Friday, November 21, 2014

CSA Newsletter for November 21, 2014

Farm Update


I've been making lots of handmade Christmas cards,
so if you are interested in getting someone a CSA
share as a gift this holiday season, I'll send you one
of these cute cards to give them! 
Hi everyone!  The farm certainly looks pretty different from what it did last time I sat down to write a CSA newsletter!  Everything is covered with a few inches of snow, and our harvest season ended pretty abruptly when all the veggies froze overnight.  We were still harvesting some carrots before everything froze, and we are hoping that when things thaw out this weekend, we'll be able to get some more of them out of the ground.  Right now is the time of year when we relax a little, reconnect with family, and start planning for next year.  We are signing people up for the 2015 season, so if you are interested in joining again next summer but haven't done it yet, let me know and I'll put you on the list!  Also, if you are looking for an awesome Christmas gift to get someone special in your life, consider getting them a CSA share.  I'm making a bunch of handmade Christmas cards, so if you sign someone up for a gift share, I'll send you a special card to give them along with their share.  Although we won't see most of you until June, we wish you a happy, healthy, and fun holiday season!


Nothing New Under the Sun


The blueberries are under a few inches of snow,
but pretty soon we will start pruning them for next year.
It has been said that there is nothing new under the sun, and I am reminded of that every November as we settle in for the winter.  It is what pretty much every farmer has done pretty much every year since the beginning of agriculture, and I love being part of such a long and humble tradition of taking stock of the year and giving thanks for another successful harvest season over and done.  And like all of the farmers of the past and present, we are thankful for many of the same things; that we were able to effectively weather whatever droughts, storms, bugs, weeds, pests, and high winds the year sent us, and that we were able to put delicious and healthy food on our table, and the tables of our friends, neighbors, and customers throughout the growing season.  And we are thankful for the opportunity to do it again next year, and again after that, and again after that.  And like the small farmers of the past, we are thankful also for the community of people around us that make it possible for us to do what we do.  For all of the CSA members who put their faith in us every year and give us the financial jump start to buy seed and all the other things farms need each year.  For all the family who watch our kids while we're at the farm all summer, and all the friends who understand that they probably won't see us for a few months, and all the neighbors who turn a blind eye when we haven't had time to mow our lawn since May, and all the local restaurants and stores who care enough about organic and local food to buy it from small farms instead of huge distributors.  We are so thankful for all the people around us who come together to make this thing possible, and for the opportunity to serve this community in our own small way.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

CSA Newsletter for October 18, 2014

Farm Update


We got to see this awesome double rainbow at our
Mt. Pleasant drop-off last week!
Hi everyone!  Welcome to the last week of the CSA!  Things are definitely drawing to a close around the farm.  Most of the root vegetables have been harvested, the piggies are on their way out, and the weather is telling us it's almost time to call it quits for the year.  But even as we're tying up loose ends on this season, I'm already gearing up for next year's CSA.  I've started the official 2015 CSA membership list, so if you are interested in being part of the program again next year, just let me know!  We've decided to do something a little different with the prices this year too.  For the last several years, there has been a $20 price difference on a half share between the Alma drop-off and all the other drop-offs.  The original reason for this was that when we first started the farm, we figured that since we didn't have the same fuel costs to get to our own hometown drop-off, we'd pass those savings along to the Alma CSA folks.  However, we've found that the original structure has just become kind of confusing and inconvenient.  So here is what we're going to do.  Over the next two years, we're going to equal out those prices.  Instead of increasing the price all around by $5 like we've done the last few years, we're going to hold the price steady at the Mt. Pleasant, Midland, and East Lansing drop-offs, and we're going to have a $10 for the Alma folks for each of the next two years.  After that, the prices will be the same all around.  So next year's prices are as follows:  Half share at Alma: $280.  Full share at Alma: $525.  Half share at all other drop-offs: $290.  Full share at all other drop-offs: $525.  So if you know you want to sign up for next year, just let me know!  You can either send us a check in the mail to 8911 Ferris Rd, Elwell MI 48832, or you can bring a check to the drop-off.  And as always, if it works out better for you, you can pay the first half at sign-up and the second half once the 2015 season starts.  Most people's prices are staying the same this year, but if you're one of the Alma people and your share cost is going up for next season, you can lock in your 2015 share cost at the 2014 price ($270 or $515) by sending in at least a partial payment by December 15th.  Every little bit of savings helps, right?  And every check we receive early really helps us too, because most of our farm expenses are incurred in December through February.  We have so enjoyed having all of you in the program this year, and we hope to see you back for the 2015 season!

What to Expect in This Week's Share

This is actually what a kale plant looks like at the
end of the season.  All season long, we harvest the
lower leaves, and the plant just keeps growing up
and up as long as we keep harvesting off
the bottom.
  • Choice of broccoli, cabbage, or arugula
  • Choice of beets, bok choy, or kale
  • Choice of lettuces or spinach
  • Choice of carrots or large leek
  • Choice of potatoes or surprise veggie
  • Choice of Brussels sprouts or sweet potatoes
  • Choice of cilantro, chives, or garlic





What We Do in the Off Season

We can feel it in the air and in our bones that the season is coming to a close.  It's much like the last week of school when you're a student (or a teacher, for that matter).  You have an intense final few days of exams and then... free time.  When I was in college, I would get to the end of a semester and find that I didn't remember what I liked to do in my spare time, because I didn't really have any spare time between work and classes.  Fortunately, now I have small children, and a household to manage, and all the farm office stuff to do, so I run no risk of getting bored like I inevitably did every single Christmas break when I was in college.  But it does bring to mind the question that a few people asked me at the drop-offs last week:  So what do we do in the off season?

