Saturday, June 24, 2017

How to Store Your Spring Veggies so They Last a Really Long Time

Farm Update


The weeds are really taking off at the farm!  Fortunately we
have Ben, Emily, and Jewel to help keep the weed population
under control. 
Hi everyone!  What a difference two weeks makes!  Before I jumped into this whole farming thing, I had no idea of the love/hate relationship farmers have with rain.  Rain can either make or break our season, whether by not having enough, or by having too much, or having it at the wrong time.  When we've had several weeks of drought, there is nothing more beautiful than a dark rain cloud moving in our direction.  Then a few weeks later after we've had pretty solid rain and just need the field to dry out enough to plant, those same clouds draw a groan.  That's what is going on right now, so we're really hoping we can get a break in the rain for a few days, so we can get into the field and plant the next round of crops.  Fortunately we didn't experience the severe flooding that some other areas did, so none of our plantings got washed out.  And the crops are coming along well!  The blueberry bushes are loaded down with unripe berries, to the point that the plants are starting to lean over a little, so we should have plenty of blueberries!  We've got green tomatoes on the vines in our coldframes, and they're growing quickly, putting on 8 to 12 inches a week.  The cucumbers and zucchinis are also producing more, and everything is starting to take off, including the weeds.  When the weather is wet and warm, the weeds go crazy, so we've been spending a lot of time weeding.

We are also super grateful for our new deer fence!  The deer were our constant enemies last year, and this year, they haven't caused any damage because they just can't get in.  In fact, a few weeks ago, Fred was walking along the inside of the fence, and he scared up a deer who was sleeping on the other side after giving up on trying to get in.  That has made such a huge difference to the farm!  The woodchucks and rabbits are still around, but they don't do nearly the damage that the deer did.  It seems like as time goes on, we make incremental changes to the farm that drastically improve our efficiency, our ability to control factors like deer and draughts, and our quality of life.  We're already living so much better now that Fred doesn't have to go out in the middle of every night and scare away deer like last year, so who knows what summers will look like 10 years from now?  I don't know for sure what the future of the farm will bring, but I am excited to find out!


What to Expect in this Week's Share


If you're picking up at one of our regular drop-offs, here are next week's choices.  If you have a half share, choose one item at each station, and if you have a full share, choose two.

  • Broccoli or radishes
  • Spring mix, head lettuce, or romaine lettuce
  • Baby carrots
  • Kale or Swiss chard
  • Cucumber, zucchini, or bok choy
  • Green onions or pearl onions
  • Microgreens, herbs, or 2 kohlrabi
If you are having your share delivered to you or you're picking up at our Lansing or Okemos drop-offs, here are your options:

Share A:                        Share B:
Broccoli                         Broccoli
Spring mix                     Romaine
Baby carrots                  Baby carrots
Kale                               Swiss chard
Cucumber                      Zucchini
Green onions                 Pearl onions
Microgreens                  2 Kohlrabi


How to Store Your Spring Veggies so They Last a Really Long Time


Mary harvesting kale for the shares last week.
One of the great things about being part of the CSA is having such fresh produce!  When you pick up your shares each week, the produce in it has been harvested either that same day or the day before, which is about as fresh as it gets.  So when you store it right, it will last a really long time!  Here's what you need to know to get the most life out of your spring CSA shares:

Broccoli, head lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, green onions, pearl onions, cucumbers, zucchini, bok choy, unbagged herbs:  store separately in plastic grocery bags in the fridge, and they will last a good week and a half, or maybe longer.

Radishes and baby carrots:  Both radishes and carrots will last months if you remove the greens and store them in a plastic grocery bag in the fridge.

Spring mix and bagged romaine, micro greens, bagged herbs:   The best way to store these things is to just leave them in the bag and put it in the fridge.  You don't need to wash them or anything.  In fact, if you do rewash them when you get home and put them in the bag, that will likely decrease their lifespan because the moisture in the bag will cause them to go bad sooner.

Kohlrabi:  Just put it in the fridge, and it will last three or four months until you cut into it.  You don't need a bag or anything, because kohlrabi is one of the ultimate storage veggies. :-)

Basil:  If you get basil in your share, that is the one thing that you don't want to put in the fridge, because the cold will make it turn black.  In order to maintain its beautiful color, just put basil in a loose plastic bag on the counter.

So that's it!  That is how to get the most life out of all your spring veggies!

