Lakes Country Blue Zone?

Yesterday I listened to a podcast with Dan Buettner (a MN Native) about his work on Blue Zones, those places in the world with the greatest longevity. Although I had heard about the work many years ago, listening to him brought home the point that health doesn’t come from our individual habits alone, but the environment in which we live.

Sardinia Blue ZonesPlaces like Sardinia and Okinawa produced more centenarians not because they have really motivated people who bought a lot of Jane Fonda videos and worked out a lot. No, these places produced health in a population because their culture and environment naturally mandated physical exercise, a plant-based diet, and social connection. In Sardinia 50 years ago, most were too poor to eat meat daily and everybody had daily tasks that keep them moving like gardening and watching over animals. Moreover, people lived in a tight enough community that you couldn’t just be anonymous – your neighbor would ask why you weren’t at church last Sunday (whether you liked it or not).

I find this stuff fascinating and it made me think about my own patterns and environment in which we live. This morning, I took their ‘longevity test‘ and learned that I could add 8.6 years to my life by doing the things I already know I should be doing – dropping junk foods (yes, the organic vegetable grower suffers with this too) and incorporating more whole grains and beans.

The research and test got my thinking about our community too. Looking around our food environment with a critical eye, I can find loads of places for improvement, but I also think that Lakes Country is positioned to be the Blue Zone of the Upper Midwest. We are surrounded by recreation, nature, and a bunch of walking trails like the North Country Trail are coming online. There is a sense of ‘small-town’ community still that does engender involvement and volunteering…like Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, a person can’t hide from their neighbors. In our food landscape, I see the success of  Manna Food Co-op in DL and the traffic at our farm stand as good signs.

If we only could tilt our images of lakes country a bit, I think we can get into blue zone territory. Associate an ‘evening on the lake’ more with a rowboat or kayak instead of a boozy pontoon ride. Or fresh salads in season rather than just burgers and mayo-drenched noodles when we think of a picnic. It’s possible. I can see it.

In the box:

  • Trinity Sweet Corn: This is barely ready…I’m sure some are a bit too immature (depending on how you like your corn), but I found enough ripening this morning that I needed to start the harvest.
  • Green Cabbage: Keep an eye out for cabbage looper worms. I did my best to take them off, but they are expert at hiding.
  • Bunch of Beets: If you’d like to try them roasted – https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-beets-recipe-1925366
  • Green Beans: Keeping with the Blue Zones theme…https://www.bluezones.com/recipe/pasta-and-green-beans/
  • Fresh Thyme
  • Italian Parsley
  • Broccoli
  • Islander Purple Pepper: This pepper works best eaten fresh since it loses its color when you cook it.
  • Sweet Onion
  • Cucumber

Why a Workshare?

This week, I thankfully have a guest columnist because it’s 7:30 am on Monday and I have a long road to travel to get this box out. Luke Preussler has been helping me on the farm since this April, both learning the ropes of commercial vegetable production and just giving me a hand. Thanks, Luke.

Luke writes:

As a healthcare professional, and a graduate student in community development, I am increasingly aware of the urgent need for nutrient dense, local food in our communities. While visiting one of Detroit’s urban farms last year, I learned a new word: “foodish.” This term describes what the industrial food system supplies to millions of households in the United States each week: a foodish product that may only meet the minimum criteria for “food.” Processed and preserved, with lots of sugar added (of course), the machine churns out more foodish product then we could possibly eat in this country. (Which leads to a lot of waste—a topic for another day).

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Luke Preussler

As a 2017 transplant from a large metro area out of state, moving to west central MN brought a new outlook on agriculture. Because of the diligent work of organizations like the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota and Land Stewardship Project (among many others), I am encouraged that the future of food and ag in our state does not have to be factory or corporate. Food security and food sovereignty are finding new partnerships in otherwise unexplored areas. Healthcare systems, for example, are paying more attention to the value of local food, not only for healthy eating but for local economic growth and environmental benefits. The work is just beginning but I am optimistic that, if trends become traditions, we will have a sustainable future in local food where social, economic, and environmental justice come together.

For this reason, and many others, I asked Ryan to take a risk on this city slicker for Lida Farm’s 2019 growing season. We agreed to a CSA workshare. I know the value of eating well for my family. As CSA members, we support our local farmers, environment, and the economy. And we get to eat well in community with one another. For this I am grateful.

In the box:

  • Green Cabbage
  • Green Onions
  • Fresh Fennel: This is this week’s oddball. It looks like a mutant hairy celery 🙂 See Early Morning Farm for ideas
  • Beets
  • Lettuce: A couple Saladnova varieties that
  • 1-2 Summer Turnips: They look like a white radish and you’d eat the same way. You can peel, slice and add to salads or just eat as is with some salt like a Kohlrabi.
  • A couple Cucumbers

I like that Jamie Oliver’s kids chews on the fronds as ‘bubblegum’ in this video….sorry I didn’t include the roots 🙂

Lost Tools

I’m certain that I write on this topic each year – lost tools. This is probably because I use this blog as my therapy where I ruminate out loud about my shortcomings and frustrations.