Last week of October through November:  Fred will still be harvesting for our wholesale accounts, but his workload will be greatly diminished once he is no longer harvesting for the CSA.  He'll keep doing deliveries to many of our wholesale accounts until we run out of veggies, probably sometime between Thanksgiving and early December.  He will also be speaking at a few events at CMU about the local food movement, filling our freezer with venison, cooking up a storm, and finally getting a good night's sleep.  Michele will be spending lots of time with our two little girls, getting the house back in order after neglecting it for most of the season, and getting all of the farm books reconciled.

December:  Along with all the usual holiday stuff, Fred will be working on the design for a piece of farm equipment he invented that will be extremely handy for small farms like ours.  He hopes to get a prototype created this winter so we can use it at the farm next season and work out the kinks, and then maybe launch it out into the larger world in a few years.  Michele will be decorating, baking, singing, making and sending cards, shopping, and wrapping up a storm.  She will also be getting all of our farm tax things together in preparation for dealing with her arch-nemesis, the IRS, in January.

Despite the cooler weather,
we still have plenty of
gorgeous lettuce!
January and February:  This is when we enter hibernation mode.  We hang out by the fire a lot, we read a lot, we play with our kiddos, and we cook some really great food.  We're also planning on heading down to Virginia in February to visit Fred's brother and his family.  Traditionally, Michele has waited until March to start a concentrated marketing effort for the CSA (mostly because she was always uncomfortable with marketing in the traditional sense).  But this year, she intends to get an early start on spreading the word about the CSA now that she realizes that it can be as simple as putting useful, interesting content out there on facebook or in the blog, and letting that generate word of mouth.  True story.  Never knew that before.

March and April:  This is when Fred gets back out into the field and starts getting his hands and his tractor dirty again.  He loves this time of year, because even though it's often cold and rainy, it is also liberating after being cooped up in the house all winter.  He really does have a farmer's soul, and he goes a little crazy being inside for too long.  Michele will continue doing what she's been doing for the last few months:  signing people up for the CSA, running the household (and hopefully a few races, too!), keeping the family happy and healthy.  This is the last of the relaxed time at our house, because Fred starts really pushing in May, and in June, it's go time until October rolls around again.

Reading over this, it reminds me that we really do live a very seasonal, very cyclical lifestyle, and we are immensely blessed that this is our life.  Thank you all so much for having faith in us and signing up for the CSA year after year, because we could never have this life without what all of you contribute to the farm.  You all make this possible, so thank you!


Recipes


Broccoli is one of those old standby veggies that everyone knows how to use.  But sometimes it's easy to get stuck in a rut when something is so familiar, so why not shake it up a bit?  Here are 20 Completely Irresistible Broccoli Recipes to try out!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

CSA Newsletter for October 11, 2014

Farm Update

The hard frosts we had this week
have ended the green bean season,
but we still have plenty of good
stuff out in the fields.
 Hello everyone!  We are entering the penultimate week of the 2014 CSA season!  There are just two more weeks of veggies left, with the final drop-offs being October 20th-24th, depending on where you pick up your veggies.  Things are definitely winding down at the farm.  We had a few hard frosts this week, which have effectively killed off the last of the green beans, but all of the cool season veggies (primarily green leafy stuff and root vegetables) are still plugging along.  The pigs are also nearing the end of their lives, and just as well, really.  They have gotten very big in recent weeks, and they now realize how powerful they actually are, so they have taken to trying to escape their pasture with varying degrees of success.  Between a striking lack of pork in our freezer, and how hard it is to control the pigs these days, butchering day can't come soon enough.  But alas, two more weeks.  Fred harvested a bunch of apples yesterday as well, so there will be apples in the shares again this week, mostly Ida Reds and Golden Delicious.  Also, I'm starting my 2015 membership list, so if you are interested in signing up for the CSA for next year, just let me know!  It has been great having you all in the program this year, and we'd love to have you back for the 2015 season!

What to Expect in This Week's Share

Cabbage is one of the vegetables that actually thrives after the
first few heavy frosts of the year, because the cold
temperatures help concentrate the natural sugars in the plant,
 making it sweeter. 
  • Choice of carrots or apples
  • Choice of potatoes or tomatoes
  • Choice of lettuce, spinach, or cabbage
  • Choice of sweet potatoes or Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli for everyone
  • Choice of beets, kale, or bok choy
  • Choice of celariac (celery root), chives, or baby head lettuce


Veggie Spotlight: Sweet Potatoes

When sweet potatoes are grown in hot climates, they get to be
big and thick like these ones.  Sweet potatoes grown in a cooler
climate (especially when the growing season is on the cool side
of normal like this year) have a tendency to be thinner and longer.
Every year around this time, we start to have sweet potatoes coming out of the fields.  These quintessentially fall vegetables are perennially popular, and with good reason.  Their sweetness and high nutritional value makes them a favorite of many people in all age groups, despite some people’s unfortunate penchant for mashing them and topping them with marshmallows at Thanksgiving.  So read on to learn more about this wonderful gem of the soil, the humble sweet potato!

The sweet potato plant seems to have originated somewhere in 
Central America, and was found to do well in many areas of the world with warm temperatures.  It was recorded to have been in Polynesia around 1000AD (where it also thrives), which leads us to believe that there were some travels between these two far flung areas of the world even early on.  The sweet potato is now found in many warm weather parts of the world, and makes up a major part of the diet in many cultures. Total yields in these hot weather climates are much greater than here in Michigan, because many of these tropical places can grow the same vine out for many years just taking newly formed tubers as needed.