Recipes


If you've been in the CSA before then you'll recognize kohlrabi, but if you're a newbie, you'll probably wonder what that crazy bulb thing that looks like a space alien is.  Unfamiliar to most Americans, kohlrabi is actually a staple vegetable in Europe, as recognizable as carrots or broccoli are to us. So if you're not sure what to do with kohlrabi, here are some ideas from the Kitchn.  Enjoy!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What to Expect at the First Drop-Off

Farm Update


Ladybugs are just one of the many helpful critters around the
farm that help us control pests organically.  They are a
natural predator of aphids, so we like having these little ladies
(and gentlemen) around. :-)
Hi everyone!  We are so excited to be starting the CSA this week!  Just like last June, it's been pretty hot and dry, so we and the plants were relieved to get a good rain today.  We've been irrigating like crazy, which involves a lot of moving our irrigation lines around, so it will be nice to not have to do that for a few days.  Because once the CSA starts, we'll need every spare minute we can get to do all the harvesting, washing, packing, and delivering for the CSA drop-offs, as well as all the weeding, seeding, planting, cultivating, etc. that also need to happen in every given week.  It's certainly a busy time of year!

In other news, if you happen to have egg cartons kicking around, we would really appreciate them!  Our hens have been laying prolifically, and we've run through all of our egg cartons this winter.  So if you have any you can bring to the drop-off, that would be fantastic!  Also, for our Mt. Pleasant members, the 4th of July is on a Tuesday this year.  The drop-off will be happening as usual, but if you are unable to make it, just let me know by July 3rd, and we can make arrangements for your share. You can either have someone pick up your share for you, or we can postpone harvesting for you that week and get you a double share the next week, or you can pick up at one of our other drop-offs.  Just let me know if you want to make arrangements for your share!

The other thing we wanted to let everyone know about this week is that we have made the decision to supplement our strawberries in your CSA shares with strawberries from another organic grower.  We really deliberated over this decision, because we have never before brought anything to our CSA members that wasn't grown by us.  But our strawberries did very poorly this year due to a convergence of many circumstances, and we would only have had enough for a small percentage of you.  Then we were approached by Jonas Miller, a certified organic Amish farmer we know, who has way more strawberries than he can sell to his limited market.  It's naturally really difficult for Amish growers to find and communicate with customers, so we made the decision to include his strawberries in the shares along with ours.  It seems like a win-win, because it allows us to bring everyone some fantastic, high-quality organic berries, and it means he doesn't have all of his strawberries go bad in the field because he doesn't have anyone to buy them.  But we wanted to make sure you all knew about this, because we never ever want to pass someone else's produce off as our own, and we're definitely not going to make a habit of including anyone else's produce in the shares.

We are so looking forward to seeing all of our returning members again and meeting all of the new folks this week!  Just let me know if you have questions about anything, and we'll see you in a few days!

This Week's Share Options


If you are coming to one of our regular drop-offs, these are the stations you'll find this week.  If you have a half share, choose one item at each station, and if you have a full share, choose two items.

  • Kale or cooking greens
  • Spring mix
  • Green onions or garlic scapes
  • Microgreens or herbs (might include cilantro, summer savory, basil, dill, or Thai basil)
  • Swiss chard, spinach, or bok choy
  • Zucchini or cucumber
  • Strawberries

If you are having your share delivered to your home or workplace, or if you're picking up at our Midland hospital drop-off, here are your share choices.  If you have a half share, choose one bag, and if you have a full share, choose two bags.

Share A:                                   Share B:
Kale                                         Cooking greens
Spring mix                               Spring mix
Green onions                           Garlic scapes
Microgreens                            Cilantro
Swiss Chard                             Spinach
Zucchini                                  Cucumber
Strawberries                            Strawberries


What to Expect at the First Drop-Off


One thing I love about farming is the community of awesome Michigan CSA farmers we've gotten to know over the last seven years!  In the off-season, we get to meet up with a super fun group of growers from all over the state at conferences and meetings, and I've learned from talking to all of them just how different each CSA can be.  So if you've never been part of a CSA before, or if you've just never been part of ours, you probably have some questions about what to expect at your first drop-off.  So here's a rundown of what you'll need to know:

All the veggies laid out in their stations.  There will be signs
to tell you what each item is and how many to choose.
When you arrive, you'll see some tables laid out with all of the produce options for the week.  There will be seven or eight stations, each one with a sign, and at each station, you get to take some veggies.  If you have a half share, you'll choose one item at each station, and if you have a full share, you'll choose two items at each station.  The sign will tell which choices go with each station, and how many to choose.  So when you get there, first make sure you initial the sign-in sheet so we know that you came to get your share, then when you get up to the tables, you can just go on down the line and choose your veggies at each station.  Then at the end, we have our trading table.  That way, if there was a station where you just weren't crazy about the options, you can take your choice from that station down to the trading table and trade it for something you like better there.

