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!


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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

CSA Newsletter for August 24, 2014

Farm Update

Our new potato digger made quick
work of the potato harvest last week!
Hi everyone!  As usual, it has been an eventful week at the farm!  Our summer crew is starting to go back to school for the fall; over the last week Nate and Charlie have returned to college, but we do have a new crew member, Logan.  He started a few days ago, and he's doing a great job!  We've had quite a lot of rain lately, so the driveways at the farm are kind of a mud pit right now.  The rain has also increased the amount of weeds we're seeing at the farm.  Last week we did our large potato harvest with our new potato digger, which saved a lot of time!  We also planted some large plantings of broccoli for the fall.  This has been kind of a weird year for tomatoes;  the cold, wet weather has made them more susceptible to late blight, and the blight seems to be spreading around central Michigan.  We've heard from pretty much every farmer we've talked to that their outside tomatoes have been wiped out by late blight, and indeed, that is what happened to ours. Our coldframe tomatoes seem to be doing pretty well so far.  There is a little bit of blight at the ends of each coldframe, but it is really hard to tell if it will spread and effectively end our tomato season, or if it will stay put.  Here's hoping that we still have several weeks of tomatoes to come!  The other crazy thing is that while the watermelons ripened a lot later than usual, the Brussels sprouts are already ready for the shares!  Normally this time
This year we've experienced some late blight, which is a foliar
disease that appears on tomato leaves when the conditions
are too cold and wet.
of year is too hot for the Brussels sprouts, so they have a very bitter taste.  But Fred ate one the other day and found that it tasted pretty good.  So for the first time ever (and probably the last, because this is seriously weird), we will have watermelons and Brussels sprouts in the same week!  I've given up trying to predict this crazy season!  Also, just a reminder, but next week is Labor Day.  The Alma drop-off will be occurring on Monday, September 1 as usual, but if you are going to be gone, just let us know and we'll postpone your share for you.  Thanks!

What to Expect in Your Share

These purple potatoes will be in the tricolor potatoes in the shares
this week!
  • Choice between watermelon and Brussels sprouts
  • Choice between tomatoes and tricolor potatoes
  • Choice between broccoli and summer squash
  • Choice between snap beans and surprise veggie
  • Choice between large salad mix and regular salad mix
  • Choice between kale, chard, and beets
  • Choice between yellow onion, garlic, and red shallot

GMO Awareness:  What You Need to Know to Make Educated Decisions about Your Food

Rows of lettuce just waiting to get
harvested for salad mix!
A few weeks ago, I did an article about the difference between heirloom, hybrid, and GMO seed varieties (if you missed it, check out the article from the August 9th newsletter for a refresher!), and I mentioned that GMO's are pretty pervasive on the grocery store shelves.  In fact, GMO's are in virtually all processed foods unless the food is organic (because certified organic foods are required to contain no GMO's), or unless the processor is going to great lengths to avoid using GMO's, in which case the package would boldly advertise that the food is GMO-free.  Foods that don't come in boxes or cans, such as fresh produce or meat, are a little trickier.  While many other countries require producers and processors to label GMO's in foods, the US requires no such labeling.  So here is what you need to know if you are concerned about GMO's in your food and want to make educated decisions about what you're eating.

Picture this:  You walk into the grocery store and head to the produce section to pick up a few fresh fruits and veggies.  You are trying to avoid GMO's in your diet, and you know that organic foods don't contain GMO's, but you find that the selection of organic produce is pretty limited.  What do you do?

The first thing you want to know is which types of produce are most likely to be grown from GMO seed.  The picture on the right shows the top 10 most common genetically modified foods.  The corn and soy shown are more likely to be field corn and soybeans used for animal feed and processed food production, so you don't necessarily have to avoid non-organic sweet corn and edamame in order to avoid GMO's (although it is a good idea to avoid those things if you're concerned about synthetic chemicals).  Basically, it's a good idea to go organic on the top 10 items because then you know you're not getting GMO's.  If the selection of organic produce is limited, it's a good idea to stick to things like bananas and avocados, which are not on this list.  Important note:  Just because an item is not likely to contain GMO's does not mean that you are in the clear!  A lot of foods that are not on this list, such as conventionally grown strawberries, peaches, kale, etc, will still have a lot of pesticide residues on them.  And most of the people I know who try to avoid GMO's also try to avoid synthetic chemicals, so basically, unless your produce is organic, you're probably getting one or the other of the two evils, or maybe both.

