Saturday, September 26, 2015

CSA Newsletter for September 26, 2015

Farm Update

Hello everyone!  This week it still feels a lot like summer (except for the chilly, foggy mornings) but there is definitely a feeling that fall is coming soon.  The winter squash have cured in the greenhouse and we have been enjoying them at home.  The first sweet potatoes still need a little time, and we have been able to let most of the planting grow a little longer outside since we have not had a frost yet.  The tomatoes are now on the downhill trend as the vines are starting to look a little worse for wear after producing a lot of tomatoes over the last few weeks.  The carrot plantings look really nice and we should have a lot of really nice carrots for this fall.  The weed issues have mostly subsided and only the white aphids are giving us any trouble at this point.  Our first fall spinach planting came up a little sporadically, but the second has come up better and spinach should make an appearance in the shares in mid-late October.  This week we also tried a new green we had never eaten before, and it was awesome!  (Sweet potato leaves!  Who knew?)  The idea was given to us by CSA member Kelvin Grant who saw them at a farmers’ market while travelling, and we are so glad he did, because now we’re hooked!  We’re going to include a small amount of the sweet potato greens in the shares this week if you’re interested in trying them, and we’ll include the recipe we used too.  The weather is starting to turn, and the calendar says it’s fall, but we still have about a month of great veggies in store!

What to Expect in Your Share This Week

At the regular drop-offs:
We'll have a small amount of the sweet potato
greens in the share this week, so if you're feeling
adventurous or love greens, try them out!
  • Choice of cherry tomatoes or beets
  • Choice of 4 tomatoes or snap beans
  • Choice of carrots or young head lettuce
  • Choice of sweet potato greens, cabbage, or kale
  • Choice of winter squash or potatoes
  • Choice of broccoli or lettuce
  • Choice fennel, onion, or shallot

For home/workplace delivery:

A Share:                    B Share:

Cherry tomatoes        Beets
Snap beans                4 Tomatoes
Young head lettuce   Carrots
Cabbage                    Kale
Winter squash           Potatoes
Broccoli                    Lettuce
Shallot                      Onion

Irrigation on the Farm

If you ask any old farmer, he can probably tell you what the weather was like in any given year during his farming career.  My grandpa has a weather-related memory bank that goes all the way back to the mid-1950’s, and every year is a little bit different from every other year.  I’ve only been at this farming thing for five years, but I’m already building up my own weather memory bank, because so much of our routines and workload (not to mention our livelihood) is contingent upon what the weather happens to be doing at the moment.  This year has been rainier than most, so it seems strange to do an article about irrigation in such a wet year, but even though it has been wet we have irrigated at least one of our crops almost every week since April.  Each crop’s needs are different, but the methods we use to irrigate are mostly the same.  The biggest water users on our farm are the blueberries and potatoes, which both have to be constantly watered during certain times in their life cycle.

On the farm we use a drip tape irrigation system to water our crops. This is a 1- inch(ish) wide perforated black plastic tube that comes on huge rolls and can be cut to any length we need.  The drip lines are then laid right up next to the base of the plants they’re watering, which allows us to water the plants themselves very thoroughly without watering the weeds that always want to grow up around them.  These tubes are fed by larger, stronger main lines that are hooked to our well.  The well we use is 110 feet deep into the ground and actually has some ground pressure that lets water into our system even without the pump (like an artesian well).  However, most of the time we use the pump to give enough pressure to the system so we can irrigate larger areas of ground at the same time. 

The advantages of the drip tape system are that we can just irrigate the row where we need the water, and water it very deeply in a short amount of time.  Because we are able to just put it in the row we need watered (and because the line drips very gently), this allows us to get around having as many weeds since we are only watering the row.  The main reason we had so many weeds this year is because the plentiful rain watered all of our ground all the time, instead of our more controlled method of watering when we don’t get such abundant rainfall. While plants need enough water to grow up healthy, there are times when more water is not beneficial, like when we withhold water on certain crops at certain times to improve flavor.  For instance, this time of year we hold back the water on all our tomatoes so that the stronger tomato flavor and concentrated sugars yield a superior tasting tomato. (That’s why tomatoes you buy in the store are often really bland; most of them are raised in systems where they are overwatered, and it dilutes the flavor.)  Irrigating with the drip tape is also way more efficient (it uses less than 50% of the water of overhead systems) and also allows us to grow things like lettuce in mid-summer because of how thoroughly it waters the row.  Compared with overhead irrigation systems, it also allows us to keep more water off the plants’ foliage, which really helps keep a lot of plant diseases under control. 