So that is how the drop-off works!  Now for some tips:

  • If you have one, bring a bag.  We'll have some grocery bags available at the drop-off, but if you have a basket or reusable bag, that's even better!  
  • It's a good idea to get there early for the widest variety of choices.  We try to anticipate what percentage of people will want one choice or the other at each station, but that is an inexact science at best.  So sometimes if there is a really popular veggie at one of the stations, people who come later in the drop-off find that that item has been snapped up and just the other choice remains.  A lot of people start lining up early in order to make sure that all of the choices are there when they go through the line, and there is kind of a rush for the first 10-15 minutes of the drop-off.  On the other hand, if you don't like waiting in line and you don't have a preference for one veggie over another, you might choose to come later in the drop-off once the rush has gone through, because you'll definitely get to choose your veggies more quickly!
  • We'll often have other things for sale at the drop-off, like our free-range eggs (which are $4 per dozen), or extra blueberry pints at the height of blueberry season.  We'll have those available at the beginning of the tables near the sign-in sheet, so if you're interested, it's a good idea to have some cash with you.  :-)
  • If you find you're running late to the drop-off, you can just call or text me at 517-896-6884, and I can pack up a share for you and leave it at the drop-off.  We usually start packing up right at 6:00, but we can definitely pack up a bag for you and leave it there for you to pick up when you get there.  Or if you know in advance you won't be able to make it to the drop-off, if you let me know by the day before, we can postpone harvesting for you that week and get you a double share when you get back.
  • It happens pretty often that someone just gets busy and forgets to come to the drop-off.  If that happens to you, just let me know, and chances are good that we can get you some extra veggies the next week to make up for what you missed.  Before each drop-off, we harvest the exact number of shares for the people we know are coming, so I can't necessarily add an additional share to the harvest list for you the following week, but we can probably still get you some extra produce.  Since there is a strong chance that a few people will forget to come, we often have some shares left at the end of the drop-off, so if you come through the line after the rush goes through, I'll have a pretty good idea of what we'll have left at the end, and you can pick out some additional produce to make up for what you missed the week before.
For the folks who have their shares delivered, it's a little different.  You can choose either Share A or Share B from the list above and let me know which one you prefer, and we'll make sure to bring you that share. Or if I don't hear from you, I'll just choose for you.  If you do request the share you want, please let me know the day before your drop-off so I can put those specific veggies on the harvest list.  We'll be dropping off your share sometime from 2-4:30 on your appointed drop-off day, and you don't have to be there when we deliver your share, but it's a good idea to have a cooler out near your door to help your veggies stay fresh and cool until you get home.  :-)

So that's it!  If you have any questions, just let me know!  See you in a few days!


Recipes


One thing I absolutely love is introducing people to new veggies they've never tried before!  Most of the options this week you're probably already familiar with, but garlic scapes are probably the exception.  So if you've never tried them, you're in for a treat!  They have a fantastic garlic flavor, but the texture of a fresh green bean, and they look super fun in their curly bunches.  If you choose garlic scapes this week, here are some ideas from Bon Appetit for how to use them!



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

CSA Start Date! (And Giveaway Contest!)

Hi everyone!  We have an official start date for the CSA!  We're going to be kicking off the drop-offs the third week of June, so the first deliveries are as follows:

Alma: Monday, June 19 (5-6 PM at His Place)
Mt. Pleasant: Tuesday, June 20 (5-6 PM at Herbs, Etc.)
Lansing/Okemos: Wednesday, June 21 (4:30-close at both locations of Mert's Meats)
Midland: Thursday, June 22 (5-6 PM at Eagle Ridge Church of God)

Just let me know if you have any questions about that!  Also, we still have some shares available, so to help get the word out about the CSA, we’re going to be hosting a giveaway this week! We’ll be giving away a gift basket that includes:
• Some of our lovely organic spinach
• A bag of our organic spring mix
• Some of our organic baby bok choy
• three dozen of our free-range eggs
• and a copy of the cookbook “From Asparagus to Zucchini”, which has a TON of great recipes for virtually any veggie you can think of! 

And we’ll even deliver the basket to you at your home or workplace next week when we’re headed in your direction! So here’s how it works:

Every day between now and Friday, I’m going to post something on our facebook page (you can find that right here). When you see it, tag your friends you think would enjoy seeing the post or knowing more about the CSA. For each person you tag, each post you share, or if you comment on a post, you’ll get one more entry into the raffle for the gift basket. Seriously, tag your friends! We want this to be huge!

