Saturday, August 20, 2016

Continuing Education: Recommended Reading on Health and Sustainability

Farm Update
Every year I get excited all over again for our specialty
tomatoes, which are not only delicious but lovely.
Hi everyone!  We've been getting a lot of good rain at the farm lately, and the ground has been absorbing it well despite the sheer volume.  The weeds have really taken off, but Fred has been doing a lot of cultivating and the guys have been making a dent in the weeding that has needed to happen for a while now.  Fred has also been turning under some old plantings.  It's actually been kind of nice, because now the visual reminder of what a rough June we had is gone, and we can replant that land.  We'll plant some of it with crops for the fall (such as lettuce, spinach, broccoli, and cabbage), and some of it with cover crop.  Fred put in several large plantings of carrots over the last few weeks, and some spinach earlier today, in preparation for the last part of the season.  The CSA is exactly half over right now, and in time we'll transition from tomatoes and basil and other summer staples to beets, sweet potatoes, and winter squash, and the year will wane in the familiar pattern.  But in the meantime, we have several more weeks of summer to relish!

What to Expect in Your Share this Week

Here are the options in each veggie station this week!  If you have a half share, you'll choose one from each category, and if you have a full share, you'll choose two.


  • Cherry tomatoes
  • 4 large tomatoes or lettuce
  • Broccoli, beets, or kale
  • Green beans or chard
  • Cucumber or pepper
  • Small cabbage, garlic, or onion
  • Potatoes or surprise veggie


If you have your share delivered to your home or workplace, or if you pick up at our East Lansing drop-off, here are your options for this week.  If you have a half share, choose one, and if you have a full share, choose two.

Share A:                                      Share B:
Cherry tomatoes                          Cherry tomatoes
4 large tomatoes                           Lettuce
Broccoli                                       Beets
Chard                                           Green beans
Pepper                                          Cucumber
Small cabbage                              Onion
Potatoes                                        Surprise veggie

If you have a preference for share A or share B, just let me know by noonish the day before your delivery day, and I'll make sure you get your preferred share.  If you don't have a preference, I'll just choose for you. :-)




Continuing Education:  Recommended Reading on Health and Sustainability


Ah, August.  That exciting time of year when the weather is warm, the produce is plentiful, and the days are a little lazier. (Unless you happen to be a farmer.  In which case, not so much.)  This is also the time of year when teachers, students, and parents of school-age kids start thinking about back to school.  Having been a student and then a teacher, late August always feels like a time to make preparations, either for my own education or for that of people I am charged to educate.  That got me thinking:  If I were to teach a course on the organic/sustainable/locavore lifestyle, what would be my assigned reading list?  What books would I have my students read in order to have an understanding of what it takes to be generally healthy and support sustainable food systems?  The following are books that have informed my own understanding of health and sustainability over the last decade or so, so if you’re interested, check them out!


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver:  Author Barbara Kingsolver and her family embark on a yearlong experiment in hyperlocal eating.

 From the book’s website: The family’s year long experience leads them through a season of planting, pulling weeds, expanding their kitchen skills, harvesting their own animals, joining the effort to save heritage crops from extinction, and learning the time-honored rural art of unloading excess zucchini. Barbara Kingsolver’s engaging narrative is enriched by husband Steven Hopp’s in-depth reports on the science and industry of food, and daughter Camille’s youthful perspective on cooking and food culture. 
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life makes a passionate case for putting the kitchen back at the center of family life, and diversified farms at the center of the American diet.

French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Giuliano:  Author and CEO Mireille Giuliano recounts her experience as a college student relearning the merits of her traditional French food culture after a year abroad, and applying those principles to her healthy lifestyle for the next several decades.

From the book’s website: Stylish, convincing, wise, funny, and just in time: the ultimate 
non-diet book, which could radically change the way you think and live.  French women don't get fat, but they do eat bread and pastry, drink wine, and regularly enjoy three-course meals. In her delightful tale, Mireille Guiliano unlocks the simple secrets of this "French paradox" -– how to enjoy food and stay slim and healthy. Hers is a charming, sensible, and powerfully life-affirming view of health and eating for our times.

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan:  Author Michael Pollan explains the difference between real food and “edible foodlike substances”, and makes the case for the nutritional superiority of real food.