When it comes to processed food, most things contain GMO's unless it specifically states otherwise.  Corn and soybeans are the two most prevalent GMO crops, and corn and soy are found in most processed foods, even things you wouldn't expect.  They are used as filler in everything from salad dressings to packaged cookies to frozen pizzas, and they're even present in most conventionally raised meats.  (Most large meat production facilities feed their animals GMO corn and soy, so that ends up in the meat, as well as dairy products and eggs.)

The kale has been growing really well in the cooler weather!
To tell the truth, it is really hard to avoid GMO's when you're getting all or most of your food from the grocery store.  That's why it's always a good idea to shop at farmers' markets and co-ops, join CSA's, and ask around about where you can find quality meat, eggs, and dairy products that don't contain GMO's.  That's why I am a huge proponent of being connected to your local food system, where you can ask the farmer himself how he grew the produce or what he fed his animals.  And the more connected you are, the more you will hear about where to get the good stuff.  We actually buy very little of our food at the grocery store, because we know where to get milk straight from the cow, honey straight from the hive, and naturally raised beef and chicken to supplement the produce, pork, and eggs we raise ourselves.  In the end, eating organically raised and local foods is the easiest way to avoid GMO's in your diet.  

But what about the things we want to eat that don't grow in our climate?  Does that mean that we have to give up our bananas, avocados, mangoes, fish, coffee, and tea?  And what about baking staples like flour, vegetable oil, and sugar?  In situations like these, I try to get organic whenever it's available (as in mangoes, avocados, and bananas), and make substitutions when possible.  For example, if a recipe calls for canola oil (which is most likely from GMO rapeseed), I'll substitute olive oil or coconut oil depending on what goes best with the recipe, because those aren't likely to contain GMO's.  For sugar, I get the cane sugar instead of the beet sugar.  They're both still sugar, so obviously use them in moderation, but most sugar beets contain GMO's, whereas to my knowledge they don't have GMO sugarcane yet.  For fish, getting wild-caught fish is going to make it easier to avoid GMO's, because farmed fish are often fed GMO corn and soy.  Wild caught fish just eat whatever they can find in their natural habitat, so they are more likely to be GMO free.

In the end, it is almost impossible to avoid GMO's completely unless you only eat things that were grown by you or someone you know and trust.  If that is you, more power to you!  For the rest of us, our best option is to eat mostly things that were grown by someone we know and trust, get certified organic on the things we can at the store, and keep the GMO-likely items to a very small percentage of our diets.  My personal opinion is that avoiding GMO's is just part of the puzzle of good health, and in the end, the point of good health is to have a better quality of life.  So do what you can to eat healthily, but don't be the person who won't have a slice of your sister's pie at Thanksgiving because there is GMO canola oil in the crust.  There is definitely a balance, and finding that balance is what will lead to the best overall quality of life.


Earlier this weekend, I was flipping through the August 2012 issue
This Garden Vegetable Tart is just one of the yummy recipes
to try this week!
of Better Homes and Gardens, and when I got to the recipe section, I was totally inspired by all the great recipes that let wonderful seasonal produce be the stars!  Normally I don't get too geeked about the food section in magazines because all the recipes call for a bunch of ingredients I don't have, but this time I was like, "Oooh!  This week I'm going to make this, and this, and this, and this!"  So I figured I'd share all those lovely veggie recipes with you.  Enjoy!

Pork Tacos with Spicy Watermelon Salsa

Saturday, August 16, 2014

CSA Newsletter for August 16, 2014

Farm Update

The bounty of summer is
upon us, and we have been
enjoying it fully at our house!
Jane has especially been
loving the corn!
 Hi everyone!  As you've probably noticed, we've been having some unusually cold weather for August, which is having some positive and some negative affects on the farm.  The good news is that insect pressure has been a lot lower than it usually is this time of year.  The bad news is that the cool wet weather has been causing some disease issues for our outdoor tomatoes.  The coldframe tomatoes have been protected from the elements, but the outdoor tomatoes have been exposed to harsher weather than they are used to in August, which makes them more susceptible to disease.  We should still have plenty of tomatoes though, and we'll probably do some orders of canning tomatoes starting in a week or two.  We've been eating a lot of wonderful tomato dishes at home with the first of the tomato harvest.  Another exciting thing this week is that Fred got a potato digger at the farm!  It's old and simple and inexpensive, but it will save a lot of harvest time, which is always welcome.  The pigs have been really happy lately, and they are starting to look a lot chubbier.  Soon they'll start eating ridiculous amounts of food until they meet their end in October.  We're officially halfway through the CSA season, and this is when we enter the most abundant part of the year.  Enjoy!

