CSA Newsletter: Week 6, 2018

Our newsletter from June 12:

Dear CSA members,

Well, it’s been some lovely weather to be outdoors this week, hasn’t it? We hope you’ve been able to enjoy the sunshine and lower humidity. While we are grateful for the pleasanter working weather, what we’d really like now is a nice rainy day or even two! It’s been hard for us to move the sprinklers fast enough to keep all of the gardens watered this week. Unfortunately, at the beginning of the week a couple of the critical pipes on our main irrigation system sprung leaks and so that has made things even more difficult since we can’t run the big irrigation gun without those pipes. The irrigation system is old and the place that installed it is now out of business, so we’re finding it challenging to find replacement parts. We’re hoping one of our neighbors will eventually be able to weld some patches on the pipes, but in the meantime we are hand watering and moving oscillating sprinklers around every couple of hours.

Despite being a bit thirsty, the zucchini have started producing in full force this week. We’ve picked them intensively this week to keep the plants healthy and productive. Here are a few recipes from some of our members of their favorite ways to use zucchinis. Thank you Rhianna, Crystal, and Jennifer for sharing your recipes!

Pizza Zucchini

Slice zucchinis longways about 1/8-1/4” thick. Brush with olive oil, then sprinkle with Italian seasoning, salt and garlic powder. Broil on low in the oven until cooked and starting to golden brown. Yum!

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.

Paleo Chocolate Zucchini Bread (from https://elanaspantry.com)

Ingredients: 1¼ cups blanched almond flour (not almond meal); ¼ cup cacao powder; ¼ teaspoon celtic sea salt; ½ teaspoon baking soda; 2 large eggs; 2 tablespoons coconut oil, room temperature; ¼ cup honey; ¼ teaspoon vanilla stevia; ¾ cup zucchini, grated;

In a food processor combine almond flour and cacao powder. Pulse in salt and baking soda. Pulse in eggs, coconut oil, honey, and stevia. Briefly pulse in zucchini. Transfer batter to a greased 6.5 x 4 inch small loaf pan, dusted with almond flour. Bake at 350°F for 35-40 minutes. Cool for 2 hours.

And here is my favorite zucchini bread recipe:

Coconut, Walnut, Raisin Zucchini Bread

Ingredients: 3 eggs; 3 cups flour; 2 cups grated zucchini; 1 tsp. salt; 1 cup sugar; 1 tsp. baking powder; 1 cup vegetable oil; 2 tsp cinnamon; 2 tsp. vanilla; 1 cup chopped walnuts; 1 cup raisins; 1 cup coconut

Beat eggs. Add grated zucchini, sugar, oil, and vanilla to eggs and mix well. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Combine with wet ingredients, then mix in nuts, raisins and coconut.    Pour into greased loaf pans and bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes.

Just a reminder—next week will be our vacation week, so we will not have a share distribution next Thursday. If you find yourself hankering for more zucchini this coming weekend, though, let us know! We will be doing another picking on Saturday and you would be welcome to stop by on Saturday or Sunday to pick up some extras.

Yours in deliciousness, Amy & John

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CSA Newsletter: Week 5, 2018

Our newsletter from July 5:

Dear CSA members,

This kind of weather always gets this poem from Shel Silversteinthis poem from Shel Silverstein stuck in my head:

IT’S HOT

It’s hot!
I can’t get cool,
I’ve drunk a quart of lemonade.
I think I’ll take my shoes off
And sit around in the shade.

It’s hot!
My back is sticky.
The sweat rolls down my chin.
I think I’ll take my clothes off
And sit around in my skin.

It’s hot!
I’ve tried with ’lectric fans,
And pools and ice cream cones.
I think I’ll take my skin off
And sit around in my bones.

It’s still hot!

 

Yup, that about sums up our week. Except for the pools and the sitting around in the shade part. Instead we’ve been weeding and watering and wrangling irrigation equipment, which we are grateful to have since it seems like we may be headed into a bit of a dry spell. We are very much looking forward to the predicted cool down this weekend!

Plants are looking mostly good, as long as we can get the rest of the weeds out of them soon and keep the insect pests at bay. We’ve got sticky traps in the orchard for apple maggots, kaolin clay on the squash stems for vine borers, and I’m squishing every squash bug I can catch! I was happy to see an inch and a half long praying mantis prowling the salad mix bed this morning as I was checking out the lettuces. Mantises are voracious insect-eaters and so I love seeing them in the garden. The more they eat, the fewer bug pests I have to worry about.

Beets today! Some people love ‘em; some people hate ‘em. But almost everyone I know likes this recipe:

Beet Hummus (adapted from simplyrecipes.com)

Ingredients: 3-4 medium beets, roasted or steamed; 1 Tbsp ground cumin (to taste); 2 Tbsp tahini sesame seed paste; Salt (to taste); 2-4 Tbsp lemon juice (to taste); Freshly ground pepper (optional, to taste); 1 small clove garlic, chopped (or garlic scapes). Optional: Cooked chickpeas

Peel & coarsely chop cooked beets. Place all ingredients in a food processor (or blender) and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust quantities of seasonings to your preferences. If you want to add more protein to your meal, blend in some chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans). I’ve tried it both ways and I prefer it with just the beets, but I know other people that like this better with the addition of the chickpeas. Garnish with scallions, parsley, cilantro, or mint!

Speaking of mint, the mint in your shares today is apple mint. It is taking over my perennial garden patch and crowding out other herbs and flowers, so I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it. It’s traditionally used to make mint jelly, but I’m not much of a jelly maker. This week I found this recipe on epicurious.com that calls for both mint and beets. I tried it last night and really liked it, so I thought I’d share some of the mint with you in case you wanted to try it too:

Roasted Beets with Cumin and Mint

Ingredients: 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice; 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil; 3 medium beets, trimmed, leaving 1 inch of stems attached; 1/3 cup fresh mint, coarsely chopped

Stir together lemon juice, cumin seeds, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Stir in oil and let stand while roasting beets. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F. Tightly wrap beets in a double layer of foil and roast on a baking sheet until tender, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool to warm in foil package, about 20 minutes. When beets are cool enough to handle, peel them, discarding stems and root ends, then cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges. Toss warm beets with dressing. Stir in mint just before serving. (Beets can be roasted and tossed with dressing 4 hours ahead, then kept, covered, at room temperature.)

I steamed my beets instead of roasting them, used balsamic vinegar instead of lemon juice, and increased the cumin just a bit. I also didn’t feel like eating anything hot, so after I dressed the beets I put them in the refrigerator for about an hour to make this into a cold salad dish. Oh! I also sprinkled in a little feta cheese. Yum!