“Mar, have you seen the wheelhoe?”

“Well, I don’t know, where did you last use it?”

“Over by the lettuces we planted in the north field last week….I swear”

I tramp back to the same place I already looked, thinking it will now magically appear.  So I walk around the perimeter of the north field thinking that I would have left it at the end of the bed. Since we haven’t mowed around the garden, if it were there, I would be under grasses and weeds four-feet tall. No dice. 

After going through the packing shed, old high tunnel, barn, milkhouse, and the edge of the front field, I recruit my son, Will. “OK, I’ll walk along this side, you go along the other side of the field.” So, we walk the perimeters of the north field (again.  I’m sure it’s here!), front field, and the back field. Will didn’t find the wheelhoe, but Will came back with a cup, a pair of gloves, and my hand hoe. I also found my 5-lb hammer in the tomatoes. Partial successes.

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Can you spot the wheel hoe?

I relieve Will of his duties. I’m now over 30 minutes into this goose chase and I give it one last push as I scour the out-of-the-way places. Visibly agitated, I mutter to myself as I stomp around by the winter greenhouse and kick around weeds growing in the backyard. This is when the voice of my dad comes in my mind, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” I wish, dad. I tell myself that after this escapade, I’ll create this organization that will be the envy of the organic community…I’ll write books about my system and give workshops. Forget it, I give up. Mind you that the wheel hoe is 5-feet long and painted red. This place isn’t that big.

I go back to saving some herbs, pulling weeds by hand. Working 10 minutes, and, eureka, I know the location of the wheelhoe! 10 beds over, between a row of corn and onions, there is sits. Alleluia. I finally get down to business and attempt to clear out the bed for a couple hours. I go in for lunch and leave the wheelhoe where I last used it, destined to repeat the process in a couple days.

In the box:

 

Work and Rewards

Do you remember that first big item you bought with your own money when you were still a kid? For me, my first car comes to mind. After saving up something like $1,600, my friend Dusty and I searched classifieds until we found a white Ford Escort across town. It was a basic car, but, as I drove it home, I remember thinking that this was mine, not from the generosity of my parents, but because I had logged hours bagging groceries at Hugo’s to afford it myself. It was satisfying. Maybe even empowering.

Willem and his new kayak

In past years, we’ve corralled the kids to help us on individual projects or when we wanted to make a big push out in the fields. I’ve always felt that the kids should be paid for their efforts on the farm because, unlike work in the house, farmwork is a business and should pay. In the past, I would normally say, “How about you help me weed this carrot bed and I’ll pay you $10?” Weeks would go by and I’d ask how much I owed them and nobody seemed to remember all the times and amounts.

This year, however, we’ve created a more formal system. We’ve instituted a standard rate of five dollars an hour and the kids keep track of all their hours on a chart on the fridge. Will has been especially motivated because he has been so keen on buying a kayak to paddle around our pond. After a couple months work, he researched and purchased the kayak himself. Sylvia, on the other hand, is a really penny-pincher, and only looking to stockpile even more funds for some future purchase. Graham has very modest goals such as saving up for a new lego set. When he reaches his $8 goal, he promptly walks out of the field and wants to spend his earnings the day of. Well, we all have our own goals right?

Maree has yet to see any payment for all the hours she’s logged 🙂

 

In the box:

  • Italian Parsley
  • Zucchini 
  • Kohlrabi: Peel, slice, salt, and eat. Pretty simple.
  • Snap Peas 
  • Radishes
  • Kale: See recipe below
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Broccoli Shoots
  • Garlic Scapes: Mince and use where ever you would use garlic.

Kale Caesar Salad with Creamy Parmesan Dressing

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The Body and Farming

As I sit here this morning, I ache. My hands a bit sore. My neck kind of tense. I may chalk up the feeling to my getting older (I’m 42), but I remember feeling the exact same way at the end of June when I was a 26-year-old apprentice. Instead, I simply acknowledge that my body acclimating to the season, just as it’s done for 18 farm seasons.

Jon_Solinger_Photo_07581_August 29_ 2014-EditYou see, I’ve observed the same progression year after year. The spring is work, but of a different flavor than summer. Spring work is quite mental and preparatory as I worry about seeding schedules and planting times. Tilling the ground and popping in some seeds isn’t strenuous at all. Now, however, it gets physical. Starting in June, vegetable farming becomes all hoeing, hand weeding, and harvesting. Three to four of us invested eight hours yesterday doing nothing but weeding onions-the job is still incomplete-and that was after some recreational hoeing in the morning and before picking peas and setting up for the boxes.

