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!


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!


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.


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!