Yours in deliciousness, Amy & John

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CSA Newsletter: Week 4, 2018

Our newsletter from June 28:

Dear CSA members,

Hard to believe that we are a week past the summer solstice and the end of June is here already. I always notice the summer solstice as a turning point in the growing season: the leafy greens start to dwindle in vibrancy as the fruiting vegetables start to set their little green fruits: tomatoes, peppers, zucchinis, etc. The grasses in our conservation reserve fields mirror this process as well as their energy moves from producing lush blades to setting seed heads. This is the time of year when we try to sneak evening walks through those grass fields to appreciate the firefly light show, which inspires more awe in me than any fireworks display that I’ve ever seen (it’s quieter too). We are hoping to get some walking paths re-cut through these fields this weekend, so if you feel like a dusk stroll through firefly land, let us know!

I finally got a few hours of apple thinning in this week, which gave me time to ruminate on abundance and how too much of a good thing can weaken both trees and people. The lesson of not trying to bring so many projects to fruition that I don’t have the energy to fully develop any of them is definitely one I need to learn! Sometimes I think I’m nuts putting so much time and energy into growing food, when it is by far the least lucrative of my jobs. But as difficult and all-consuming as this work can be, I’m compelled by it; I want to understand how to do it in a good way. In order to live, we have to eat other living beings, whether those lives be animal, plant, or yes, even insect in some parts of the world. That’s the deal on this planet, like it or not. But as Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in her wonderful book Braiding Sweetgrass: “If we are fully awake, a moral question arises as we extinguish the other lives around us on behalf of our own . . . how do we consume in a way that does justice to the lives that we take?”

In my backyard, plants frequently go from growing in the ground to being digested in my stomach in a matter of minutes, which really brings home the notion of “living food”! And makes me keenly aware that my act of eating is the most intimate sort of communion with the world. With that awareness, comes responsibility: to use my life to nurture the conditions that nurture life. The soil, the air, the water. To not let this day’s harvest diminish possible future harvests but instead make it enhance my ecosystem’s ability to produce future abundance.

I haven’t got all that figured out yet on a practical level and perhaps I never will, exactly. But I think each year we get a little better at it. This year, especially, I’m appreciating how far we’ve come in using cover crops for both soil enrichment and for weed suppression in between transplants until they grow up to a size where they are able to outcompete weeds themselves. In the asparagus patches as well, where my family managed weeds with herbicides for many years before we took them over, it is lovely to see the white clover we planted outcompeting annual weeds and providing nectar for the bees. The asparagus seems to be flourishing with the clover underneath it as well, which is probably because the clover nurtures a healthier soil microbiome.

On to the eating crops, though! This week we have for you two crops that we struggled with this Spring: snap peas and carrots. We always seem to struggle with carrots, from germination issues to carrot rust fly problems. But at least we have a few for you to snack on today and we do have a couple of additional plantings in the ground, so perhaps we’ll have more for you later in the season. The snap peas we normally don’t have so much difficulty with, but for some reason this year, the local sparrow population decided that the tender tips of snap pea vines were their favorite morning snack. I’ve got scare balloons and pie tins hung all over the pea trellis, but I don’t think they scared the birds off for more than a couple of days. But at least they left a few for you today!

I’m happy with the flavor on the lettuce heads that we have for you, but I wish the heads were a bit tighter and denser. I suspect that this hot/cold weather we’ve been having has confused them about whether to head up or bolt (send up a flower stalk) and that’s why they are looser than normal.

The parsley in your shares is a variety that we really love. It’s a little sweeter and more tender than some flat-leaf parsleys, which means that it lends itself to being more than a garnish! It might sound weird, but one of our favorite ways to eat parsley is in omelettes. Here’s an approximation of John’s recipe:

John’s Parsley & Green Onion Omelette

Ingredients: 4 eggs; 1/3 cup milk or cream; salt & pepper; 1/3 of a cup chopped parsley; 1/3 of a cup chopped green onions; ½ cup of grated cheese (feta, cheddar, or swiss are all good choices); oil or butter to grease the pan. Optional: 1 tsp or more of grated parmesan cheese and/or ½ tsp of Dijon mustard.

Beat eggs with milk or cream. Add salt and pepper to taste and parmesan and mustard if using. Heat oil or butter to medium heat in a skillet. Once heated, add egg mixture to pan. As eggs begin to set along the side, use spatula to lift a small amount at a time and tilt skillet so that some of the uncooked eggs run underneath the cooked part. Continue to do this around the edge of the pan until most of the egg is cooked. Sprinkle parsley, onion and cheese down the middle of the omelette, then using the spatula, carefully lift one side of the omelette over to the middle of the filling. Do the same with the other side so that the two sides overlap in the middle, on top of the filling. Turn heat down to low and cover. Let set for a minute or two so that the cheese gets all melty. Feel free to modify quantities and ingredients based on what you have and what sounds good to you!

Here’s another way to enjoy parsley as a main ingredient, from the cookbook From Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-fresh Seasonal Produce:

Kim’s Excellent Parsley Salad

Ingredients: fresh parsley, finely chopped red or green onion; chopped hard cooked eggs; cooked chickpeas or other beans; garlic chives (optional); olive oil; fresh lemon juice; salt and pepper

Clean and cut up lots of parsley! Combine with onion, eggs, chickpeas, and chives, if using. Shake oil and lemon juice together (2 parts oil to 1 part lemon juice). Toss salad with dressing, salt, and lots of pepper.

Enjoy! Amy & John

Kale & Chard undersown with buckwheat. When it gets too tall, we’ll knock the buckwheat down and tuck it under the plants as a mulch.

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CSA Newsletter: Week 3, 2018

Our newsletter from June 21:

Dear CSA members,

I’m feeling awfully grateful for the cooler weather these past couple of days, which has made harvest this week easier on both us and the plants we were harvesting! Harvesting leafy greens in the heat is always a challenge, since they start to wilt as soon as you cut them and handling them when they are hot can bruise the leaves. But this cool cloudy weather has been perfect for cutting greens and we have some lovely leaves for you today.

We have a few extra potatoes to get in the ground yet (fingers crossed, that will happen later today), but otherwise planting is mostly done. Now we move on to cultivating! Most of the plants in our larger gardens that we call Middle Earth and New Earth are looking good and put on a growth spurt in last week’s heat. Unfortunately, so did the weeds! We’ll be putting in overtime with the tiller and the hoe to get those under control this next week. We are also experimenting with some cover crop and mulch rotations that I hope will reduce our need to cultivate those gardens for weed suppression in the future.

Speaking of weeds, the ducklings are growing like them! They are good entertainment at the end of a long day, splashing about in the plastic sled that currently serves as their wading pool. They will help us with pest control in the gardens around the house, where we will let them roam in the winter months to eat slugs overwintering in mulch that we use for soil improvement and weed suppression in those gardens. Stop by and see them if you need some duckling comic relief.

