Workers Matter in Agriculture

I was really struck this week when I read a short article on leaflets being left at Hugo’s groceries in the sugar aisle by union workers currently locked out of the American Crystal plants when the company left negotiations.  The leaflets were pretty basic that just asked customers to go to this website and read up on the issue.

I grew up in East Grand Forks in a union household (my dad was a member of IBEW local 1426) and used to work at Hugo’s myself carrying out groceries, so the lockout is personal to me.  These workers aren’t “those people” I can quickly brush off, but my peers, parents of schoolmates, neighbors, and the people I went to church with.  I never got the impression that sugar beet plant workers were a bunch of overpaid lazybones as you hear on angry AM talk radio all day,  but really modest folks who had to go into work at 11 pm or do these crazy 14-hour shifts through harvest season.  

When reflecting about this and farming, I think Americans tend to overlook workers in agriculture and instead focus on farmers.  We think that agriculture begins and ends with those working the land, proud and heroic farm owner-operators who till the soil and bring in bountiful harvests in the American heartland.  We see this all the time from Chevy truck commercials to every politician talking about the farm bill.  I like that romantic imagery too.  But in that picture we paint of agriculture, every now and then we should stop looking only at the proud farmer in the center of the picture and appreciate the harvest crew or processing plant in the background.  They are just as integral a part of how food gets to the table today.  Without them, the system stops.

Reminders: Our harvest party is this saturday at 6:30.  Also the last box is Friday, Oct. 7.

In the box:
Broccoli Raab: Yes, a crazy green. See recipe.
Fresh Dill: Chop up with the potatoes and some butter or sour cream
A couple green peppers
A butternut squash
A couple Blue Bonnet squashes or a couple Carnival squashes
A pie pumpkin: bake upside down on a pan and use cooked pumpkin in replacement of any of that stuff that comes out of a can
White onion
Edamame: This is the big mess of brown sticks in the box.   You only want to use the pods on the stalk.  Simply boil in salt water for a few minutes, drain, and eat with beer…it’s good.
A mix of carrots
Russet potatoes

Recipe: Sauteed Broccoli Raab
Note: don’t use the center stem of the raab since it gets woody, but use the leaves, small stems, and florets.

  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe
  • 2large garlic cloves, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt (preferably sea salt), or to taste

  • Accompaniment: lemon wedges

Cut off and discard 1 inch from stem ends of broccoli rabe. Cook broccoli rabe, uncovered, in 2 batches in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 3 minutes, transferring with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking. Drain well in a colander.

Cook garlic in oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden, about 5 minutes. Add broccoli rabe and cook, tossing to coat with oil, until heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Toss broccoli rabe with salt.

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A Race against Time

I always feel like I’m racing against time in early September. It has been beautiful lately but I typically can count on a September 15 first frost date, so I feel a need to take in as many of those summery veggies as possible. It is like working on the crew of a ship which you know is going to hit a big iceberg…I’m trying to get as many into the lifeboats to safety as possible but I know some will die needlessly. A pretty melodramatic vision, I know.

This week we had to irrigate for the first time this season. It’s getting just like cement out there. Especially for some of these fall crops I have planted like kohlrabi and broccoli, they need some water if they are going to get to size.

In the Box:
A couple Red Onions
Sugar Baby Watermelon
A little salad mix
Acorn squash: I figure it’s getting to be the time of year when people get in the mood for Delicata winter squash: a sweet potato squash. Winter squash gets sweeter as it’s cured, so leave in a dry sunny place until ready to eat.
Peppers: a sweet Italia pepper, a green pepper, and a semi-hot Anaheim (the small green pointy one)
Rosemary: small bunch of pine-needles

Summer’s Coming to a Close

The produce season is about where it should be this time of year.  Last week we harvested all the onions and put into the barn to cure.  The tomatoes and peppers are coming due in a big way and those melons are ripe for their annual two week window.  I was peeking at the winter squash and pumpkins and many look like they are ready to go.  Nights are getting cooler and our minds turn to autumn.

With fall upon us, one thing which should get on your schedule is our annual fall harvest party.  It will be Saturday, September 24 at the farm from 6:30 pm to whenever.  This is a time to check out the farm and meet some other interesting people who are also CSA members.   This is an appetizer/drinks/bonfire event.  We used to do a potluck dinner, but this is more relaxed and casual affair.  We provide all drinks and snacks, so just show up for a while.

Another thing you should be thinking about in fall is turkey.  I’m happy to partner with a neighbor of mind, Alex Johnson, who is raising free-range turkeys.  His family’s been in the business since 1888 which makes him a 4th generation turkey farmer who really knows what he’s talking about.  Later this fall he will have heritage-breed Bourbon Red turkeys at $2.05/pound and standard white turkeys at $1.50/pound.  I’m helping him get the word out, so please call or email us to reserve a turkey and we’ll make arrangements.  

In the box:
Celebrity slicing tomatoes
A Green pepper
A couple sweet Carmen peppers
An orange or yellow bell pepper
Cippolini onions: this is a really nice, flavorful onion from Italy.  I dig it.  I remember when I was studying in Rome, you’d see long braids of these things in the markets.  I was thinking about this today and I just have to some more next year so we can do this because it’s so cool.
A smattering of Tongue of Fire beans: this is a fresh shelling bean.  Like dried beans, you can use in a soup or other dish, but the cooking time is a lot less since they are fresh.
Daikon Radish: This is the white radish with the top.  Peel and use as you would any radish.  Since it’s an Asian radish, a typical way I like to make it up is grated with some rice vinegar and sugar.
Yellow watermelon
Athena canteloupe