Hidden Roadside Gems

When you travel, do a seek out the independent business or the nearest franchise in a strip mall? I’m betting on the former.

We dreamed up the farm stand at the end of our driveway when on a fall trip to Vermont in 2005, inspired by all the classic wooden stands you find there. Mar and I loved traveling through the beautiful New England countryside adorned with white farmhouses and cows against the autumn backdrop of golds and reds. We drove on these windy roads transporting us from one quaint town to another, all the while discovering these roadside gems like a farm that pressed cider or a farmstead cheese operation.  The whole scene reminded us a lot of….well, Otter Tail County, minus the all the cool farm stands.

Farm stand 8.13.18Since we loved the authenticity and picturesque quality of the farm stands of New England, we decided to build one seven years ago and we have applied that same thinking to everything else that inspires us. Lida Farm is built on the idea that we should just do what we want to see in the world. The world needs good, organic food…let’s grow it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a community event with food and music, let’s host a fall harvest party. Sauna, let’s build one. Raw milk, let’s get a cow. I know from talking to the many visitors to our area who come across our farm stand, that our stand now serves as their hidden gem when in lakes country and I’d like to think our local community is just a little bit richer from our efforts.

WARNING: TOTAL RANT BY RYAN. My biggest frustration in life is talk about how all the cool stuff happens somewhere else and we are just worthless consumers who have no agency and no means of changing ourselves. If only our community only had more businesses, more energy, more people, a bigger tax base, more grants…then we’d be great.  No, we don’t have to wait for some multi-national corporation or big foundation or leadership guru to build our community into something. We can do that and we are doing that! If you look around, appreciate the small and independent places that are making Otter Tail a really cool place to be.  Even better, if you have the energy to jump into an endeavor, just do it. The world will be all the better for it.

In the box:

  • Celery
  • Tomato mix
  • Flat-leaf Parsley
  • Trinity Bi-color Sweet Corn
  • Onion
  • Green Onions
  • Garlic 
  • Peppers
  • Yellow Satina Potatoes
  • Green and Purple Beans
  • Basil: Please don’t put into the fridge (it will turn black). Instead, treat like a cut flower…trim the bottom and put in a vase with water.

 

Managing Weeds with Silage Tarps

The key term is occultation. A bit cumbersome a word, but it sounds cool. Deriving from the same root for the occult meaning ‘hidden’ or conceal,’ we’re basically hiding the weeds from the sun to keep them under control.

Recently popularized in North America by a Quebecois named Jean-Martin Fortier, the practice has been standard operating procedure among vegetable operators in Europe. The practice is simply covering ground with a heavy silage tarp to prepare a clean bed. Under the silage tarp, it’s warm, dark, and moist. This is the perfect environment to get weed seeds to germinate, perennial weeds to cook and die, and generally break down any crop residues or vegetation underneath. The result is a fairly weed-free area which is great for finely-seeded crops. We prefer to use this valuable space for things such as carrots and salad mix.

IMG_6374The only issue with this whole practice is moving a huge tarp. Originally our tarp was 50 feet by 200 feet in size, but moving a monster like that takes a lot of energy (especially after a rain). So, we cut it in half, which makes it much more manageable.

Preparing a bed in this way is magical because it doesn’t take tillage (overworking the soil has a lot of issues) and the tarp is doing its work without any thought or effort on my part. I can just go along paying attention to other parts of the farm, and, when I need the bed, I just pull back the tarp, apply compost by hand, and give a light till just over the top to make a nice seedbed.

In the box:

  • Tomato mix: Yes, regular slicing tomatoes are now coming in with many more in the near future. I’m not in love with the prettiness of these guys, but they have a good taste as any first tomatoes should.
  • Satina Yellow Potatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers
  • Green Peppers
  • Eggplant: There is a mix of Italian and Asian style…you got one or the other.
  • Parsley
  • Sweet Onion 
  • 1-2 Fresh Shallots: Looks like a purple onion, but it’s actually a shallot. Really can be used anywhere you use onion. Like onions, it will dry down and cure in a warm, dry location.
  • Beets: A little mix of gold and regular beets.
  • Black Spanish Radishes: This one is a bit of an oddball, so check out this article with three ways to prepare it: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/cathy-erway/black-radish-recipes_b_2617652.html
  • Bunch of Carrots
  • Green and Purple Bean Mix

 

 

How to Slow Down Time

Many of us suffer from an overactive life where time just whizzes by at light speed. The more active we are, the longer our to-do list, the more often we realize that time passed us by. Our attention is so frantic. Our minds just can’t keep up.

