cheese; 1 T. extra virgin olive oil; 1 T. balsamic vinegar; 1/8 t. garlic powder; salt and pepper to taste

Place beets in cold water. Bring water to boil and reduce heat to medium. Boil beets for 45-60 minutes, or until easily speared with a skewer with little resistance. Spiralize, julienne, or chop zucchini and place in individual bowls. Peel beets under cold water and cut into cubes. In separate bowl, combine cubed beets, chopped walnuts, 2 oz. of crumbled blue cheese, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Mix to combine. Place heaping mound of beet mixture on top of zucchini. Sprinkle each bowl with remaining blue cheese.

With the ducks providing us with eggs on a daily basis, we find that we eat a lot of variations on eggs and greens. Here’s one of our favorite gratin recipes from FARMfood: green living with chef Daniel Orr. It calls for chard, but I think you could make it with other greens as well, including your beet greens.

Gruyere and Chard Gratin

Ingredients: 1 lb chard, stems cut into small pieces and leaves roughly chopped; 3 large eggs; 1 ½ cup heavy cream; ¼ tsp nutmeg, ground; fresh ground pepper; 1 garlic clove, minced; 2 anchovies, finely diced [I often omit these, but John likes to put them in]; 1 tsp salt; ½ cup Gruyere or Swiss cheese, grated; butter for greasing pan

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Blanch chard in salted water until crunchy-tender and shock in ice water. Drain and pat dry. Combine eggs, cream, nutmeg, pepper, garlic, anchovies, salt, and three-quarters of cheese and mix well. Add chard and mix well to incorporate into egg mix. Lightly grease 9” glass or ceramic dish and pour in mixture. Top with remaining cheese. Pat down evenly and bake 30-35 minutes until set and golden on top. Allow to sit at least 5 minutes before serving.

I made this variation on a gratin recipe from Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert last week. It really is a simple dish, but it’s satisfying and delicious.

Au Gratin Cabbage

Ingredients: 2 1/2 cups cabbage, shredded; 1/3 cup green onion, chopped; 1/2 cup milk; 1 egg; 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese, shredded; 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

Sauté cabbage in butter or olive oil until crisp tender. Transfer to greased 1-quart baking dish. Combine milk, egg and cheese in a small bowl. Pour over vegetables. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley and parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F, for 30-35 minutes.

Here’s a broccoli gratin recipe from the same cookbook. I think the main thing with broccoli is—whatever you do with it, don’t overcook it.

Broccoli Gratin

Ingredients: 5-6 cups broccoli (cut in chunks); 1 onion (thinly sliced); 1 clove garlic (minced); 1/4 cup flour; 2 cups milk; 1 teaspoon salt or more to taste; 1/4 teaspoon pepper; pinch each ground nutmeg and ground red pepper; 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese; 1 cup bread crumbs; 1 tablespoon butter; ¼ cup Parmesan cheese; 2 tablespoons fresh parsley

Steam broccoli just until crisp-tender, 6-8 minutes. Drain well and set aside. In small saucepan sauté onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons oil until fragrant and tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle flour on onions and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes without browning. Whisk in milk and bring to a boil. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and red pepper and cook 5 minutes. Stir in cheddar cheese and remove from heat. Combine with broccoli. Transfer to a glass-baking pan. Combine bread crumbs, butter, Parmesan cheese, and parsley, then sprinkle on top of the broccoli mixture. Bake in a   preheated oven at 350F until thoroughly heated, 20 minutes.

Enjoy!! And we’ll see you in TWO weeks.     Amy & John

Posted in 2016 Newsletters, Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage, CSA, Recipes, Swiss Chard, Zucchini | Leave a comment