The chard got away from us in the heat and got huge! So big that we can’t fit it into pre-boxed small share boxes today, so we’ll offer pre-boxed small share folks kale this week and chard the next time around when we’ll cut it at a smaller size. This gratin from FARMfood: green living with chef Daniel Orr is one of our favorite ways to eat chard and makes good use of the stems as well as the leaves:

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 [you can omit these]; 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 am super excited about the arugula we have for you today. It’s a new variety that we’re trying called Esmee and I think it may be the best arugula we’ve ever grown. I love the crispy texture and peppery flavor raw in salads, wilted on pizza, or blended in pesto like in this recipe from everybodylikessandwiches.com, which also calls for the garlic scapes (the curly flower stalks of the garlic plant) that are in your shares today. Simply cut the tough ends off of the scape, mince the rest, and use in anything you’d normally put garlic in.

Arugula & Garlic Scape Pesto

Ingredients: 2 c garlic scapes, cut into bits & the flower head discarded; 1 – 2 c arugula (or spinach, torn up kale or chard); 1/2 c walnuts; 1/4 c grated parmesan cheese (leave out for a vegan version); 1/4 – 1/3 c olive oil; juice of 1/2 lemon (or more); 1/2 t kosher salt; 1/2 t chili pepper flakes

Combine the garlic scapes, arugula, walnuts, cheese in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times. Let the machine run and slowly pour in half the amount of oil along with the lemon juice, salt and chili flakes. Slowly add the remaining oil until you’ve reached a good consistency (you may not need all the oil). Store in a lidded jar in the fridge for a week or freeze in small jars. You can put your pesto on pasta, sandwiches, and pizza or use it as a raw veggie dip.

For those of you wanting to spend a little extra time on the farm, we’d like to invite you to join us in the orchard for fruit thinning fun this coming Saturday morning between 9am and noon and on Sunday any time after noon. You would be most welcome to bring a picnic and spend some time hiking around the farm as well if that sounds fun to you. Bring a hat, though, to ward off the deer flies! You may want some mosquito repellent as well.

Finally, we have determined that our vacation week this year will be the week of July 19, so there will be no share distribution that day while we retreat and rest up for the rest of the season. We have found that even a few days away from the farm mid-summer makes a huge difference in our energy and attitudes at the end of the season. We hope you have similar times of rest and rejuvenation this summer!

Amy & John

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CSA Newsletter: Week 2, 2018

Our newsletter from June 14:

Dear CSA members,

It’s been a busy week for us here on the farm as we are wrapping up our class at Kalamazoo College and moving into our summer schedule. We’re still working to get plants like squash and seeds like sweet corn into the ground, while at the same time weeding, watering, and mulching the plants that are already in and growing, like the broccolis, cabbages, peppers, and tomatoes. We are preparing for another heat wave to hit this weekend, which is why you have so much lettuce in your shares today! Lettuce, with its tender leaves, does not like the heat and will bolt (send up a flower stalk) or burn in extremely hot temperatures. So we thought we’d better harvest the lettuce and get it to you right away.

Your lettuce comes to you in two forms this week: mixed baby leaves in a bag and an assortment of romaine-type heads. The baby leaves are more tender and perishable, so I suggest that you eat those first. The romaine-type heads will keep longer if you put them into something that will keep them moist, such as a plastic bag or sealed plastic container. (The pac choi will keep best this way as well.)

Romaine lettuce is one of those crops that I almost can’t bring myself to buy in the store anymore—it is so bland that it is almost tasteless. Fresh-from-the-garden romaine actually has flavor to go along with its crunch and that slight hint of bitterness that I find really satisfying. You could use the dill in your shares to make a nice dressing for your lettuce, either by chopping it into the recipe I gave you last week or by making the creamy dressing in this salad recipe from www.healthyseasonalrecipes.com:

Spring Salad with Radishes and Yogurt Dill Dressing

Ingredients: 2 eggs; 1/2 cup Plain Low-Fat Greek Style yogurt; 2 tablespoons mayonnaise; 4 teaspoons minced shallot; 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill; 2 tablespoon cider vinegar or white wine vinegar; 1/2 teaspoon salt; Freshly ground pepper; 8 cups greens, washed and spun dry; 2 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled; 1/4 cup sliced radishes

Place eggs in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Place over high heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer very gently for 10 minutes. Drain off hot water, and place pot under cold running water for several minutes to stop egg from cooking. Crack and peel egg. Slice or chop the egg. Whisk yogurt, mayonnaise, shallot, dill, vinegar, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Arrange salad greens on four plates. Sprinkle bacon over the greens. Arrange radishes and the egg over the top of the salad. Drizzle the dressing over the salads. Extra dressing will keep up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

One tip I can add to the above recipe that I recently learned from a friend: if you are hard-boiling eggs for your salads (or for deviled eggs, which would be another good use for your dill), steam your eggs instead of boiling them. Then dunk them in cold water and the shells come right off! I tried this for the first time a few weeks ago with fresh duck eggs and couldn’t believe how easy they peeled. (And if you have ever tried to peel a fresh egg, you know how excited I was!) For the duck eggs, 15 minutes in the steamer was about right. You may want to do less time with chicken eggs.

I didn’t much like raw radishes until about 10 years ago when I met a friend for a morning hike and she brought along a container of cut radishes and a little dish of salt for a snack (I know, most people bring granola bars, but my friends are weird). She dipped the cut side of a radish into the salt and offered me a bite. I was hooked! Somehow the salt combined with the bite of the radish is satisfying and addictive. Since then, I’ve found that I like to snack on radishes along with a salty cheese like feta, as well as a few really good olives.

Unlike John, I’m an impatient and simple cook. Sometimes I follow recipes; more often I throw whatever is ripe in a pan and stir-fry it all together. When I do follow a recipe, it’s likely to be a simple one like the following one I modified from the Moosewood Restaurant Favorites cookbook:

Asian Greens

Ingredients: Pac Choi (approx. 1 lb); 2 Tbsp soy sauce; 1 Tbsp dark sesame oil; 2 Tbsp dry sherry, rice wine, or water; 2-3 Tbsp vegetable oil; 4-6 garlic cloves, minced (or to taste); 2 tsp grated ginger; 1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds.

Cut pac choi head(s) so that the leaves and thick stems are separated. Cut stems into ½ inch chunks and slice up leaves. Wash both the stems and leaves to remove any grit. In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, sesame oil, and sherry or wine or water. Set aside. Warm vegetable oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Add garlic and ginger. Sizzle for about 10 seconds, then add pac choi stems. Cook, stirring, for a minute or so, depending on how tender you want the stems to get. Then add leaves and stir-fry until the leaves are wilted but still bright green. Pour in the soy sauce mixture and stir to coat. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately.

This is one of those recipes you can easily add stuff to, depending on what’s in your refrigerator that needs to be used. Last night I made a variation of this recipe that included mushrooms and cooked radishes. If you’ve never tried cooking radishes, you might want to try it! Their flavor mellows out as they tenderize in the pan. Simply cut them into chunks or if they are small, throw them whole into the stir-fry with the pac choi stems.