I don’t write about my being tired and sore looking for sympathy. I write about this experience because, in my mind, I’m telling the story of most of human history. From the fertile crescent until this century, we shared this season of labor. This ramping up of physical work fits the flow of the calendar and the natural seasons of the year. The light and heat of summer confers the energy we need to give a big push of effort, which, for a lot of history, was necessary for survival. If you didn’t move in July to make hay, you literally starved in January.

Our bodies adjust. My own aches subside as I chug through July, and, by the end of August, I’m all wiry with a really strong grip. It feels good to get on the other side. It also feels good to relax on the deck in a cool October. For that season will come too.

In the box:

  • Snap Peas: Edible pods…just eat them, don’t shell them.
  • Broccoli
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Radishes
  • Curly Westlander Kale: The bunch with a blue band.
  • Spinach: Big and green with a pink end. This is a full-sized savoy-type spinach.
  • Baby Arugula: The small oakleaf-shaped green. We grew this under a row cover, so I’m happy to report minimal holes in this crop from flea beetles (unlike in the mixed greens last week).
  • Garlic Scapes: These are shoots off of hardneck garlic which you can use in a recipe to replace garlic.

Seasonally Challenged

Well, we’re back again for another season, a well-worn path by this time. Starting the season takes not just a shift in schedule, but also perspective. Since a box must go out each week, I need to continually focus on the many moving parts of the operation. I obsess over details of each crop, weather captures my attention, and stringing together many small tasks each day seems to consume all my time. Alas, the life of a vegetable farmer. At the same time, I celebrate the rituals to starting up the farm for another season. Setting up the packing shed. Trellising in the high tunnel. Even assembling the 2019 member email list.

Ryan with newly set up packing area
Wash Tubs and crates clean and set up for a new season

The big story so far this year has been the weirdest start of the season that I’ve ever experienced. Snow in May, followed a mini-drought with 90-degree heat, and lately the coldest and driest June I can remember. We thankfully have started to receive some rain in the past five days, which makes a big difference. The effects of this strange weather, however, have already been felt on the crops.

For 15 years I’ve always had garlic scapes in the first CSA box. This year I can’t find a single garlic scape emerging in the field (a scape is a shoot that comes off the greens of the garlic plant). Since garlic is planted in the fall, this is clear evidence that it’s not my disorganization in planting, but actually the weather which has set back crops. Only now are peas laying on flowers and early crops like broccoli and cauliflower plants are just not to their usual size. Arghh! You can see why I pushed back the start date a week. But ‘the show must go on’ and we managed to scour the fields to get something out the door.

The life of the vegetable grower, however, isn’t all stress. It can be magical. I think about the summer solstice last week when we weeded onions until dark. Walking away from the field with the smallest touch of light still hanging around, I felt great. My hoe slung over my shoulder, I walked by clean rows of onions to join my family rounding the woodshed and heading to the house. As we climbed the hill, I looked over the back field. A sense of togetherness and accomplishment sat in my heart. On this longest day of the year, we were my ancestors, a peasant family engaged in the oldest of traditions. This is the magic of farming as a family that I feel grateful to experience.

In the box:

  • Green Leaf Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard
  • Baby Bok Choy: These are not the prettiest I’ve grown (flea beetles got out of control in our mini drought), but should cook up well. See video below or at https://youtu.be/UvMAAYtYPDw
  • Spring Greens Mix: This is mix with a nutty frisee (endive), spicy arugula, and lettuce. Dress with a lemon-based dressing (https://tastykitchen.com/recipes/salads/a-simple-spicy-arugula-salad/). Frisee is my favorite green. I sat down last night with a bowl of this mix and simply a lemon, olive oil, and salt and pepper.
  • Sprig of Basil

Springtime Planting Gamble

Snow greeted me last Thursday as I sped down I-94 – SNOW! This experience gave me a little pause as I looked at our broccoli and cauliflower plants suffering in their trays, running out of fertility. Last weekend’s sunshine and warmth sealed the deal, however, and we planted all weekend in earnest. Nearly 800 broccoli plants and 400 lbs of potato seed joined kale, swiss chard, and cauliflower in the ground. Whether we see snow again or not, the field season’s begun and there’s no turning back.

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Friends often ask me considerate and caring questions this time of year about spring planing progress. I appreciate their interest, yet, I always need to confess that I both love and hate this time of year. It feels good to get started after the preparation mind game which is early spring. But getting something in the ground is only as satisfying as scratching an itch. I’m mostly anxious until all things are in. The sound of my neighbor’s tractors running all day and night as they plant seeds gives me a feeling like I should be doing more than I am. And if I miss a window of time before a rain I beat myself up for doing so.

But experience helps this time of year. This is year 15 at Lida Farm and I’ve seen all sorts of, shall-we-say “sub-optimal” spring planting activities. Potatoes planted in soil with a texture of small boulders. Tomatoes first in about June 14 in a very rainy spring. Cucumbers frozen out at the end of May. Even with these past mishaps the season carried on successfully. I remind myself no matter how late or poorly a planting season seems to go, rains still come and so does sunshine. Things get done, so take it easy.