Saturday, November 19, 2016

Healthy Holidays

Farm Update

We've had a lot more time to spend in the kitchen cooking
awesome meals now that the CSA season is over!
Hi everyone!  Happy Thanksgiving!  Although it’s only been three weeks since the end of the CSA, it feels like a completely different life to me.  The first half of November was the warmest we’ve ever had, so we were able to offer a one-week CSA share, and we had quite a few people order one!  Thank you to all of you who put in orders for veggies and eggs!  That was a busy week, but a good one!  Fred planted next year’s garlic crop yesterday, just in time to be beat the bad weather that’s moving in.  He also disked down some old crops and chisel plowed some areas for the early spring plantings.   As the weather gets colder and more crops meet the end of their season, we are settling into our winter rhythms more.   We’ve been able to spend a lot more time in the kitchen, cooking with the veggies we have left from the fields and coldframes, as well as the pork from our piggies and the venison Fred was able to get over the last few days.  This is the time of year when we turn toward hearth and home, just as generations of farmers before us have done at the end of November, and relish time with our family and friends.  We hope you have a great time in the upcoming weeks doing the same!

Healthy Holidays

Oh, the holiday season!  It’s that cozy time of year full of decorations and good food, family and friends, joy and cheer!  But for most of us, it seems like it is so hard to stay healthy.  I don’t know about you, but this is the time of year when I have to start making a concerted effort to stay healthy and in shape.  In the summer, exercise and healthy food just happen to me naturally because I’m always moving at the farm and because we’re eating out of the abundance of the season.  But then the days get shorter and the light dimmer, and the weather makes us want to cozy up to the fire.  This is also the time when our bodies start calling for comfort foods, foods that will warm and fill us.  This is nothing new.  In fact, it’s what people in our area have done forever.  When you are eating seasonally (which was the only way one could eat up until fairly recently in human history), it is natural to eat fresh, light foods in the warmer months and warm, dense, filling foods in the colder months.  As the fruits and vegetables became less available, people relied more heavily on bread, meat, and things they had preserved from the bounty of summer, such as jams and starchy root vegetables.  And it was natural to stay busy in the summer, because in our agrarian past, that’s when the majority of the year’s work was done.  Then when the daylight hours got too short and the weather too cold, and the fields were covered with snow, families would bundle up next to the fire and occupy themselves with sitting-type activities.  It was pretty normal for a person to put on a few pounds in the winter, both as a result of the change in lifestyle, but also as a mechanism to keep the body warm in the pre-furnace days.  It makes a lot of sense, actually, and it’s what our bodies naturally want to do.

Now that the weather has gotten colder, we have kale growing
in the greenhouse instead of the field.
Which is all well and good for the cozy, bundled up, pre-electricity folks.  But we’ve had a change of expectations, and I don’t want to gain five or seven pounds every time the weather turns cold.  Back in the day, people needed a little extra insulation in the winter, and it was fairly easy not to notice it under the extra layers of clothing.  But we don’t live that way anymore.  So how do we avoid following the traditional patterns when we still live in the traditional climate and our bodies still want warm, dense fall and winter foods?

I think it’s all about intentionality.  Because let’s face it:  If I just did whatever my body wanted, I would sit by the fire and read and knit all winter, and not move off the couch the entire time.  And I would have pumpkin pie and pork chops and ten cups of coffee every single day.  Which would be fun for a few days, but then I would start to feel sick and lazy, and my brain would get a little fuzzy, and I would start to notice that I didn’t really like the way I look.  There’s a reason that seasonal depression is most common in climates like ours, and I don’t think it’s just about the lack of sunlight.  All of these factors contribute to a more negative mental outlook.

So what are our options?  Some of these will sound kind of like, “Okay, duh.”  But there’s a pretty wide space between knowing and doing, isn’t there?  Here are a few ideas for how we can stay healthy, fit, and happy all winter. 

·      Make a goal to stay active!  It’s so much harder when the weather is nasty.  Walkers and runners find that the roads and trails we frequented in the summer become dangerous when covered in ice, and our motivation gets sapped the first time we try to run into a freezing wind.  And if you’re into basketball, tennis, soccer, or a myriad of other sports, often the courts and fields are covered in snow.  So you might just have to take your physical activity inside during the winter.  If you live or work near a gym, awesome!  Problem solved!  I personally am fortunate enough to have a treadmill and a husband who will give me a hard time if I don’t use it, so I have set a fairly ambitious mileage goal for each month until I can get back outside.  Basically, figure out what works for you, your schedule, and your lifestyle, and actually do it!  And if you don’t have a physical activity you love (or can at least tolerate), it might be time to find one or several.  There are a hundred options these days, from YouTube yoga videos to spin classes, so chances are pretty good you’ll be able to find something you enjoy doing.