We have not yet made it back to the orchard to work on thinning fruit, but we hope to get to that in the coming week. A few of you have asked about future work parties. We are thinking that Saturday, June 23 may be a good day for us to host another work day. We’ll keep an eye on the weather and send an update about that over the weekend.

Happy eating! And stay cool and hydrated this weekend!                               Amy & John

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Guest Blogger Angel Banuelos

Angel Banuelos is one of fourteen First Year students from Kalamazoo College to visit our farm last Fall as a part of a service-learning project sponsored by the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement. Angel helped us save seeds from many of the legumes that we grow, including Sugar Snap peas, Potawatomi​ ​Pole​ ​lima beans,​ ​Cherokee​ ​Trail​ ​of​ ​Tears​ ​Black​ ​beans,​ ​and Iroquois​ ​Cranberry​ ​Beans. As our first crops ripened this week and I found myself snacking in the gardens in between doing chores, I remembered this essay that he wrote about biodiversity and his experience on our farm. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

It​ ​seems​ ​illogical,​ ​but​ ​when​ ​I​ ​was​ ​a​ ​kid​ ​I​ ​always​ ​wished​ ​to​ ​live​ ​in​ ​a​ ​world​ ​of​ ​candy.​ ​I dreamed​ ​that​ ​I​ ​could​ ​be​ ​anywhere​ ​and​ ​have​ ​a​ ​rainbow​ ​of​ ​colors,​ ​flavors,​ ​and​ ​textures​ ​to​ ​snack on.​ ​I​ ​have​ ​to​ ​say​ ​that​ ​the​ ​closest​ ​I​ ​have​ ​ever​ ​come​ ​to​ ​that​ ​experience​ ​was​ ​while​ ​exploring​ ​Harvest of​ ​Joy Farm.​ ​We​ ​visited​ ​at​ ​the​ ​beginning​ ​of​ ​fall,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​fruits​ ​of​ ​summer​ ​were​ ​still​ ​bursting​ ​at​ ​the seams-​ ​tomatoes,​ ​turnips,​ ​tobacco,​ ​peppers,​ ​chiles.​ ​The​ ​list​ ​could​ ​continue,​ ​but​ ​half​ ​of​ ​what​ ​I​ ​saw I​ ​had​ ​never​ ​seen​ ​before​ ​and​ ​could​ ​not​ ​give​ ​a​ ​name​ ​to.​ ​In​ ​particular,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​struck​ ​by​ ​a​ ​bounty​ ​of cherry​ ​tomatoes​ ​that​ ​ranged​ ​in​ ​all​ ​the​ ​colors​ ​of​ ​our​ ​Michigan​ ​sunsets.​ ​“This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​breed​ ​that​ ​was supposed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​pink,”​ ​Amy​ ​told​ ​us​ ​with​ ​a​ ​smile,​ ​“but​ ​these​ ​nice​ ​orange​ ​ones​ ​popped​ ​up​ ​as​ ​well”. Many​ ​farmers​ ​would​ ​have​ ​been​ ​disappointed​ ​by​ ​a​ ​crop​ ​that​ ​didn’t​ ​turn​ ​out​ ​as​ ​planned,​ ​but​ ​at Harvest​ ​of​ ​Joy​ ​Amy​ ​and​ ​John​ ​treasure​ ​a​ ​concept​ ​called​ ​biodiversity.

Biodiversity​ ​means​ ​that​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​variety​ ​of​ ​life​ ​participating​ ​in​ ​an​ ​ecosystem.​ ​The​ ​term includes​ ​bacteria,​ ​bugs,​ ​plants,​ ​animals,​ ​basically​ ​anything​ ​that​ ​chooses​ ​to​ ​make​ ​their​ ​home​ ​in​ ​an environment.​ ​A​ ​perfect​ ​example​ ​of​ ​biodiversity​ ​would​ ​be​ ​the​ ​Amazon​ ​Rainforest​ ​or​ ​Australia’s coral​ ​reefs.​ ​Everything​ ​in​ ​the​ ​environment​ ​works​ ​together​ ​to​ ​provide​ ​for​ ​one​ ​another.

Currently,​ ​the​ ​agriculture​ ​industry​ ​in​ ​America​ ​largely​ ​frowns​ ​upon​ ​biodiversity​ ​in farming.​ ​Many​ ​believe​ ​it​ ​is​ ​more​ ​efficient​ ​for​ ​a​ ​farm​ ​to​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​a​ ​single​ ​crop​ ​or​ ​specialize​ ​in just​ ​a​ ​few:​ ​this​ ​is​ ​known​ ​as​ ​a​ ​monoculture.​ ​Farms​ ​choose​ ​monoculture​ ​because​ ​they​ ​want predictability,​ ​uniformity,​ ​and​ ​crops​ ​that​ ​are​ ​easily​ ​manipulated​ ​by​ ​human​ ​intervention.​ ​Think​ ​of how​ ​you​ ​go​ ​into​ ​the​ ​grocery​ ​store​ ​and​ ​are​ ​accustomed​ ​to​ ​seeing​ ​fruits​ ​and​ ​vegetables​ ​that​ ​all look​ ​the​ ​same.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​because​ ​they​ ​were​ ​bred​ ​on​ ​monoculture​ ​farms​ ​and​ ​all​ ​the​ ​ones​ ​that​ ​grew differently​ ​were​ ​tossed​ ​out.​ ​It​ ​may​ ​seem​ ​like​ ​the​ ​better​ ​option​ ​because​ ​it’s​ ​what​ ​we’re​ ​used​ ​to, but​ ​crops​ ​that​ ​lack​ ​biodiversity​ ​are​ ​highly​ ​susceptible​ ​to​ ​disease.​ ​When​ ​everybody​ ​is​ ​the​ ​same, the​ ​genes​ ​don’t​ ​exist​ ​for​ ​a​ ​community​ ​to​ ​adapt​ ​and​ ​fend​ ​off​ ​invaders.​ ​Along​ ​with​ ​that,​ ​they become​ ​highly​ ​reliant​ ​on​ ​chemical​ ​pesticides​ ​and​ ​fertilizers​ ​because​ ​they​ ​can’t​ ​rely​ ​on​ ​the​ ​bugs and​ ​microorganisms​ ​in​ ​the​ ​soil. ​Those​ ​chemicals​ ​can​ ​be​ ​bad​ ​for​ ​human​ ​health​ ​as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​be potent​ ​sources​ ​of​ ​pollution​ ​in​ ​the​ ​environment​ ​when​ ​they​ ​make​ ​their​ ​way​ ​into​ ​the​ ​air​ ​and​ ​into water​ ​sources.