There are actually many different colors of sweet potatoes grown in the world, but the orange-fleshed type that we grow is presumed to be the most nutritious because of the large amount of beta carotene. Sweet potatoes are probably the best food you can eat to get the valuable beta carotene (despite the fact that we usually think of carrots in conjunction with that nutrient), and interestingly the full amount of beta carotene is best absorbed into our body with fat intake of some kind (such as olive oil, butter, and other animal fats). Also, like regular organic potatoes, organic sweet potatoes are better for us because they do not have a chemical sprout inhibitor applied to them. If you see conventional potatoes or sweet potatoes in the grocery store, almost all of them have the active chemical on or in them to decrease the chance they would start sprouting in the store. For this reason, if you are storing our sweet potatoes, it is better to have them wrapped in newspaper in a dark place with higher humidity, which will have the same anti-sprouting effect.

Once harvested, a lot of the sweet potatoes are
kind of scraggly or broken.  This is an old
picture of last year's piggies reaping the
benefits of some grade B sweet potatoes.
This year, our grade B sweet potatoes are
being sold to a man who makes them into
organic dog food.
On our farm we buy our sweet potato plants in from another organic grower on the East coast. These plants come as partially rooted stem cuttings wrapped in bundles. We plant them by hand, which is a three man job.  Fred slowly pulls the transplanter behind the tractor while two of our field guys, sitting close to the ground in the transplanter, plug the sweet potato plants into the ground.    The stems are just pushed into the ground through holes in raised beds that have a black plastic mulch. These cutting are then watered through our dripline irrigation system, and then they begin to root and put on shoot growth. These shoots turn into long vines that creep out quickly, eventually becoming a dense carpet of vines and triangular leaves across the raised beds in which we planted them.  The raised beds are covered with black plastic, which absorbs sun and creates more heat around the vicinity of the plant. Ironically, sweet potatoes generally like sandier, less fertile soil.  We actually had trouble with the plants in the rows that were planted on our richest black soil, but they thrived in the really light soil in the southwest corner of our farm, which isn’t ideal for pretty much anything else.  When it is time to harvest the sweet potatoes in late September, we cut the vines off at the soil line and then use our tractor-pulled undercutter (a big heavy metal blade) which digs underneath the potatoes loosening the soil around them.  This makes it easier to pull the sweet potatoes out of the loose soil.  We then box them up with the dirt still on them and put them in our greenhouse to cure for 7 to 10 days.  This curing process helps them heal from any cuts and creates a firmer skin that enables longer storage.  They are then washed and brought to the CSA drop-offs.


If you are planning to keep your sweet potatoes for a while, the best place to store them is where the temperature is below room temperature but above 50F. Most basements or closets furthest away from the thermostat would be good.  Because it is a tropical root, it doesn’t do well in the refrigerator for an extended period of time, so they are best kept out on the counter unless you are storing them for the long term.  We hope you enjoyed learning more about sweet potatoes and how we grow them at the farm!


Recipes

Roasted Sweet Potato Coins
There are so many great things to make with sweet potatoes!  If you have never had the Scottish Dollars at Stucchi's/ College Corner here in Alma, march yourself over there and get some!  Or you could make your own similar Roasted Sweet Potato Coins.  These are a little thicker than the Scottish Dollars, but they are equally yummy, and really easy to make.

Another good option is this Paleo Sweet Potato Chili.  I am a huge fan of soups, stews, and chilies this time of year, and this has the added benefit of leftovers, which are great to just heat up when you need something quick!




Saturday, October 4, 2014

CSA Newsletter for October 4, 2014

Farm Update
The pigs are eating like crazy these days, and they are really
loving all the farm scraps!
Hello everyone!  As we get farther into fall, our warm season crops like tomatoes and snap beans are becoming less abundant, and they are slowly being replaced by cool weather veggies like spinach and Brussels sprouts.  The pigs are really tearing up their pasture with all their rooting; this is the time of year when they eat like crazy, so they are always looking for food wherever they can get it, including under several inches of mud in their pasture.  We have been having a lot easier time with insect pests than we usually do this time of year.  The aphids in particular usually make a real mess of the Brussels sprouts, but this year the rain and a combination of organic sprays (diatomaceous earth and chrysanthemum extract) have really helped keep them under control.  The weather has also been cooperating quite nicely; so far we've only had a really slight frost, which has meant that our summer crops have held on longer than they often would.  We're hoping that the frost continues to hold off, but this time of year, you never know.  At this point, the availability of certain items becomes less predictable, as a frost could damage a crop that we had predicted would be in the shares, and we would have to replace it with something else.  The farming season naturally starts winding down now for a reason, as conditions gradually get less and less hospitable for plants and people alike.  But this is also the time to keep going and finish strong, because there will be plenty of time for rest when everything is covered with snow.

What to Expect in This Week's Share

Spinach is back!  Woohoo!
  • Choice of spinach and Brussels sprouts
  • Choice of large leaf salad mix, regular salad mix, and broccoli leaves
  • Choice of sweet potatoes and cherry tomatoes
  • Choice of snap beans and broccoli
  • Choice of carrots and beets
  • Choice of kale, fennel, and cabbage
  • Choice of slicing tomato or baby head lettuce



It's All About the Soil


Fred harvests tiny purple carrots
for a tricolor baby carrot mix.
At the farm, our soil is central to all that we do with our crops and our animals. Although the soil doesn't look like much and it's not very romantic, it is necessary for the existence of life on Earth and possibly the most important factor in how we manage the farm. Our farm’s theory is that it is important to build the soil up using practices that encourage strong, vibrant biological life and a chemically balanced soil that can adequately feed and sustain our crops. The more conventional agricultural theory over the last half century has been to focus on just the chemical needs of the crops. However, this one-track thinking ends up turning into a cycle where biological life in the soil is not in balance because of chemical inputs. Then more chemical inputs are needed to control the weeds, diseases, and insects that are attracted to a soil and crop that are not balanced biologically. In the end you end up with a lot of chemicals in the environment and in your food, and a soil that can't produce anything without ever more chemical inputs.  What we do is focus on the basics of good biological farming, which looks at soil inputs not just for their chemical properties, but from a more holistic approach. We look at how every task and input in the field works together to encourage or discourage building a healthy soil.
Doesn't this red head lettuce look gorgeous?