What to Expect in Your Share

Fred has been drying the newest planting of red
onions, and they should be ready for the shares
this week!

  • Choice of broccoli or beets
  • Choice of carrots or large salad mix
  • Choice of frisee, kale, chard, or basil
  • Choice of tomatoes or potatoes
  • Snap beans for everyone!
  • Choice of cucumbers or summer squash
  • Onions for everyone!

Veggie Spotlight: Tomatoes

Red cherry tomatoes on the vine.
There are few garden plants more popular than the tomato, and it is one of the most widely eaten vegetables in the world. However, this widespread use of the tomato as a food has really become a lot more prevalent since the 19th century. Before this it was thought by Europeans to be poisonous, and it was often used for more ornamental purposes, both on the table and in the garden. The tomato’s origin is still debated in academic circles and is thought to either have come from modern day Peru or somewhere in Mexico. However, most of its early recorded use is in Mexico where evidence of its cultivation dates back to 500 BC. From then until the very early 1500s the tomato was only found in the Americas, but after Spain began its exploration and exploitation of the Aztecs and their land, the tomato soon made its way to Europe and quickly spread over the rest of the world. The first tomatoes that came over from Mexico to Europe were yellow, which remained the most common color of the early tomatoes in Europe.

You’ve probably also heard the debate over whether the tomato is a fruit or vegetable. Actually, it is both. Botanists consider it a fruit, because it forms from the ovary of a flower. However, it is considered a vegetable to horticulturists, due to its annual growing culture and lower sugar content than other fruits.  The tomato foliage does have mild toxins; however the fruit has very little, and you would have to eat a lot of tomato foliage to get ill. The fruits vary widely in nutrient content and antioxidants, depending on variety and color. However, all tomatoes have a lot of vitamins A and C and contain the antioxidant Lycopene, which prevents cancer and heals the skin, especially from the effects of UV rays.
On our farm, the tomatoes start in the greenhouse as seeds planted in trays in mid-March. These seeds turn into fast growing plants that are transplanted into our coldframes. This usually starts in early May, although this year it was mid-late May due to abnormally cold temperatures. The plants that go in the coldframes are put into raised beds with plastic mulch. Stakes are put in the rows of plants every 8 feet. Then as the plants grow, lines of twine are put
tightly around the rows of plants to guide their growth upward so they are not sprawled over the ground. At the end of the season most vines are 10-15 feet long. The system we use for the tomatoes improves the quality and flavor of tomatoes. This time of the year, we only water the tomatoes a little bit, so they can concentrate the flavor and sugars of the fruit for better eating and nutrient value. When tomatoes are overwatered, the taste is less intense and the nutrients are more diluted. By only giving our tomatoes a little water, we sacrifice a little on total yield, but feel it is way worth it in flavor.
Though the tomatoes are later and a little less plentiful than in normal years, we now have our great tasting tomatoes back in full swing. We hope you enjoy this tomato season!


Texas Toast Tomato Sandwiches are just one of
great recipe ideas this week!
Just in case you're looking for some new ideas for your tomatoes, here are 33 Recipes for Fresh Tomatoes from Southern Living.  Or you can slice them up and put them on salads, add them to pasta sauces, or stack a fried egg and a tomato slice on some toast for a quick snack.  There are so many great things to do with tomatoes, so I hope you enjoy them to the fullest while they're here!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

CSA Newsletter for August 9, 2014

Farm Update

Look at all these gorgeous veggies!  This photo is
courtesy of our very own Joe Cecil, who knows a
lovely setup when he sees it, even in the midst of
a busy harvest day!
Hi everyone!  We had some really nice weather last week, and our tomatoes are finally starting to ripen!  We've eaten a few of the very first ones here at home, and they have been delicious!  Fred and the guys seeded the carrots and beets for some of our fall plantings this week as well.  The pigs are starting to get pretty big, and they have been bathing in their mud pit frequently due to the warm weather.  We just set a butchering date for October 29, so the pork will be ready sometime in mid-November.  We're not exactly sure what we're going to be charging for pork this year, but we'll have four pigs available, and you can get either a half or a whole pig.  There will be more information about the pigs coming up, so I'll let you all know when we'll start taking orders.  This week, we are officially halfway through the season, so there are 10 more weeks of lovely veggies after this!  