When​ ​a​ ​farm​ ​utilizes​ ​biodiversity,​ ​like​ ​at​ ​Harvest​ ​of​ ​Joy Farm,​ ​the​ ​crops​ ​are​ ​less​ ​input​ ​intensive as​ ​well​ ​as​ ​healthier​ ​for​ ​people​ ​and​ ​the​ ​Earth.​ ​For​ ​example,​ ​a​ ​farmer​ ​who​ ​is​ ​having​ ​an​ ​aphid problem​ ​with​ ​their​ ​tomatoes​ ​may​ ​place​ ​down​ ​some​ ​ladybugs​ ​who​ ​eat​ ​those​ ​aphids​ ​without​ ​doing damage​ ​to​ ​the​ ​tomato​ ​plants.​ ​This​ ​strategic​ working with the ​ecosystem ​would​ ​eliminate​ ​the​ ​need​ ​for​ ​a​ ​chemical pesticide.​ ​A​ ​second​ ​example​ ​would​ ​be​ ​the​ ​“Three​ ​Sisters”​ ​method​ ​of​ ​farming​ ​created​ ​by​ ​Native Americans​ ​where​ ​beans,​ ​corn,​ ​and​ ​squash​ ​are​ ​placed​ ​together.​ ​The​ ​beans​ ​supply​ ​nitrogen​ ​the corn​ ​needs​ ​which​ ​means​ ​no​ ​fertilizer​ ​and​ ​then​ ​the​ ​squash​ ​keeps​ ​the​ ​area​ ​clear​ ​for​ ​the​ ​both​ ​of them.​ ​Crops​ ​are​ ​able​ ​to​ ​be​ ​grown​ ​organically​ ​without​ ​major​ ​human​ ​input​ ​which​ ​is​ ​better​ ​for health​ ​and​ ​sustainability.

Along​ ​with​ ​that,​ ​new​ ​combinations​ ​are​ ​able​ ​to​ ​occur​ ​which​ ​increases​ ​the​ ​pleasure​ ​of eating​ ​and​ ​allows​ ​new​ ​traits​ ​to​ ​develop.​ ​Like​ ​the​ ​random​ ​red​ ​headed​ ​grandchild,​ ​crops​ ​can​ ​spring up​ ​with​ ​unique​ ​colors,​ ​flavors,​ ​and​ ​textures​ ​so​ ​eating​ ​doesn’t​ ​have​ ​to​ ​be​ ​the​ ​same​ ​boring​ ​thing​ ​all the​ ​time.​ ​An​ ​unexpected​ ​way​ ​I​ ​found​ ​out​ ​variation​ ​was​ ​being​ ​created​ ​at​ ​Harvest​ ​of​ ​Joy Farm​ ​was​ ​when we​ ​were​ ​eating​ ​honey​ ​at​ ​dinner​ ​and​ ​John​ ​remarked​ ​that​ ​the​ ​taste​ ​could​ ​differ​ ​based​ ​on​ ​what​ flowers ​the bees​ ​had​ ​chosen​ ​to​ ​work​ ​with.​ ​It’s​ ​pretty​ ​amazing​ ​to​ ​me​ ​that​ ​because​ ​they​ ​have​ ​so​ ​many​ ​different plants,​ ​their​ ​honey​ ​could​ ​taste​ ​uniquely​ ​delicious​ ​every​ ​year.​ ​When​ ​allowed​ ​to​ ​genetically​ ​dice roll,​ ​crops​ ​also​ ​have​ ​a​ ​chance​ ​of​ ​naturally​ ​developing​ ​beneficial​ ​traits​ ​like​ ​resistance​ ​to​ ​drought or​ ​disease.

Overall,​ ​what’s​ ​learned​ ​from​ ​farms​ ​that​ ​practice​ ​biodiversity​ ​is​ ​that​ ​the​ ​Earth​ ​responds best​ ​when​ ​nature​ ​is​ ​left​ ​to​ ​do​ ​as​ ​nature​ ​does.​ ​As​ ​humans​ ​we​ ​may​ ​find​ ​nature​ ​unpredictable,​ ​but this​ ​can​ ​make​ ​life​ ​more​ ​joyous​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​part​ ​of.​ ​Do​ ​you​ ​have​ ​a​ ​favorite​ ​example​ ​of​ ​biodiversity​ ​in nature​ ​or​ ​a​ ​‘surprise’​ ​crop​ ​that​ ​grew​ ​for​ ​you?​ ​Feel​ ​free​ ​to​ ​share​ ​in​ ​the​ ​comments​ ​below!

Some photos of the diverse seeds Angel helped us save:

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CSA Newsletter: Week 1, 2018

Our newsletter from June 7:

Dear CSA members,

Well, it’s been a roller-coaster of a Spring, hasn’t it? First it seemed like Winter just wasn’t going to end, then we catapulted into mid-summer weather. Now we’re back to Spring again. Between the crazy temperatures and the craziness of trying to help my Dad survive our health care system, I’m kind of amazed that we made it to this first harvest!

We are still running about a week behind where I’d hoped to be with our planting schedule, longer on a few crops like beets and beans. But after school gets out at the end of this week, I think we’ll be able to get caught up. After we get most of the vegetable plants and seeds in the ground, we’ll need to turn our attention quickly to apple thinning. Because some of the apple trees had a relatively decent fruit set this year and we didn’t have a late frost, some of the trees have set more fruit than they can successfully bear. We need to remove a good portion of those immature fruits, otherwise we will end up with lots and lots of tiny apples instead of good sized ones. Most commercial orchards use chemical thinners to stress the trees into dropping young fruit, but we do it the old-fashioned way, by hand. It’s a boring job, but can also be kind of meditative if I’m in the right frame of mind. And, it makes me pay close attention to the trees at a time of year when I might otherwise be rushing blindly through the orchard on my way to the vegetable gardens. So that’s a good thing.

Most of the plants are looking decent right now. Snap peas have been struggling, first with seedcorn maggots, then with the heat, and now with sparrows who are snacking on the tops of the plants. The sparrows have also discovered that the hoophouse attracts flies and have been spending afternoons picking flies off the inside of the hoophouse plastic. Since the larval stages of several different types of flies are some of our most challenging pest species (like those darn seedcorn maggots), that makes me very happy!

One crop that I’m surprised and delighted to have gotten through that week of 90 degree days is spinach, which doesn’t like the heat and tends to bolt when it gets that warm. The variety you have in your shares today is called Abundant Bloomsdale, a relatively new variety from the Organic Seed Alliance, which works with organic farmers to develop crop varieties adapted to organic growing conditions. You can learn more about the project that developed that variety here: https://seedalliance.org/2015/osas-abundant-bloomsdale-spinach-hits-marketplace/.