So what do we do in the field to encourage this biological life? For starters we use only naturally occurring fertilizers like chicken manure, compost, fish emulsion, and a variety of mined minerals that are still in their natural non-synthetic form. We use these natural products because all of the bugs, bacteria, and other critters in the soil are used to dealing with these substances in the natural world.

These broccoli leaves will be in the
shares this week, and they can be
used in the same way as any other
cooking green.
At the start of the season we do a soil test and take it to Morgan’s Composting, which specializes in organic soil fertility. There, we put together a mix that addresses the specific needs of our soil. We spread it on at the beginning of the season and then supplement with chicken manure pellets and fish emulsion as needed. Some heavy feeders like sweet corn and potatoes get more chicken pellets applied to them because they naturally take more nutrients from the soil, and crops like leaf lettuce may not get any supplementary feeding at all. Also important is how we physically treat the soil. We minimize the amount of heavy machinery going over the soil by using small equipment, and even things like cultivators are pushed by hand. Heavy machinery often drives out the air from the soil, causing the biological life to be starved for oxygen. We do not work the soil when it is too wet, as it will clump together causing areas that are oxygen starved, and then also large areas with too much oxygen. We also use cover crops that help hold the soil in place, capturing nutrients during non-production times of the season such as the winter, very early spring, and very late fall. Cover crops help keep the soil from washing away during the snow melt and heavy rains that are common in the colder months of the year.

In the end, we believe that a chemically balanced and biologically healthy soil yields the most nutritious and delicious crops. Though some of these practices we use are more labor intensive and more costly, we feel that it has paid off over the last few years as people have been able to taste and see the high quality produce that these efforts have yielded.


Recipes

Spinach and sweet potatoes are back!  In honor of some of my favorite fall foods, here are some simple and delicious recipes for each of them!


Garlic Sauteed Spinach:  Check out this mega easy side dish recipe from Ina Garten that really lets spinach be the star!  This is perfect for chilly evenings, which will probably be in plentiful supply in the near future.

Oven-Roasted Sweet Potatoes: Check out this entire gallery of 25 Healthy Sweet Potato Recipes, but the Oven-Roasted Sweet Potatoes looked particularly awesome!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

CSA Newsletter for September 27, 2012

Farm Update
Fred found a bunch of snakes living under the black plastic
that covered the rows of sweet potatoes.
Hello everyone!  It has been a gorgeous week, which has really helped the plants put on some new growth quickly.  We got all of our sweet potatoes harvested this week, and they are curing right now in the greenhouse in preparation for being in the shares.  After they are cured, they will be ready for winter storage; otherwise, their shelf life is a lot shorter.  We had a big harvest week in general last week, but the guys also planted some lettuce in the coldframes for the late fall harvest, and also worked on the new greenhouse we're constructing.  The tomatoes are starting to be on the decline, but we've still got plenty of them!  Fred also found a bunch of snakes living under the black plastic under which the sweet potatoes were growing!  We are so glad the weather is nice again, because that will mean we have a larger variety of items for the CSA for much longer into the season!

What to Expect in This Week's Share

Our beautiful and delicious cherry tomatoes will be in the
shares again this week!
  • Brussels sprouts or broccoli
  • Carrots or cabbage
  • Tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
  • Kale or cooking greens
  • Large leaf salad mix or regular salad mix
  • Beans, beets, or bok choy
  • Baby fennel, slicing tomatoes, or baby head lettuce



Veggie Spotlight:  Brussels Sprouts

This is the time of year that we usually associate with Brussels sprouts, when the sprouts have gotten to the proper size and the cool mornings of the early fall have given them a pleasant, rich flavor. Though they are time consuming for us to harvest, it is one of those seasonal crops that we really look forward to enjoying at home.

The exact history of the Brussels sprout is difficult to trace, but specific references start appearing in 16th century writings. The Brussels sprout was bred from cabbage type plants at some point, and they were first known, not surprisingly, to be found near Brussels, Belgium.  Thomas Jefferson brought some of the first Brussels sprouts to North America, but they did not become very prevalent in the American diet until the 1900s.  When commercial scale freezing technology became widely available Brussels sprout production skyrocketed in the U.S.  By the 1960s they were very widely known to most American homes, and they were infamous (definitely in a bad way) at the table to many young children.  This is because of Americans’ tendency to overcook just about everything during this time period; Brussels sprouts are a food particularly unforgiving to overcooking as they begin to release a pungent sulfur taste and smell if they are cooked too long.  In the 1990s, the Brussels sprouts got a rebirth in popularity as big name chefs started expanding the public’s awareness of methods for their preparation, and many people learned for the first time that Brussels sprouts are not, in fact, horrible.

Brussels sprout are exceedingly healthful and have a very high potency against cancer-causing compounds in the body. They are also found to significantly lower cholesterol and provide high amounts of vitamin K along with many other nutrients.  In fact, their health benefits often exceed those of other superfoods like kale and broccoli.

