End of 2013 CSA Season

Well, today it’s official.  We are delivering the last box and coming to the end of the CSA season.  In this last blog post of the season, I typically reflect of how the season’s been.

The farm season started off pretty badly.  We managed to kill off a bunch of plants in the greenhouse when our heater went out, followed by late spring snows, cold weather, and about 3 months of daily rain (or so it seemed).  We planted in mud.  We watched weeds grow in the fields because it was too wet to cultivate.  It wasn’t good at all.

The middle of the summer brought much better weather and we were able to tend to the crops and harvest some things only after pushing the start of CSA back a week.  We were feeling pretty good and getting into the groove of the season, but stress levels went up as the heat increased and rains stopped.  We typically don’t have to irrigate much, but when it got that dry for that long, I did have to start lugging hose from field to field.  Drought conditions did effect the quality of some produce like mis-shaping pumpkins and decreased yield as plants got stressed.  Still, I think we weathered it as well as possible.

Rain started to fall in September and I’d say we’re in good shape for next season. Even though I’m my typical worn out self this time of year, we have to look towards next season to begin a new.  Let me thank you for being with us for the season.

In the box:
Little Bok Choy
Celeriac: Yes, this is a crazy-looking veggie.  Peel and use in cooking where you would celery – it has the same flavor.
‘Satina’ Yellow Potatoes: People rave about Yukon Gold yellows, but I think these are much better.  Yukons have a terrible yield and there are a bit too starchy or dry for me.
Yellow Onion
Dino Kale
Yellow and Red Pepper
‘Red Kuri’ Squash: This is a great flavored squash – I always liken it to a chestnut.  Maree peeled and used in a veggie soup earlier this week.
Pie Pumpkins: I think a couple should be enough for a pie (Maree makes pie, not me, so I’m guessing).  You can use them for decoration, but don’t forget they are food too.  You can always cook down like squash, put into a freezer bag and use later (way better than that stuff in a can).
Farmer-choice squash: Another acorn or delicata.  

Last Stretch to the Veggie Season

I was just thinking about how tired I am and wondering how I did all the things I had to do all summer.  This a natural thought this time of year and so is being tired.  In the middle of the summer I feel like I can move mountains.  Of course, the sun is shining, the days are long, and the growing season is on the upswing.  As we get into fall, you’ll find just the opposite.  The days are shorter, there’s more darkness than light, and everything’s winding down.  It’s not starting a project that’s ever a problem, it’s finishing it, right?  We’ll a farm season is no different.

The end of season around Lida Farm is more than the last two CSA harvests or last couple of farmers markets (that’s next Friday and Saturday respectively).  The bigger challenges are big jobs that I don’t feel like getting to: planting garlic, pulling out the tomato trellis, taking plastic off the high tunnel, shoveling and spreading manure, disking…it goes on.  Well, the longer I wait, the greater chance I do any of these things in really cold weather.

CSA members are still welcome to come out and take tomatoes and peppers for preservation.  There are a lot of both and there’s little chance of me selling them all.  Just come on out and pick what you need – they are in the field closest to the house.

In the box:
Russet Potatoes
Braising Mix: the bunched greens that are a mix of purple and green.  Prepare and use as you would kale.  This pretty much what I do with them too: http://www.elanaspantry.com/simple-braised-greens/  Once made up, you can keep in fridge and add to eggs in the morning.
A Sprinkling of Sage and Thyme
Salad mix
Delicata Squash: The green and yellow-striped ones.  We don’t do these in a water bath like others since their shells are thinner
Butternut Squash
‘Red Cardinal’ Spinach
A Couple Little Red Onions
‘French Breakfast’ Radishes
Celery: This stuff always grows small and stringy for me, so will work fine for cooking – not eating all by itself.
Cherry Tomatoes

Why work when we can get Robots?

I was just reading article in the AgWeek yesterday about robots being developed that will pick citrus crops.  The article framed the need for robots in terms of the immigration debate; since California has such a great need for immigrant labor, robots may be their saving grace.

Immigration besides, my main reaction was “Huh, what are WE here for anyway?”  Maybe I’m just a romantic, but we’ll lose more than employment when robots can do all the labor on farm.  There’s something really beautiful and refreshing about caring for the ground and creation with your own two hands.  Sure, it’s tiring work some days, but a person sleeps really well and the work gives me, at least, a deep sense of satisfaction.

Harvest Party last week at Lida Farm

I’m game for appropriate technology (I use technology all the time – this blog a case in point), but we must also consider what’s lost as well.  I think our culture will be poorer with fewer people working in agriculture with their hands.  One point to consider…if such huge fruit and vegetable operations can’t make it in California without so much imported labor, maybe multiple families with less reliance on outside labor should replace them.  I’m guessing we’d all spend a bit more for summer stone fruit and winter citrus in this scenario, but having more families on the ground building businesses is a much better outcome than a single mega-farm with an army of robots.