What to Expect in This Week's Share

Most of the broccoli in the
shares this week won't be
as huge as this beast, but
it will still be delicious!

Choice of salad mix or head lettuce
Choice of potatoes or surprise veggie
Choice of beans or summer squash
Choice of carrots, broccoli, or cucumbers
Choice of kale, chard, or cooking greens
Choice of turnips, bok choy, or beets
Choice of onions or basil

Heirlooms, Hybrids, and GMOs:  What's the Difference?

For the last few years in the media, we have been hearing a lot about GMO's, and most people are at least somewhat familiar with the debate on whether or not they are good for us.  We get asked frequently what they are, and how they are different from the traditional breeding methods that farmers have used throughout history.  So for those of you who want to brush up on your knowledge of plant propagation, here is a brief tutorial on the difference between heirlooms, hybrids, and GMO seed varieties.

First, we have the heirloom varieties.  These are varieties that have been around for a long time, anywhere from several generations to several centuries.  These varieties are open pollinated, which means that they mix their pollen in the traditional way without human intervention.  You can save seed from them and expect the seed to produce plants with the same characteristics of the parent plant, so these varieties will be consistent from year to year.  We grow several of these heirloom varieties at the farm, including Golden Globe Turnips, Black Cherry tomatoes, and Vates kale.  These are varieties your grandparents could have been growing, and maybe they did.

Our happy chickens pecking around for bugs in the grass.
Hybrid varieties are the next step up on the tradition ladder.  This requires human intervention, but not the kind that occurs in a lab.  This occurs when a grower takes two parent plants of different varieties and crosses them, so that the offspring plant will have characteristics of both the parents.  For example, a grower might cross one variety with excellent disease resistance with another variety that has superior taste to try to create a hybrid variety that tastes awesome and withstands disease.  Hybrids are commonly used in organic production systems for this very reason.  Since we don't spray synthetic chemicals on our plants, we want varieties that are naturally disease resistant.  For example, we chose a hybrid variety for our sweet corn called Trinity, because it is bred to have a tight wrapper that is hard for worms to penetrate.

The pigs have been hanging
out in their mud puddle a lot
lately due to the heat.
The last type of seeds are the GMO's, which are the new kids on the block in terms of plant propagation.  These genetically modified varieties are made in a lab, and scientists actually take genetic material from one life form and splice it with the DNA of another plant.  With hybrids, you take to kinds of peppers, get their pollen mixed, and hope that their offspring has the characteristics you want.  With GMO's, you take a pepper (or more likely, a soybean) and add genetic material from a completely different plant or animal.  These are obviously expensive to produce, and these varieties can be patented, so they are much more expensive to the farmer.  The main benefit to the grower is that many GMO's are created to be used in conjunction with a particular pesticide or herbicide (such as Roundup-ready soybeans), which makes the farmer's life easier.  However, that makes the farmer dependent on the expensive GMO seed.  There has also been a lot of debate about whether GMO's are actually safe in the long run, because we just don't know enough about how these genetically modified foods behave in our bodies or in our environment over the long haul. That's a whole other article, so I won't get into that too much here, but suffice it to say that GMO varieties are not allowed in organic production systems, and many countries have outlawed them altogether.  In fact, many European countries won't allow American brands that include GMO's on their store shelves.  Also, as a family we avoid buying products that have GMO's, which is fairly hard to do, because they are pretty pervasive.  So if you're concerned about the presence of GMO's in your ground beef (because most beef in stores came from cows fed on GMO corn) or your ranch dressing (don't ask me why they need to but GMO high-fructose corn syrup in salad dressing), spring for the organic varieties, because they can't contain any GMO's.  In fact, maybe that would be a good article for the near future: what you need to know to make educated decisions and avoid GMO foods.  I think I'm going to put that on the newsletter roster, so stay tuned for that sometime in the next few weeks!

So hopefully you now know a little more about the different types of seed varieties, and have an appreciation for all the farmer-experimenters of the past who brought us many of the excellent veggie varieties we have today!


Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes, and Green Beans
This recipe for Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes, and Green Beans from Martha Stewart was sent to me this week from one of the CSA members at our Mt. Pleasant drop-off, and it includes a lot of the veggies in the share this week!  It looks delicious, so I figured I'd pass it along to all of you.  Thanks, Jessica!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

CSA Newsletter for August 2, 2014

Farm Update

The corn is just waiting for some good warm days in order to be
ready for the drop-off!
 Hi everyone!  Things are going pretty well at the farm!  The cool-weather veggies continue to do well, and the warm-weather crops continue to just hang out and wait for enough heat to ripen.  There are tons of tomatoes on the vine, but due to the cool weather, they probably won't be ready for another week or so.  It's a similar story with the watermelons and sweet corn, but hopefully we'll be bringing them all soon!  One thing that we will have this week, though, are the very first apples!  We'll have some Transparents, which are the first variety of apples to ripen each year.  They're a little more tart and a little more intense than your standard apple, so they are great for applesauce and pies.  We hope you're enjoying eating according to the season as much as we do!

What to Expect in This Week's Share
  • Choice between carrots and transparent apples
    We'll have plenty of green beans
    again this week!
  • Choice between beans and broccoli
  • Potatoes for everyone!
  • Choice between cabbage and beets
  • Choice between heirloom turnips, kale, or chard
  • Choice between large salad mix and summer squash
  • Choice between basil, bok choy, and kohlrabi
  • Choice between shallots, onion, or garlic

Where We've Been and Where We're Going

On Thursday afternoon when I looked at my roster of CSA newsletter topics that I brainstormed several months ago, I came to the topic I had planned for this week, which was about the many aspects of sustainability that are important to us at the farm.  We had done a similar article back in 2011, so I trolled through the newsletter archives to find it and see what I wrote when I was a newbie at farmwife-ing, mothering, office managing, newsletter writing, and basically everything that has become second nature to me now.  I never did find that article.  But after skimming through the first two years of our farm experience over the course of about 15 minutes, I was overcome with a sense of both change and continuity, and a little bit of nostalgia.  I decided to postpone the original article (don't worry, it's still coming!) and talk about the (fairly short) history of the farm.  So here it is:  The Monroe Family Organics Timeline.

Some really beautiful dark clouds at the farm last week.
December 29, 2010:  We pack up our household in Ohio and our two-month-old daughter and make the trek up to Alma, Fred's hometown, where we've just purchased a house and rented some farmland, to finally realize our dream of owning our own farm.

January and February 2011:  Fred hits the ground running getting the appropriate business permits, the rights to our farm name, a business bank account, a small business loan from his uncle (thanks, Uncle Mark!).  Michele gets signed up to do some substitute teaching, because our family now has no income.  She also timidly tries her hand at marketing, with mixed results.

Spring 2011:  Fred starts planning, planting, and getting the fields ready to produce veggies.  We do research about different CSA structures, brainstorm possible problems and complaints, and generally try to come up with the best CSA model we can.  We didn't have as many people sign up as we had originally hoped (or need in order to not go broke in our first season), so Fred contacts some potential wholesale buyers, and the (unintended) wholesale half of the business is born.

Summer 2011:  We kick off the first year of the CSA!  We establish the three original drop-offs, work through a lot of the kinks, and develop relationships with the CSA members and small wholesale accounts.  Fred does all the field work with just himself and one other employee, as well as all the record-keeping and article-writing.  Michele takes care of the few-month-old baby, continues to establish the household, helps at the CSA drop-offs, and edits the newsletters.  

Fall 2011:  We wind down our first season and evaluate what changes need to be made for next year.  Michele completes her first marathon, and a few days later, we find out that we have baby number 2 on the way.  We realize that we really need to streamline and get more help for 2012, and that Michele needs to take all of the office-related things off of Fred's shoulders.

June 2012:  We kick off our second CSA season, adding a new drop-off at the Midland hospital and a few new wholesale accounts.  Michele takes on all the record-keeping, payroll, newsletter, etc, and begins to develop systems to manage all of her new roles.  The farm is growing extremely quickly, and we are trying to put infrastructure in place so we can handle all the demand.  We're both glad to be back into the season, and we are anxiously making plans for the birth of our second daughter, who is due in mid-July, but who is actually expected by the end of June.  Surveying the insane workload that Fred has in the field (literally 100 hours a week for both the last two weeks of June), Michele fears that if the baby is born on a drop-off day, he's just not going to be able to be there, because no one else can replace Fred for even a few hours.