Brussels Sprouts actually grow tightly up the stalk of the plant.
Our Brussels sprouts on the farm require the longest growing time of any plant we grow.  They are started as seeds in the greenhouse in mid to late March, then after several weeks they are planted into raised beds with plastic mulch.  They are heavy feeders (which means that they draw more of the soil’s nutrients than many other plants) so we give them extra chicken manure pellet fertilizer and plant them in soil that is high in organic matter.  Then they are very easy to take care of until late summer, usually only requiring a bit of watering until then.  In late summer the aphids start to come to the Brussels sprouts, which we then spray with a combination of diatomaceous earth and Pyganic (a product name for a Chrysanthemum extract) to keep the populations down.  However, this only beats them back but does not completely get rid of them.  Around the first week of September we snap off the top growing point on the plant to encourage the Brussels sprouts to fill out.  This happens as the plant hormones signal the growing buds that they need to grow out rather than up, since there is no growing point to continue producing more foliage on the top of the plant. This season was abnormally cool, so we were able to start harvesting the sprouts earlier, but in a typical year we start harvest around the 1st of October.  Usually it takes until October for the Brussels sprouts to lose their bitterness that is caused by hot weather.  Then we strip the developed Brussels sprouts off the stalk and trim the aphid damaged outside leaves, leaving you with Brussels sprouts that are ready to cook.  We typically stop harvesting them in early to mid-December. 

There are many really simple and delicious ways to
prepare Brussels sprouts!  These are one vegetable
that don't require any complicated recipes to be wonderful.
At home our default way to cook them is with bacon or ham fat, though we also like frying them in butter and garlic.  The key to bringing out their great flavor is to cook them until thoroughly cooked but not mushy.  Other methods of preparing them are to use them raw in a salad where they are more finely chopped and paired with a heavy dressing and/or other strongly flavored ingredients like raw fennel.  There are also the French cream sauce/Brussels sprouts combinations popularized by Julia Child, and their use in some Asian stir fry type dishes that are also common.

As much as I avoided Brussels sprouts of all types as a child, I am completely thrilled that they are back again for another fall, and I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Recipes

Check out this extremely simple but delicious way to cook Brussels sprouts.  These Truly Delicious Brussels Sprouts are pretty similar to how we often prepare them at home.

This recipe for Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon is another common way we prepare them at home, especially as a side dish with breakfast.  Give it a try if you're looking to awesome up your morning a little!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

CSA Newsletter for September 20, 2014

Farm Update
The piggies love leftover kale!
Hello everyone!  It is officially fall, and with the new season comes new weather and work patterns at the farm.  Now that the season is slowly starting to wind down, we are planting a lot less (although Fred did put in a new planting of field spinach last week, as well as plenty of new greens in the coldframes), and even harvesting is starting to take on a new pattern.  In the summer, we are still planting every week so that there will always be plenty of veggies at the right stage for harvest, and we usually harvest just the amount of produce we'll need for that day's shares.  When we get into fall, we still harvest the greens, beans, and whatever tomatoes are left daily, but we do a few large harvests of root vegetables rather than many small ones.  Fred is preparing to harvest several thousand sweet potato plants soon, which is a huge job, but fortunately it only has to be done once.  So in this way, fall is a steady winding down of temperatures, and of work, and of daylight, until everything is covered in snow and we hibernate next to the fire.  But for now, there is plenty of work to be done and a lot of great veggies to enjoy.

What to Expect in This Week's Share
This Romaine lettuce growing in
the field reminds me of lovely
green roses. 
  • Choice between potatoes and carrots
  • Choice between cherry tomatoes and Brussels sprouts
  • Choice between snap beans and tomatoes
  • Choice between cabbage and beets
  • Choice between salad mix and large leaf salad mix
  • Choice between kale, cooking greens, and frisee
  • Choice between baby fennel, onion, and kohlrabi





A Gathering of Early Fall Recipes

When you eat seasonally and most of your diet revolves around what is coming out of the fields and orchards at the moment, these transitional weeks between summer and fall can be particularly exciting!  We still have several traditional summer foods, such as tomatoes and snap beans, along with the addition of many fall foods like Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and carrots.  So whether the weather is rainy and chilly and you're feeling like comfort food, or it is nice and you're thinking of salads, here are several recipes that are perfect for these transitional days.

Jamie's Minestrone:  This is one of my go-to recipes for this time of year!  When the weather gets chilly, I always want soup, and this one has lots of veggie goodness in it.  It calls for spinach, which we don't have yet, but you could use kale or cooking greens instead.  Also, you can substitute kohlrabi for the celery in the recipe.  It tastes even better the next day, and freezes well too.

Fried Cabbage with Bacon, Onion, and Garlic:  Fred often makes a side dish that is pretty much exactly like this, and it is awesome!  Comfort food at its finest, this veggie-heavy dish gets all of its comfortiness from our very favorite non-veggie, bacon!

Grilled Chicken Salad with Tomatoes, Avocado, and Parmesan:  This is a Fred special.  The picture is not that great, but the salad is awesome!  (As are the blistered yellow beans tossed in soy sauce, and  the pear bread accompanying it, I might add.)  To make this salad, take some frozen chicken breasts and grill them while still frozen, about five minutes.  When they are done grilling, finish them in olive oil in a covered pan over medium heat.  Put salad mix or roughly chopped romaine (or a mix of both) on a plate, cover it with slices of tomatoes and avocados, then cover that with shaved Parmesan cheese (don't use the powdered stuff!  That is not the same at all!), and then cover that with the grilled chicken.  Make a simple dressing with two parts each of olive oil and premade Italian dressing, one part honey for sweetness, and some of the shaved Parmesan.  Drizzle the dressing over the whole salad, and devour at whatever speed you deem appropriate. :-)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