From the book’s website:  Food. There’s plenty of it around, and we all love to eat it. So why should anyone need to defend it?
Because most of what we’re consuming today is not food, and how we’re consuming it — in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly alone — is not really eating. Instead of food, we’re consuming “edible foodlike substances” — no longer the products of nature but of food science. Many of them come packaged with health claims that should be our first clue they are anything but healthy. In the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion. The result is what Michael Pollan calls the American paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.

The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball:  Farmer and author Kristen Kimball recounts the grueling but extremely rewarding first year that she and her soon-to-be husband Mark had their farm.  She chronicles the work, the food, and the ups and downs.  Basically, this girl gets it.

From the book’s website: “The Dirty Life is a wonderfully told tale of one of the most interesting farms in the country. If you want to understand the heart and soul of the new/old movement towards local food, this is the book you need. It's the voice of what comes next in this land, of the generation unleashed by Wendell Berry to do something really grand.”
— Bill McKibben, author Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan:  Author Michael Pollan discusses health, farming, food manufacturing, cooking, economics, and environmental ethics in an attempt to answer the question “What should we eat?”

From the book’s website: In this groundbreaking book, one of America’s most fascinating, original, and elegant writers turns his own omnivorous mind to the seemingly straightforward question of what we should have for dinner. To find out, Pollan follows each of the food chains that sustain us—industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves—from the source to a final meal, and in the process develops a definitive account of the American way of eating. 

Recipes


It's finally cherry tomato season, and we love to use them in practically anything!  These Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes with Garlic and Basil are a super fast and easy side dish for a busy evening.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Hot Weather Veggie Smoothies

Farm Update


Hi everyone!  We finally got some much needed rain, so we are all breathing a little easier this weekend!  That will really help our plantings of fall veggies along.  Tomatoes are also starting to come out in force, so it's likely that everyone will get tomatoes of some kind this week, whether it be cherry tomatoes or slicers.  We're also starting to see a lot more tomato horn worms (which, if you've never seen one, are completely gross).  We will still have bulk green beans available this week at $9 for five pounds, so just let me know if you're interested!  The watermelons are starting to become ready, so we'll likely have some for the CSA this week, and we should have some for the next few weeks.  We have both red and yellow watermelons, and in case you're wondering, they do have seeds, so don't be surprised by the seeds when you cut them open.  On the home front, we got to take a little bit of a break this weekend due to the rain.  I love rainy weather because it means Fred can get away from the farm for a few hours, which he did on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.  But the new workweek begins right now, so it's time to hit the (now well-watered) ground running again for another week!

What to Expect in Your Share this Week

Here are the options in each veggie station this week!  If you have a half share, you'll choose one from each category, and if you have a full share, you'll choose two.
  • Tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • Carrots or beets
  • Cooking greens mix, cabbage, or basil
  • Peppers or kohlrabi
  • Garlic, onion, or cucumber
  • Potatoes or surprise veggie

If you have your share delivered to your home or workplace, or if you pick up at our East Lansing drop-off, here are your options for this week.  If you have a half share, choose one, and if you have a full share, choose two.

Share A:                                      Share B:
Tomatoes                                     Tomatoes
Green beans                                 Green beans
Carrots                                         Beets
Cooking greens                            Cabbage
Kohlrabi                                       Sweet peppers
Onion                                           Garlic
Potatoes                                       Surprise veggie

If you have a preference for share A or share B, just let me know by noonish the day before your delivery day, and I'll make sure you get your preferred share.  If you don't have a preference, I'll just choose for you. :-)




Hot Weather Veggie Smoothies

Is it just me, or has anyone else been avoiding the oven and stove this last week?  Sometimes when it gets so hot, you just want to stay away from sources of heat and eat something cold... which brings me to smoothies.  Not only are smoothies a delicious and easy meal or snack, they're also a great way to use up any veggies you might still have left over at the end of the week.  So keep reading for some yummy veggie smoothie ideas!

Carrot Cake Smoothie:  Try out this nutritious smoothie for the closest thing you'll ever find to carrot cake in a glass!

Mango-Cucumber Lime Smoothie with a Kick:  Spoiler alert!  The kick is cayenne pepper.  Intrigued?  Read on.  You can also trade out the baby spinach in the recipe for cooking greens, but I would wilt them a little bit first before throwing them in the blender.

Kale Berry Smoothie:  Use cooking greens mix or leftover kale for this smoothie, and if you happen to have some frozen blueberries on hand, all the better!

Or if you want to create your own smoothie recipes out of whatever odds and ends you have on hand, here is a good basic template for making your own smoothie creations!