·       Eat fresher and lighter!  This one is tricky when you care deeply about seasonality and local food as I do.  Because “fresh” and “light” are not adjectives I would use to describe foods that are available locally in this season.  I have had to stop being so much of a purist in this respect while still trying to get things from pretty close to home.  A few years ago, we tried to make it all winter on just food we produced or got from local sources, and by March, I was completely over beets and frozen green beans.  It was just kind of depressing, and that’s no way to live.  So the last few years, we’ve started supplementing what we’ve preserved from the summer with whatever fresh produce looks the best from the co-op or grocery store.  Often these are seasonal gems like Michigan cranberries, or cold-hardy crops like kale and spinach.  We also usually keep some kind of citrus fruit on hand in the winter because although they don’t grow around here, they are in season during the winter.

·      Don’t go crazy on junk food at parties!  This is the time of year where there are lots of celebrations and gatherings, and lots of delicious-looking foods that aren’t very good for us.  You already know this, and if you’ve ever read the November or December issue of any woman’s magazine, you are equipped with tactics like, “Don’t stand talking next to the food table.”  The key here is moderation.  For me, there is no food that is off-limits, so if I want some pie, I’ll try some pie.  Just not a ton of it.  A good way to make sure you’re not going crazy is to put the foods that look appetizing on your plate, but make sure you take larger portions of the healthy stuff and tiny portions of the unhealthy stuff.  Then eat the healthy stuff first.  By the time you get around to the unhealthy stuff, you won’t be as hungry, so you’ll be less likely to go crazy.  Then, if another piece of pie is really calling your name, wait 15 minutes for your brain to receive your body’s natural satiety signals and know if you are actually still hungry.  At the end of 15 minutes, if you still really want it, go for it. J

So there it is!  A few totally doable ways to make it through the colder season healthier and happier!

Recipes


In a few days, about 50 of my cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, siblings, parents, and grandparents will be gathering at my mom and dad’s house for Thanksgiving, and I cannot wait.  Since the original 20ish of us that there were when I was a young child has grown to 50+ over the last three decades, everyone pops in on my mom’s Family Thanksgiving facebook event and lets everyone know what they’ll be bringing, so we don’t end up with just turkey and 25 pies.  This year, Fred and I are slated to bring some veggie side dishes, so naturally, I’ve been searching the internet for some winners that are easy to scale up for a crowd.  This year for family Thanksgiving, I'll be bringing Sauteed Carrots and Sauteed Kale (because it's pretty much my favorite way to prepare veggies).  If you happen to have a large group to cook for at Thanksgiving as well, check them out!


Saturday, October 22, 2016

End-of-Season Survey

Farm Update

When the weather turns cold, we
cover certain veggies with a layer
of plastic to insulate the plants and
keep them safe from wind.
 Hi everyone!  Even though the year is winding down, there is still plenty to do at the farm!  We’re taking our pigs in to get butchered this Wednesday, so it’s farewell to the piggies!  There is definitely some harsh weather on the way.  Many crops are still looking pretty good, but we’re starting to cover some things (like the arugula) to protect them from frost.  Usually the first of the cool season crops to look a little worse for wear is the lettuce, and we’re starting to notice that shift occurring.  But so far, this has been the nicest October we’ve had at the farm.  Normally by this time in the year, the drop-offs are pretty chilly, and we’re expecting a little of that this week.  We’re also getting the greenhouses ready to turn the heat back on, because it’s been off for several months now.  It’s definitely the time when things wind down, and little by little, we’re putting things to rest for the year.  Although the CSA is coming to an end, we’ll still have a few things available at Greentree Co-Op in Mt. Pleasant and LaLonde’s in Midland for a few weeks or so, so you can continue to get some awesome veggies there for a while.  And if you know you want to join the CSA for next year, just let me know and I’ll put you on the list!  The cost is going up by $10 next year, but if you sign up and put down at least a partial payment before the end of the year, you can get next year’s share at this year’s price, which is $290 for a half share of $540 for a full share.  We hope to see you all again next year! :-)




What to Expect in Your Share This Week

Brussels sprouts on the stalk
For the regular drop-offs:

Sweet Potatoes or Brussels Sprouts
Cabbage, Bok Choy, or Napa Cabbage
Lettuce, Arugula, or Spinach
Carrots
Kale or Cooking Greens
Apples or Potatoes
Baby Leeks, Green Onions, or Cilantro

For prepacked shares:
Share A:                                    Share B:
Sweet potatoes                          Brussels sprouts
Cabbage                                    Bok choy
Lettuce                                      Spinach
Carrots                                      Carrots
Kale                                           Cooking greens
Apples                                       Potatoes
Baby Leeks                               Green Onions



End-of-Season Survey


As we wrap up the 2016 season, it’s time to start planning for 2017, and we want your input!  We’ve got a lot of ideas we’re tossing around, and we’d love to know what you think, so if you could take five minutes or so to answer these questions in a quick reply, we’d really appreciate it!