Though not one of the most riveting farm topics, irrigation is definitely crucial not only to growing healthy plants, but also to getting top-notch flavor and quality. With most veggies being more than 90% water, the water that is used is very important to the quality and safety of the final product.  For most of the world’s farmers, access to clean, abundant water is a real struggle.  Fortunately, that is not as much of an issue here in the Michigan, where we are almost entirely surrounded by fresh water and have high groundwater levels.  Just one more thing to appreciate about the Great Lakes Sate: even in dry years (of which I’m sure there will be many in my weather memory bank after a few more decades), we’re able to get each crop the water it needs to have the best possible plant health, taste, and quality.


If you're one of the adventurous types who will be trying the sweet potato greens this week (seriously do!  They're so good!), you'll probably want a recipe for them.  This is the one we used, and the sauce was phenomenal!  (We just skipped the sugar it called for, because we found it really didn't need it.)  So enjoy this recipe for Sweet and Savory Sweet Potato Leaves!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

CSA Newsletter for September 19, 2015

Farm Update

The kale is still going strong!
Hello everyone!  The farm feels like we are on the downswing now, as more and more of the fields are emptied of veggies, tilled under, and planted with cover crops.  We are just on the border between summer and fall, where we still have abundant summer veggies, but we’re also getting into our fall favorites.  The tomatoes have really excellent flavors right now, and they’re still pretty abundant, although they are starting to slow down a little.  We’ve also been canning plenty of tomato sauce at home in preparation for the long cold winter ahead.  We just started harvesting the first sweet potatoes today, and yesterday we ate the first of the winter squash.  We’ve had plenty of rain over the last two days after a pretty dry week, which was especially good for the Brussels sprouts, carrots, and lettuce.  In other good news, we passed our final GAP inspection on Monday, and should be certified in the next few weeks!  It’s been a lot of work and a lot of details, but it will allow us to expand into new arenas for selling our produce.  I’ve had a few people ask if we’re still planning on doing the CSA now that we’ll have the capacity to sell to larger markets, and the answer is a resounding yes!  The CSA is our first love and our first priority, and that isn’t going anywhere.  The community aspect of the farm is a huge part of why we do what we do, and makes all of long hours and hard work worth it.

What to Expect in Your Share This Week

At the regular drop-offs:
We'll have plenty of broccoli and cabbages as choices in the
shares this week!

  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Tomatoes or beets
  • Kale or cabbage
  • Lettuce or snap beans
  • Winter squash or Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli or carrots
  • Fennel, frisee, or shallots

For home/workplace delivery:

A Share:                    B Share:

Cherry tomatoes        Cherry tomatoes
Tomatoes                   Beets
Kale                           Cabbage
Lettuce                      Snap beans
Winter squash           Brussels sprouts
Shallot                       Fennel
Carrots                      Broccoli

Veggie Spotlight:  Winter Squash

Delicata squash is one of the main varieties we grow.
The winter squash is actually one of the oldest cultivated vegetables known to mankind, and its domestication can be traced back 8,000 years in the Americas.  Like most early vegetables, these first squash were eaten mostly for their seeds as the flesh was not very palatable.  Over time Native Americans selected varieties that had a more palatable sweet flesh, that more resemble the winter squash we think of today. Even though squash was grown from the area that is now Southern Canada to Chile for millennia, it was not known to the rest of the world until Columbus came to the Americas and brought it back with him to Europe.  Now common throughout the world, most squash is produced in India and China. 

Butternut squash is another variety of which we grow a lot.
On our farm we grow mostly Delicata and Butternut squash, and just a few Acorn squash.  In mid/late April we seed greenhouse flats with our winter squash seed and then let them grow in the greenhouse for a few weeks. After that, we put them outside for anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks to “harden off” the plants, or get them acclimated to outside conditions before planting them in the field.  Then we transplant them into raised black plastic beds and water the plants. We try to plant them just before some rainy weather to help the plants get a better start.  The black plastic also helps the plants grow more quickly early in the season, because it keeps the soil surrounding them warmer.  This year we planted them the last week of May, and then we got a freak freeze on June 2nd, which is extremely unusual (and detrimental!).  After that, we weren’t sure if we would have any squash at all because that is quite a shock to the systems of a delicate new transplant.  The plants never did look very good the entire season, but they pulled through, and we now have some great tasting squash.  The other squash-related mystery of the year is the unexplained lack of pests this year.  Most years, we have a major squash bug infestation that all but decimates the planting.  Hope springs eternal I guess, because we keep putting it in the ground every year despite the fact that we usually don’t get much out of it. However, this year a greatly reduced population of bugs came out, and the insects who did show up seemed to be much weaker than usual.  We’re not entirely sure what happened to them; maybe an insect disease, or maybe some natural predator helped keep them under control.  But either way, we are thankful they have been such wimpy foes this year!  Just yesterday we ate the first delicious butternut squash after curing them in the greenhouse for a few weeks, and we look forward to giving them out in the CSA shares over the next few weeks.  Enjoy!