Sunday, August 7, 2016

Veggie Spotlight: Snap Beans

Farm Update


Fred examines a green bean before
picking it.
Hi everyone!  It's been another hot and dry week at the farm, which has been a little rough on the veggies.  We've been irrigating nonstop, which is helping, but as always a good rain would be very welcome.  One exciting thing though is that our tomatoes are ripening up nicely, and we should have an excellent crop of them!  We might be bringing some of them for the CSA this week, although they'll still be fairly limited.  We've been experiencing some deer damage once again.  They've been especially detrimental to our corn and carrots, so Fred is continuing his attempts to scare them off every night.  We're also going to try to get our deer fence much more quickly than we originally planned.  But in other good news, we had our annual organic inspection on Friday, and it went really well.  We're also putting in another large planting of carrots this weekend, so that we'll have plenty of nice carrots for the fall.  We're almost at the halfway point of the CSA season, so now is the time when we are fully into preparation for the end of the season.  It happens every year; I start to see the back-to-school stuff at the store and I realize that another farm season will start to wane shortly.  Even though the weather is hot and the days are long, November starts to appear in my mind, and I start feeling compelled to dry basil, freeze stray green beans and cabbage, and start preparing for a time of less abundance.  In case you're interested in doing the same thing, we have plenty of green beans for freezing.  You can get them in five- or ten-pound bags, and they'll be $9 for five pounds.  Just let me know!


What to Expect in Your Share this Week

Here are the options in each veggie station this week!  If you have a half share, you'll choose one from each category, and if you have a full share, you'll choose two.
  • Snap beans
  • Carrots, beets, or basil
  • Potatoes or lettuce
  • Kale, Swiss chard, or cabbage
  • Sweet peppers or garlic
  • Cucumber, zucchini, or kohlrabi
  • Surprise veggie

If you have your share delivered to your home or workplace, or if you pick up at our East Lansing drop-off, here are your options for this week.  If you have a half share, choose one, and if you have a full share, choose two.

Share A:                                      Share B:
Snap beans                                  Snap beans
Carrots                                         Beets
Potatoes                                       Lettuce
Kale                                             Cabbage
Sweet peppers                             Garlic
Cucumber                                    Zucchini
Surprise veggie                           Surprise veggie

If you have a preference for share A or share B, just let me know by noonish the day before your delivery day, and I'll make sure you get your preferred share.  If you don't have a preference, I'll just choose for you. :-)




Veggie Spotlight:  Snap Beans


Perhaps one of the coolest looking
beans we grow is the dragon bean.
Snap beans, one of the best loved summer vegetables, are here again!  Beans are one of those warm weather plants that thrives in the long day lengths of the Michigan summers.  Michigan is actually one of the highest producing states for green beans, because our climate is ideal for this crop.

Beans are native to the Americas (originating somewhere between Southern Mexico and Costa Rica) and have been cultivated by humans since at least 5000 BC.  The fava bean, another type of plant also referred to as a bean, originated in Afghanistan, but we don't grow that type.  The snap beans we all know and love are vastly improved from earlier beans.  Many of you will remember from years past that snap beans were often referred to as string beans, because of the fibrous string that had to be removed from each bean.  Earlier cultivated beans were often more fibrous in general, and better for eating the seed inside the pod than the tender bean pod we enjoy today.  The earlier beans were most often the pole bean type, with longer vines that lasted the entire season.  Now most farms, including ours, grow the bush type.  This is easier to manage because instead of producing beans all summer, it produces one large crop all at once.  This makes them much easier to pick, and though beans are easier to grow than other crops, the greater amount of hand labor to harvest them is the major drawback to the farmer. Anyone who has grown a significant amount of beans in their garden can relate to the fatigue of hand harvesting beans. Since it is a one-time harvest, we seed many times throughout the season to ensure we are offering them several times during the CSA season.

This year we are growing five different varieties: green, yellow, purple, green Romano, and the heirloom Dragon bean, which is a long, off-white bean that has the purple streaking.  The green bean is the most productive, and the one you will see the most in the shares.  Most of the bean breeding effort has been focused on green beans because they are generally more financially important, and it shows in yield, taste, and tenderness.  We do have some issues every year with our beans, bean beetles being one of the most annoying as they chew little holes in the leaves and beans.  There is also some brown rust that will form on the beans in wet conditions, and it often is more prevalent in the late season.  Another odd issue that we have sometimes is that the beans are ready to harvest around the same time the thistle seed forms in pasture areas, and it starts to blow into the air and often gets stuck on the beans.  Most of it washes off but if you ever see something white on the beans that looks like a very light hair, that is the thistle.