  1. What items in the shares did you like best this year?  What would you like to see more of?  What would you like to see less of?
  2. We are always looking for ways to make picking up your share more convenient.  If we were to give people the option of picking up a prepacked share at a convenient partner site such as a co-op or food store so you’d have a larger window of time to pick it up, would that be something you’d be interested in?
  3. For the Midland folks:  If we were to move the drop-off day from Wednesday to Thursday, would that still work for you?
  4. Are there any other ideas you can think of that we should consider?




Recipes

There are few things more comforting than a warm soup on a chilly fall day, and this Potato Leek Soup is no exception.  Especially if you’re uncertain what to do with your leeks, this is a good place to start!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Fall Veggies: A Cast of Characters

Farm Update

The Swiss chard is liking the
comfortable environment in
the coldframe.

Hello everyone!  This week we had two frosts, and things survived very well for the most part.  The peppers died back, but that was to be expected and we had already harvested most of the remaining good ones.  All the cool weather crops seemed to get through just fine, except a lot of the lettuces are looking a little worse for wear, but that’s pretty normal around this time in October.  We’re still hoping to have some coldframe lettuce in the last share even after the field lettuce meets its end.   On Friday we harvested some apples up at the orchard! They weren’t the prettiest, but the flavor was outstanding.  Fred ate more apples at the orchard than his digestive system would have preferred, but he insisted that they were hard to resist. The apples are not perfect looking but we have decided to include more of them in the shares this year.  In previous years, we’ve just brought the ones that look nice, but we decided to include some of the uglier pie apples in the share. We find ourselves using a bunch because they are so good.  Also, apples grown without chemicals are harder to find locally. We also covered some of our newly seeded spinach, which will overwinter for an early spring crop.  Some Octobers have been a lot nastier to work in, but we couldn’t complain about the weather this week as it was still pretty warm.  Most things are still growing surprisingly well for this point in the fall!  Don’t be surprised if we add in a few items that aren’t actually on the choice list as we harvest some of the last small amounts of different veggies.

There is still one more pig left if you’re interested in a half or whole pig!  They go to the butcher at the very end of October, and they’ll be ready to pick up in mid-November.  A whole pig usually provides an average of 140 pounds of meat, and a half pig usually renders about 70.  The cost is a straight $6.75 per pound of meat, and we cover all of the butchering costs, so there are no hidden fees.  Just let me know if you’re interested!  Also, if you want to sign up for another season of great veggies, we can put you on the list for next year!  An easy way is to write us a check for a full or partial payment at the drop-off and lock in your spot for the season before the slight price increase after New Year’s.  We are very interested in everyone’s input, feelings, and suggestions for next season.  We will start the planning process/seed purchases/etc. in a month or so, and would love to have your feedback beforehand to help guide that process.  I’ll be sending out an email soon with a few short survey questions that will hopefully help us better tailor the CSA to everyone’s needs for next season. 


What to Expect in Your Share

At the regular drop-off:

Carrots
Sweet Potatoes
Apples or Brussels sprouts
Baby arugula, broccoli leaf, or bok choy
Kale, cabbage, or pie apples
Parsley, green onions, or cilantro
Pick two of green peppers, onions, kohlrabi

For prepacked shares:

Share A:                                    Share B:
Onion                                         Kohlrabi
Green pepper                             Green pepper
Parsley                                       Green onions
Kale                                            Cabbage
Broccoli leaf                              Bok choy
Apples                                       Brussels sprouts
Sweet potatoes                          Sweet potatoes
Carrots                                       Carrots


Fall Veggies: A Cast of Characters

Sweet potatoes as they are being
dug out of the ground.
With two weeks of CSA still to go, we have some great cool season veggies that are really nice! It’s such a relief for us to see growing so nicely after the cool season crops really struggled for most of this hot and dry season.  Here are some of the things to expect in the next couple weeks and how we use them at our house.

