Farms and Community

Last Saturday night we had about 70 CSA members and friends at the farm for our harvest dinner – a great turn out!  We spent a couple days clearing out our hayloft to set up tables for the event to squeeze everybody in.  I have to say it looked pretty cool.

I do wish all our CSA members were able to attend since the harvest party was just one small way to thank you for being members for the season.  Like I told those in attendance, we honestly would not be able to do what we do without CSA members.  Your making a decision to get your veggies in a way other than at your local grocery makes our farm viable.  With only a roadside stand or a stall at the farmers market, market gardening is a volatile, and, frankly, brutal business.  However, CSA members across the nation take the risk when writing a check in the spring that a tornado not destroy the crop and trust a local grower to provide an ample harvest.  This makes not only our farm a reality, but also hundreds of other small farms just like our own.  When a couple farms in upstate New York began the first CSAs in the early 1980’s, this was time when the family farm seemed doomed, especially here in the Midwest.  Operations were foreclosing left and right in the farm crisis.  Today, however, small family farms are making a comeback, albeit in a different form.  Many of us may not operate traditional 40-head dairies or 160-acre row crop farms, but our heart is in the land just the same.  So, if you are a CSA member, take pride in knowing that you are not just “part” of a movement, you ARE the movement.

In the Box:

  • Brussel Sprouts on the Stalk: Simply pull the brussel sprouts off the stalk and put to work.  I don’t know what to do with the stalk afterwards…croquet mallet? 
  • Parsnips: Look like white carrots.  
  • Napa Cabbage
  • Acorn Squash
  • Butternut Squash: These turned out really well this year.  Good color, good size.  
  • Red Kuri Squash: Cook as you would any other winter squash (buttercup, etc).  We made a coconut squash soup last night with Red Kuri and it was excellent.  We thought a good description for the squash was nutty, almost chestnut like.  
  • Russet Potatoes 
  • Swiss Chard
  • HaralRed Apples: These are pretty good for fresh eating (a bit sweeter than a Haralson), but, like a Haralson, are great for baking and sauce.  

When it rains…it doesn’t rain that much

There is an old saying that goes something like “When it rains, it pours.”  Well, not lately.  When it rains, it sputters is probably a more accurate statement.  As you can imagine, I’m always checking into the NOAA weather website.  When I see anything above a 40% chance of rain, I get all giddy; visions of a tropical downpour fill my mind…I get all excited because I’m getting tired of moving irrigation around.  So, when it comes, it’s one big disappointment.  I really am thankful for anything at this point, but my mind builds up every possible rain event to be something it isn’t.

I know a couple years time is far from a trend, but I’m terribly worried that the weather pattern of the last two years is our new normal.  Sometime in July the spigot gets turned off followed by weeks of dry heat.  Tomatoes ripen up nice in this, which is a plus, but, if this year tracks last year, the big issue is not having enough moisture in the ground before freeze up.  Typically ground moisture works the ground through freezing, but last year the same big dirt chunk in the fall was just as hard in the spring.

In the box:
Pontiac Potatoes
Napa Cabbage: The big green cabbage.  You can use much the same as you would a traditional green cabbage in a slaw or something, but it’s ideal in a stirfry.
Rutabaga: Yes, I know you may have gotten one of these big monsters last week too, but I assure you this will last in your crisper til January.
A mix of Peppers: if you still have a bunch sitting around from previous weeks, you can easily preserve peppers by cutting into strips and freezing in a freezer bag (no need to blanch or anything).
Tomatoes: The end of the line on these guys.
Eggplant
Small Beet Bunch
Parsley
Eggplant
Butternut Squash: The big tan one.  You can bake as you would any winter squash like buttercup: cut in half, scoop out the guts, and bake flesh-side up on a cookie sheet with a little water in the pan. Store all winter squash in a dry, sunny place.  Butternut keeps under these conditions for months, so no hurry (the flavor actually improves with time).  You may try this recipe below for a glazed/caramelized squash recipe.
Delicata Squash: The little stripy ones.  These are also called “sweet potato squash.”  The shell is thinner than a lot of winter squash, so you shouldn’t put in a water bath like butternut, but bake dry instead.

