Saturday, September 24, 2016

All About our Pigs

Farm Update

Jessamine and Timothy sitting on the tractor.
 Hello everyone! This week the weather is slowly turning to fall, and we feel fortunate that things are growing so well with no frost yet in sight!  We look forward to the Brussels sprouts, carrots, and sweet potatoes that are coming along very nicely right now. Once we hit October the share will start looking very fallish: more root veggies, Brussels sprouts, and winter squash.  This week we started planting our lettuce in the coldframes where the cucumbers used to be, and we already have some nice looking kale and chard planted in the hoophouses for late fall.  The spinach that we planted in the field is about an inch tall right now and looking good after being cultivated.  Friday we also took off the shade cloth from the greenhouse; now that the temperatures are going down (along with the light intensity) we don't need the shade cloth anymore.  The pigs are bigger and lazier than ever, but they still mange to find plenty of time to plow up their pasture with their noses in between all the laying around they do.  It’s hard to believe they were just little 30- or 40-pound piggies earlier this summer!  Now they are full-grown adults and they are starting to look less like Wilbur and more like bacon and roasts. :-)

What to Expect in Your Share

If you are at the regular drop-offs, here are your options for this week.  If you have a full share, choose two, and if you have a half share, choose one in each category.

Jessamine helps harvest cherry
tomatoes for dinner.
Snap beans or eggplant
Delicata squash or sweet potato greens
Cherry tomatoes or a few slicing tomatoes
Sweet pepper or turnip greens
Lettuce or beets
Cilantro or kale
Onion, garlic, or kohlrabi (Choose two for a half share or four for a full share).

If you get one of the prebagged shares, here are the A and B options for this week:

Share A:                       Share B:
Snap beans                   Eggplant
Cherry tomatoes           Slicing tomatoes
Delicata squash            Sweet potato greens
Cilantro                        Kale
Lettuce                         Beets
Turnip greens               Sweet pepper
Onion                           Onion
Garlic                           Kohlrabi

All About our Pigs

On our farm, our veggie produce is the main focus.  It's where Fred's expertise lies, and it's where we concentrate the vast majority of our time and effort.  But many of you also know that we raise pigs and egg chickens in addition to the yummy produce!  Almost every year since starting the farm we have had pigs, including this year.  Our pigs are both functional (they help work up the ground in preparation for next year's crops and eat our ugly veggies and scraps) and delicious.  Over the course of this time we have learned a lot about their care and keeping, as well as their temperament and habits.  They hate sharing (in fact, they can be completely uninterested in something until another pig wants it, and then it immediately turns into a big squealing pig fight), and they can be incredibly persistent when they want something (like to be out of their pen).

Pigs have been domesticated by humans for thousands of years, and their history extends over many continents as early peoples found these fattier animals to be calorically dense, extremely hardy, and pretty much able to fend for themselves.  Before refrigeration, they were considered mostly a fall food beacause the pigs would be butchered at the end of the growing season when plant-based food sources died out for the year.  Many people groups revered the pig, and remains of hogs are often found in burial sites as sacrifices and as food for the afterlife.  (Because rare is the person who doesn't secretly think that bacon would make the afterlife that much better, right?)

Along with laying around and annoying each other, rooting
around in their pasture is our pigs' favorite thing to do.
We have raised many different breeds of pigs over the years and have found that crossbreeds usually do the best.  Fortunately this year we were able to get a cross of two heritage breeds: Gloucester Old Spot and Hereford.  Gloucester Old Spots originated in England and were known as a peasant pig that was domesticated but usually allowed to forage.  The Hereford originated in Midwestern farming communities back when each farm mostly only had a few pigs.  These varieties were meant for outdoor ranging and are not used in modern CAFO systems. 