At home, we love to use beans when they are fresh and full of flavor.  Most often we saute them in olive oil, often mixing in a little onion or shallot.  When tomatoes and peppers come in large amounts we often make a spicier dish with fresh tomatoes, peppers, fresh snap beans, and onions which is a really great mix of fresh summer flavors.  Whatever you do with your beans this week, we hope you enjoy them as much as we do!


Recipes


And for some inspiration, here are some great snap bean recipes from Southern Living!  They all involve using the beans at their freshest and most flavorful, so they're perfect for this time of year.  Enjoy!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Soil Fertility on the Farm

Farm Update


Night starting to descend at the farm.
 Hi everyone!  The rainy weather these last few days has really helped things out at the farm!  The blueberries are still looking great, and we're doing a large potato harvest today as well.  Now that we're getting the rain we need, the weeds are really taking off as well.  The deer pressure has abated quite a bit, mostly because Fred has continued to be extremely diligent about pushing them back each night.  We've also been playing a radio out in the field during the night, which keeps them on edge.  It's going to be a busy week at the farm because we're a little short-handed on workers this week, but it is likely to be more pleasant out there now that is cooler.  There has been a definite change in the air. Even though high summer veggies are still on their way, the air is cooler and nightfall comes earlier, signalling the onset of fall before we know it.



What to Expect in Your Share this Week

Here are the options in each veggie station this week!  If you have a half share, you'll choose one from each category, and if you have a full share, you'll choose two.

  • Blueberries for everyone!
  • Carrots or beets
  • Fingerling potatoes or sweet corn (4 ears)
  • Cucumbers or kohlrabi
  • Kale, Swiss chard, or zucchini
  • Lettuce or cabbage
  • Surprise veggie

If you have your share delivered to your home or workplace, or if you pick up at our East Lansing


While we don't have peppers in the
shares this week, they are well on
their way!
drop-off, here are your options for this week.  If you have a half share, choose one, and if you have a full share, choose two.

Share A:                                      Share B:
Blueberries                                 Blueberries
Carrots                                        Beets
Fingerling potatoes                    Sweet corn
Cucumbers                                 Cucumbers
Kale                                            Zucchini
Cabbage                                      Lettuce
Surprise veggie                          Surprise veggie

If you have a preference for share A or share B, just let me know by noonish the day before your delivery day, and I'll make sure you get your preferred share.  If you don't have a preference, I'll just choose for you. :-)




Soil Fertility on the Farm


It’s well-known in the farming world, but less well-known to those who don’t grow food, that the fertility of the soil is one of the main factors that influence the quality and yield of the crops.  So how do we manage our soil to get so many veggies from our small farm?  One of the main things is that we pay a lot of attention to the level of nutrients and overall soil health in our fields.  Many of you home gardeners probably put compost on your garden to feed your soil.  When you apply this compost it not only feeds the plants nutrients but provides a better place for the roots to grow.  We do exactly the same thing on a larger scale and with greater attention to the details of our soil nutrient balance, always seeking to add more organic matter to the soil.

The tomatoes in the greenhouse are
coming along; the vines are about as
tall as Fred now.
Fred starts the process each year by taking a soil test and looking at the results. We then take the results up to Morgan’s Composting in Evart, MI so that they can recommend a soil fertility plan for the year.  Morgan’s has been a great partner from the first year of the farm and those of us in organic vegetable production in Michigan are very fortunate to have them as a resource.  From the many organic fertilizers that they carry, we decide on a mix of different things to spread on our field.  This year it included feather meal, dairy compost, poultry compost, fish, and a few other micronutrients.  We then waited until late March for a morning when the ground was frozen to take a big compost spreader with our tractor and spread this mix over the entire field.  For crops like our potatoes and spinach, we spread extra chicken manure pellets before planting to give the plants more nitrogen, since they are heavy feeders.  We also supplement with extra fish fertilizer through our drip irrigation with plants like our tomatoes.

Admittedly, we spend more on soil fertility than most farms.  Our theory is that anything we can do at the start to get our plants looking nice and healthy will be well worth it in better flavor, yield, and resistance to insects and disease.  Also, we are trying to get veggies that are packed with nutrients and not pumped up with synthetic nitrates and water.  We feel that though greater yield can be achieved using synthetic soil nutrients, the resulting vegetables are not as nutrient dense or as flavorful.  Use of synthetic nutrients can also have quite a devastating effect on most waterways that go through agricultural areas, because they often make it into streams after leaching into drainage tile.  The effect is compounded by the fact that synthetic nutrients have a negative impact on soil structure, often allowing more soil particles to get into streams as well.  Synthetic fertilizers often inhibit microbial life in the soil, which prevents those microbes from forming soil particles into larger aggregates.  These larger soil aggregates stay put better and provide a better growing environment for the root systems of plants.

Fred samples one of our yellow
carrots during his evening walkabout.
The great thing about adding organic nutrients to our soil is that the natural soil life is able to thrive, providing better soil structure and a slower release of nutrients to the plant.  The greater organic matter also regulates soil moisture and provides a greater bank of soil nutrients that can be released slowly, with less leaching into the drainage tile and ground water.  The downside is that organic soil nutrients are harder to spread and transport.  Also, while the fact they release so slowly is better for many plants, certain crops like potatoes, sweet corn, and a few others, need that extra quick boost to yield to their full potential.  This is part of the tradeoff of using organic fertility versus synthetics, and for this reason we have to accept lower yield on some crops.
 

Over the years that we have been on our land, we have increased our soil’s organic matter and now have our soil in a much better balance with more than adequate nutrients for most of our crops.  Our tomatoes are actually so healthy this year that they may actually yield a little later than usual.  The maturity has been a little delayed due to the plant putting on so much nice foliage rather than putting its energy into reproduction, which provides the part of the plant that we eat.  When the tomatoes do come though, there are going to be a lot, since the plants are so large and strong.  While soil fertility is a relatively unromantic topic, it is essential to everything we do on the farm, and it is what allows us to grow such healthy and flavorful vegetables.


Recipes

Just in case you're running out of ideas for zucchini, here is a great recipe for Zucchini Parmesan Crisps!  Or if you're doing the gluten free thing, here is a way you can enjoy one of your old favorites with this Zucchini Lasagna.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

CSA Newsletter for July 24, 2016

Farm Update

The Brussels sprout plants are coming along in preparation
for this fall, when we should have plenty of delicious
Brussels sprouts!
Hi everyone!  It's been a good week at the farm!  It's raining as I write this, which will be really good for all the crops, especially after how hot it's been.  There is more soil moisture in general, so Fred has been cultivating a lot to keep the weeds under control.  After moving the pigs last week, they have stayed in their new home so far, which is a huge relief!  Indeed, they have been enjoying the coolness of the cement building within their pig yard, and they've mostly opted to stay inside for the last few days.  Animals in general have been giving us less trouble than in previous weeks and months.  Fred was able to take out one of the deer that has been coming around in the night and eating our crops, and it must have been sufficiently frightening to the deer's compatriots, because we haven't seen any of them for the last two days.  We know this is temporary, but we'll certainly take it.  We put in some plantings of broccoli, cabbage, and snap beans, so this rain will help those along, and it should be good for the blueberry bushes too.  We've been getting a lot of blueberries all at once, because the extreme heat has been ripening them quickly, so expect some lovely blueberries in your share this week!


What to Expect in Your Share this Week

Here are the options in each veggie station this week!  If you have a half share, you'll choose one from each category, and if you have a full share, you'll choose two.

  • Blueberries for everyone!
    These red lettuces will eventually
    go into our spring mix, but right now
    they're only about an inch tall.
  • Carrots or snap beans
  • Lettuce or pearl onions
  • Kale or cabbage
  • Cucumbers or basil
  • Zucchini or kohlrabi
  • Broccoli or potatoes

If you have your share delivered to your home or workplace, or if you pick up at our East Lansing drop-off, here are your options for this week.  If you have a half share, choose one, and if you have a full share, choose two.

Share A:                                      Share B:
Blueberries                                  Blueberries
Carrots                                         Snap beans
Lettuce                                         Pearl onions
Cabbage                                       Kale
Basil                                             Cucumbers
Zucchini                                       Kohlrabi
Potatoes                                       Broccoli

If you have a preference for share A or share B, just let me know by noonish the day before your delivery day, and I'll make sure you get your preferred share.  If you don't have a preference, I'll just choose for you. :-)



Recipes

Every year when we bring out the first kohlrabi, I inevitably get asked more than a few times "So... what is this thing?"  Kohlrabi is one of the more unusual things we grow, and it is also one of the most versatile.  So if you are among the many people who is not quite sure about that weird looking bulb with the stalks growing out of it is, let alone how to use it, these 5 Tasty Ways to Prepare Kohlrabi are for you!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Whole Foods Vs. Processed Foods: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Farm Update