I’m 100% in this camp. I get on a work treadmill that takes me from farm work to my dayjob to my work with Manna Co-op, and, oh, shouldn’t we try to clean the house sometime? Weeks have gone by like this and I realize it’s already August. We’re already at week 7 and next week is the half-way mark through the CSA season! This has been the pattern for the 12 years I’ve been doing CSA and the experience of many in Minnesota – as soon as the summer starts, you can already see the end. That’s natural.

The problem is that this same pattern plays out across longer time periods. My oldest child, Sylvia, is now 13 years old! I’ve been married 17 years and graduated 23 years ago! What happened? I honestly don’t like these realizations, especially when I conclude that a fevered focus on work has left me with nothing but a blurry recollection of time. I was just moving too fast to soak anything in.

So, how does one slow down time? Presence. This one simple concept is so meaningful and will only grow in importance in our era of distraction (yes, I’m talking to you Facebook user). Our attention is really all we have and I have actively tried to shift mine over the past two years. For me, it’s a practice of getting out of my tunnel vision and redirect my presence on each person or moment. But it is also a practice and I keep on working on it (I didn’t say I was good at it).

At Lida Farm, as example, no matter how much work remains on the list, we take the kids swimming about every other day in the summer. I jump in and cool off for about 5 minutes and then just sit and watch them play. I don’t check email, I don’t try to multitask anything. I just sit there and pay attention to the moment. These hour breaks won’t cause the farm season to fall apart, but they will make the moments which make life worth living.

So, turn off notifications on your phone right now. Drop all un-necessary tasks – do you really care about what your neighbors think about your lawn? Pay attention or you too may realize that life happened quicker than you wanted.

In the box:

  • Sweet corn
  • Tomato mix
  • Bunch of carrots
  • Green Pepper
  • Islander Purple Pepper
  • Zucchini: We took a couple week break from zucchini, but after a little time off, maybe you’all are ready for another.
  • Red Potatoes
  • Eggplant: Most of you got Japanese eggplant (long, slender type), but some got a traditional Italian style.
  • Sweet Onion
  • Leeks
  • Thai Basil: This has a bit of a liqorice flavor and great in a lot of Asian cooking such as a curry or Thai.
  • Kale

Instead of dumping a single recipe here, I suggest you’all check out this about uses for Thai basil: https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/09/you-should-use-thai-basil-southeast-asian.html There is even a great-looking recipe for that uses both the eggplant in the box with Thai basil. Check it out.

 

Hot, Dry May = Stressed Broccoli

I think we all know that our early years impact our whole life. So too with plants.

We have experienced so much heat since that we don’t remember that May was unseasonably hot and dry. This was fine for plants like peppers and tomatoes that are the plant equivalent of sunseekers who spend half the year in Cozumel on a beach. They also don’t need too much water. One plant family, however, has just not lived up to its full potential due to the stress of May – Brassicas. Sometimes called the cruciferous family, this includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Napa cabbage, and kohlrabi.

20180630_122301
Mr. T in the Kohrabi

Brassicas do best in the cool, wet seasons of spring and fall. During this time, they get rooted, and put grow out big leaves which later collects the sun and nutrients to put on that big, beautiful broccoli crown or cauliflower. This year, however, the plants just got stressed early and the heat stopped this process – they just shut down and didn’t grow to make it through the heat. The effect is that brassicas got really late and have been putting out disappointing crops because they are not maturing in the heat of lake July. Couple that with early cabbage moths which got into full force with the early summer heat and the timing is just off. You’ll see the effects on this week’s ‘un-even’ broccoli, which just happens in the heat. The stuff should have been done two weeks ago!

This is just life juggling multiple crops and navigating the variation of any growing season. The timing matters a lot and we just need to work with the season life gives us.