I’ll keep track of how many entries each person has, and on Friday night, I’ll draw one lucky winner! Okay everyone! Ready, set, TAG! 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Our Coldframes and Season Extension

Farm Update

Last Monday was a huge transplanting
day at the farm!  Here I am, transplanting
thousands of little onion plants into
the field.
Hello everyone!  We are definitely into the swing of the season now that the weather is consistently springy (although "consistent" and "spring" don't usually belong in the same sentence when it comes to weather).  There are so many tasks occurring now at the farm, including seeding, planting, harvesting, packing, and delivering veggies, weeding, constructing new coldframes, and pretty soon, putting up our deer fence.  Diversified vegetable production is one of the few types of farming where planting and harvesting overlap; indeed, we often do both in the same day.  In any given week in the spring, we're starting a new cohort of seeds in the greenhouse, transplanting little baby plants into the fields that were, a few weeks previous, those little seeds we started, and harvesting lettuce, spinach, radishes, microgreens, and green garlic for local stores and restaurants.  It's definitely a busy time of year, but it's welcome after the long freeze of winter.  At this point in the season, we're still energetic and just happy to be back outside, with none of the burnout that we'll be feeling by September.  Because like the plants, the people at the farm also have a seasonal life cycle that is almost as inevitable as that of the crops we grow.  So here's to spring, and all of the promise that comes with it!


Our Coldframes and Season Extension

This picture of the coldframe
construction project was taken last
week.  Happily, both of the new tunnels
have plastic on them now, and we can
get things growing in them!
Six years ago when we put up our first coldframe, we were amazed at what a stir it created in our little community.  We're on a well-traveled, highly visible stretch of highway, and locals who couldn't remember seeing anything but grazing animals on our little parcel of land in decades were keenly curious about that weird tunnel thing that that new young guy had put up.  It happened several times a week that we'd run into someone at the grocery store or the hardware store, or someone would just stop by the farm to ask, "So what's that thing out in your field with the plastic on it?"

That thing was our shiny new coldframe (also called a high tunnel), an unheated greenhouse that helps us extend our growing season a few months by getting early crops earlier and late crops later.  We plant early lettuce and spinach in the coldframes long before we are able to get into the field, and the greenhouse effect inside the tunnel keeps the plants a few degrees warmer than they would be otherwise.  This small protection from wind and cold is enough to help them grow strong and delicious before they could survive in the open field.  The same is true late in the year.  We can usually get another crop of our especially cold-hardy favorites like kale even after we shut down field production for the year.  We also use our coldframes in high summer for things like tomatoes.  The coldframes help keep them dry even in the harshest rains, which helps protect them from the foliar diseases that take off when the leaves get wet.  Tomatoes also have a tendency to crack when the weather gets too humid, and being in the coldframes instead of the fields helps the tomatoes stay whole and crack-free.

Now we have six coldframes (two of which we just put up in the last few weeks, which was quite a project, let me tell you!) and two heated greenhouses.  People are used to seeing them along the north side of M-46 now, and often when I meet someone new and tell them where our farm is, they respond with, "Oh, you have those greenhouses!  I always wondered about those!"  Having our coldframes has been pivotal in our ability to make a living, and a life, doing small-scale organic farming.  Aside from just being generally hard work, it is also highly susceptible to weather-related catastrophes, and having our coldframes and greenhouses makes it slightly less so.  We are constantly grateful to our coldframes and other season extension structures for helping us produce more good food, and to all of you who buy it!

Recipes

We are now fully into the first spring veggies!  Farmer's markets are starting up for the season,  and co-ops and small grocery stores that source local produce now have more than the tiny trickle of produce they were able to get for the last few months!  You should be seeing local lettuce, spinach, radishes, green onions, asparagus, and rhubarb, and maybe kale and microgreens, and that is super exciting!  Normally I post recipes that are pretty healthy, but I just couldn't resist sharing this recipe for Fresh Rhubarb Pie, which I've made about half a dozen times since the rhubarb came in.  Because sometimes you just have to celebrate each fruit and veggie in its own peak season by eating ridiculous amounts of it.  And this recipe is a good place to start. :-)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spring Seeding: The Beginning of the Veggie Journey


Farm Update


Jessamine "helping out" at the farm
on Friday!  What a lovely day for
field work!
The surest sign every year that winter is really ending and spring is really coming is when the frogs across the road from the blueberry patch start making their froggy noises.  We started hearing this week, so rest assured, the winter to spring transition is about to happen for good!  And that means a lot of work on the farm!  We’ve been seeding flats for transplanting for the last several weeks, and our greenhouse has been pretty packed!  We actually lost a bunch of onion, shallot, and leek transplants a few weeks ago when a friend who was letting us use some of his greenhouse space had a fire break out and destroy his small greenhouse.  In the end, it could have been much worse; it will only set us back about three weeks on the onions, and while Reuben’s small greenhouse was destroyed, his larger greenhouse is still intact.  But it definitely reminded us about the precariousness of small-scale farming.  We also lost the plastic off of one of our coldframes during that big wind storm a few weeks ago. But in other news, our season is taking off!  We’ve been delivering spinach to Green Tree Co-Op in Mt. Pleasant for a few weeks now, as well as microgreens to a few local restaurants.  The first of the greenhouse lettuce is really starting to grow, and should be ready for harvest in a few weeks.  Before we know it, we’ll have a wide variety of things coming out of the greenhouse and coldframes! 