So if you're looking for something to do with your squash this week, check out this recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto!  This creamy comfort food is perfect for the cooler days we're likely to see in the near future!

Or if you're trying to hang on to summer as long as you can, try these Green Beans with Cherry Tomatoes for a quick and easy side dish.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

CSA Newsletter for September 12, 2015

Farm Update

Hello everyone!  It's really starting to feel like fall.  The fields are looking emptier as we're tilling old plantings under and preparing to plant our cover crops.  We've seen more disease in the field this last week because of all the rain we've had, but it has slowed down in the last few days.  The weed pressure has also slowed down, which usually happens as temperatures get cooler.   This morning, Fred planted some more romaine lettuce in one of the coldframes after taking out all the cucumber plants that used to occupy that space.  He also recently harvested all of the winter squash from the fields, and it is currently curing in the greenhouse to increase its storage life for the winter.  Ironically enough, we're kind of glad that the cooler weather is slowing the ripening of the tomatoes down.  With as hot as it was, they were all ripening at once; now we are more likely to get a steady ripening, which means tomatoes for a longer period of time.  Fall is definitely in the air, and so begins the subtle shift that will wind down the farming season.

What to Expect in Your Share This Week

At the regular drop-offs:

  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Choice of tomatoes or kale
  • Choice of carrots or potatoes
  • Choice of lettuce or broccoli
  • Choice of beets or cabbage
  • Choice of frisee, basil, or specialty tomato
  • Choice of onion or shallot

For home/workplace delivery:

A Share:                    B Share:

Cherry tomatoes        Cherry tomatoes
Slicing tomatoes        Kale
Carrots                       Potatoes
Lettuce                       Broccoli
Cabbage                     Beets
Basil                          Specialty tomato
Onion                         Shallot

Saying Good-bye to Summer Bounties and Hello to Our Favorite Fall Fruits and Vegetables:
A Guest Blog Post by Moushumi Mukherjee

With summer coming to an end so is the harvest of many fruits and vegetables. Though almost all of this summer produce can be grown at other places, and most of them are available in our local supermarkets, they neither retain the flavor nor the nutrient density of the farm fresh produce we get at Monroe Family Organics or other local farms, so my suggestion would be to make use of the fall fruits and vegetables which can also be very delicious and nutrient dense. These are the top ten fruits and vegetables I would vote for their nutrition and taste:

Beets: Best in the fall and bursting with purple or golden hues, one can feel very confident about the nutritional quality of beets. Beets contain compounds that may enhance the blood flow to the brain and decrease the likelihood of dementia.

Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes are the star of fall vegetables. Their dark orange color speaks for their high Vitamin A content and it has a wonderful combination of Vitamin C, Potassium and fiber. They can be eaten baked or grilled, and are a wonderful accompaniment to any meal.

Brussels Sprouts: Brussels sprouts and cabbage are packed with antioxidants and Vitamin C, fiber and other cancer fighting nutrients.  Roasted with a little bit of olive oil and sea salt they are delicious.

Pears: Whether you would like to eat pears by themselves or add them to a dish or salad, they are packed with soluble fiber and help to boost your healthy cholesterol levels.

Acorn Squash: Fall means various members of the quash family.  Most all squashes are rich in Fiber, Potassium and Vitamin A. Acorn squash can be eaten by itself, and as a main dish or side dish it is a fall favorite. 

Pumpkins: Another member of the squash family that is often overlooked for its nutritional value are pumpkins. Pumpkin seeds in particular are a great source of omega 3s that protect heart health. They can be toasted, mixed into salads, and can be a favorite snack adding crunch to any meal.

Carrots: I am sure most of you have tasted the wonderful carrots we have been getting from Monroe Family Organics. They are a wonderful source of beta carotenes and antioxidants and are the perfect snack, side dish, or an addition to any other dish.

Cranberries: The bright purple red color of cranberries speak of their nutritional status. They are readily available as juice or dried, and again can be added to a salad or trail mix and are very well known for their cancer fighting properties.

Moushumi Mukherjee is a registered dietitian with a masters in human nutrition from MSU. She has worked as consultant with hospitals, nursing homes, home care and hospice. She launched her own business in the last couple years and now offers classes, one on one counseling for various nutritional concerns, and writes blogs. If interested in consulting with her call at 732-762-1068 or emailat is what Moushumi has to say about Monroe Family Organics:
I am a strong believer in food for the soul, and from the farm to the mouth is what I like to call it. In the last few years I have tried various different organic farms and often visit the farmers markets in the Lansing areas. However what makes Monroe Family Organics so special is the family feel to it. Michele works with you so closely and prices are also much more affordable compared to other organic places, leave alone supermarkets. I feel very honored to write a blog for them.