A CAFO  (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) is where many animal are kept in close quarters together, and in the case of pigs, completely indoors.  These operations produce pork very cheaply in terms of pure dollars and cents per pound of meat.  However, they have many external costs to the environment, local communities, CAFO workers, and public health.   For example, because CAFOs house so many animals (and all their associated waste) right on top of each other, they often smell terrible.  No one wants to live near one, which brings down housing values and other economic development possibilities.  The widespread use of chemicals and antibiotics mixed with huge amount of concentrated manure creates a huge threat to the local environment, especially aquatic areas. Workers are at much greater risk from poor air quality from the close confinement of so many animals.  Finally, drinking water from both groundwater and surface water can contain elevated levels of nitrates and still carry low doses of the antibiotics used in CAFO production systems, which contributes to the development of antibiotic resistant superbugs.  Also the quality of meat from CAFO operations is often lower in eating quality, nutritional benefit, and at higher risk of bacterial contamination.  When taking into account these external factors CAFO meat, it shows some of the disconnect between the out of pocket expense to each of us, and the real cost that many rural communities are subsidizing for the rest of us.

Our pigs are raised without these external costs to society, as they are currently being raised at Fred's parents' house, where they have both an inside area and a pastured area they can access 24/7.  (We had to move them over there after we had so much trouble with them escaping from their pen at the farm and thus making themselves a huge risk to all of the cars on M-46.  Now they are a few miles away on a quiet dirt road where they are only a risk to any rodents unlucky enough to wander into their pasture area.)  Being only eight in number, their manure is easily absorbed by the nature’s natural processes in the pasture, and unlike CAFO operations we use none of the chemicals and antibiotics.  You also would never smell them unless you went into their enclosed pen, so they don't alter any of the neighbors' quality of life.  Since our pigs can freely root around through the soil with their strong noses they can live like they were meant to, eating roots, grass, bugs, worms, reptiles, an occasional rodent, and the grain that we provide for them.  This grain is their primary caloric intake but their ability to eat other things that pigs eat in the wild means the pigs are healthier and the meat will taste better with better nutritional content.  Pigs are naturally fattier animals and their access to pasture means their fat will be of higher nutritional quality: higher in omega 3s and vitamin D among other things. 

After raising these animals, even with the frustrations that the these pigs often give us, we have great respect for them as they are amazingly strong and naturally resilient animals.  We are definitely looking forward to eating many grilled pork chops, morning bacon, and many other tasty cuts throughout the fall and winter.  We still have a few pigs available, so if you are interested in buying a half or whole pig let us know and I can fill you in on how you can get some for your family.  We feed them locally raised non-GMO Amish grains and they are processed locally by Bellingar’s Packing, another small local business who does great work.  Just let me know if you want more details!
If you want to see a very short video of our pigs click here:


I bet you never knew kohlrabi could be this gorgeous,
did you?
This week, there are several things in the share you might not be familiar with, but never fear!  We have three different recipes at three different skill levels so you can use all of your new stuff to best advantage.

Fairly Easy:  Fred's Own Sweet Potato Greens

1 cup cooked rice
1 tablespoon olive or coconut oil
½-3/4 bunch of sweet potato green chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons sugar
½ cup cubed grilled eggplant optional
½ fresh lemon squeezed

Fred's Notes: "I cook the rice first then in a separate pan lightly saute the sweet potato greens in olive oil until they are wilted.  Then I put in the coconut milk, soy sauce, and sugar and stir until the mixture has a gravy like consistency then before serving I squeeze the half lemon and stir in just before serving as a side dish."

Saturday, September 17, 2016

CSA Newsletter for September 17, 2016

Farm Update

Hello everyone!  The weather is definitely turning, and we are transitioning to fall at the farm.  We had a nice rain last night that will definitely help along our final lettuce planting of the year, which we just transplanted the other day.  We are starting to plant more in the coldframes as well for fall and winter.  In fact, our fall crops are getting closer to ready, and we'll probably start harvesting the first of the sweet potatoes at the end of the week.  The Brussels sprouts are also really filling out, and we just need a little more cool weather to really bring out the good flavor before we put them in the shares.  The fall Brassicas (like cabbage and broccoli) are looking really healthy, as are the late season carrot plantings.  We're looking at another really busy week at the farm, but for right now, we're taking a bit of a break this weekend.  Fred's brother and his wife are in town from Virginia this weekend, so rather than write a full newsletter, I'm doing the abridged version so we can spend more time with them.  So enjoy this week's (significantly shorter) newsletter! :-)

What to Expect in Your Share this Week

Here are the options in each veggie station this week!  If you have a half share, you'll choose one from each category, and if you have a full share, you'll choose two.
  • Snap beans or cooking greens
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Delicata squash
  • Lettuce or beets
  • Kale or 4 tomatoes
  • Pepper or onion
  • Eggplant, cilantro, or sweet potato greens
If you have your share delivered to your home or workplace, or if you pick up at our East Lansing drop-off, here are your options for this week.  If you have a half share, choose one, and if you have a full share, choose two.