June 25, 2012:  Michele goes into labor at 1:30 on Monday morning, and has Jessamine around 5:30 AM.  Fortunately, Fred was able to be there since it was the middle of the night, and he got to be with his new little girl for 45 minutes before having to get out to the field to start the harvest for the Alma drop-off.  Michele spends the next few days in the hospital, holding and feeding little Jessamine, trying to keep her end of the farm running from a laptop in a hospital bed, and trying not to notice the pitying looks from the nurses because her husband has been making only short appearances when it is either too early or too late for field work.  Meanwhile, Fred is experiencing trial by fire as the farm is experiencing some major growing pains.  He leaves the farm only when he can no longer see anything, picks Jane up at his parents, stops by the hospital to see Jessamine and Michele, and returns home to fall into bed for a few hours, until he has to do it all again the next day.  It goes on like this for about a week, because after a very brief release from the hospital, Jessamine is readmitted due to severe jaundice until the following Sunday night.
Fred puts the apples on the grading
table, which rolls them around so he
can more easily see if an apple has
blemishes, and sort them accordingly.

July-October, 2012:  We spend the rest of the season trying to keep our heads above water.  Fred is still working insane hours, Michele finds that important management things are slipping through the cracks despite her best efforts, and no one is getting much sleep.  We have a newborn and an almost-two-year-old who is acting out because she isn't sure what to make of the tiny usurper who has just entered the household. (Disclaimer:  Fred remembers the 2012 season a lot differently than I do.  He remembers primarily the growth the farm experienced, whereas I primarily remember not being able to keep up with everything.  So it was probably somewhere in the middle.)

Fall and Winter 2012:  We spend the off-season trying to keep the farm moving forward and improving our systems, because the last season was completely unsustainable.  After just barely keeping our heads above water all season, we do a combination of draining some of said proverbial water, and learning how to swim more effectively. 

Summer and fall 2013:  We enter the 2013 season ready to get to work.  We have a little more infrastructure in place that Fred created the previous year, but there are still a lot of things we need in order to make things run really smoothly at the farm.  The girls are a year older and therefore a year easier, so in general, it is a much smoother year than the year before.  Michele has a little more practice at running the office, Fred has plenty of help in the field, and everyone is getting a full night of sleep each night.  Now all we need is a tractor that doesn't break down at really inopportune times!  In September, after most of our summer help leaves, Michele joins Fred working in the fields Monday-Thursday, learns to appreciate all of the effort that occurs on the field side of things, and builds awesome arm muscles lifting heavy bins of veggies.

Winter 2013-2014:  We spend the winter in a really relaxed fashion, hanging out by the fire, spending time with the girls, and doing some renovation projects around the house.  Fred is chomping at the bit to get out and do some work, but everything is under a few feet of snow, so he chops a bunch of firewood and designs new farm implements instead.  He also gets his new tractor, which he proudly uses to shovel snow out of neighborhood driveways.

Spring and Summer 2014:  This is absolutely the best season yet. We've hit our stride, developed our systems, and gotten most of the tools we need for the job.  We also have enough help in the fields to get things done.  Our girls are now three and two, so they are at an age where they can entertain themselves for twenty minutes at a time without hurting themselves or destroying anything.  Michele has stopped being afraid of marketing, figured out how to do her tasks more efficiently, and also has more time to do them now that the girls are more independent.  As for the CSA, we've added our East Lansing and Saginaw-Bay City drop-offs this year.  The CSA has gotten a lot bigger, which is nice, and we are trying to figure out how to know everyone by name like we did the first year.  All in all, it is a good season, and we've finally gotten into a more sustainable groove.

...And beyond:  Who knows?  We're tossing around several ideas for the future, such as a Flint drop-off, a home delivery option for the CSA, more kids, and working on an organic farm in the South of France in January.  We've had a lot of ups and downs in the last few years, but overall, it is a good life.  We really believe in the importance of the work we're doing, we love having such a seasonality to our lifestyle (not to mention an abundance of awesome food), and we love being so connected to our family and the community.  We're living according to our priorities, and in the end, isn't that what everyone wants to be able to say about the road they've been travelling?  So here's to the adventures we've had so far, and here's to the road ahead!

Try out this easy applesauce recipe!
I am so thrilled that it is the beginning of apple season!  Since Transparents are a little more tart, making applesauce is a great thing to do with them.  Here is a really easy applesauce recipe to help you on your way!

Grilled Potatoes!  Yum!
Also, most people already have a favorite thing to do with potatoes.  But if you're looking to try something new with an old favorite, check out this Grilled Potatoes recipe from Paula Deen.  (I know she gets a bad rap for using plenty of butter, but these potatoes are totally delicious, and butter is not as bad for you as we've been told for the last few decades.  Just saying.)  Enjoy!