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:
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:

Maree also made this recipe using eggplant last week and we were both big fans:

The Next Crop of Growers

For the last 4 years we’ve raised chickens (broilers) in addition to produce.  Up until this year we always loaded up chickens into a stock trailer around midnight in order to wake up at 5 am and truck down to Ashby, where there’s a federally-inspected plant.  After unloading, I’d get home in time to get harvesting for the CSA box.  Sound like fun, eh?   Not really.  

Anyway, this year we processed our birds on farm which really took down the stress of the birds and myself.    I was able to do this because we rented equipment from former students of mine at the Sustainable Food Production program at M-State, Andy Hayner and Noelle Hardin.  They rent out equipment and help us do the processing right on site, which is a great value and we knew we were getting our birds done right.  Since there isn’t a federal inspector on site, you have to pick up your birds from the farm instead of my being able to deliver them.  
When out processing the birds, my thoughts besides plucking feathers was about how great it is to have new energy and people getting into local food production in the area – it’s been pretty lonely sometimes being an organic vegetable grower in Otter Tail County.  In the farm marketing and management course I teach as part of the Sustainable Food Production program, I’ve now seen almost 30 student go through the 2-semester diploma program and I’m thinking about half have started businesses and all are doing something in food production if only for themselves.  It’s a great thing to see and certainly something we need more of.  
If you know of somebody interested in small farms, local foods, and learning the ropes of farming, please get them in touch with me.  I’d be happy to give them more details about the program.  There’s still time to start this fall!
In the Box: 
  • Tomatoes 
  • A couple Stuffing Peppers (big ones)
  • An Italia Pepper – the green/red one which is sweet, not hot.  This is considered a frying pepper and has a great flavor.  
  • A couple Anaheim Peppers – the brighter green skinny peppers which have a mild heat.  This is the pepper behind chile rellenos. 
  • Silver King Sweet Corn – an all-white variety with a good mellow corn flavor
  • A couple Yellow Summer Squash 
  • A Yellow Onion 
  • A Red Onion
  • A Bulb of Garlic
  • Bunch of Carrots – Sorry these are a bit small and should have grown a bit more, but I was determined to get some more carrots in the box since I haven’t had them in for quite a while.  The yellow carrots are a variety called Yellow Sun and the orange ones are Scarlet Nantes
  • A Melon – I had to scrimp to get the right number of ripe melons, so it’s a real mixed bag.  It’s not fair, I know, but some of you may find a little Asian melon called Sun Jewel, others will find standard canteloupe, and one lucky duck will get this nice sized watermelon.  
  • Purple Queen Purple Beans – these are tricky in that when you cook them, they loose their color.  Otherwise treat as you would any other bean.  
  • Parsley

Farm Stand Now Open

Although it gets exhausting to fill every day with picking, packing, and delivering produce every day of the week, I always feel good about opening the farm stand at the end of the driveway, which is did just this morning.  We already have CSA deliveries on Friday and the Farmers Market in Detroit Lakes on Saturday.

Farm Stand with Willem on Bike, 2011

I always like the farm stand because it brings so many people right to our farm and it feels good that we’re feeding our neighbors, which is the majority of people who stop.  I think part of the allure of the farm stand for customers (and it is open to everybody, not only CSA members as some people have thought) is that you’re looking right at the fields where the produce came from.  There’s no wondering “I these guys putting me on…did they really grow all this stuff or are they shipping in some stuff from down the road? (This is something we never do by the way)”  There’s also ample evidence that we don’t use herbicides since you’ll see some weeds taller than me.

Anyway, if you know anybody who isn’t interested into the commitment of a CSA membership, but into picking up some good local produce every so often, please let them know about the farm stand.  It’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from today until October.  The stand is self-serve, so simply stop, pick out what you want, and leave payment in the box on the right side of the stand.

In the CSA box for the week:

  • Norvalley White Potatoes
  • A couple Mini Heads of Lettuce 
  • A dozen ears of Sweet Corn – the variety is either Ambrosia or Paydirt
  • Mix of Cherry Tomatoes – If they are a color other than red, they are supposed to be that color:  Sungold (orange), Sweet 100 (red), Black Cherry (purple), White Cherry (white).  
  • A couple Japanese Eggplant 
  • A couple Leeks 
  • Basil – a mix of red and green just to give you some variety.  To give you a little advice on storing basil, do not put in the refrigerator.  Instead, trim the bottoms and leave in a vase with a little water like you would cut flowers or store at room temperature in an open zip lock with a couple damp paper towels.  
  • Scarlet Queen Turnips – The pink/red root vegetable with the long greens. Use as you would any turnip.  
  • Yellow Wax Beans – These came in really heavy this week, so I put in quite a bunch.  
  • A Couple Cukes