In the box:

  • Sweet Corn: A mix of both bi-color Trinity variety and all-yellow Sugar Buns
  • Cherry Tomato Mix
  • Broccoli: See writing above…it’s pretty uneven and stressed due to the heat. Not my best broccoli, but I know there’s still something here to put to work
  • Green Onions
  • Fresh Garlic
  • Salad Mix
  • Potatoes: Most of them are red variety, but some are Yellow Satina.
  • Fresh Oregano

Secret to Staying Limber over 40

Yesterday I logged about 12-hours of work. I wasn’t just typing on a keyboard (like I am now), but lifting heavy things in the hot sun and generally abusing my body. How do I keep on going after 17 farm seasons? I’ll give you my secret in a bit, but let me first set the stage by sharing a list of yesterday’s accomplishments:

  • Hoisted pig feeder on trailer and moved to new pasture
  • Harvested and cleaned garlic, onions, beans, and broccoli
  • Weeded onions by hand
  • Stocked farm stand a couple times
  • Hoed peppers
  • Trellised tomatoes
  • Set up fence for pigs in new pastures
  • Fixed raccoon fence with weed whip
  • Flail mowed
  • Prepared bed with wheel hoe and rake and planted lettuces
  • Set new irrigation by dragging around a few hundred feet of hose
  • Other things…?

Typical stuff on a vegetable farm. Commercial vegetable production is not so much a business as a really large time management experiment. All told, however, it’s a lot of manual tasks with a bunch of walking in between each job.

The magic I’ve come across that keeps me in the groove and fit enough to routinely slug out 12 and 14-hour days is yoga. My past apprentice Kelsey would just chalk it up to my total hippy-ness, but a morning of about 30 minutes of yoga followed by two cups of coffee, a smoothie, and some vitamins (magnesium and multivitamin) seems to be the secret sauce to conquer the world.

Especially since I do all this physical effort, yoga asana has a huge impact, not only because it strengthens my body to do the effort, but also in yoga we practice holding an effort. Whether I need to push a wheel hoe up and down a field multiple times or carry a heavy crate a long distance, it’s the same in my mind as holding a yoga pose. It’s pretty easy after practicing every single morning (I’ve skipped maybe 20 days in the past two years). In addition, it’s by far the most effective stress reduction practice and certainly keeps me limber. There are few days that I wake up sore, no matter the hours or efforts logged the day before.

Unlimited free yoga on youtube here – give it a whirl…it might change your life. To give you an entry point, I started with this 30 Days of Yoga in 2016 and haven’t stopped since.

In the box:

I think we’ve officially hit high season with this box…welcome corn, tomatoes, and beans!

  • Broccoli: Please look for cabbage loopers (ugly green worms). We soaked these heads a few hours to drown them out, but some always escape. You can soak in saltwater and a little vinegar more as per these instructions before use.
  • Green Cabbage
  • Fresh Fennel: This is a rare crop that a few adore and most are confused by. Let me assure you that this is more versatile than you’d think…great in salads, great with chicken, and a lot of mediterranean food like french braises and Italian sauces. Lot of ideas at https://www.seriouseats.com/2016/09/fennel-recipes.html
  • Fresh Thyme: Little fragrant bunch with a red band.
  • Provider Green Beans
  • Cherry Tomato Mix
  • A Couple Cucumbers
  • Sugar Buns Yellow Sweet Corn: Small ears, but this is consistently an early variety and still very young. I was able to find 4 ears for everybody that was getting to size, but there will be more coming in the near future.
  • Green Garlic: This is uncured, fresh garlic, so the outside wrapper isn’t dried down yet. The garlic is a little more pungent, but you’d use the same way. If you aren’t ready to use fresh, just leave in a dry sunny location and it’ll cure in your house.
  • Alisa Craig Sweet Onion 

Managing Rainfall

Sometimes I feel like I live in a 1930’s newsreel, running to avert disaster as a huge wind or thunderstorm bears down on the farm. You know, that footage of the guy holding onto his hat as he jumps in the storm cellar as the dust bowl rages? I’ve been doing these adrenaline-filled sprints lately as our weather gets severe in the hot, humid days of July. On the forth of July I even got thrown down to the ground as I was trying to close a greenhouse door in a 60 mph + wind.

0693a-thundercloudHeavy summer rains create big problems on a vegetable farm because we have delicate plants and need always have some areas open without plants. A heavy rain like the 2.5 inches we got yesterday causes the soil to move on even the most gradual of slopes. Think about something like a young bed of salad mix…when you have a couple inches of rain pound the ground, it can really damage these tender leaves and half bury them in silt. Arghh.

The big program that really kills me is soil erosion. Despite our best intentions and use of cover crops and buffers, we’re in the hilly Vergas area where nothing is flat. More than 2 inches in an hour will get soil moving downhill, no matter what. The maturity of plants matters and a stand of mature corn will hold the ground and soak up a lot more water than a field of inch-high beans, so rains this time of year are less of an issue than May or early June heavy rains. The problem is that I need to keep open ground and constantly seed new areas to have continual supply of veggies. These bare areas will wash, yet it’s necessary to have some open ground in order to plant. I wish I could go directly from a 2-foot tall stand of an oat or field pea cover crop directly to carrots, but that amount of biomass doesn’t break down overnight and you need a really fine seedbed for carrots.