Another thing to note if you’re in the Mt. Pleasant area:  another local farmer, Chris Swier, is no longer doing his vegetable CSA, but he is continuing to do his mushroom CSA, and he’s going to be using our Mt. Pleasant drop-off for folks to pick up their mushroom shares.  So if you’re interested in some high-quality, locally grown mushrooms, you can get more information here.  He also raises pastured pork, which people actually order in the spring (so now's the time to contact him), and then pick up in the fall.  You can find out more about that here.  You can also give him a call at 989-382-5436.  So it seems that all the local small farms have hit the ground running in preparation for summer!  We look forward to seeing you all then!

Spring Seeding:  The Beginning of the Veggie Journey


Long before all of our farm’s produce ends up on your plate, and even before it becomes pretty rows of vegetables growing in the sunlight, it begins its life as a tiny seed.  The first seedings of the year are a really big deal to us, because they determine the timetable the veggies will follow for the rest of their life cycle.  We generally start planting a lot earlier than most farms, because we want to begin harvesting as soon as possible, and there are a number of factors that go into getting the timing just right.

After we seed our transplants into black plastic flats, the
plants grow up in the greenhouse for a while before we
plant them in the field.
We do two types of seeding at the farm: transplants and direct seeding.  The seeds are destined to be transplanted are first seeded by hand into black plastic flats filled with potting soil, covered with vermiculite, and watered.  Some are placed in our homemade germination chamber (really just a tent of greenhouse plastic with a heater in it) to help speed up the germination of the seeds.  We usually start this in early March, so the plants can get a head start growing long before the weather outside the greenhouse is suitable for growing plants.  Once the baby plants begin poking out of the potting soil, we check each cell to make sure there is only one seedling growing in it, and move any doubles into empty cells where the original seeds never germinated.  The goal is to have one plant per cell and no empty cells, because having as few flats as possible saves space in the greenhouse, and it also makes our jobs more efficient when we eventually transplant them (when they’re about two inches tall)  into the field. 

We also have some raised beds in the
greenhouse, in which we have seeded
these little lettuces.
Also around this time, we plant some seeds directly into raised beds in the coldframes, so we can begin getting things like radishes and greens earlier than the outside weather would allow.  Once the nighttime low temperatures are consistently out of the single digits, we can work the ground with our tractor and apply our organic fertility mixes.  Then we shape raised beds in the coldframes and plant the seeds with our 5-row push seeder.  We irrigate these plantings with drip line, which is like a thin perforated plastic tube that we lay down right next to the plant.  The water seeps out of the perforation and waters where the plants need it, and avoids watering any weed seeds that might be lurking in the soil.  We also cover these plantings with large sheets of perforated clear plastic to act as another layer of insulation for the plants until it gets warm enough to uncover them.  We also have created raised beds in our heated greenhouse this year, in which we have planted lettuce and spinach.  These stay a lot warmer than the coldframe plants, so they aren’t covered with the additional layer of plastic.

Then, after the first round of seeding the transplants, coldframes, and greenhouse, there is the first field seeding of the year.  This usually takes place in April when the weather is fair enough and the soil is dry enough to support the weight of the tractor, but we actually were able to get these seeds in the ground a few days ago!  The first field seeding is a huge deal, because this is where the majority of the veggies for the first few weeks of the CSA come from.  This seeding usually includes cold-tolerant crops such as spinach, lettuce.  Immediately following this seeding, we set up wire hoops that resemble large croquet wickets, and cover the hoops with perforated clear plastic to insulate the seeds.  These will also serve to protect the plants from the wind when they emerge from the soil. 

Although the weather is extremely variable this time of year (and today is cold, nasty, and rainy), we are thinking forward to May and June, when all these seeds we’ve put in the ground will be food on our plates, and those of our friends and customers.