Abundant Bloomsdale is good in cooked dishes like omelets and lasagnas, but mostly I end up just eating it raw in salads. If you do make a spinach salad, you could use your garlic shoots to make a dressing to go on it. Garlic shoots are just baby garlic plants, pulled before they start forming bulbs. Chop up the tender white ends and use them in anything you’d normally put garlic in. If you’d like to make a salad dressing, here’s our basic recipe:

Salad Dressing

1 part your favorite vinegar or lemon juice; 3 parts olive oil; a dab of brown mustard; salt and pepper to taste; minced garlic; whatever herbs you like. Put in a small bottle with a lid and shake to combine. Toss salad and enjoy!

Before you make that salad, though, you may want to give your spinach a quick wash. Even though you don’t need to worry about chemical residues on our produce, our gardens are full of life that may have crawled across or sampled your produce prior to harvest. We do rinse off greens and roots after harvest, but it’s a good idea to give them another wash before you put them on the table. Also, we try very hard to make sure there are no creepy-crawlies hiding out in your vegetables before they get to you, but slugs and bugs are camouflage artists—it’s how they avoid predators and stay alive. So at some point you may find an unwelcome hitchhiker in your produce. Apologies in advance!

You could slice up your turnips and throw them into your salad for some crunch. I love turnip leaves and often put them in my salads as well. But here is my all-time favorite thing to do with turnips (modified from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book):

Peppery Turnip Treat

Ingredients: 2 teaspoons butter; 2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey; 1 pound (or however many you have) turnips, diced; Turnip greens, separated from their ribs and chopped into 1-2” pieces; ¼ to ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and honey (or maple syrup) over medium heat. Add the turnips and pepper. Saute the turnips until they are tender and slightly browned. Add turnip greens and cook, stirring, until the greens are well wilted (but still a bright green) and have sucked up all of the remaining maple syrup and butter in the pan.

We’ve worked hard to get this first share to you this week—we hope you enjoy it! If you ever find anything less than wonderful in your share boxes, please let us know. We do our best to get produce to you in good condition and if there is a problem with your shares, we want to know about it so that we can fix it.

Wishing you a wonderful week!

Amy & John

One exciting thing that happened this week was the hatch of nineteen Ancona ducklings! Here’s the first one to hatch out on Wednesday morning:

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Guest Blogger Lilly Baumann: “Understanding our Food’s Story: Tomatoes”

Lilly Baumann is one of fourteen First Year students from Kalamazoo College to visit our farm last Fall as a part of a service-learning project sponsored by the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement. After helping us select and save tomato seeds, Lilly researched the history of tomatoes and their travels around the globe. We currently have twenty-six varieties of tomatoes started in flats, ranging from big pink-fruited sandwich tomatoes to yellow and black cherry tomatoes. We are even growing a hollow tomato that is perfect for stuffing! It’s going to be a couple of months before these plants bear their lovely fruit; in the meantime, enjoy Lilly’s post and ponder her questions about the importance of understanding the cultural history of the food we eat.

Our current industrialized food system distances us from our food, not allowing us to understand how it was grown, where it came from, or the impact it had on the people and environment around it. Because of this distance, it is difficult to have respect for the food that we eat, which allows us to feel more emotionally and spiritually connected to the food we eat. Growing our own food, or being aware of where our food is coming from, by buying from small local farms such as Harvest of Joy Farm, can help us to deepen our connection with our food. When I visited the farm, I was amazed to see the variety of plants they had. By helping with some of the processes around the farm, harvesting and saving seeds, I felt a deeper appreciation for the food and the work that goes into growing and harvesting it. It is also important to look at the origins of these foods and understand the cultural significance these foods had for the people who first grew them. By building this understanding of our food and becoming more deeply connected with it can help us to enjoy our food better, as we gain a respect for the plant, the ground it grew in and the people who grew it.

One plant that has an interesting origin story is the tomato. When you think of tomatoes, what country do you think of? Italy, right? While Italy was one of the first countries in the west to popularize tomatoes, they are originally from South America, in the Andes Mountains region, most likely, Peru. The origin story of tomatoes is a bit complicated, and there is not much information about the original cultivators of tomatoes. It is thought that they were first cultivated by the Mayans in Mexico, but there is not much information about how they were cultivated or the cultural significance they had for the Mayans. Most of the earliest documentations of people eating tomatoes come from Italy in the 1500s. It is most likely that they were brought to Europe from South America or Mexico by Spanish explorers.

When the tomato was brought back to Spain, it was recognized to be a part of the nightshade family, and therefore many people were skeptical about eating it at first. The Italians were some of the first people to start cooking and eating tomatoes, as they started to prepare tomatoes as they would eggplant, also a nightshade. This idea then spread to other parts of Europe such as France and Spain. Tomatoes were brought back to the Americas by the European settlers, but they were not eaten until much later, as many people feared that they were poisonous, similar to other nightshades such as mandrakes. However, tomatoes were grown as decorations in the 1700s. It is thought that Thomas Jefferson was one of the first people to promote eating tomatoes in the United States, after eating them while in France. In the early 1800s, more people began eating tomatoes, as more areas in the U.S. became heavily influenced by various European cultures, such as the French influence in New Orleans. Tomatoes were most often eaten in a processed form, such as ketchup, because people still feared that they were poisonous. Now, it is known that tomatoes are not poisonous, and they have become the one of the most widely produced crop in the U.S., second only to corn; however, still 75% of the tomatoes we consume are processed, whether that be canned, condensed, or ketchup.

While researching the history of tomatoes can help us to understand them better, it is still hard to become more deeply connected with them, as there are many gaps in the tomato’s story, such as its significance in Mayan culture when it was first being cultivated, or how they were used by the original cultivators. It is also interesting to note the amount of processed tomatoes Americans eat, as opposed to fresh. How can we become more connected to our food if it is so highly processed? Not only are we not aware of how tomatoes are grown or who is growing and picking them, an additional level of distance is added when the produce is processed, taking it further from its original form.

What do you think about the distance our food system create between us and our food? Should we have a better understanding of the origins of our food and their cultural significance? What are ways in which you minimize this distance?

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Guest Bloggers from “Cultivating Community”: How to Cultivate Rice Without Flooding Your Garden

Sitting in my living room this evening, muscles unwinding after an afternoon of pruning apple trees, I’m bathed in a soft glow from the grow lights on the porch. It makes me a little giddy to look at the freshly filled flats of moist soil and think about the seeds just under the surface, warming and swelling, waking up after their winter dormancy. Each morning I check them on my way to the bathroom: any sprouts yet? Not yet. But soon.

Our porch room serves many seasonal purposes: winter storage room, spring transplant starting room, summer CSA share distribution site. Throughout most of this past winter, a curtain of bundled rice plants hung the length of the room—the product of our experimentation with growing upland rice last season. Last fall a group of students from Kalamazoo College Professor Dr. Amelia Katanski’s First Year seminar class “Cultivating Community” came out to the farm to help us begin the process of threshing and dehulling the rice and we’ve continued to process it in small batches throughout the winter months. Here is the story of this rice on our farm, told from the students’ perspectives:

 Rebekah​ ​Halley, Tori​ ​Wright, Madalyn​ ​Winarski, Keelin​ ​McManus: When we arrived at the farm, Amy and the dogs welcomed us, gave a tour of the farm, and introduced us to their projects ranging from amaranth to ducks. After exploring the various crops growing on the farm we were able to dig deeper into the Duborskian variety of upland rice, seeing how it had been grown and experiencing the process of making it ready for consumption.