In this week’s CSA box:
A quart of tomatoes: Green Zebras (yes, they are ripe when green) and standard Celebrity toms.
A Couple Colored Peppers
Spaghetti Squash: It’s best to store all winter squash in warm, dry locations.
A Buttercup Squash: Boy, this variety did not pull through well this year – terrible, since this is the top choice for many.
A Yellow Onion
French Breakfast Radishes
Green Onions
Salad Mix

The Ups and Downs of Farming

I should say that things always happen when I’m out of town.  So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Maree called me when I was boarding a plane in Pittsburgh yesterday.

Sitting in the kitchen getting some stuff ready for Satuday’s harvest party, Maree and my mom heard an outburst of yips from our neighborhood coyotes, seemingly just outside the patio window.  Knowing something was up, my parents and Maree quickly jumped into action, tramping all around a sheep pasture in the middle of the night without a flashlight to ward off the predators.  They were a bit confused that they couldn’t find the whole flock, but what was one to do at midnight, especially when Mar had to drive into the train station at 2 am to pick me up after a botched MSP connection?  They figured they had scared the pack away with all their commotion and went off to bed.

Coyotes, after finding a good source of protein, are pretty persistent I guess as my survey of the pasture this morning uncovered 7 sheep (mainly lambs slated for sale this winter) strewn from the trees down to the pond.  With one unaccounted for, losing 8 sheep when you only start with 20 is pretty major.  Damn.  It always seems that when we feel like all of the balls we’re juggling are doing fine, one has to drop.  I think this is why country songs are so tragic and sad.

In the box:
Edamame: Edible soybeans – the big messy bunch stuffed into the box.  Your job is to take all the pods of the stem and boil them in salted water for a few minutes.  All the other stem and leaves can be composted.
A Couple Peppers
A Quart of Tomatoes
Turnips: There are two kinds of turnips in the box, the traditional white and purple ones and these all red ones you may mistake for beets.
Rutabaga: These roots should bigger than the turnips with yellow flesh, although it would be east to confuse the two.  Typically turnips are rounder and rutabagas are elongated with a bigger top.
A Couple Yellow Onions
Fresh Rosemary: With all these roots in the box, this would go great with these roasted in the oven.
Pontiac Red Potatoes
Sunshine Kabooca Squash: These orange/red winter squash are a lot like everybody’s favorite, buttercup, but better.
Blue Bonnet Hubbard Squash: Since traditional hubbards get to be the weight of a boat anchor, I do these mini hubbards

Little Cars of the World Unite!

Considering we cart large amount of produce around the countryside, you’d think we drove a diesel pickup or some other powerful machine.  But, instead, we like to drive little cars to get produce from point A to point B.  To get the CSA boxes delivered on Fridays, Maree drives towards Detroit Lakes and I drive towards Pelican Rapids.  All told, it is an investment of 2.5 hours for each of us and a round trip of 80-90 miles.  Since we do this trip every Friday for four months of the year, we really want to get the best fuel economy possible.

New Honda Fit with CSA Boxes

Our long-time car is a diesel Jetta wagon.  It gets 40-45 miles per gallon, I love the sound, and it’s fun to have truckers ask you, “Are you sure you don’t want to use unleaded in that thing?” when at the pump.  But with over 230k miles, we were not
surprised when our mechanic informed us of the transmission going out.  Our other vehicle is the farm workhorse, an old GMC Safari van, but, with about 15 miles/gallon fuel economy, we knew we really had to make the switch to something else.  So just last week we purchased a new Honda Fit, which fits our bill of having good fuel economy (about 35 on the highway) and being able to transport a fair amount of cargo.  Today was it’s first trip on the CSA delivery route and I was almost giddy that this little car can fit 14 CSA boxes in the back plus one kid.

After droning on about your car situation, Ryan, what’s the significance?  Well, we are like all other businesses and households working to find whatever ways possible to save energy and money in this age of $3.50 gasoline.  Doubling our fuel economy on one delivery vehicle definitely does this.  The added benefit to you, our members, is that it also cuts carbon footprint for the food you eat each week.  The greater significance, however is that I don’t think we’re alone in this trend.  I would expect the commercial fleet (delivery trucks, couriers, etc) of this country to get smaller and smaller in size as I imagine many businesses small and large will be making this switch towards fuel efficiency.

In the CSA box:
A Mix of Peppers: Everybody got one red pepper, an ‘Italia’ (long red/green one – it’s sweet, not hot), a Pablano (a fairly mild hot pepper), and a Jalapeno

A Melon: I tried getting everybody a melon other than a cantaloupe, but I just didn’t have that many.  Some received a white-flesh Ananas melon called ‘San Juan’ and others received a crisp and white fleshed-Korean melon called ‘Sun Jewel’ (it’s the one which is oblong and yellow with white stripes).

A Half-dozen Sweet Corn: I suspect the last of the season.

A Couple Summer Squash

Beets: All are a mix of traditional red beets and a gold beet variety.