CSA Newsletter for September 13, 2014

Farm Update


The tomatoes are still hanging
on, and we'll have plenty of them
 in the shares this week!
 Hello everyone!  This last week it has really started to feel like fall, and the colder weather signals changes for the farm as we gradually transition into autumn.  Most of our apple varieties are getting pretty close to ripening, but they probably need just a little bit more time before being just right.  We planted some of our late season greens and turnips in the coldframes last week, which we'll be enjoying in a few weeks.  The pigs have been a little chilly lately, but they like the cooler weather anyway, so they're pretty happy right now.  We've started to build a new greenhouse this week so that we'll have the capacity to start a lot more seeds when we get into early spring, as well as increase the amount of microgreens we provide to local restaurants.  Fortunately, we already had most of the metal framing on hand, which Fred salvaged from our coldframe that blew away in the big windstorm last November.  That is definitely one of those "waste not, want not" situations, and that seems to be the theme of this time of year in particular.  Right now, we still have an abundance coming out of the field, and it is easy to think that it will always be this way.  It's really tempting to just toss out a few green beans left at the end of the bag, or half of a tomato left from lunch.  But I know I'll be glad in a few months that I took the time to can the leftover tomatoes and freeze the stray green beans, because as last year's most popular meme reminds us, "Winter is coming," and fall is a gentle reminder of that truth.

What to Expect in This Week's Share

  • Choice between snap beans and beets
  • Choice between tomatoes and carrots
  • Choice between cherry tomatoes and broccoli
  • Choice between cabbage, kale, and chard
  • Choice between regular salad mix and large leaf salad mix
  • Choice between kohlrabi, baby fennel, and onion
  • Choice between heirloom tomatoes, frisee, and garlic


Veggie Spotlight:  Lettuce

This lettuce is destined to be salad
mix.  It is grown close together
in rows to make it easy to harvest
 for the shares.
Fred first started growing lettuce for the Alma Farmers Market when he was 16, and ever since then, it has been the main crop he has grown over his farming career.  Back in our Ohio days, he grew several million dollars’ worth of many different varieties of lettuce for high-end restaurants, so if he has a specialty, lettuce is it.  Though our farm is very diversified, lettuce is still one of the main crops of our farm, and it has been a part of almost every CSA share since we started the farm four years ago.  Our lettuce has been popular with CSA members and restaurants alike, and most people think of lettuce and salad as being practically synonymous.  But if you are like most people, you have probably never wondered where lettuce comes from, or how it ends up on your plate.  Well, I’m all about learning something new every day, so here it is:  everything you never knew you wanted to know about lettuce!

Lettuce was originally found wild in a large geographical area from the Mediterranean to Siberia, and it has been used for a very long time in human history.  It has been traced back definitively to ancient Egypt, where there are clear depictions of the plants on tombs dating back from 2700-2500 BC.  However, its use likely dates back much farther in human history.  Traditionally the lettuce plant was harvested much more for medicinal purposes and for eating the stems in cooked dishes. Over time traditional breeders bred the lettuce plant to have greater palatability (less bitterness), bigger edible portions, and greater heat tolerance to prevent early bolting.  This breeding work was really accelerated by the Romans (which is where we get the name Romaine) in the early years AD.  For most of human history lettuce was grown very close to where it was consumed, until the 1900s when shippers in the US started packing it in ice for transport.  Then in the 1950s with the advent of modern cooling systems, production of lettuce became much more concentrated in California, where approximately 70% of US lettuce production (and 90% of spring mix production) is based.

Over the centuries, lettuce has been part of many religious and cultural traditions. Most of these traditions centered around the healing properties of lettuce that were thought to ward of many types of diseases. Some modern day traditions include the use of lettuce as the primary bitter herb in the Jewish Passover, and the Yazidi people in Iraq (who were recently in the news after coming under attack from ISIS) believe that the plant should never be eaten.  The actual reason for this is unclear, because the Yazidis’ greater reliance on oral tradition has meant that that particular information has been lost to history.

Lettuce has many great nutritional benefits and was used as a medicine by many early peoples.  It is very high in both Vitamin A and Vitamin K, and provides many other nutrients as well. When Fred grew lettuce for another farm in Ohio, testing of over 15 varieties showed that the darker green lettuces had the greatest concentration of nutrients in the leaves, with romaine types coming out on top.  If you have ever felt slightly tired after eating a large salad, it might be due to a mild narcotic substance in the leaves.  This was more pronounced in the earlier types of lettuce and is much less noticeable in modern lettuce, but it is notable that the Anglo-Saxons called lettuce “sleepwort” because of its soporific effect.

At our farm, we grow lettuce in two different ways.  The seeds destined to become salad mix are seeded thickly into the soil in five rows.  They are then watered, cultivated with the tractor, usually hand weeded once, and then harvested by hand after 4-5 weeks.  Our head lettuce, as well as the bags of large leaf lettuce mix and romaine leaves, come from transplants.  We seed them by hand into plastic flats in the greenhouse.  Then they grow for about 4-5 weeks in the flats, after which they are taken outside to harden off.  During this process, we set them outside for a few days to get them acclimated to the outdoor temperature before we transplant them into the field, which results in less shock when they are actually transplanted.  When we are ready to plant we then spread extra chicken manure pellets into the row where we will plant and then transplant by hand.  After this, we water them with our dripline irrigation system and cultivate once before the harvest.  Harvest is typically done 3-5 weeks after transplanting, and it is done by hand.  In both production systems we harvest off of younger plants so that the great flavor of our lettuce is present, but without the harsh bitterness of older leaves.


Hopefully this leaves you (No pun intended… Okay, maybe a little!) more knowledgeable about this awesome veggie, its role in history, and how it is grown!


Recipes

BLT Salad
Since we technically have one more week of summer, what better way to make the most of it than with this BLT Salad!  Since both lettuce and tomatoes feature prominently in the shares this week, you could make a large dinner salad of it.