Michele's Note:  Thanks, Moushumi!  Now I am even more excited about all the wonderful fall produce that is right around the corner! :-)


Cinnamon, Butter, and Brown Sugar Carrots:  Doesn't the title just sound like fall?  This recipe also has the benefit of being extremely fast and easy to make, so if you're like many of the CSA members I've talked to who are running around at a frantic pace getting back into the school year rhythm, this is a great way to get some delicious carrots on the table quickly!  (And a little bit of brown sugar and butter probably never hurt anyone... everything in moderation!)

Beets and Greens:  One of our favorite fall veggies is beets, and this is one of our favorite ways to prepare them.  A lot of people don't realize that not only can you use the beet greens, they are totally delicious, and I love that this recipe makes use of them! 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

CSA Newsletter for September 5, 2015

Farm Update

The CSA tables are loaded down summer
abundance just before the Alma drop-off.
 This week we have had a lot of rain, and it looks like the dreaded Late Blight has once again infected our outside tomatoes. We also talked to our former extension agent who said his tomatoes were already dying off from the disease, so those of you who have gardens may want to keep an eye out for it. However, the cherry tomatoes and other coldframe tomatoes are producing like crazy.  They came late but very prolifically! Most of the other crops are doing very well and growing fast under the warm conditions.  The Brussels sprouts once again are tasting great earlier than usual, and we had some for breakfast today.  Our sweet potatoes also seem to be doing much better after a very slow start, so we are very hopeful for this crop.  Our shallots did very well once again, and have gained some notoriety this year as a world-class chef near Detroit is using a lot of them as a main part of a dish in the grand opening of his new restaurant!  This week our lettuce is less plentiful than most weeks (so don’t be surprised if you don’t see very much at the drop-off), but we will still have some, and we hope to start building back up a little over the next couple weeks.  Hope you enjoy the nice variety of great-tasting veggies once again this week! We certainly have been enjoying them at home!

What to Expect in Your Share This Week

At the regular drop-offs:
One of the choices this week
will be our specialty tomatoes!

  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Choice of carrots or potatoes
  • Choice of tomatoes or cabbage
  • Choice of snap beans or broccoli
  • Choice of beets or kale
  • Choice of Brussels sprouts, leeks, or lettuce
  • Choice of shallots, specialty tomatoes, basil, or frisee

For home/workplace delivery:

A Share:                    B Share:

Cherry tomatoes        Cherry tomatoes
Carrots                       Potatoes
Cabbage                    Tomatoes
Snap beans                Broccoli
Beets                         Kale
Basil                          Shallot
Leek                          Lettuce

Veggie Spotlight: Tomatoes

Our tricolor cherry tomato
mix is one of our favorite
CSA items!  We eat them
like candy at home!
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 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 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. The tomato varieties that we grow today are mostly the result of a plant breeder from Ohio named Alexander Livingston, who greatly improved the flavor and eating quality of tomatoes that we enjoy today.  Before his work, tomatoes were commonly hollow with a hard core.

You’ve probably also heard the debate over whether the tomato is a fruit or vegetable. This issue has even been taken to the Supreme Court! Actually, it is both. Botanists consider it a fruit, because it forms from the ovary of a flower (it is considered a berry fruit). However, it is considered a vegetable to horticulturists, due to its annual growing culture and lower sugar content than other fruits.  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 is thought to prevent cancer and heal the skin, especially from the effects of UV rays.

Yellow cherry tomatoes growing in the coldframes.
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 and field. The planting of the tomatoes took place in late May this year, both inside and outside. 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 we feel it is way worth it in flavor.  The outside tomatoes are exposed to more difficult conditions, but since we need more tomatoes than the coldframes can produce we plant a few beds each year.  Last year most tomato growers in Michigan, both farmers and home gardeners alike, got hit with a disease called Late Blight.  We had it kill all of our outside tomatoes last year, and we just noticed the start of the infection this weekend on the foliage of our field tomatoes because the conditions have been so favorable for the disease. At least this year we have already started to get a lot of tomatoes out of these plants, so we are hopeful that it won’t set us back too much.

Though the tomatoes are later than in normal years due to a cool start to summer, we now have our great tasting tomatoes back in full swing. We hope you enjoy this tomato season!


Now that you know all about tomatoes, here are some recipes to help you get the most out of all that late-summer goodness!  Check out this recipe for Balsamic Roasted Tomatoes, which is totally simple and delicious!

You also can't go wrong with this Tomato Basil Chicken!  This is another quick, simple recipe made with the freshest flavors of the season.