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!

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!