If you don't dig salads in general, or you are looking to do something a little more unexpected with your lettuce this week, try these 4 Ways to Use Lettuce (Other Than Salad).  I didn't know you could do any of these, so I will definitely be trying at least on of these out this week!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

CSA Newsletter for September 6, 2014

Farm Update

Our piggies are in the middle of their "teen" phase,
 so they have been sleeping in quite a bit lately!
Hello everyone!  It's been another good week at the farm this week!  The coldframe tomatoes are still holding on, and the blight that we were starting to see seems to have slowed down considerably, so we should have plenty of tomatoes for this week.  Last week's weather was good for plant growth in general, so the crops are a lot bigger, but the weeds are also benefiting from the weather.  Compared with what we see around this time most years, we've had a lot more issues with weeds, but not as much insect pressure as we usually see.  It also looks like the next wave of apple varieties are starting to ripen in the orchard.  The pigs are also growing at an astounding rate.  They are essentially teenagers right now, growing quickly and sleeping in pretty late in the mornings.  Things are still growing quickly like they do in summer, but I can feel in the air that fall is on its way.  In about a month, we'll be fully into fall and preparing for the long winter ahead, but for now we're still enjoying the abundance of late summer.

What to Expect in This Week's Share

There will be lots
of lovely heirloom
tomatoes in the shares
this week!
  • Choice of watermelon, tomatoes, or Brussels sprouts
  • Choice of romaine leaves or salad mix
  • Choice of fennel, broccoli, or beets
  • Potatoes
  • Choice of cherry tomatoes or beans
  • Choice of cabbage, Napa cabbage, or kale
  • Choice of kohlrabi, onion, or pepper




Teaching Kids about Healthy Living

In the spirit of the back-to-school season, I've been thinking a lot about educating the kiddos in our lives about how to live healthily.  Like pretty much every mom out there, I want to see my little girls grow up happy and healthy, and not held down by the physical and mental consequences of poor health choices.  So for those of us with kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, or any other kids within our sphere of influence, here are some things we can do to put them on the right track for a healthy life.

Apples roll down the
grading table, where Fred chooses
the best ones to bring to the CSA.
First, lead by example:  It seems kind of obvious, but kids will model what they see the adults in their lives doing.  If they see you eating a bunch of junk food, watching TV or surfing the net for hours in a row, smoking, and avoiding exercise, they will naturally do the same thing, and they won't even realize that there is another way to live.  Likewise, if they see you making good food choices, enjoying physical activity, and being engaged with the world outside yourself, they will model the same behaviors.  I would like to add that they need to see you enjoying these things, because if you act like you hate your healthy food or if you grumble all the time about working out, they will get the impression that these things are not fun, and they won't seek them out.

Make physical activity a family affair:  Do fun activities of a physical nature together; go for a walk after dinner, kick around a soccer ball in the front yard, go swimming together.  These are all great things to do that will not only get you moving, but will also provide quality bonding time.  When I was in high school, my dad and I used to run a few miles together a few times a week.  We were both busy with work and school and all the other stuff life throws at you, but he made it a priority to go out and run with me, and now I have great memories of all those miles with my dad.  And a decade and a half later, I'm still running.

Getting kids started enjoying
athletic activities and physically
active play early will reap
massive dividends in their future!
Here, Jane poses with the
Heart and Sole running group
after her very first race.
Don't skimp on the everyday movements, either:  You all know what I'm talking about.  It's driving through the parking lot to search for a closer parking space even though it would be faster to just park and walk a little farther.  It's taking the elevator to the second floor instead of the stairs.  We laugh at it because it's kind of silly, but we've all been there.  We're mentally wired to avoid excess movement because back in the day when food was more scarce, our ancestors did not want to burn any calories they didn't have to.  That's not really an issue we have now (quite the opposite, actually), but we still have those tendencies.  Now we have plenty of labor-saving devices, from cars to dishwashers to riding lawnmowers.  I have even seen my brother text my mom from the next room to ask her a question.  These labor-saving devices are not bad by any means, but sometimes our lack of labor is more detrimental to our health than the work they save us from.  And let's just put a ban on calling or texting someone who is in the same house, starting right now.  Because when our kids see us avoiding at all costs moving more than we need to or working harder at something than is strictly necessary, they internalize that movement and exercise are to be avoided, and that couldn't be farther than the truth.

Make healthy food delicious:  I know that as a general rule, people think that food that is good for you doesn't taste good, and that if it tastes good, it must be bad for you.  But that is just not true.  The best and most important thing we can do to encourage our kids to be lifelong healthy eaters is make healthy food taste delicious.  If your kids are used to everything being really sweet, really salty, or really fatty, that might be a little bit of an uphill battle.  Those tastes and textures are naturally pleasing to us, and it is easy to get desensitized to them and need more sugar, more salt, and more fat to get the same effect.  I'm not saying to never use those ingredients.  I love all of them in moderation.  But moderation is the key word.  And moderate amounts of all of them are all you need to make everything delicious.  People who think that fruits and vegetables are boring or tasteless simply are not preparing them right.  So if that is you, do a little research and find some great recipes or preparation techniques for your healthy ingredients.  If you learn how to make the good stuff taste just as delicious as the bad stuff, it won't be such a battle with your kids or yourself to eat healthy foods, because you will naturally like them better than all the unhealthy stuff.  Healthy eating should not be about deprivation!

I could go on and on and on, but I won't, because you probably don't have time to read all I could say on this subject.  But this week, let's all try to take some steps in one or more of these areas.  Add in a healthy recipe or a short bike ride with your kids.  The more you make these things a part of their lives as kids, the more likely they will be to continue doing them in their adult lives.


Recipes

Delicious Ham and Potato Soup
I bet the kiddos (and the grownups!) will like this recipe for Delicious Ham and Potato Soup!  I would go even heavier on the veggies, and throw in additional types of veggies as well for more texture and more vegetable goodness.  Also, if you have real chicken stock on hand, I'd use that instead of the bouillon, and just reduce the water accordingly.