 Rebekah Halley: Upland Rice is a unique crop. Duborskian, a variety from Russia, is appealing to farmers because it grows well in colder climates and does not require flooding or a large water source. The cultivation of Duborskian rice has been gradually spreading across the country and has recently come to Harvest of Joy Farm. Amy and John were able to obtain seed from a trusted friend [Sherck Seeds] who inspired their interest in this rice. During this first year trial, their goal was to harvest a small supply of a highly sustainable grain.

Madalyn Winarski: Duborskian rice is also tolerant to light frost during its long growing period of about 115 days. These growing conditions make Duborskian rice a perfect variety for Michigan weather!

Keelin​ ​McManus: By growing your own rice, it creates a sense of security in the fact that the crop harvested and consumed by you and your family will be free from the negative impacts of the industrial food system today. Upon my visit to Harvest of Joy Farm, I was excited to see that the rice they grew was a manageable alternative to the other strains of rice that are highly unpredictable in nature, as well as labor intensive. Overall, I found that the cultivation of this crop can be a little tedious without expensive machinery, but was well worth the effort in the end. The process of actually harvesting the crop out of the ground is fairly simple, given all that needs to be done is to cut the [stalks] of the plant. The real work comes later.

[Keelin is right! Upland rice is as easy to grow as any other garden plant. It needs fertile soil, moderate water, and protection from weed competition and bird predation. We started our rice plants indoors in soil blocks and transplanted them outdoors about 9” apart into garden beds in late May. The rice was mature and ready to harvest by mid-September. Rebekah Halley describes the process of harvesting, threshing, and dehulling the rice:]

Rebekah​ ​Halley:

1. To begin, cut the rice at the base of the stalk about a couple inches above the soil and tie into bundles. It will be ready to harvest when the seed heads are brownish gold and heavy.

 

Harvesting w sickle

2. Hang the stalks for about 2-3 weeks in a warm place to dry.

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3. After the bundles are sufficiently dry, cut off the stems leaving only the grain still attached and put the grain into a bag or pillowcase. [Place the bag on the floor and dance on it,] using your feet to twist and turn until all of the grain is [separated] and the stem and hairs of the plant are no longer attached.

[Or, as we later figured out, you can stuff several bundles into a used feed sack and whack them with a piece of hose to thresh the grains from the stalks.]

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4. With the separated grains from the stem, begin the winnowing process. Use the wind to blow the chaff from the grain. This can be done using actual wind or a box fan. Simply place the grain into a small bowl and slowly pour at an angle into a tub or larger bin beneath you. Make sure to leave room for the wind to blow away the [chaff] but not so much room that you lose the grain as well. Gravity will do its part in ensuring that the heavier grain falls into the bin. Do this about 3 times or until all the chaff is gone.

winnowing chaff

5. Next remove the hull of the seed. This is most easily done with a de-hulling machine in which you slowly pour the grain between the force of two rubber wheels in order to remove the hull.

Dehuller

6. Next repeat step five and winnow away the hulls of the seeds. Do this 2-3 times ensuring that all the [hulls] have blown away. (Note: Winnowing outside is heavily suggested due to the mess.)

7. After winnowing, separate out the grains that the de-huller may have missed. One way to do this is to find a screen with large enough openings to fit the already dehulled seeds through but not the seeds with the hulls still on. Then spread grain over the screen and run the seeds that were missed through the dehulling machine again. [Or simply run the whole lot back through the dehuller a couple of times until most of the grains are dehulled. Winnow out the separated hulls after each pass.]

8. The seeds are now ready to be cooked, stored, or added to any dish you please. Duborskian rice is used for its slightly sweet taste and its unique flavor allows it to be just as good as its own dish. This variety will also work in almost all recipes that call for rice.

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9. A final step that you may wish to add to this process would be to select some seeds to save and plant the following year. By doing this you would be contributing toward the type of plant you wish to grow and continuing its heritage. You can select grains from your best performing plants, perhaps the tallest ones, the stems with the most yield, the timing in which they are ready to harvest, or any other reasons. However, add to this collection a few random seeds from your other Duborskian stems that may not have done so well or were smaller in order to ensure and maintain the genetic quality of your next harvest. Not only will you save yourself the trouble of buying new seed each year but you will be able to gradually develop varieties that are more accumulated to your soil, climate, and environment.

Madalyn Winarski: Now it is time for you to enjoy your rice! You may cook or store your rice. You may think that there are only a few things you are able to do with rice, but this simply isn’t true. You can make rice casserole, rice pudding, and even rice cake. Or get crafty and experiment with your own recipes, but be sure to share if you find a winner!

Simple Rice Pudding Recipe

Ingredients: 2 cups cooked rice; 1 quart milk or soy milk; 1/3 cup raisins; 1/3 cup maple syrup (or more to taste); 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; 1 teaspoon vanilla; 1 pinch salt

Add milk, rice, and raisins together in a saucepan and heat until simmering, stirring often. Simmer for 30-40 minutes until rice is soft and the milk has started to thicken. Then add the syrup, cinnamon, and salt and continue to simmer until it thickens to your desired consistency. Add vanilla and enjoy!

Keelin McManus: Overall, [our] experience on the farm concluded with a lovely homemade dinner, and was one I will never forget. This unique experience of being able to go directly from plant to table is one I will strive for more often, and you should too! I hope that by sharing my experience on the farm inspires you to tell your stories as well, and to look for where your food comes from. Or perhaps, even go out to experience a farm yourself.

Thanks, Rebekah, Tori, Madalyn, and Keelin, for helping us begin the process of threshing and dehulling our rice! I don’t think we’ll be selling rice any time soon, but I’m glad that we know how to grow it for ourselves and maybe we can inspire other gardeners to try upland rice in their own gardens. We have been enjoying the sweet, nutty flavor of Duborskian rice in stir-fries, fried rice, and yes, in rice pudding!

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Guest Bloggers: “Cultivating Community” Cultivates Seeds

Each spring, as the ground softens under warming sunlight, I feel a corresponding stirring within myself; a steadying, a preparing. The winter season of dreaming and planning draws to an end and we ready ourselves for action. How will our dreams for the gardens manifest themselves this growing season? What unexpected complications will challenge us? What will succeed beyond our wildest hopes? Whatever gifts and lessons this season will bring, it begins with the seeds.