Recipes


Springtime is asparagus time!  Pretty soon, we'll start to see local asparagus popping up in our gardens and food co-ops, so here is a great recipe just in time for asparagus season.  The recipe directs you to bake it, but you could also pan fry it to make it even faster, which is what we usually do.  Enjoy!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why CSA? How You can Help Make the World Better, One Bag of Produce at a Time

Farm Update

Fred seeding onions in the greenhouse
on Thursday.
It seems that spring is coming!  This weekend has been gorgeous, so naturally, we’ve hit the ground running on farm tasks for the upcoming season.  We finished pruning the blueberries last week, which was a huge job!  This week we seeded onions, shallots, and leeks in the greenhouse.  Fred is also currently bringing the metal framing from the new coldframes over to the farm so we can start setting them up.  He also picked up the piping for our new irrigation system yesterday.  Our overwintered spinach is growing pretty quickly because of the warmth and sunlight we’ve had, and our recently seeded microgreens are also coming up quickly!  We might even be able to offer some to some of our restaurant partners next week.  Another big thing we’re doing this time of year is spreading the word about the CSA!  We’re planting enough to support 300 half shares, so if you know of anyone who might be interested in joining, we would so appreciate it if you could let them know about us!  Now that the weather is starting to turn, we are really fired up to get back outside and start a new season!  

Truth be told, after the rough season last year, I was a little weary of farming.  It lingered in the back of my mind (and sometimes the front) that surely there was something else we could be doing that would simultaneously be a lot easier and a lot more lucrative.  But after thinking back to why we started the farm in the first place (and after a little rest from the rigors of the season), I realized how proud I am to be doing this.  When I stop to think about it, I realized how valuable what we are doing is to our family, our community, and the environment.  So now I can’t wait to get out there and do it again for another year!  And thank so much to all of you for supporting us in our endeavors!

Why CSA?  
How You can Help Make the World Better, One Bag of Produce at a Time

Here's an old throwback!  This is a
picture of Fred in the field during
our first farm season.
Six years ago when we started the farm, Community Supported Agriculture was still a relatively new concept here in mid-Michigan.  Although it had been prevalent on both coasts for a few decades and was making its way slowly into the interior of the country, the term “CSA” wasn’t in the average person’s lexicon like it is now.  These days, a magazine can note that a particular recipe is a great way to use the produce in a reader’s CSA basket, and expect that most readers will know what they’re talking about.  And when I mention that I am a CSA farmer, most people know what that means, or at least think they do, or have at least heard the phrase.   Six years ago though, that wasn’t the case.  When we moved back to Fred’s hometown of Alma to start our farm, it was a pretty new concept to virtually everyone we knew, and I just ran on the assumption that people I talked to had no prior knowledge of the CSA concept.  Around that time, I created a flyer to place in local businesses, co-ops, coffee shops, and pretty much anywhere where they would let me hang stuff on their bulletin boards.  The flyer explained how our program worked, as well as how CSA contributes to the sustainability of our health, our environment, and our local communities.  It’s been a while since I’ve been really intentional about helping educate people about the benefits of CSA programs, but this type of education is just as relevant as it was a few years ago, maybe even more so as people’s options for organic produce have increased.  So here’s my original list of the virtues of CSA, and some thoughts on why they are each so important!

Knowing the people who grow your food:  In decades past, it was just assumed that you would walk into the grocery store and put food in your cart without ever thinking about where it came from.  If you did stop to think about it, you probably figured that things of a produce nature were probably from California.  But being able to actually talk to the people who grew your food, learn about their growing methods, and find out how and when it was harvested, allows you to be really assured that you are supporting the practices that are important to you.  You just can’t get that at a big grocery store, even if you are buying organic.

Supporting the local community:  How cool is it that you can use your food dollars to help someone in your own community?  When you get food at the grocery store, that money goes to some headquarters somewhere far away.  But when you spend your food dollars in a CSA or farmer’s market, your money is going to a farm family, so it’s more likely to continue circulating around the local community.  It might make its way to the piano teacher, the hardware store, and the corner bakery.  So by getting your food locally, you are helping keep your local economy strong.

Getting vegetables at their freshest:  The average distance food travels from where it is produced to where you purchase it is 1500 miles.  That means that from the time it was harvested, taken from the farm to the distribution center, and spent a few days in transit across the country, it’s often a week old by the time you buy it in the store.  It’s no wonder it starts going bad in your fridge after a few days!  But when you get your produce through a local CSA or farmer’s market, it’s usually been harvested earlier that same day, or maybe the day before.  So it will stay a lot nicer a lot longer in your fridge, which means you have less waste.

Eating food without synthetic chemicals:  By now the detrimental health effects of excessive chemicals in food have been well documented, and most people know that organic is better for them.  By joining a CSA, you are way more likely to get food with fewer chemicals.  Even if your CSA isn’t certified organic (Ours is!  Yay!!!), many CSA farmers still use entirely or mostly organic practices.  So even if you don’t have a certified organic CSA in your area, you’re still probably getting less chemical residue than you would be getting on non-organic veggies from the store.