Young Leeks:  We love leeks at our house, because they add a rich and mild flavor to whatever dish we are making.  In the fall we love to chop them up and add them to roasted or fried root crop dishes, often adding them closer to the end so they cook but don’t scorch.  Also, one of our favorites is to add them to scrambled eggs or omelets.  The best part to use is the whitish green shaft, but the young leeks are tender enough to use the leaves if finely chopped as well.  Expect some in the final share.

Cabbage:  The cabbage right now is really great because these cool days and nights really help the cabbage to have a sweet and pleasant flavor. Expect the flat head Tendersweet cabbage, a round green savoy, and a few red ones over the next two weeks.  We usually fry up half cabbage and half kale in a pan with rendered bacon at a higher heat while continuously stirring so as not to scorch.  Then turn the burner off and add Parmesan cheese and maybe some Sriracha sauce while still continuously stirring so that the mixture is not watery but still not scorched.

Apples:  I did not know how great apples could taste until we started taking care of some trees on the old McIntosh Orchard up in Mt. Pleasant.  We will have mostly Ida Reds, but also some Yellow Delicious over the next two weeks.  The Ida Reds have a more complex and rich sweet/tart taste that is my favorite type of apple.  While fine for eating raw (especially in salads) they are typically used in cooking and baking because their stronger flavor really comes through nicely.  We usually make fried apples and sometimes cook up apple slices along with sausage from our pigs, Brussels sprouts, and Butternut squash for a rich fall dish.

Broccoli Leaf:  We eat a lot of greens, and broccoli leaf is one of my fall favorites.  The very smooth, tender texture and mild flavor are excellent, and Fred often will make a fried apple and Butternut squash fry with broccoli leaf thrown in at the end.  We also use broccoli leaf like kale in many ways, and my guess is that broccoli leaf is one of the healthiest greens, because usually the darker green leaves of leafy vegetables tend to pack in more nutrition per serving. 

Kale:  There is probably no other vegetable we have more consistently at our house than kale, and our kale fried in bacon is a regular breakfast staple.  The fall is really when kale takes on its best flavor and fall kale usually last much longer in the fridge as well.  At home we usually fry bacon, either our own or the Walsh bacon from Lalonde’s (if you haven’t tried it, you need to!) and then keep the rendered fat at about medium heat, throwing in the chopped kale adding salt and a little brown sugar and stirring the mixture consistently for usually no more than 2 minutes. 

Sweet Potatoes:  So the truth is that Michigan is not a great state in which to grow sweet potatoes, and so far only about 1 out of 3 years do we have a truly profitable crop, but this is one of those years! The sweet potatoes we grow are way better tasting, and we are big sweet potato fans and eat them consistently through the winter. They are healthier than regular potatoes, and we add them to a lot of roasted root vegetable mixes, or mashed and mixed with butter and brown sugar with a piece of Brie, or cubed and fried in butter with a little brown sugar and salt for a hearty winter side dish. Sweet potatoes need not be refrigerated and the best way to store them is to take them out of the bag and leave them somewhere at room temperature.  This year’s variety is called Orleans, and it has really smooth flesh and great flavor.

Carrots:  Fall carrots are by far the best carrots of the season.  Their tenderness and sweetness really come out as they have more ideal soil temperatures and moisture to develop.  At our house we eat plenty raw, but also fry them in olive oil at a medium high heat with salt so that some of the sides of the carrots brown.  This simple dish can be served for breakfast or as a side to any other fall or winter meal, and these carrots will last for a while in the fridge as long as they are kept in the bag.  The variety we grow is an orange Nantes type carrot that is a little smaller than most, but extremely crisp and tender with no hint of stringiness or dry texture. 

Spinach:  The long hot summer delayed our fall spinach, but for the last week of the CSA we will have spinach.  This fall spinach is usually a little stronger in texture and flavor than the spring spinach, and lends itself really well to being lightly cooked in fresh pasta dishes at our house.  Sometimes we also make a fresh salad with apples and chopped spinach with a heavy dressing that is packed with flavor and plenty of nutrients.  We have used several varieties this season and are still experimenting with what we like best.  Next week will be a kind called Emperor.

Arugula:  There are few people who straddle the fence on liking arugula.  People either really like it or really don’t, with a few undecided voters.  We grow arugula very early and very late to avoid flea beetle pressure, which we find hard to control on this crop since we don’t use chemical sprays.  A common dish is a goat cheese, beet, and arugula salad or what I like to do is add it to sandwiches with Brie and salami.  If you have never tried it before you might want to take a leaf at the drop off and see which party you fall into.  We should have arugula for both weeks of the CSA, and our field arugula is usually a little richer and stronger than the arugula you get at the store. 