The best we can do is weatherproof the farm as best as possible. For example, there is quarter-acre area in the front field that always erodes because water channels there. I’m totally giving up on planting in that little location, and, instead, will plant a permanent crop like clover there. We also did a heavy mulch between the melons in the back field. Little improvements year after year will begin to make a difference in time. I hope so because I’m tired of getting disgusted after big storms.

In the box:

    • Farao Green Cabbage
    • Bunch of Beets
    • Hakurai Salad Turnips: Maybe these will throw you for a loop, but I think of them as just big white radishes with better flavor. They are called salad turnips because they are easily added to a salad to add some crunch or you can eat with a little salt…peel and slice.
    • Cilantro
    • Greenleaf Lettuce
    • Snap Peas
    • Cucumbers
    • Kohlrabi
    • Bunch of Kale: I think kale lends itself well to Italian cooking (see recipe below) or use in simple salads.
    • Zucchini: Once you start making zucchini into fritters, you’ll have a new relationship with this too-common vegetable. This video is pretty much what we do…pretty quick too:

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio with Lots of Kale from Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

Kosher salt, 1 large bunch of kale, any type (about 1½ pounds), 5 garlic cloves, ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling, Freshly ground black pepper, 12 ounces spaghetti, thick spaghetti, bucatini, or other long strand pasta, Parmesan and crushed red pepper flakes (for serving), Flaky sea salt

Directions:
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, strip kale leaves from ribs and stems, then tear leaves crosswise into 2″–3″ pieces. Cook kale in boiling water until bright green and slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, transfer kale to a colander and rinse under cold water, tossing; squeeze out excess liquid from leaves. Keep water at a boil (you’ll use it for the pasta).

  • Whack garlic with the side of a chef’s knife to crush; peel off skins. Heat ¼ cup oil in a large heavy pot over medium. Cook garlic, stirring occasionally, until sizzling, about 3 minutes. Season very generously with black pepper and cook, smashing with a wooden spoon, until cloves break into rough pieces, soften, and look golden. Add kale to pot and cook, stirring often, until darkened in color and very tender, about 8 minutes (garlic will break into even smaller pieces). Season with kosher salt and pepper.

  • Meanwhile, cook pasta, stirring occasionally, until very al dente (2–3 minutes less than package directions).

  • Using tongs, add pasta to kale; splash in about 1 cup pasta cooking liquid. Cook, tossing and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until sauce lightly coats pasta, about 2 minutes.

  • Serve pasta topped with Parmesan, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and more black pepper.

Family Labor

At one time all labor was family labor. Picture a Russian serf family or a tribe of neanderthals trying to make it…kids, husband, wife all pulling together to survive. In modern times, few have experienced this dynamic, and, when they have, it makes an impression. Ask someone who lived through the great depression or a natural disaster and they will often share not about how miserable they were, but how they pulled together as family.

Sylvia and farm statnd
Sylvia with the farm stand project we worked on Sunday

Like other fathers and a husbands, I can feel like I carry the weight of the farm business on my shoulders. Men like to be dramatic this way, as if they are the lone hero of their life’s story. Their great and amazing willpower and vision brings great success, but the hero at times is also trapped alone in a task only HE can do. Psychoanalyzing all men aside, I feel this at times. I can be trudging through a week and worn down. At times like these, when I don’t think I can pull off another CSA harvest, my beautiful wife Maree takes on two or three time-consuming tasks or the kids jump in to help pack boxes on the line. The work goes quickly or a crop which was looked impossibly lost in weeds a week ago is now simply beautiful. This is the joy of any small band in a common endeavor – together we do great things. Even the ‘great man’ concedes that he cannot succeed without the support of his wife and family.

Don’t let me be overly romantic on the topic lest you think we’re this picture perfect farm family, happily going about farm work like a scene from the Sound of Music. We still have all the same 21st century problems. I swear that I spend about half my day monitoring kids’ device use and many hours are spent shuttling children from place to place as we’re wrapped up in the same over-scheduled environment as every other family.

Working with kids takes time, and, although I could crank something out more quickly alone, I do muster the patience some days to slow down and let them take on a task. But when I do, the reward is often greater than simply the job getting done. I hope my kids do leave this place one day with some skills and ethic that will carry them through life.

In the box: