Lida Farm Tour

A few CSA members took me up on my invite to join a little farm tour last week – thanks for coming. The tour was hosted with an organization called FARRMS, a sustainable agriculture organization in North Dakota. Part of their work is to support beginning and existing sustainable agriculture operators build their business and get going.

I’ve hosted a number of tours at my place in the past and certainly participated in farm tours on other farms. There’s no better way to learn the details of a farm operation than seeing it first hand and asking questions and getting answers directly from the farmer. \

I’d say farm tours are more common among the organic community than the conventional farm communtiy, in part because there’s greater experimentation in growing crops and tricks to deal with things like weeds and pests than on a conventional operation.  I also appreciate that the organic farming community is willing to share and support one another instead being competitive and throwing rocks at each other.

The Half-Finished High Tunnel

I don’t know what tour participants had as a big takeawy from this week…maybe ‘Ryan never finishes a project’ or ‘How do so many weeds grow in one location?’ Whatever the takeaway, getting together and looking at crops should be a Midwestern tradition that never dies.

In the box:

  • Sweet corn: Sorry Tuesday people, it just wasn’t ready earlier in the week…a few days makes a difference. This is an early corn variety, so ears are always small.  You should see the stalks…they stand about 3 feet tall. 
  • Norland Red Potatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Bunch of Beets
  • Green ‘Stonehead’ Cabbage
  • Green Onions 
  • Red Torpedo Onion: Use as you would any red onion, either fresh or in cooking.
  • ‘Provider’ Green Beans
  • Fresh Thyme: Small bunch in box.

Your Size is Not You

First, let me say, I love the U.S., but I feel we have a problem in this country.

Our culture loves big things: big cars, big yards, big businesses. I suppose it’s not the bigness itself that’s the issue, but this palpable sense that what’s big is successful. Ladies over coffee fawning over another woman’s kid whose billable hour is huge drop phrases like “Wow, hasn’t he made a name for himself.” Neighboring farmers gawking at the 1,000,000 bushel bin put up by the ambitous guy down the road give their best Midwestern compliment, “Boy, he must be doing all right…” We judge places and organizations the same way. We’re attracted to new development, more businesses of a growing community. We’re dazzled with a store’s bigger inventory, more products, and more and more and more.

West Otter Tail County Fair with New Barn Quilt

This thinking is quite natural. It’s part of our biology to seek out abundance, just like our hunter-gatherer ancestors sought out huge berry patches. The problem, however, is how we internalize this thinking and apply judgement to our lives. I’ve felt this a lot in my adult life. Our 4H club is small – we’re failures. Our school’s enrollment fell – we’re failures. Our sunday school attendance is down – we’re failures. Our business is small – we’re failures. I’m not alone – negatively judging ourselves in comparison to others is a pervasive and ugly epidemic in the 21st century that brings friends to antidepressents and rural communities to despair. Dollars flow to big box stores and local stores close. Everybody wants to be part of that big exciting congregation and rural churches suffer. That big school in the regional center offers more opportunity, so let’s take our kids there and our district’s school falls behind.

If you know me and read this blog, I don’t let these feelings affect me or second-guess the direction of my life. I put my energy into the small but beautiful things that feed my soul and our community regardless of the wider world: a tiny farm, small 4H club, and small sunday school. I also log hours on the board of MANNA Co-op in Detroit Lakes, a tiny store starting up in the next couple of weeks in the age of big box grocery. If we step back, I think most of us realize that these images of bigness and success are often mirages – they’re fake. If I’m feeling cynical, these images of success are part of a big con game that multinational corporations are playing on us to consume more of their stuff or show their dominance to scare off competition; I certainly won’t let some corporate exec in NY define me. So, what to do? Let’s let go of all of this envy and baggage and dig into the work and love of our daily lives. It’s exciting to see where it takes us.

In the box:
Fresh Fennel: See recipe
A Couple Onions: The red one is a Tropea Torpedo Onion and the white is a sweet onion
Norland Potatoes 
Swiss Chard
Greenleaf Lettuce
A Cucumber
A Couple Summer Squash

Ryan’s Organic Pizza Hotdish
A pint of canned tomatoes
Fresh Fennel
Mozzarella cheese
Olive oil
1 lb of penne pasta
1 cup of stock (chicken, beef, vegetable)
Finished hotdish
This is my organic take on my mom’s pizza hotdish, which I love. I took a bunch of pictures like those food blogs with about 30 pictures before you hit the recipe 🙂


Sylvia with combined sauce and penne

Heat oven to 350 degrees and put on salted water for pasta. Make a sauce by sauteeing equal amounts of chopped fennel stalk and onion in olive oil. When fairly soft, add minced garlic for about a minute before adding tomatoes, chopped parsley, 1/4 cup of wine and about 2T on anchovy paste (if you like the flavor). Let this simmer. Take penne out of water when almost al dente (leave will finish off in the oven).

Applegate uncured pepperoni with Organic Valley Mozzarella for topping pasta

Combine pasta and sauce and put into a 13 x 9 baking pan, cover with 1-2 cups of shredded Mozzarella, top with pepperoni, and put into oven until top browns a bit.

As a bonus, you can take some of fennel fronds and combine with basil and lettuce for an herbed salad. I topped mine with caesar and Hakuri salad turnips.