Caramelized Butternut Squash from food.com 

Ingredients

    • 2 medium butternut squash ( 4 to 5 pounds total)
    • 6 -8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
    • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
    • 1/2-1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Cut off the ends of each butternut squash and discard.
  3. Peel the squash and cut in half lengthwise.
  4. Using a spoon, remove the seeds.
  5. Cut the squash into 1 1/4″ to 1 1/2″ cubes (large and uniform is best), and place them on a baking sheet.
  6. Add the melted butter, brown sugar, salt and pepper.
  7. With clean hands, toss all of the ingredients together and spread out in a single layer on the baking sheet.
  8. Roast for 45 minutes to 55 minutes, until the squash is tender and the glaze begins to caramelize.
  9. Turn the squash while roasting a few times with a spatula to be sure it browns evenly.
  10. Adjust seasonings if needed.
  11. Serve hot.
  12. Enjoy!

Covering Winter Squash for Frost Protection

This has been a annual night-time ritual for me – covering winter squash and pumpkins in the field to save the crop from frost.  While you were getting ready for bed last night, I was outside laying a row cover fabric over big piles of squash in the field.  My only light to work by was two headlights from a van pointed in my direction and the only sound that whiny whirl of a van with too many miles on it.  I don’t know why and it seem strange to say, but it’s such a peaceful and magical ritual for me.  As I’m outside tramping around these dried up and crunchy squash vines and the temperature dropping minute by minute, I feel the presence of those who worked the fields before me; they look over my shoulder, trying to get close to the fall harvest they miss being a part of.

Covering squash also seems like some kind of strange early Halloween ritual.  If you drove by our place in the evening, all would appear normal, only to find a field of white ghosts the next morning.  Almost like I was out playing a trick on passer-bys.

After all that work, however, it looks as if the yesterday’s frost bell was a false alarm.  Maybe there was some frost in really low-lying areas, but everything looks just fine.  I think yesterday’s heat and sun really helped warm the ground which protected us with some extra night-time degrees.  Still, next week looks quite cold, so the rush to continue pulling in produce will continue through the weekend.

I invite all CSA member out this Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon and evening to glean tomatoes and peppers.  There are a lot out there and I want to give them a home instead of rotting on the vine.  At the end of the season, these aren’t the prettiest, but this is a good opportunity to get a good amount of peppers for freezing or tomatoes for canning.  No charge – it’s a perk for being a CSA member!

A reminder to CSA members to RSVP for the harvest dinner on the 22nd.  I do thank those of you who offered to make something, but this is not a potluck, so I do not expect people to bring something to pass; we’re making arrangements.  We’ll be working to transform our hayloft into a dining room, so let’s see if we can pull it off!

In the box:

  • Acorn Squash 
  • A Buttercup Squash 
  • Rutebega: The thing the size of a bowling ball.  Don’t worry though, rutebegas, unlike other veggies like turnips, can get really big without getting woody.  They will also keep in your fridge for 6 mos.  
  • Bunch of Carrots 
  • Summer Squash: You could see green zucchini, yellow zucchini, or pattypan squash.  However you prepare zucchini, you prepare other summer squash the same way.  
  • One White onion and One Red Onion
  • Tomatoes 
  • A mix of Peppers 
  • Fresh Rosemary 
  • Celery or Celeriac: Most people got celery, but some got celeriac, which looks like an ugly hairy root with a little stalk on top.  You use celeriac the same as you would celery (tastes the same). 

School Year and Farm Season

On Tuesday Willem had his first day of kindergarten and Sylvia her first day of second grade.  Each year this always brings a new vibe to the weekly harvest schedule.  Typically I get up early, down some coffee, and trounce out the door before 7 to harvest produce for the box.  But now, I get up early to first argue with some kids about getting dressed and driven into town before getting down to work.