Here we are at the first Midland
drop-off of 2016, with a spread of
seasonal June produce.
Eating seasonally:  One of my favorite things about being a farmer is eating seasonally.  Eating foods at their peak season from your own region means that they are going to have some of the best flavor and texture you’ll ever experience from that food.  Most of us don’t even realize that the produce we’re eating out of season is inferior because we’ve never eaten a home-grown tomato in August or some perfect June strawberries.  But the amazing quality of fruits and veggies in their own season speaks for itself.  And when you sit down to red beets and butternut squash in October, there’s a kind of sentimental beauty in knowing that that’s exactly what centuries of people before you have done at the same time each year.  At least there is for me.  It’s possible I’m just a nerd.

Recipes and ideas for using your vegetables:  When you get your food directly from the person who grew it, you can pick their brain for recipe ideas!  Aside from being a phenomenal cook, Fred is a treasure trove of great food ideas.  So when you’re wondering, “What can I do with lettuce besides salads?” or “What’s that green thing that looks like it’s from outer space?”, your farmer is going to be an expert. J

Supporting environmentally friendly farming:  Conventional farm production systems often have a significant damaging effect on the soil and waterways in the surrounding area.  Overuse of synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides tends to leach nutrients from the soil and diminish its natural organic matter, which leads to erosion.  It also damages the beneficial insect and microbial life in the soil, leading to an essentially dead soil.  There is also significant damage to local water sources from chemical run-off, which can make the water inhospitable for the fish and other animals that live there, and create out-of-control algae blooms.  When you get your food from a CSA or farmer’s market, you are supporting responsible and sustainable farming practices, which take care of the soil and water in the surrounding environment.


A discount to buying the items separately from a health food store or farmer’s market:  That was the original wording six years ago before the proliferation of organic produce in your average grocery store, but I would definitely add “grocery store” into the group above.  When you take a look at organic produce at Walmart or Meijer, you’ll notice that it costs significantly more than conventional produce.  That’s because it costs a lot more to produce food in a synthetic chemical free, environmentally responsible way.  But when you get your food from a local farmer, you can get a great price for your organic produce.  That’s because while it costs as much for us to produce food organically as it does for the larger growers who sell their products to the grocery store, you’re not paying for the cost of shipping the produce across the country and the markup that the store has to add to make money.  The cost per week for a half share in our CSA is $15, and you get seven or eight different veggies for that price.  That shakes out to $2-ish per item, which is way cheaper than you would see at the grocery store, health food store, or farmer’s market.  The reason we give CSA members such a good price is that we so appreciate you supporting our farm long-term!  You invest in our farm early in the season long before you see the first veggies coming out of the field, which allows us to have the capital we need to fix equipment, buy seed, and make infrastructure improvements for the coming season.  We couldn’t do it without you, and we are so thankful to our CSA members for supporting our farm and the sustainable practices we seek to promote!

Recipe

Winter Spinach Salad with Apples,
Feta, and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Although there still isn't anything coming out of the fields right now, we are just on the edge of when the overwintered spinach starts showing up in co-ops and farm-to-table restaurants.  And when that happens, you're going to want a good recipe.  So maybe hold this one in your back pocket for a few weeks until you can get your hands on some of that hardy, wrinkly, dark green winter spinach goodness!

Winter Spinach Salad with Apples, Feta, and Warm Bacon Vinaigrette:  The perfect spinach salad for those days when the weather hovers between warm and cold.  Hearty enough for winter, but celebratory of the spring warmth we know is coming!  Also, check out an ode to winter spinach by the recipe's author, Dani Lind, here

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What's New for 2017?

Farm Update


Fred has been deconstructing two secondhand coldframes,
and will put them up at our farm as soon as the ground thaws.
Hi everyone!  Happy new year!  Not much is happening at the farm right now; the ground is frozen solid and the greenhouses have finally been shut down for the winter.  While we don't have anything growing right now, we have been enjoying the squash, garlic, onions, and root vegetables we have in storage, as well as the blueberries, tomatoes, and other things we preserved when they were in season.  And of course, the pigs!  For as much trouble as they were, they did turn out to be delicious. (As you may recall, they seemed intent on ending their lives by escaping out to the highway every chance they got until we moved them a few miles down the road to Fred's parents' house.)  This is also the year we're getting our deer fence, which is a huge relief!  The deer last year were so destructive that we knew we just needed to bite the bullet and get the deer fence, and it should be up well before the start of the season.  (Basically, animals were not my friends last year.)  Although the farm is covered in snow, we're still staying occupied with preparation for the 2017 season.  We recently purchased two second-hand coldframes from a farm in Ithaca, so Fred has been deconstructing them, and then he's going to rebuild them at our farm as soon as the ground thaws.  Another time consuming project that occurs this time of year is researching, sourcing, and buying seed.  He spends hours each day researching the different plant varieties and choosing the ones that will work the best for the growing conditions on our farm as well as the needs of our customers.  But this time of year there is still plenty of time to relax, and we've been able to do a lot more reading, cooking, exercising, and playing with our kids then we ever have time for in the summer.  We are also going to be going to Florida with some friends later this month, and we are really looking forward to it!  This is the quieter, more relaxed time of year that makes up for the hectic pace of our lives during the farm season.  Henry David Thoreau instructed his readers to "live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth."  Right now is the quiet, cozy, snow-covered season, but I know that the spring sunshine is right around the corner!