New Equipment for a Small Farm

There was a point last year when pushing a two-wheeled Vermont handcart up the hill near our house for the 1,000th time when I decided that I’d had enough. Since I started farming on my own in 2001 down in Lake Elmo, I transported my harvest bins around by hand. At that time I started I was 25; today I’m 40. I knew farming had already aged my body and continuing with this low-tech form of transportation was only going to age me quicker. 

So, this spring I fell in love in with an Italian tiller from Grillo. Sometimes called walking tractors, these glorified tillers are used extensively in Europe where farms the size of mine are much more common.  Yes, they have rototillers like any old Troy-Built, but they are designed to fit a huge range of implements from mowers to cultivators to potato diggers. Considering my need for a nimble form of transport and a tiller to fit into the little spaces on the farm where the tractor doesn’t work, I coughed up the $5k to bring this beauty on farm together with a cart. 
It seems a bit funny sometimes driving around the farm on a seat behind a tiller, but with the special ‘drive gear’ it makes for a pretty nice ride and I’m confident will save me from early knee and back surgery. 
In the box: 
  • Fresh Basil 
  • Fresh Fennel: Big bulb with celery-like stalks 
  • Broccoli
  • Arugula: Oakleaf-shaped green banded with a red band
  • Dino Kale
  • Green or Fresh Garlic: Cloves inside just like cured garlic…you could let dry down until papery in a sunny, dry location 
  • Hakurai Salad Turnips: I just love these things…they are a very mild turnip that is made to  eat raw.
  • Summer Squash: Both a zucchini and a yellow straighneck or yellow zucchini, which you use the same as green zucchini. 
Fennel Parmesan Recipe (adapted from Food Network)
1 fennel bulb, cut horizontally into 1/3-inch slices
Olive Oil
2 T Parmesan Cheese
Lightly oil the bottom of a 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish. Arrange the fennel in the dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then with the Parmesan. Drizzle with the oil. Bake until the fennel is fork-tender and the top is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Chop enough fennel fronds to equal 2 teaspoons, then sprinkle over the roasted fennel and serve.

Extreme Weather and Vegetables

A giant wind blew across our bed at 5 am and a wind tunnel enveloped the upper story of our house for the next half hour. I initially thought it was just a front which would quickly pass over and I could go back to bed, but as the intensity increased, I knew I’d have to move and move quickly. Any passerby at the time could have caught the sight of me streaking across our yard at a breakneck speed to drop the roll-up sides of the greenhouse. You see, a hard and sustained wind like that would turn that open greenhouse into a 100-foot airplane wing, which, if I were lazy and stayed in my room, I could have watched take off into the neighbor’s field like Mary Poppins leaving a party.

In my line of work, I always hear about weather, and one of the common stories I’ve heard this week and I’ve told myself is how the weather has changed.  I’m 40 years old and I distinctly remember hail being a very rare occasion – maybe once every 2-3 years. Neighbors with more life under their belt than me always talk about a time when rain came slowly. A gentle rain would give the earth its 1 to 2 inches of precip over 8 – 24 hours. Instead, each time we receive and inch of rain as of late, it drops out of the sky in 40 mintues or comes with a 40-mph wind. This was the case the evening of the 4th of July. Violent winds coupled with hail and a downpour of rain – the level of downpour I imagine one would find in the rainforest. 
This change in the weather has a signficant impact on agriculture. Although this effects all forms of ag, I think it has an acute impact on commercial vegetable production.  Certaily my friends growing corn and soybeans have issues with extreme weather and it can certainly affect their yield, but, at the end of the season, these tough crops almost always produce something to fill the contract. I’ve seen field corn laid flat on the ground in July which produced a decent crop by October. Hailed-on lettuce or ripped greens, on the other hand, don’t pass muster with a customers and just don’t get sold. Vegetable crops are delicate and fickle. In the big picture, they were bred to grow under very specific conditions and as our climate changes, I have to wonder what the future will look like in the long run. 
In the box: 
  • ‘Farao’ Green Cabbage: See recipe below  
  • ‘Imperial’ Broccoli
  • Flat-leaf Parsley
  • Spinach: You’ll see evidence of the hail 
  • Romaine Lettuce: Not the prettiest lettuce I’ve grown…looking good until the big storm this week. 
  • Bunch of Beets
  • Green or Fresh Garlic: Garlic with the stalk still on. You can use right now (it’s a bit more pungent when fresh), or simply leave out in a dry, sunny location to cure it over the next 10 days for longer storage. 
  • Zucchini
Dave’s Mom’s Best Slaw

6.5 cups of coursely chopped cabbage, loosely packed
1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup prepared mayo
1/4 cup sugar 
2.5 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup evaporated milk 
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or scallions (optional)
Working in batches, fill a blender to the top with chopped cabbage and add cool water until 3/4 full. Whirl on low speed for about 4 seconds, just until the cabbage is evenly chopped – but not too fine – and transfer to a colander. Repeat with the rest of the cabbage. 
Place the carrot chunks in the blender and cover them with cool water. Whirl for about 8 seconds. Drain the carrots very well. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, sugar, vinegar, salt, and evaporated milk and set aside. 
In a serving bowl, mix together the well-drained cabbage, carrots, and parsley. Toss with the dressing and add more sugar, vinegar, and/or salt to taste. If you like, serve with chives or scallions. Tightly covered and refrigerated, this slaw will keep for a week.