Baked Cherry Tomatoes with Garlic
Or try these Baked Cherry Tomatoes with Garlic!  They are just the right size for little fingers, yummy, and healthy to boot!



Saturday, August 30, 2014

CSA Newsletter for August 30, 2014

Farm Update
A bin full of lovely squash blossoms!
 Hi everyone!  As much as I am still in denial about it, even I have to admit that it's starting to transition into fall.  Our first fall plantings of spinach are starting to pop up, the earliest of the apples are ripening, our largest fall plantings of cabbage and broccoli are in the ground, and we actually have pretty good Brussels sprouts already.  If there is anything that says it's fall, that would be it.  The tomatoes are still holding on;  the late blight that has been plaguing farmers and home gardeners all across mid-Michigan is starting to spread in the coldframes a little, but not as rapidly as we were afraid of.  Barring any freak event, we should still have plenty of tomatoes for the shares this week.  For me, this is actually one of the more bittersweet times of year, because every August is a golden age; an extravagantly warm, eat-outside-on-the-deck, fresh-tomatoes-on-your-salad-everyday kind of time.  And despite all the hard work that naturally occurs each summer, I'm not ready to let it go yet.  But time marches on.  So here's to the last few weeks of summer!

What to Expect in This Week's Share

  • Choice between sweet corn and watermelon
    We're looking forward to more watermelons in the share this week!
  • Choice between cherry tomatoes and potatoes
  • Choice between broccoli and snap beans
  • Choice between large leaf salad mix and regular salad mix
  • Choice between apples, tomatoes, and Brussels sprouts
  • Choice between kale and beets
  • Onions for everyone!


Veggie Spotlight:  Snap Beans

Green snap beans ready to harvest
 Snap beans are one of the veggies our family most looks forward to when the weather first starts to transition from spring to summer.  They were a little later this year than most, but they are still one of the first summery vegetables to appear, and they hint at the abundance to come long before the first tomato, pepper, or ear of corn.  While a lot of veggies are easier to grow in other parts of the country, Michigan summers have just the kind of weather that beans love, and our state is actually one of the major green bean producers in the nation.

Beans are a warm weather plant that originated in the tropical region between southern Mexico and Costa Rica.  The name “beans” is actually used to describe two different families of beans, the other being the fava bean type which originated near modern Afghanistan.  However, the type most of us are used to in the U.S. is the type that originated in the Americas. The first use of snap beans in human history is difficult to pinpoint, but they are generally believed to have been cultivated by humans as far back as 8000-5000 BC.  Christopher Columbus recorded the use of beans in the Americas after his first voyage, but the beans he probably saw the natives cultivating were pole beans, which actually grew up the corn stalks they were planted next to, and produced beans over a long period of time.  Today we are much more likely to see bush beans, which are much shorter and generally have a shorter life cycle.  They were first recorded by European explorers in 1542AD.  Often referred to as “string beans”, snap beans used to have a tough string that had to be removed down the length of the bean. Through natural breeding by the farmer-experimenters of the past, this string is no longer found on any modern varieties that are commonly grown today. The first snap beans also had much tougher pods than the snap beans you get in your shares now.  This is yet another example of how the good work of natural breeders has improved the palatability and productiveness of the food we enjoy today.

Like basically all vegetables, fresh green beans are nutritionally better than the preserved type.  Beans are high in vitamin K and manganese.  They are also loaded with a diverse group of great antioxidants. To get the most nutritive value out of snap beans, eating them raw, lightly steamed, or sautéed is the best way to go.

Rows of green bean plants growing
in the field.
At our farm, snap beans are always a staple summer crop.  We raise 5 different kinds of beans: purple, red Romano, green Romano, yellow, and regular green beans.  The green beans are the easiest to grow, as the bush variety that we grow produces a lot of beans at the same time, and they are usually held well above the soil.  This makes harvest easier, faster, and cleaner.  The other varieties we grow are not quite as productive, but are still the shorter bush types.  Around this time of year we usually have trouble with Mexican bean beetles, who chew holes in the leaves and beans, but his year we have not seen as many around, likely a result of the hard winter and wet, cool summer.  Disease is less common on this crop in general, but sometimes we see rust start to grow on the beans later in September.  The biggest issue we have had this year is actually hairy thistle seeds blowing into and getting stuck on the beans. They are almost impossible to wash off!  Snap beans are a labor intensive crop, but generally easy to grow and good competitors with weeds.   

The snap beans you are getting in your shares have a fairly simple life cycle.  We seed them directly into the field with our new field seeder. Then we water them with our dripline irrigation system, in which a small perforated hose runs directly along the base of the plant, giving the plant water exactly where it needs it.  After this we do several cultivations.  Usually our basket weeder and homemade two-row cultivator take care of the weeding pretty well, but sometimes a little hand weeding is still necessary.  After this we wait until just the right moment, where the maximum number of beans have formed on the plant, but they have not yet gotten too tough to be delicious, and then we harvest them.  Unlike many other veggies such as kale, where you can harvest over and over from the same planting, there is just one harvest of per planting of snap beans. This is because the first harvest is much higher quality then subsequent harvests.  Since we only harvest once from each planting, we actually plant a new batch of green beans every 10 days or so, so there will always be a new planting ready to bring to the CSA.  After the beans are harvested, we rinse, spin, and bag the beans, and then distribute them to all of you at the CSA drop-offs.  Hopefully this gives you a little more knowledge of how your food is grown, and about the history that got it to your plate.  Enjoy!

Recipes

Now that you're all thoroughly excited about the awesomeness that is a new bag of fresh green beans, here are 11 Fresh Green Bean Recipes from Real Simple!  Give one of them a try this week, like these Green Beans with Bacon Vinaigrette.