A Couple Leeks


Roma Tomatoes

A Cherry Tomato Mix

Summer Labors

Has anybody noticed that it’s hot outside?  I don’t know about you but it’s tough to get things done outside in this kind of weather.  This is a real challenge on a vegetable farm at this time of year because lots of heavy crops are coming due.  I find myself on any given day of the week lugging 50 lb crates in 90+ degree heat.  It’s tough work, but it’s also rewarding.  I get the pleasure of creating a tangible product, which is often not the case today.  Many of us have jobs with titles like “project manager” or “process engineer” where our work consists of moving pixels on a computer screen, attending meetings, and talking to people on a phone.  My dayjob is like that, and, although it’s good and rewarding in it’s own way, there’s no end product you can see, feel, or taste.  
So, as we approach Labor Day, I typically reflect on labor history since I was raised in a Union family and I work in a traditional industry with lots of heritage and labor issues.  Being part of the farmer class and being at the state fair last weekend, I feel real kinsmanship with my fellow growers.  Although there are different camps (dairy people, commodity production, organic, veggie growers), we are all in the same boat in my mind since we all care for the land and generally have the same hard-working lifestyle.  Still, we’re not the ones who are really deserving of attention on this labor day – this isn’t our day.  As one who toils in heat and cold spring rains, I know what it takes to bring in a crop, but I also reap any rewards which come from that crop.  Those who are the overlooked people in our food system are agricultural workers and they deserve more than they get.  Workers in the tomato fields of Florida  (http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/21/your-tomato-possible-ties-to-slavery/) receive about 2 cents a pound for the tomatoes you and I eat on a Taco Bell burrito.  But they are not the only ones…there are millions who work along the food supply chain in this country who receive low wages, few benefits, and the threat of deportation in return for their long hours of hard labor.  Some would argue that this is the American way and people will work their way up in time.  Maybe I’m sympathetic since my grandfather worked three jobs as an agricultural worker his whole life, but I think folks need a better shake through unionization just like past immigrants did to find dignity in their own work lives.   
So, as we approach Labor Day, let us at least put a face to the workers behind our food.  And, if you’re so inspired, take a step to help make change for a group of people in this country who need some.  

In the box:

‘Sarah’s Choice’ Canteloupe
A Dozen Corn 
A Big Onion
A Couple Cucumbers
A Couple Yellow Zucchini
A Bunch of Beets 
A Little Basil 
A Big Slicing Tomato 
Some Yellow ‘Taxi’ Variety 

Corn’s Size Determined Early in Life

Don’t we all look back in life and see how we became the person we are today after making certain decisions when we were young?  Maybe it was taking that English class instead of Organic Chemistry or that time you caved to peer pressure, made a bad decision, and got onto a bad track.  It’s certainly not as emotional or complex as us humans, but corn is like that too.

The potential size of any cob of corn is determined early in its life.  If it was planted in a soil with low fertility or negative soil conditions like bad tilth or saturated ground, it will never reach the potential you would have hoped for no matter how much you babysit it later in its lifecycle.  This is why you’ll see these good-tasting, but scrunty ears in the box.  We’re still being haunted by the monsoon season we had in May and June when it rained every 3 hours.  When we planted corn with the tractor we literally sank about a foot and a half into the ground, leaving these huge ruts which I’m sure will be there still next year.  Still, after waiting til mid-June, we knew we had to just get things into the ground or they would never get planted.  When planting anything into goop like that, plants get stressed because their roots have no oxygen (they are basically drowning in water).  All told, however, the season has turned around like it always does and now we’re moving irrigation like crazy!  
Sorry I didn’t write an entry last week.  A couple things which may have confused people was the frilly bunch of greens, which was mizuna, a Asian green commonly used in stir-frys or mixed into a salad mix.  The other things which looked like red beets were actually turnips.  
In the box: 
‘Sarah’s Choice’ Canteloupe
A dozen ears of corn: A real mix of types….the big white variety is called ‘Silver King.’  
A couple green peppers
A couple red onions
A mix of Carrots: White ones are called ‘Satin,’ the yellow ones are ‘Yellow Sun,” and the others are ‘Scarlet Nantes’ an orange standard.  
Tomatoes: A number of the slicers are still Early Girls, but there are a number of ‘Black Cherry’ mixed in. 
Turnips: Everyone receive some standard ‘Purple Top’ with a couple ‘Scarlet Queen’ mixed in.  I pasted in a few ideas to get you going with the turnips – see below.  

4 Quick Turnip Recipes from www.realsimple.com

Rooting around for an in-season vegetable with inspiring possibilities? Turn to the turnip.

by Sue Li


Levi Brown
Sautéed Turnips and Greens
Cook peeled and cut-up turnips and sliced garlic in olive oil in a large skillet until tender. Add the turnip greens and cook until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Roasted Turnips With Ginger
Peel and cut turnips into wedges. Toss with sliced fresh ginger, canola oil, salt, and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with honey and roast at 400° F until tender.

Mashed Turnips With Crispy Bacon
Simmer peeled and cut-up turnips in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and mash with butter, salt, and pepper. Fold in crumbled cooked bacon and chopped chives; top with shaved Parmesan.