Hi everyone!  Things are finally starting to feel more relaxed at the farm.  The weather hasn't been so intensely hot and we've had a few good rains, so everything is starting to grow more normally.  There is a lot more moisture in the soil now, which has helped the plants substantially, and also cut down on Fred's workload now that he doesn't have to spend so much time moving irrigation lines around.  Now that conditions are more favorable for planting, we've doing a lot of that lately.  We recently planted leeks, beets, carrots, beans, and lettuce that will be ready for the fall.  Our blueberries are also going to be ready for this week, and we are so excited!  They are really looking nice this year!  We also have some resolution to the more-than-a-little-annoying pig saga as well.  We were having so much trouble keeping the pigs in because their electric fence just wouldn't keep a charge, and after a lot of time, labor, and expense trying different things to make it work, we finally got it working.  But by then they were so used to just coming and going as they pleased, and they decided that they would rather be out of the fence than avoid being shocked.  It was one thing when we could just shoo them back into the pen, but recently they developed a penchant for going out to M-46 several times a day, and we just couldn't have that.  There was just too much of a risk of them causing an accident.  So we finally rounded them up (quite an ordeal in itself) and transported them a few miles down the road to Fred's parents' house, where they are safely ensconced in the old turkey yard.  They are a lot less likely to get out there, and even if they do, they'll do a lot less damage on an infrequently traveled dirt road than a main highway.  So there you have it.  Our week in a nutshell. :-)


What to Expect in Your Share this Week

Here are the options in each veggie station this week!  If you have a half share, you'll choose one from each category, and if you have a full share, you'll choose two.

  • Blueberries for everyone!
  • Carrots or potatoes
  • Broccoli, snap beans, or beets
  • Basil, cilantro, or kohlrabi
  • Zucchini or kale
  • Cabbage or romaine
  • Cucumbers or Swiss chard

If you have your share delivered to your home or workplace, or if you pick up at our East Lansing drop-off, here are your options for this week.  If you have a half share, choose one, and if you have a full share, choose two.

Share A:                                      Share B:
Blueberries                                  Blueberries
Potatoes                                       Carrots
Broccoli                                       Snap beans
Basil                                             Kohlrabi
Zucchini                                       Kale
Cabbage                                       Romaine
Swiss chard                                  Cucumbers

If you have a preference for share A or share B, just let me know by noonish the day before your delivery day, and I'll make sure you get your preferred share.  If you don't have a preference, I'll just choose for you. :-)



Whole Foods Vs. Processed Foods:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


If you are reading this newsletter, chances are you already know that processed foods are not good for us.  This is probably not news to anyone.  But what exactly are processed foods, and why are they so bad?  You may be surprised to hear that most foods are processed on some level, but they are not what we are referring to when we talk about "processed foods".  For example, a tossed salad of lettuce, chopped carrots, radishes, green onions, and an oil-and-vinegar dressing is technically a processed food.  The "processing" is the chopping of the veggies and the mixing of the dressing.  Or the tomato sauce I canned last fall is technically a processed food, because the pureeing and canning is a process.  But when foodies, nutritionists, and health authors refer to "processed food", they mean packaged foods that can sit on the grocery store shelves for a long time at room temperature without degrading, and that usually have a long list of ingredients that you can't picture in their natural state.  Here are some of the reasons processed foods are not good nutritional choices, and how they stack up against foods made from scratch, which are commonly called "whole foods".

Processed foods are commonly high in sugar and other artificial sweeteners, whereas whole foods are usually lower in sugar and seldom contain artificial sweeteners.  We all know by now that too much sugar isn't good for us, and the amount of sugar commonly found in most packaged foods falls squarely in the realm of "too much."  And it's not just in dessert items either, lest you think you're okay because you aren't eating packaged cookies and snack cakes.  If you look at the labels on many savory processed food items, you'll find sugar or other artificial sugar substitutes pretty high up on the ingredient list.  A little sugar in your coffee or a slice of homemade pie every once in a while isn't going to be a problem, but the only way to know how much you're actually consuming is to make it yourself.  Because food manufacturers know that we like sweet foods and will therefore be more likely to spend money on something sweet, they don't hesitate to put in more sugar than is actually healthy.  And don't even get me started on the artificial sweeteners that claim to be healthy because they're calorie free.  A good rule of thumb is that if you can't see a food growing, walking, or swimming in nature, it's probably not something you should be eating (very often).

Processed foods often encourage overeating, whereas whole foods allow you to be more aware of your natural satiety signals.  Humans are naturally attracted to foods high in salt, sugar, and fat, because way back in the day when access to food was a lot more tenuous than it is today, those were often the foods that would give us the most energy.  It was more caloric bang for the food volume buck, so to speak.  These days, we have the opposite issue.  We don't have any trouble finding calorically dense foods, and we often choose them over foods that will fill us up without giving us way more calories than we need for our energy outputs.  Packaged and processed foods almost always contain more calories than are justified by their size, which causes us to consume way more calories than we need without even knowing it.  Add in the fact that salt, sugar, and fat have a tendency to mess with our natural satiety signals, and it becomes a fairly dangerous proposition if these foods make up a large part of your diet.  If you stick to foods that are less calorically dense, such as fruits and veggies, you'll feel satisfied with a meal that is much more in line with your actual caloric needs.

Processed foods usually include many artificial ingredients, whereas whole foods are made with real foods found in nature.  You've heard it before:  if you can't pronounce the ingredient on the label, you probably shouldn't be eating it.  That is because ingredients created in a lab to make a food more shelf stable/ visually attractive/ appealing to our taste buds are not foods that our bodies are naturally equipped to handle, and constantly stressing your body out with these foods can lead to a whole host of health issues.  It bears repeating:  If you can't see it growing, walking, or swimming in nature, then your body probably isn't equipped to handle it well, and you're much better off choosing a food whose advent predates your grandparents.

Processed foods are usually lower in nutrients, whereas whole foods contain more essential nutrients.  For many decades, food scientists thought they could distill what was healthy about food to a few macronutrients, and if they could figure out the right ratios, we could potentially get all our nutrition from non-foods, Jetsons-style.  But try as they might, they could never distill all that was healthy about a carrot into something that wasn't, in fact, a carrot.  Same thing with tomatoes, beets, blueberries, and all of the other traditional foods we've been eating for millennia.  What they discovered is that the science behind how all the nutrients in food work together is way more complex than we can understand.  But that doesn't stop the processed food industry from trying, and it doesn't stop them from adding artificial nutrients to things to make up for the real ones they've taken out through processing.  The bottom line is that if you eat real whole foods, you're going to be getting more of the nutrients you need than you'll ever get eating things created in a lab.

Processed foods are usually low in fiber, whereas whole foods usually have more fiber.  Fiber is good for us, and helps keep our systems running optimally.  Because we can't actually digest fiber, it acts like like a battering ram to keep food moving through our systems.  This allows us to recognize that we are full sooner before we eat more food than we need, and it also keeps our solid waste elimination regular.  If we don't have enough fiber in our diets, we often eat way more than we need to feel satisfied, and experience uncomfortable constipation.  Processed foods often lack fiber, so if you eat mostly processed foods, be prepared to feel slow and sluggish most of the time.  Fruits and veggies are usually very high in fiber, so a diet full of produce is one of the best ways to keep your systems from getting blocked up.

If you have the occasional soda or potato chip at a birthday party, but your diet is otherwise full of healthy whole foods, you're going to be just fine.  But if you frequently find yourself loading up your shopping cart with crackers, cookies, frozen pizzas, and microwave meals, really reconsider!  Sure, it takes a little longer to cook a meal from scratch with real ingredients, but are the 20 minutes you saved by heating up a frozen burrito really worth it if it means you feel like crap all the time?  Eating a diet full of healthy whole foods is a surefire way to feel good and improve your quality of life.

Recipes


It's cucumber season!  If you're not sure what to do with cucumbers aside from making pickles and putting them in a green salad, here are 13 Delicious Cucumber Recipes from Real Simple!  And if you're looking for something to do with your blueberries (that is, if they actually make it all the way home), check out this Blueberry Zucchini Bread recipe!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Veggie Spotlight: Zucchini

Farm Update

The drop-offs are in full swing these days!
Hi everyone!  The biggest news of the week for us was the big rainstorm we got on Thursday evening!  We so needed the rain, so getting so much of it caused some pretty unprecedented jubilation on my part.  (I may have gone outside and danced in it a little bit.  Okay, I did.)  Fred had some misgivings while the rain was coming down so hard, because when the rain is that intense, it runs the risk of washing out some recent plantings.  But closer inspection the next morning showed that most of the new plantings survived.  There was a planting of tricolor carrots that looks like it might be a wash, so to speak, but we're going to give it a week or so before we can tell for sure.  But I tell you what, all the other plants are looking so much happier!  The sweet corn and tomatoes are really coming along, and the bean plants are in bloom.  The deer are much less of a problem now as well.  We know they're still around because we can see their tracks, but they're nervous.  Now they just nibble a few things and move on, instead of taking out entire plantings of lettuce and beets.  We've even got a pretty decent handle on the weeds right now.  After such an intense second half of June, it has been really nice to slow down and take a breath, and we are so grateful to have come out of the woods now on the other side.


What to Expect in Your Share this Week

Here are the options in each veggie station this week!  If you have a half share, you'll choose one from each category, and if you have a full share, you'll choose two.

  • Zucchini or basil
  • Romaine or Little Gem lettuce
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes or broccoli
  • Onions
  • Cucumber, garlic, or kohlrabi
  • Kale or cabbage

If you have your share delivered to your home or workplace, or if you pick up at our East Lansing drop-off, here are your options for this week.  If you have a half share, choose one, and if you have a full share, choose two.

Share A:                                      Share B:
Zucchini                                      Basil
Romaine                                      Romaine
Carrots                                        Carrots
Broccoli                                      Potatoes
Onions                                        Onions
Garlic                                          Cucumber
Kale                                            Cabbage

If you have a preference for share A or share B, just let me know by noonish the day before your delivery day, and I'll make sure you get your preferred share.  If you don't have a preference, I'll just choose for you. :-)


Veggie Spotlight: Zucchini

Not only do the zucchini plants produce a wonderful fruit, but
their edible blooms are also gorgeous!
Garrison Keillor once joked that August is the only time people actually lock their cars in the church parking lot, not for fear that something will be stolen, but because they are afraid someone will leave a big bag of zucchini on their seat.  Zucchini does have a reputation for being very prolific in late summer, and this year, we've been enjoying it quite a bit earlier than usual!  This year we started our zucchini in our new heated greenhouse, so it got a good head start even before the temperatures started to climb.  In fact, this year we've grown most of it indoors, either in our heated greenhouse or in our unheated hoophouses.  We find that this way, the plants are a lot healthier and the yield is better, and they produce a much better quality fruit.  It's also easier to harvest the blooms, which we sell to some of our higher-end restaurants.  This year we are growing both green and yellow zucchini, which we prefer over other summer squash because the vines are stronger and healthier, they tend to be more prolific, and they have nicer blooms.

The zucchini you get in your CSA shares start their life by being seeded in plastic flats in our greenhouse.  While the seeding itself is not hard, the tricky part is keeping small animal pests away.  Mice are particularly attracted to squash seeds of all kinds; it's pretty much their favorite kind.  Once the zucchini plants are successfully growing in their flats, we transplant them into both the heated greenhouse and the unheated hoophouses, spaced two feet apart, in black plastic.  This allows them enough space to grow to their full size, and the black plastic warms the soil underneath and keeps the weeds down.  We water them with our drip line irrigation, which is a small plastic hose with perforations that allows the water to drip out right along the base of the plant.  This ensures that the plant gets the water it needs without also watering any weeds that might be dormant nearby.  It also keeps the plant's foliage from getting wet, because wet foliage is much more susceptible to plant diseases.  Powdery mildew is the main disease enemy of the squash family, and keeping the foliage dry goes a long way in discouraging the growth of this prevalent disease.  Zucchini expend a lot of energy to produce so much fruit and so many blooms, so we apply fish fertilizer to help keep the plants healthy.

Zucchini are the immature fruit of the squash plant, which we pick every few days to keep them from getting too large, hard, and stringy.  You may have seen ginormous zucchini in your grandmother's garden that certainly look very impressive, but they are much more tender and delicious when they are smaller and younger.  In fact, the best way to tell if a zucchini is getting a little too ripe is to look at the skin.  If the skin is still pretty shiny, it is bound to be nice and tender, but if it has a dull, matte skin, it's probably not all that good inside.  We've found that our greenhouse zucchini gets larger while still maintaining its tenderness and flavor than its counterparts in the field.  They've been doing particularly well this year, so you'll probably be able to enjoy zucchini for many weeks to come.  We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Recipes

Zucchini is a very versatile veggie!  You can grill it, saute it, bake it into a bread, or even make noodles out of it!  Here are 26 great zucchini recipes in case you're looking to try something new.  I know I'll be trying out these Black Bean and Zucchini Quesadillas this week!