There are many other things you will see at the drop-offs as well, like potatoes, bok choy, kohlrabi, cilantro, parsley, etc. but we thought we would just highlight a few and let you know a little bit more about the many things we grow.  As the fall weather comes, so come some of the best flavors of veggies for the season. we hope you enjoy them over the next couple weeks! 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Fall Hoophouse Plantings

Farm Update

Aren't those the most gorgeous baby carrots you've
ever seen?
Hello everyone!  It’s been a much colder weekend than we have had for a long time.  Looks like we will be having some frost this week, which will kill a few types of veggies, but hopefully not much at this point.  We are hoping that the frost won’t hurt the tender cool season crops like the lettuce, but we’ll see over the next couple days.  Before the frost we harvested the remaining sweet potatoes and winter squash, and put them into the greenhouse to help cure the skins.  Sweet potatoes were a good crop this year as the really hot summer weather helped the potatoes to size up nicely.  The greenhouse and hoophouse plantings of greens are doing very well and the carrots are really thriving, so expect plenty of carrots for the rest of the CSA season.  Weeds are of minimal concern now, and the frost this week should kill off a lot of the warm weather weeds like the pigweed that is still hanging around. Deer have also been less of an issue, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that trend will continue for the rest of the year.  We still have one pig available if anyone is interested in getting a half or a whole pig.  Also if you already know that you will want to be a member again for the 2017 season, we can absolutely put you on the list!  The cost is going to be going up to $300 for a half share or $550 for a full share, but you can give a full or partial payment to us at any of the remaining drop-offs (or up to the end of the year) and get your share next year for this year’s price ($290 for a half share or $540 for a whole share).  We hope you have enjoyed this season, and that you have been able to enjoy all the great seasonal flavors and good nourishing food that comes out of our small farm.  If you have any suggestions for what would give you an even better experience with our CSA or things you would like to see in the shares, let us know!

What to Expect in Your Share

At the regular drop-off:

Cabbage, bok choy, or kohlrabi with greens
Lettuce, Brussels sprouts, or baby arugula
Kale, cooking greens, or cilantro
Onions or sweet pepper
Surprise veggie
Sweet potatoes
Carrots

For prepacked shares:

Share A:                         Share B:
Cabbage                         Bok choy
Lettuce                           Brussels sprouts
Kale                               Cooking greens
Onion                             Sweet pepper
Surprise veggie              Surprise veggie
Sweet potatoes               Sweet potatoes
Carrots                           Carrots


Fall Hoophouse Plantings



Little lettuces growing in the
coldframes.
It’s getting to be that time of year when summer veggies in the field start to die out, but fall greens like the kale often last long into the season even out in the field.  With last year’s very mild fall we were harvesting the last of the kale well up into December!  However, eventually the temperatures dip down and then we run out of even the hardiest greens as they get killed or damaged in the winter.  To keep our family supplied with greens, supply our restaurants and stores, and ensure that we have some greens for the last CSA drop-off we start planting into our hoophouses (also called coldframes or high tunnels) and greenhouse.  We start planting in August after our early zucchini and cucumber plants are spent for the season.  These new plants are mostly chard and kale that we transplant into a black plastic mulch in the hoophouses with drip irrigation. As we go later into the fall these plants flourish, becoming very tall with the higher temperatures in the hoophouses.   Then later in September and October we transplant lettuces and seed spinach as well.  These lettuce transplants will usually be harvested in November and the protection in the hoophouses not only protects them from wind and low temps but also from disease that is usually an issue on lettuces in the field in October and November.  The spinach is seeded after the tomatoes are taken out of the houses, and these spinach plants will not only give us some later December spinach but also will overwinter in the greenhouse to give us some really awesome spinach starting in March of the next season.  We usually have a second covering over the spinach to get it growing as early in the spring as possible.  These cold hardy crops all freeze during the winter since we do not provide supplemental heat in the hoophouses, but they continue to survive and thrive under the protection of the tunnel.  This is because for spinach and kale it is less about the low temperatures and more about how much they get moved around while frozen.  This movement (usually from the wind) while frozen is what causes most of the damage for these hardy crops.  Also, the wind easily wicks away moisture from the frozen cells of the plant, drying it out beyond repair in the field.  Our four unheated hoophouses have provided us with a lot of great greens over the last few years, and the fact that this can be done using just the energy from the sun is great.  This allows us to have fresh greens earlier and later than would otherwise grow in our climate.  We hope you enjoy the fall bounty that is to come!

