How Organic is Organic?

At least once a season I like to take a little time to explain our growing practices.  I’m always asked if we’re organic, and I have to explain that the term has become pretty confusing since the national organic standards were put in place by USDA.  Since I’m not certified by an official third-party, I cannot use the term “organic” without being subject to a fine, so I just explain a bunch of details about our practices.  I’ve found eaters are most concerned about individual practices anyway and are not too concerned that I don’t have the official USDA organic logo.

First and foremost we NEVER use any synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers.  The only bug we do control is the Colorado Potato Beetle with a natural spray with an active ingredient called Spinosad, which is a bacteria which affects the bug’s nervous system.  This spray is approved under organic certification, which, I know sounds kind of confusing, but there is a family of natural organic pesticides.  Since we don’t have much recourse for bugs, sometimes we will use a physical barriers.  We will put a row cover (kind of like a big dryer sheet) over some greens, for example, that are really susceptible to flea beetles, so the bugs just can’t get at the plants.

For fertility we use good old fashioned manure we procure from our neighbors and manure from our chickens and sheep.  Last year we had nearly 20 loads spread from my neighbor’s dairy herd besides the bedding from last year’s broilers and a good fall cleaning of the barn where the egg layers and sheep hang out.  Corn is a heavy feeder, so we sidedress the young plants with a composed chicken manure in pelletized form.  Also this year we are experimenting with using worm castings on our celery and lettuce, which are both heavy feeders but need a fertilizer which is gentle and safe.  We actually get this from one of our CSA members, Betty and Leroy Fiedler, who just started their worm composting business last year called Genesis on Lake Franklin.

For weeds, it’s a 3 stage process.  We do our best to take out as many as possible by mechanical cultivation with the tractor, next we hoe, and, we always end up pulling weeds by hand.  If a person is really good at timing stage 1 and 2, you never need to get to stage 3, but that hasn’t been the case with us so far.

Bottom line, we raise our stuff as best we can to make sure  the farm and plants are healthy which produces good food which makes your family and our own family healthy.  Let me know if there’s anything you want to know more about.

Important Note: We will have to deliver on Saturday, July 23 instead of Friday, July 22 since I have to be out of town for my other job.  Let me know if this is an issue and we’ll try to work something out.

In the box:
Strawberries: the heavy rains last week did splash dirt a bit on them, so I advise washing.
Salad Mix (see recipe below)
Swiss Chard
French Breakfast Radishes
Braising Mix (colorful greens) or Green Lance (small broccoli plants): Either are good for adding to a stir fry right at the end.
Garlic scapes (funny curly onions): these are shoots that garlic put up this time of year.  Think of them as a garlic-y green onion and use where you would garlic.

If you haven’t read Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, you may just want to check it out during this CSA season.  It’s a good read with recipes included that may help you out when stumped on how to use something in the box.  Here’s a recipe for this week on using greens:
This recipe also uses eggs…you are able to add on Lida Farm eggs through Local Dirt as they are available throughout the season!

The Art of Cultivation (CSA week 2)

If you grow organically, you have to learn to cultivate and there’s a lot to it…hence the art. The term is used pretty generally nowadays to mean “grow” or “nurture” things as in “Target has been cultivating customers through their new marketing plan…” Stuff like that. But in farming cultivation means something quite specific: breaking up the ground with a cultivator to kill weeds. I cultivate in a couple of different ways. One is what’s called “blind cultivation”, where you drag a cultivator right over the top of the bed, including the plants. I do this with our new contraption of the year, a Williams Tool System, which is a kind of tine weeder. I always feel like I’m going to kill all the plants, but the tines are designed to put on enough pressure to take out the little weeds, but leave the rooted plants. It has done great work and things like the corn, onions, and potatoes havn’t looked this weed-free before. The other way we cultivate is with a traditional two-row cultivator, which has these shovels and knives on either side of the row to take out anything between the plants.

This sounds pretty straightforward, but a grower needs to keep a fine eye to details to cultivate well, and, frankly, I’m not that great at it. The timing has to be right (best when a lot of weed seeds have germinated, but still just seedlings), the soil moisture good (too wet and you get clods to last the summer), the shanks and shovels have to be digging at the right depth (not too deep, not too shallow), and all the while you have to run the tractor as straight as the rows you planted in the spring or you take out half the row. So far, so good this year.
When I got to thinking about cultivating, it made me think about a conversation I had with my neighbor Marvin last year. Since he’s farmed all his life, I asked him about how many farmers still cultivate and he figured about 5% since life with chemicals is so much easier…instead of cultivating 3-4 times, you can spray twice and kill off every single weed. I thought that was kind of low, but as I was driving around last year I saw only one person other than Marvin and myself cultivating a field! Keep you eye’s peeled…you may still see some out there.
Weather report….hail last saturday, but not terrible. You will probably see some holes in the lettuce, but I promise it will taste the same.
In the box:
Fresh Basil
Kohlrabi: simply peel, cut, and serve…some recipes call for the greens.
Arugula: can mix in with lettuce for salad or find pasta recipe
Red Sails Lettuce
Green Leaf Lettuce
Garlic Scapes: the tops a garlic plant will send up…like a garlicy green onion. Chop fine, sautee a bit, and throw in mashed potatoes.
Quart o’ Strawberries
Some radishes
Red Russian Kale
Kale Colcannon
St. Paul Farmers Market Produce Cookbook
5 med. potatoes, peeled and quartered 1/3 cup lowfat milk
4-6 cups kale, with stems removed, washed and chopped 1 t. salt, or to taste
2 T. butter or margarine 1/8 t. black pepper
1 small onion, chopped
Boil potatoes until tender. Steam kale separately until tender, about 10 minutes. While potatoes and kale are cooking, heat butter or margarine in a large pot. Saute onion until soft. Mash potatoes, add kale, onion, milk, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Reheat and adjust seasonings.
Makes 4-6 servings.