Share A:                                 Share B:
Snap beans                             Cooking greens
Cherry tomatoes                    Cherry tomatoes
Delicata squash                     Delicata squash
Lettuce                                  Beets
Kale                                       4 Tomatoes
Sweet pepper                         Onion
Cilantro                                 Eggplant

If you have a preference for share A or share B, just let me know by noonish the day before your delivery day, and I'll make sure you get your preferred share.  If you don't have a preference, I'll just choose for you. :-)

One of the most frequent questions I've been asked for the last two weeks is, "What do you do with the delicata squash?"  Delicatas are one of those wonderful secrets of the produce world; many people are unfamiliar with them, but once they're introduced to them, they become a fast favorite.  We usually slice them lengthwise and bake them in the oven, then sprinkle them with butter and brown sugar.  Or you could try this recipe for Roasted Delicata Squash from Summer Tomato.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Know Your Farmer

Farm Update

In the greenhouse, our nasturtiums and violas are growing
 well and looking pretty.
 Hello everyone!  We hope you are enjoying the abundance of the season! Here at home have been eating a lot of tomatoes, and we were also able to cook a couple of the first butternut squash.  The hot dry summer was not good for most of our crops, but the winter squash did very well and taste great.  So expect plenty of good winter squash over the course of the rest of the season!  The tomatoes have hit their peak, but we will still have plenty for several weeks.  The cool season crops are really starting to take off and we will finally start getting into a lot more lettuce.  The deer have not been as bad as they were earlier in the season, although some came through the other day.  Fortunately the people who hunt on the back of the property every year have started to be more active, so we are glad they will be able to take some deer out and keep them a little more skittish.  The Brussels sprouts are starting to fill out and are getting milder in flavor, and we topped the plants this last week to encourage more of the sprouts to fill out quicker.  The pigs are getting big and lazy, but have torn through their pasture in record time.  All in all, things are going well at the farm, and plants, animals, and people alike are starting to settle into our fall rhythm.

What to Expect in Your Share this Week

Now that the weather is getting
cooler, the lettuce is starting to
thrive again.
Here are the options in each veggie station this week!  If you have a half share, you'll choose one from each category, and if you have a full share, you'll choose two.
  • Snap beans
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Beets or 4 tomatoes
  • Cilantro, kale, or Delicata winter squash
  • Potatoes or lettuce
  • Surprise veggie
  • Sweet peppers or garlic
If you have your share delivered to your home or workplace, or if you pick up at our East Lansing drop-off, here are your options for this week.  If you have a half share, choose one, and if you have a full share, choose two.

Share A:                                 Share B:
Snap beans                             Snap beans
Cherry tomatoes                    Cherry tomatoes
4 Tomaoes                              Beets
Delicata squash                      Kale
Lettuce                                   Potatoes
Eggplant                                 Butternut squash
Sweet pepper                          Garlic

If you have a preference for share A or share B, just let me know by noonish the day before your delivery day, and I'll make sure you get your preferred share.  If you don't have a preference, I'll just choose for you. :-)

Know Your Farmer

The bounty of summer!  It just makes me smile to see
this nice variety of summer produce.
For the last few years, there has been an increasing desire by consumers to have a relationship with the people who produce their food.  While this “Know Your Farmer” movement was kind of a fringe idea for quite a while, it is becoming a lot more mainstream as entities from the USDA to the New York Times encourage us to take a more active role in understanding where our food comes from.  I get to talk to many of you each week at the drop-off, but the CSA has gotten big enough in recent years that there are some of you with whom I’ve never actually had a conversation.  If you have your share delivered to your home or you pick up at our East Lansing drop-off, I may have never even met you personally.  So in order to help you know your farmer better, here is a little bit about who we are and how we got here.  Even if I’ve been chatting with you every week at the drop-off, you’ll probably learn something new about your Monroe Family Organics farmers that you didn’t know before.