Recipes

Carrots are one of those things that most people know and love, but just in case you are looking to try a new way with an old favorite, here are 20 Carrot Recipes from Rachael Ray!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Veggie Spotlight: Sweet Potatoes

Farm Update


We're back into carrots for the fall!
Look at these gorgeous tricolor
baby carrots!
Hello everyone! It's been a cool and rainy week at the farm, and it looks like more of the same for next week.  It's been nice to have cooler weather in which to work, but keeping the veggies clean has taken a lot more effort in all this mud.  There is less work to do in general at the farm; we're doing a lot less planting, a lot less weeding, and a lot less irrigating.  It's part of the seasonal ebb and flow at the farm, and the timing actually works out, because for the last few weeks, we've been down to just our three-person crew (Fred, Phal, and me), with a contract crew coming in every once in a while to help out with a huge harvest when we're in a time crunch.  We'll be having less of some things (tomatoes) and more of some other things (lettuce), and some new fall things in this week's shares (sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts!).  As the season shifts from summer to fall, people are reminded that the growing season can't last forever, and I often get asked how much longer the CSA will last.  So in case you were wondering, the final week is the week of October 24.  In the meantime, we still have four weeks of wonderful veggies ahead!



What to Expect in Your Share

If you are at the regular drop-offs, here are your options for this week.  If you have a full share, choose two, and if you have a half share, choose one in each category.

Sweet potatoes
Carrots or butternut squash
Delicata squash, cilantro, or bok choy
Surprise veggie
Bunched greens or cooking greens mix
Lettuce or Brussels sprouts
Sweet pepper or onion


If you get one of the prebagged shares, here are the A and B options for this week:

Share A:                       Share B:
Sweet potatoes             Sweet potatoes
Carrots                         Butternut squash
Delicata squash            Bok choy
Surprise veggie            Surprise veggie
Kale                             Cooking greens mix
Lettuce                         Brussels sprouts
Sweet pepper               Onion


Veggie Spotlight: Sweet Potatoes

The first sweet potatoes of the year, harvested and about
to get washed.
Oh, sweet potatoes!  Beloved by pretty much everyone, and greatly anticipated as soon as the weather starts to get chilly and damp.  Well, now is that time, so in celebration of this lovely vegetable, here is everything you ever wanted to know about sweet potatoes!

Sweet potatoes are thought to have originated long ago in Central America, spreading throughout the centuries to most of the world's warm climates.  It is recorded as existing in Polynesia around 1000 AD, which leads historians to believe that there must have been some contact between those two distant parts of the world even back then.  Sweet potatoes flourish wherever there is heat and humidity, and their sweet flavor, nutrient density, and ability to thrive in marginal soils has made them a very valuable food source for many populations.  Around here, they are primarily considered a fall food because they require the whole summer to grow to maturity before we can harvest them.  But in many tropical parts of the world, they are available year-round because the vines can just keep growing for years, making newly-formed tubers as needed.

The sweet potatoes we grow at the farm actually start their time with us as bunched stems that arrive in the mail.  We usually order 1000 stems, but the number that arrives is more like 1200-1500.  We plant these stems in raised beds topped with black plastic.  The black plastic insulates the ground, helping the sweet potato plant to get the heat it needs, and it also keeps the soil loose for the developing tubers.  We water these stems with our drip irrigation system, which runs underneath the black plastic.  Then the stems form roots, some of which actually become sweet potatoes, and over the next few weeks, the plant will shoot up a stem that will run about seven feet in either direction.  Just before the first frost, we harvest all of the sweet potatoes and put them in the greenhouse to cure.  This allows them to last much longer in storage than they would otherwise.

This year, we're growing a new variety called Orleans.  We chose it because it has larger sized tubers and a really gorgeous color.  And in a warm year like this, our sweet potatoes seem to have done really well!  We just ate the first one in our own kitchen, and it was fantastic.  We hope you enjoy them as much as we have!



Recipes

Fred made this Sweet Potato Pie for the first time last year, and it was amazing!  I can't wait to make it again this year!  Or try out these Barbecue Chicken Sweet Potatoes (think baked potato, but it's a sweet potato, stuffed with barbecue chicken and other goodies).  Or here's something I did not know you could do:  Sweet Potato Toast.  Apparently, you can toast sweet potatoes in the toaster like you would do with bread, and top it with whatever you want!  Who knew?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

All About our Pigs


Farm Update


Jessamine and Timothy sitting on the tractor.
 Hello everyone! This week the weather is slowly turning to fall, and we feel fortunate that things are growing so well with no frost yet in sight!  We look forward to the Brussels sprouts, carrots, and sweet potatoes that are coming along very nicely right now. Once we hit October the share will start looking very fallish: more root veggies, Brussels sprouts, and winter squash.  This week we started planting our lettuce in the coldframes where the cucumbers used to be, and we already have some nice looking kale and chard planted in the hoophouses for late fall.  The spinach that we planted in the field is about an inch tall right now and looking good after being cultivated.  Friday we also took off the shade cloth from the greenhouse; now that the temperatures are going down (along with the light intensity) we don't need the shade cloth anymore.  The pigs are bigger and lazier than ever, but they still mange to find plenty of time to plow up their pasture with their noses in between all the laying around they do.  It’s hard to believe they were just little 30- or 40-pound piggies earlier this summer!  Now they are full-grown adults and they are starting to look less like Wilbur and more like bacon and roasts. :-)

What to Expect in Your Share

If you are at the regular drop-offs, here are your options for this week.  If you have a full share, choose two, and if you have a half share, choose one in each category.

Jessamine helps harvest cherry
tomatoes for dinner.
Snap beans or eggplant
Delicata squash or sweet potato greens
Cherry tomatoes or a few slicing tomatoes
Sweet pepper or turnip greens
Lettuce or beets
Cilantro or kale
Onion, garlic, or kohlrabi (Choose two for a half share or four for a full share).

If you get one of the prebagged shares, here are the A and B options for this week:

Share A:                       Share B:
Snap beans                   Eggplant
Cherry tomatoes           Slicing tomatoes
Delicata squash            Sweet potato greens
Cilantro                        Kale
Lettuce                         Beets
Turnip greens               Sweet pepper
Onion                           Onion
Garlic                           Kohlrabi


All About our Pigs

On our farm, our veggie produce is the main focus.  It's where Fred's expertise lies, and it's where we concentrate the vast majority of our time and effort.  But many of you also know that we raise pigs and egg chickens in addition to the yummy produce!  Almost every year since starting the farm we have had pigs, including this year.  Our pigs are both functional (they help work up the ground in preparation for next year's crops and eat our ugly veggies and scraps) and delicious.  Over the course of this time we have learned a lot about their care and keeping, as well as their temperament and habits.  They hate sharing (in fact, they can be completely uninterested in something until another pig wants it, and then it immediately turns into a big squealing pig fight), and they can be incredibly persistent when they want something (like to be out of their pen).

Pigs have been domesticated by humans for thousands of years, and their history extends over many continents as early peoples found these fattier animals to be calorically dense, extremely hardy, and pretty much able to fend for themselves.  Before refrigeration, they were considered mostly a fall food beacause the pigs would be butchered at the end of the growing season when plant-based food sources died out for the year.  Many people groups revered the pig, and remains of hogs are often found in burial sites as sacrifices and as food for the afterlife.  (Because rare is the person who doesn't secretly think that bacon would make the afterlife that much better, right?)

Along with laying around and annoying each other, rooting
around in their pasture is our pigs' favorite thing to do.
We have raised many different breeds of pigs over the years and have found that crossbreeds usually do the best.  Fortunately this year we were able to get a cross of two heritage breeds: Gloucester Old Spot and Hereford.  Gloucester Old Spots originated in England and were known as a peasant pig that was domesticated but usually allowed to forage.  The Hereford originated in Midwestern farming communities back when each farm mostly only had a few pigs.  These varieties were meant for outdoor ranging and are not used in modern CAFO systems. 

A CAFO  (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) is where many animal are kept in close quarters together, and in the case of pigs, completely indoors.  These operations produce pork very cheaply in terms of pure dollars and cents per pound of meat.  However, they have many external costs to the environment, local communities, CAFO workers, and public health.   For example, because CAFOs house so many animals (and all their associated waste) right on top of each other, they often smell terrible.  No one wants to live near one, which brings down housing values and other economic development possibilities.  The widespread use of chemicals and antibiotics mixed with huge amount of concentrated manure creates a huge threat to the local environment, especially aquatic areas. Workers are at much greater risk from poor air quality from the close confinement of so many animals.  Finally, drinking water from both groundwater and surface water can contain elevated levels of nitrates and still carry low doses of the antibiotics used in CAFO production systems, which contributes to the development of antibiotic resistant superbugs.  Also the quality of meat from CAFO operations is often lower in eating quality, nutritional benefit, and at higher risk of bacterial contamination.  When taking into account these external factors CAFO meat, it shows some of the disconnect between the out of pocket expense to each of us, and the real cost that many rural communities are subsidizing for the rest of us.