What's New for 2017?

Each winter, we get a chance to sit down and reflect on the previous season and decide what needs to be tweaked for the following year, and this year is no different.  There are a few changes we'll be making this year to save money, make the farm run more smoothly, and get us closer to that ever elusive ideal of work-life balance.  So here are some of the new things we'll be doing for the 2017 season!

The coldframe deconstruction project.
Moving the Midland drop-off to Thursday:  This is the foremost change that will likely affect you, our CSA members.  In previous years, we've delivered to Midland on Wednesdays and Lansing on Thursdays, and starting in 2017, we're going to be switching those drop-off days to Lansing on Wednesdays and Midland on Thursdays.  We found that this switch would allow us to better meet the scheduling needs of many of our customers.

Moving the Lansing drop-off location:  Those of you in the Lansing area may have heard that the East Lansing Food Co-Op, where we have previously had our CSA drop-off, is closing soon after 40 years of operation.  While we're not 100% sure about the new drop-off location, it is extremely likely to be at the Allen Neighborhood Center on the corner of Allen and Kalamazoo Streets in Lansing.  While we will be delivering the shares there late Wednesday afternoon, they have their indoor farmer's market occurring at that time, so it is likely that CSA members will actually pick up their shares anytime on Thursday instead.  We'll let you know for sure when we have confirmation on this, but that is what we'll likely be doing for the Lansing drop-off this year.

More veggies earlier in the year:  Because of the two new coldframes we're putting up this year, we'll have over 4000 square feet of additional season-extension opportunities.  We're planning on doing an early summer variety of tomatoes, as well as growing earlier peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and probably one or two other veggies to round out the early-season shares.

Starting our own onion and shallot transplants:  In previous years, we've ordered organic onion and shallot transplants from out east because we haven't had access to enough greenhouse space to start our own from seed, but that was always a pretty expensive way to go.  This year, we're partnering with a local Amish organic farmer who has agreed to let us keep our flats of onions in his large greenhouse until they're ready to put in the ground.  Once we seed the flats, we'll take them to his greenhouse, and he'll water them for us for about two months until we put them in the ground.  We'll also be transplanting them into beds covered with plastic (which is how we grow several other things, like our lettuce).  Onions don't compete well with weeds, so this will help them to not become a weedy mess.

Overhead irrigating:  This year we'll be getting a small system that will allow us to overhead irrigate a few veggie beds at a time.  In previous years, we've only had our drip irrigation system, where we would run strips of perforated plastic right along the base of the plant, thus saving water and helping cut down on weed pressure.  But with as dry as last June and July were, that just wasn't enough, and the crops really suffered because they got too hot and too dry.  So this year we're putting in a system that resembles a glorified rotating lawn sprinkler that can be moved around to different areas of the field.  This will be especially good for our summer lettuce production, and will help keep us in more lettuce for more of the year.

Keeping the deer out:  We've always had a fair amount of deer pressure, but last year was ridiculous.  So this year, we're putting in a deer fence to surround pretty much our whole production area.  We estimate that this simple change will allow us to grow about 10% more veggies in any given year (and more in high-pressure years like last year).  It will also mean that we can put each crop in the area of the field where it would grow best, without having to consider the movement patterns of the deer.  Our estimate is that it will pay for itself in about two years through increased production, and it will also keep Fred from having to go stomp around the fields in the middle of the night every night to scare the deer (one more strike for work-life balance!)

So it's going to be a year of change at the farm, which in a way, is business as usual. :-)



Recipes


One of my favorite things about January is that we have more time to spend in the kitchen!  Normally I include recipes that involve things coming out of the fields right now, but since there isn't anything in the field at the moment, here is a classic January dish that is pretty similar to one Fred has been making lately.  Try out this recipe for Pork Chops with Rosemary, Juniper, and Cabbage!