We began Monroe Family Organics at the beginning of 2011, but I guess the story really begins in February of 2004, during our junior year at Michigan State.  We met through mutual friends at a Super Bowl party (the one with Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction, which we missed entirely because we were too busy chatting in the kitchen and not watching the game at all).  Within a few weeks we were dating, within eight months we were engaged, and we surprised everyone by getting married that Christmas, less than a year after meeting and with one semester of college left to go.  Looking back, that sounds truly crazy, but it’s only the first in a series of crazy sounding decisions that were exactly the right thing to do, including starting the farm. 

Fred had always wanted to start his own organic CSA farm; indeed, he began growing vegetables for the local farmer’s market when he was 16, and by the time he finished high school he knew exactly where he was headed.  I was on a different track entirely, studying to be a high school teacher, which I had similarly wanted to do for as long as I can remember.  We graduated that spring, and rather than starting our farm immediately, Fred took a position as a farm manager at a large vegetable farm in Ohio.  I also got my dream job, teaching high school French in a small rural district that was one of the best places you could ever hope to work.  We continued happily in our chosen tracks for five years, whereupon we found out we were expecting our first child.  We had always planned that when we eventually started having kids, I would stop working to stay home with them, and we would move back to Michigan to start our own farm.  So despite the economy at the time (this was in 2010, when things were still definitely struggling), as soon as our daughter Jane was born that fall, we left our stable jobs, moved back to Fred’s hometown of Alma, and hit the ground running to build our farm from the ground up in time for the 2011 season. 

Along with veggies, chickens and pigs, we're also
raising three small children. :-)
The original plan was that Fred would do the farm and I would stay home with baby Jane and help out at the CSA drop-offs in the afternoons.  We quickly discovered how lopsided that was.  Fred was running himself ragged at the farm because we as yet had only one part-time employee, and I found that I had quite a bit of time on my hands taking care of just my one baby.  Little by little, I took on more responsibility at the farm.  I went from helping at the CSA drop-offs and managing the CSA correspondence, to taking on the marketing, to doing all the record-keeping and accounting, to doing quite a bit of actual farm work.  During this time we also had two more kids, first our daughter Jessamine in June of 2012, and then our son Timothy last November.  The farm was also growing at a pretty fast clip, and we ended every season exhausted but grateful, and recharged over the winter in preparation for another hard-hitting season.  In fact, that’s still pretty much how it goes; nothing much has changed there.  Each year the farm grows and evolves, and so does our family.  We’ve moved out of the startup phase of the farm, but I wouldn’t necessarily call us established just yet.  There is always more infrastructure we need, new ways to expand, and new plans to make.  But through the good and bad in each season and over the course of our farming career, we are grateful to be doing this.  I look at the life we’ve built, and even in tough seasons (which this one definitely is), it is hard to imagine doing anything else with the rest of our years.

So that’s us, Fred and Michele, the Monroe Family Organics team.  We are so glad to be your farmers, and we hope to keep on providing excellent veggies to your families for years to come!

This Pasta with 15-minute Burst Cherry Tomato Sauce is one of our favorite things to do with cherry tomatoes, and it is perfect for a busy weeknight because it is ready to eat so quickly!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Quick and Easy Veggie Breakfasts

Farm Update

Fred's been using our old Farmall Cub to cultivate the fields.
Keeping the weeds under control has been a lot easier now
that the weather is turning.
 Hi everyone!  It has been a lot cooler this week, which has been a relief for both the plants and the people at the farm.  Things are looking a lot more tidy around the farm as we get the weeding under control and turn under more old plantings.  We're also planting some cool-season crops for the fall, such as kale, Swiss chard, and beets.  We are definitely into tomato season now, so if you are interested in canning tomatoes, let me know!  They'll be $12 per half bushel, and you can get however much you think you can handle!  I've been canning tomato sauce and salsa myself this weekend, and I intend to do a bunch more before the season is out.  We also still have some piggies available, so if you are interested in a whole or half pig, let me know and I'll put you on the pig list.  Also, if you pick up at the Alma drop-off and you won't be there on Labor Day, just let me know by Sunday and we'll make arrangements for your share.  You can either postpone your share and get double the following week, or we can bring your share to the Mt. Pleasant drop-off on Tuesday instead.  While this weekend may be the unofficial end of summer, we still have eight more weeks of the CSA left, and plenty of excellent veggies to enjoy!