Our pigs are raised without these external costs to society, as they are currently being raised at Fred's parents' house, where they have both an inside area and a pastured area they can access 24/7.  (We had to move them over there after we had so much trouble with them escaping from their pen at the farm and thus making themselves a huge risk to all of the cars on M-46.  Now they are a few miles away on a quiet dirt road where they are only a risk to any rodents unlucky enough to wander into their pasture area.)  Being only eight in number, their manure is easily absorbed by the nature’s natural processes in the pasture, and unlike CAFO operations we use none of the chemicals and antibiotics.  You also would never smell them unless you went into their enclosed pen, so they don't alter any of the neighbors' quality of life.  Since our pigs can freely root around through the soil with their strong noses they can live like they were meant to, eating roots, grass, bugs, worms, reptiles, an occasional rodent, and the grain that we provide for them.  This grain is their primary caloric intake but their ability to eat other things that pigs eat in the wild means the pigs are healthier and the meat will taste better with better nutritional content.  Pigs are naturally fattier animals and their access to pasture means their fat will be of higher nutritional quality: higher in omega 3s and vitamin D among other things. 

After raising these animals, even with the frustrations that the these pigs often give us, we have great respect for them as they are amazingly strong and naturally resilient animals.  We are definitely looking forward to eating many grilled pork chops, morning bacon, and many other tasty cuts throughout the fall and winter.  We still have a few pigs available, so if you are interested in buying a half or whole pig let us know and I can fill you in on how you can get some for your family.  We feed them locally raised non-GMO Amish grains and they are processed locally by Bellingar’s Packing, another small local business who does great work.  Just let me know if you want more details!
If you want to see a very short video of our pigs click here:

Recipes

I bet you never knew kohlrabi could be this gorgeous,
did you?
This week, there are several things in the share you might not be familiar with, but never fear!  We have three different recipes at three different skill levels so you can use all of your new stuff to best advantage.


Fairly Easy:  Fred's Own Sweet Potato Greens

1 cup cooked rice
1 tablespoon olive or coconut oil
½-3/4 bunch of sweet potato green chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons sugar
½ cup cubed grilled eggplant optional
½ fresh lemon squeezed

Fred's Notes: "I cook the rice first then in a separate pan lightly saute the sweet potato greens in olive oil until they are wilted.  Then I put in the coconut milk, soy sauce, and sugar and stir until the mixture has a gravy like consistency then before serving I squeeze the half lemon and stir in just before serving as a side dish."














Saturday, September 17, 2016

CSA Newsletter for September 17, 2016

Farm Update



Hello everyone!  The weather is definitely turning, and we are transitioning to fall at the farm.  We had a nice rain last night that will definitely help along our final lettuce planting of the year, which we just transplanted the other day.  We are starting to plant more in the coldframes as well for fall and winter.  In fact, our fall crops are getting closer to ready, and we'll probably start harvesting the first of the sweet potatoes at the end of the week.  The Brussels sprouts are also really filling out, and we just need a little more cool weather to really bring out the good flavor before we put them in the shares.  The fall Brassicas (like cabbage and broccoli) are looking really healthy, as are the late season carrot plantings.  We're looking at another really busy week at the farm, but for right now, we're taking a bit of a break this weekend.  Fred's brother and his wife are in town from Virginia this weekend, so rather than write a full newsletter, I'm doing the abridged version so we can spend more time with them.  So enjoy this week's (significantly shorter) newsletter! :-)


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 or cooking greens
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Delicata squash
  • Lettuce or beets
  • Kale or 4 tomatoes
  • Pepper or onion
  • Eggplant, cilantro, or sweet potato greens
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                             Cooking greens
Cherry tomatoes                    Cherry tomatoes
Delicata squash                     Delicata squash
Lettuce                                  Beets
Kale                                       4 Tomatoes
Sweet pepper                         Onion
Cilantro                                 Eggplant


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. :-)



Recipe
One of the most frequent questions I've been asked for the last two weeks is, "What do you do with the delicata squash?"  Delicatas are one of those wonderful secrets of the produce world; many people are unfamiliar with them, but once they're introduced to them, they become a fast favorite.  We usually slice them lengthwise and bake them in the oven, then sprinkle them with butter and brown sugar.  Or you could try this recipe for Roasted Delicata Squash from Summer Tomato.  Enjoy!