Sure, this slows me down a bit, but the change of pace seems to fit the season.  I think we all feel this change this time of year, whether you have kids in school or not.  Mornings are cool, leaves take on a certain crunch, and, at least on the farm, the work schedule slows a bit.  We still have a lot of work to do, but get more relaxed about it.  Summer, especially late July through Labor Day, is total madness on a produce farm, a constant fever-pitched fight day in and day out, dragging in crazy amounts of veggies in uncomfortable heat while trying to plant, battle weeds, irrigate, and juggle animals, special orders, pick ups, a farm stand, farmers market…you get the picture.  I go on about summer work not to say I hate high season.  On the other hand, I relish it.  I love the “let’s-roll-up-our-sleeves” attitude necessary and adrenaline-powered feeling I get jumping into the whole craziness of it all, knowing all well that it’s a 6-8 week push which has an end.

Here at the end of high season is the time to take on canning tomatoes or freezing peppers in bulk if you’re going to preserve.  In about a week, frost is very much possible and it’s game over.  So don’t call me in a week, it’s best to make arrangements now.  We sell full bushels of tomatoes for $35 (about 50 lbs).  We also have peppers which are seconds which we’ll sell for a discount.  Let us know by contacting us at lidafarmer@gmail.com or 218-342-2619.

Announcement: All members should have received a flyer in the mail about our upcoming Harvest Dinner at the farm on September 22.  Please feel free to bring family members, spouses, or a guest along to the dinner.  Simply RSVP by September 15th so we know how many to prepare for.

In the Box:

  • Sweet Corn: The last hurrah from this little patch I planted late.  
  • Slicing Tomatoes: Standard Celebrity tomatoes 
  • Green Zebra Tomatoes: We typically mix reds and zebras together for salsa. 
  • Sweet Peppers: A whole mix yellow, red, green, and Italia-type since we have so many coming on the plants. If you are unable to use them and want peppers deep in the winter, simply slice, put into a freezer bag, and throw in the freezer.  Peppers are the easiest of veggies to preserve and blanching is not necessary.  
  • Cippolini Onions: You ever see those long braids of onions at an Italian restaurant?  Typically those are Cippolinis, a nice-flavored onion you cook with.    
  • Salad mix
  • Cucumbers
  • Cilantro
  • Thyme
  • Snap Peas: Edible pod, so don’t shell them. 
  • Bunch of Carrots
  • Bok Choy: See video below on how to prepare.  Generally this is a basic stir fry recipe, so feel free to adopt to include the veggies you like (those peas would good well with this). 

Minnesota Labor Day

I’ve always been interested in Minnesota history in large part because this state has been not only my home my whole life, but also the home of my parents, grandparents, and, on my dad’s side of the family, ancestors back to the Minnesota Territory and before.  My dad’s family is Meti or of French-Native American descent more well known in Canada than the US – my relative Cuthbert Grant organized the Meti to fight the British in 1840’s and Antoine Gingras helped keep St. Paul our capitol while serving in the territorial legislature.  
   

I remember reading a biography of Bob Dylan some years back and one picture which struck me was an old black and white photo of a labor day parade in Bob’s hometown of Hibbing.  The streets were packed with hundreds of people carrying the tools of their trade; miners with headlamps with pickaxes in tow.  That picture still sticks in my mind not only because of the pride people must have had in their work to take to the streets but also because its an image for me of Minnesota’s rich history of common people working together to make great things happen.  And those prizes were hard won.  Even though I know it’s unfashionable to talk about unions, organizing labor in places like the Iron Range was a violent decades-long struggle.  In a similar way, farmers and communities worked hard organizing cooperatives to get electricity, better milk prices, or a good food supply.  We’ve seen this cooperative spirit more recently in such organizations as the NFO (National Farm Organization) which organized the dairy strikes in the 1980s where farmers dumped their milk in fields instead of taking a loss.  These were not easy times and many of those challenges stick with us still.

I like to think our current local foods movement fits into this progressive history.  Really members and farmers are part of a cooperative venture through a CSA.  Some things you may not see behind he scenes, however, are fellow growers cooperating to build new farmers markets, food hubs, and networks or organizing through organizations like Land Stewardship Project or Sustainable Farming Association for the betterment of growers and eaters alike.   
So, on this Labor Day, appreciating the struggles of those farmers who came before me, I’ll consider how I can better cooperate with my peers to help get them a fair shake and their work respected.  I hope you’d do the same.  