What to Expect in Your Share this Week

Here are the options in each veggie station this week!  If you have a half share, you'll choose one from each category, and if you have a full share, you'll choose two.

  • Lettuce or winter squash
    Green beans and cherry tomatoes will be just some of the nice
    things in the shares this week.
  • 5 Tomatoes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Peppers or Onion
  • Kale or green beans
  • Potatoes
  • Surprise veggie

If you have your share delivered to your home or workplace, or if you pick up at our East Lansing drop-off, here are your options for this week.  If you have a half share, choose one, and if you have a full share, choose two.

Share A:                                      Share B:
Lettuce                                        Delicata winter squash
5 Tomatoes                                 5 Tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes                         Cherry tomatoes
Sweet pepper                              Onion
Kale                                            Green beans
Potatoes                                      Potatoes
Surprise veggie                          Surprise veggie

If you have a preference for share A or share B, just let me know by noonish the day before your delivery day, and I'll make sure you get your preferred share.  If you don't have a preference, I'll just choose for you. :-)

Quick and Easy Veggie Breakfasts

I just can't get enough of our pretty specialty tomatoes.
Throw these into pretty much any of these easy veggie
It's back to school time!  If you are one of the many people who have kids starting school next week (or maybe you're headed back to school yourself), mornings are likely to get a little more packed in the next few days.  By now we have all heard about the importance of a healthy breakfast, but how do we make that happen when we're rushing to get out the door?  Here are several veggie-ful breakfast ideas that don't take forever to make!  Try them out, and see what a difference it makes to start your day with a healthy meal!

Scrambled eggs with veggies:  This one is great because it takes about ten minutes or less to make, is totally customizable depending on what you have on hand, and is packed with lots of good protein to help keep you full longer.  Simply scramble a few eggs, and toss in a few chopped veggies and maybe some cheese.  It's that easy.  If I were making this this week, I'd chop an onion, a green pepper, and a tomato up and toss them in with the eggs as they cook, then I'd stir in some shredded cheese just before taking it off the heat.  Or you could do garlic and kale, and throw in some leftover chicken from last night's dinner.  The possibilities are endless, and it's almost as fast as (and way better for you than) cereal.

Sauteed veggie side dish:  This could be whatever veggie you want.  Pretty much every morning, we have some sort of sauteed veggie along with our eggs/ oatmeal/ bacon/ etc.  Simply cut up carrots, kale, green beans, potatoes, beets, cooking greens, or whatever else looks good, and saute in your oil of choice, then salt and pepper to taste.  I like coconut oil for carrots and olive oil for pretty much everything else.  This is also pretty quick (about 12 minutes if you're a fast chopper) and most of it happens while you're making some other part of the breakfast.  Potatoes and beets will take longer than all the others, just FYI.  You can even do the chopping the night before while you're making dinner and then just throw them in the pan the next morning to save a few minutes.

A recent planting of kale is growing in the greenhouse in
anticipation of the fall shares.
Toast with eggs and summer veggies:  This is totally easy and totally great.  Just slice a large green pepper so it looks like a ring.  Then place it into a pan with some cooking oil or butter, then break an egg into the pepper ring.  Wait for the egg to cook, then take the whole pepper/egg combination out and place it on a slice of buttered toast.  Top with a slice of tomato, sprinkle with the tiniest pinch of salt, and boom.  You're done in less than ten minutes.

So there you go.  You now have no excuses for eating a breakfast devoid of veggies.  As the mornings get crazier next week, you can go forth knowing that you are properly fueled for your day.  You're welcome. :-)