The seeds arrive in padded envelopes and cardboard boxes wedged into our mailbox. New friends and old friends; plant varieties we have grown for decades and those we will get to know for the first time. But as we save more seeds each year, we become less reliant on the glossy catalogs and turn instead to our own collections, tucked into plastic bins and glass jars on the seed room shelves. Seed saving deepens our relationships with the crops that we grow and makes our community more resilient as we collaborate with networks of seed-savers to preserve agricultural diversity outside the realm of corporate control.

Last fall we had the pleasure of hosting students from Kalamazoo College Professor Dr. Amelia Katanski’s First Year seminar class “Cultivating Community” as they helped us save some of the seeds we’ll be planting this spring. This class engages with individuals and organizations that work to strengthen communities through food. We wanted to share some of their insights from their research into food systems and their time on the farm with you. Below are excerpts from reflections by four of these students. We’ll be sharing writing from more students over the next several weeks. Enjoy!

Tori​ ​Wright: Coming​ ​into​ ​my​ ​first-year​ ​seminar​ ​class​ ​called​ ​“Cultivating​ ​Community”​ ​at​ ​Kalamazoo College,​ ​I​ ​did​ ​not​ ​know​ ​what​ ​to​ ​expect.​ ​The​ ​course​ ​summary​ ​had​ ​the​ ​word​ ​“food”​ ​which​ ​stuck out​ ​to​ ​me,​ ​considering​ ​that​ ​I​ ​love​ ​food​ ​and​ ​everything​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with​ ​it.​ ​What​ ​could​ ​possibly​ ​be unappealing​ ​about​ ​a​ ​class​ ​that​ ​deals​ ​with​ ​food?​ ​On​ ​the​ ​first​ ​couple​ ​of​ ​classes,​ ​I​ ​realized​ ​that​ ​it was​ ​an​ ​interest​ ​of​ ​mine​ ​that​ ​I​ ​had​ ​yet​ ​to​ ​explore.​ ​I​ ​have​ ​never​ ​really​ ​thought​ ​about​ ​the​ ​origin​ ​of where​ ​my​ ​food​ ​came​ ​from.​

Kali Stanger: When we walk into the grocery store, the first glance reveals abundance. Stores seem to hold such a vast array of food that the options are overwhelming. But wandering the produce section, the fruits and vegetables tell a tale of scarcity. For many Americans today, our taste buds only know a select few varieties of the produce we eat.

Brad Carlson: America’s seeds are in trouble. The entirety of the food industry in America begins with seeds. Seeds have immense power and influence over our food and culture that sometimes goes unrecognized. With that said, the variety of seeds we use to grow food is dwindling, with large corporations narrowing down species of seeds to those that they choose in order to maximize profit. If you’ve ever heard of the Irish Potato Famine, then you know why this is bad!

Limiting ourselves to only a few varieties of a plant can have devastating results if that seed fails for some reason. Not only that, but the legal stranglehold placed on farmers [by seed patenting] is another recipe for disaster. However, a grassroots movement called “seed saving” is gaining momentum to combat the limitation of seed variety. Seed saving is a campaign that encourages the trading and saving of seed types to be grown/kept in order to broaden the variety of seeds once again.

​Bri​ ​Taylor: Seed-saving​ ​seems​ ​like​ ​a​ ​simple​ ​idea,​ ​and​ ​it​ ​should,​ ​as​ ​people​ ​all​ ​over  ​the​ ​world​ ​have​ ​ practiced​ ​this​ ​type​ ​of​ ​sustainable​ ​farming.​ ​ The​ ​importance​ ​of​ ​seed-saving​ ​is​ ​astronomical,​ ​especially​ ​now​ ​as​ ​large​ ​corporations continuously​ ​command​ ​control​ ​of​ ​seeds,​ ​which​ ​in​ ​turn​ ​gives​ ​them​ ​secondary​ ​control​ ​to​ ​the​ ​plants and​ ​those​ ​who​ ​tend​ ​to​ ​them.​

The​ ​graphic​ ​below​ ​displays​ ​the​ ​large​ ​hold​ ​that​ ​corporations​ ​have​ ​on​ ​seed​ ​companies.

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[This diagram was created by Dr. Phil Howard to visually represent the consolidation of control of seed by chemical companies (represented in dark red). As you might suspect, these companies do not prioritize the improvement of crop varieties that can be grown without chemical inputs! To learn more about Dr. Howard’s work, visit: https://msu.edu/~howardp/seedindustry.html.]

This​ ​graph​ic ​proves​ ​how​ ​wide​ ​the​ ​control​ ​is​ ​on​ ​seeds;​ ​however,​ ​there​ ​is​ ​hope​ ​to​ ​changing​ ​this system​.

Kali Stanger: Harvest of Joy Farm tells a completely different story; here biodiversity reigns supreme.  And part of the secret of this diversity is seed saving. Though daunting to many, seed saving is within the reach of anyone interested, regardless of skill. When visiting Harvest of Joy Farm, I worked with tomatoes and peppers and was shocked at how easy seed saving was.

The first step is having plants to save seeds from. This usually means ordering from independent seed companies or finding someone who already works within the seed saving network, giving you the ability to grow plants you can save seeds from. Once your plants are producing fruit the hard part is done! Then you get to become your own evolutionary biologist by picking the best-looking fruit on your plants and saving their seeds.

Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Italian Frying Pepper, a great contrast from the mainstream red bell pepper, was an especially easy plant to save seeds from. After deciding which peppers we wanted (the straightest pepper with the least blemishes that were a little over ripe and wilted) the process was easy. All you need to do is to cut the pepper in half and scrape the seeds onto a plate. Let them dry and you’re all set for next planting season!

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Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Italian Frying pepper was on the edge of extinction in 2008 prior to being put on the Slow Food Ark of Taste. With this nomination, these pepper seeds began to be saved and in 4 years the seeds went from being sold only at a few independent sellers to being sold by over 200 sellers. Whether you’re interested in expanding your diets beyond the mainstream varieties that are offered in stores, want to cut costs by only having to buy seeds once, or are desperately trying to defy the industrial food system that is substantially minimizing plant diversity, seed saving is easy, affordable and within your reach.

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Brad Carlson: With food becoming more industrialized and more about sustenance than building relationships with others and the Earth, it is important that small farms and surrounding communities come together to bring the personal touch back to food, rather than the mechanical or chemical treatment of food that cares little about the culture around food. On a personal note, experiencing the food [at Harvest of Joy Farm] was quite an enlightening experience. The difference between produce grown there and food served in the school cafeteria is immense. The freshness and “realness” of the food makes a world of difference in flavor.

Bri Taylor: Don’t​ ​let​ ​the​ ​industrial​ ​food​ ​system​ ​prevent​ ​our​ ​communities​ ​from​ ​having​ ​a​ ​sustainable, healthy,​ ​agriculture.​ ​To​ ​support​ ​seed-saving​ ​is​ ​to​ ​support​ ​life​ ​and​ ​the​ ​future.

Thanks Bri, Brad, Kali, and Tori for your work with and words about the seeds!

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