In the Box:

  • All Blue Potato: treat as you would any potato…they are best baked or boiled.
  • Edamame: The soybean plants loose in the box.  I know, why am I throwing in whole soybean plants?  You eat the pods, not the leaves.  Take off all the pods, boil in saltwater for a few minutes and eat with some beer – you’re good.  Visual instructions here.
  • A Couple Yellow Onions
  • Arugula 
  • Cilantro 
  • Some San Marzano Roma Tomatoes: Don’t worry if there are some black spots on them…these are only skin deep and gone with a little peeling.  Great for saucing. 
  • Some Celebrity Slicing Tomatoes
  • Red and Yellow Pepper 
  • Hungarian Hot Wax Pepper: Typically these don’t have too much heat, but not this year.  
  • Contender Green Beans: Hey, back to standard green beans after wondering through the desert of yellow, Roma, and Purple beans.  
  • Mixed Cherry Tomatoes 

State Fair Bound

Each year we go down to check out the state fair.  What I’ve found is that the more I farm, the more I appreciate the place.  I never really cared much for hogs until we raised a few last year, then I was wondering all over the swine barn; I also have a much keener eye for what makes a good-looking ewe or sheep.  When you can a lot like we do, you really appreciate the home economics building too.  I could go on and on.

Gopher from State Fair 

I’m making this point about us at the fair not so I can brag about all the things we’re into, but because I feel that this local food movement that I’m a part of and you’re a part of (you are reading this blog) is moving us to rediscover agriculture and food.  I remember being at the fair over ten years ago and thinking “How much longer is this thing going to keep going?  Sooner or later it’s only going to be a Midway and fried food as all the number of farm families keep dwindling away.”  I was also getting a bit weary at the time when I only met people who “grew up” on a farm, not people who actually farmed.  These folks were always really proud of their farming heritage and supportive of agriculture, but it really made me worried that farming was just becoming all nostalgia, no reality.

Buy since that time I’ve met so many who have gone into agriculture in one way or another and people who took the plunge into this whole local food movement and discovered whole foods at the food cooperative or through a CSA like us.  Now everywhere I turn I hear people talking about the tomatoes they are going to can this weekend instead of talking about how their grandma used to can.  Folks are putting some chicken layers in their backyard instead of just hunting big box stores for the cheapest eggs they can find.  I’m really heartened by what I’m observing, and, to my original point, I think this rediscovery of food and agriculture is real.  I hope that in some small way your own connection with our farm has brought you some greater appreciation for all those 4-H exhibits as well.

In the Box:
Eggplant
A White Onion
A Couple Cukes
A Couple Summer Squash – Everybody got one Yellow Pattypan Squash (you prepare the same way as zucchini or other summer squash) and a Green Zucchini.
Bunch of Carrots
A Couple Daikon Radishes – The big long white things.  You can prepare the same way you prepare a regular red radish, but this is great as an Asian slaw grated with sugar, soy sauce, and a little rice vinegar.
Roma Tomatoes – Romas are best as a sauce
A Couple Heirloom Tomatoes – most are a variety called “Cherokee Purple.”  These are best eaten fresh, not cooked.
Lacinato Kale
Yukon Gold Potatoes
A Couple Italia Peppers – Yes, they are long and shaped like the Anaheim peppers last week, but these are a sweet pepper with great flavor.
Fresh Sage
A sprig of Red Basil
Melon – Again, a mix of melons in the boxes. Most will find traditional canteloupe, but some will find these little Chanterais melons (small with a greenish color).  These are my favorite melons ever with a real distinct flavor.

This looks like a simple grilled eggplant recipe which uses fresh sage:
http://www.epicurean.com/featured/eggplant-grilled-with-sage-recipe.html

Maree also made this recipe using eggplant last week and we were both big fans:
http://www.thenaptimechef.com/2012/03/baked-eggplant-goat-cheese-stacks-with-the-beekman-boys-naptime-everyday/