Friday, July 31, 2015

Cows, Milk, and Vegetables

This week we took possession of a beautiful Jersey cow we named Beatrice.  Our cow from last year, Peanut, just couldn't get pregnant, so we had to make the decision to bring her to the butcher.

Our new Jersey, Beatrice
It's been quite a while now since we dried up Peanut and stopped milking, so it's been a chore getting back into swing of things.  At this point we're milking two times a day with portable milking machine I picked up a few days ago; it's almost a necessity since she's giving five gallons of milk a day!

With all the other stress we have going on with the other many moving parts of the farm, one would rightfully ask, "Why are you milking a cow?  Don't you already have enough to do?"  Well, yes, we certainly do have enough to do already, but a milk cow is a real cornerstone for a small farm like ours.  The operative word is "complementary"...the cow complements the other activities on the farm and the other enterprises we operate.

These are the major resources a family milk cow brings:

  • Manure: We manured our entire 2 acres where we grew produce last fall and winter with manure from Peanut.  We didn't have to haul it down a highway or pay anybody for the material or service.  Last year's back field was a disaster, really lacking fertility and tilth.  What cured it?  You guessed it...manure.
  • Animal feed: Other animals like milk just as much as humans.  Whether milk that went bad or whey from making cheese, any excess we can't use goes to our layers, broilers, dog, and pigs, especially the pigs...they will kill for milk.  This cuts down feed bills and makes for a healthier animal.  This doesn't even count the calf we'll raise with the cow.  Last year's calf brought in some much needed money in the middle of the winter after going to auction.  
  • Any dairy product you can imagine: We drink milk, make cheese, half and half, whipping cream, cream cheese, sour cream, butter milk, kefir, butter...need I go on? 
  • Companionship: A family milk cow is different from other livestock.  She becomes a member of the family, spending time every day brushing her and talking with her.  Sorry, pigs, I don't feel the same way about you :) 
  • Beauty: I always say, we only do pretty produce, but, really, we aspire to make as beautiful a place as possible.  There's nothing more beautiful than a Jersey grazing on a dewey early-morning pasture or head down at sunset.  Ah...that's why we do this.  
In the box:
  • Tomatoes!  Hey, they have finally come in.  Everybody got a pint of cherry tomatoes and a 1-2 early varieties.  The orange variety is called 'Orange Blossom' and the yellow variety is called 'Taxi.'
  • Beets: A mix of either traditional red with Chiogga (Bright red on outside) or Touchstone Gold
  • Celery: This is the best celery I've ever grown.  MN celery typically gets tough and stringy, but this isn't that way...the ribs are big and full of flavor (sorry, California, your celery tastes like water). 
  • 'Westlander' Kale
  • A 'Red Long of Tropea' and a 'Alisa Craig' or 'Walla Wall' Sweet Onion
  • A Cucumber 
  • 'Norland' Potatoes

Friday, July 24, 2015

Beautiful in the Heart of Darkness

As I write this in our porch, I'm looking over the front field.  It's a beautiful site as swallows dive over the nicely trellised tomato plants and green sweet corn.  The sun is out, but it's pretty cool for a day in July with a nice breeze.  Even with all this beauty around me, I'm still in that July state of mind, what my former mentor called the 'heart of darkness.'

July is a time when small weeds turn into 4-foot tall monsters overnight and produce harvest is something you need to do each and every day just to keep up.  It's the time that can really wear out market gardeners like me when every hour is consumed with the battle against the weeds or trying to keep up on cucumbers.  I've been doing this enough in my life to know, however, that things will begin to slow down in August when we give up on pulling weeds and planting new crops.  I should at least slow up enough to stop and watch these birds near my house for a spell.  Should we all keep things in perspective.

In the box:
'Imperial' Broccoli: A lot of these heads turned out to be huge.
Fennel: This one can throw people for a loop, but it's great sauteed with other veggies.  Here's a recipe from Simply Recipes: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/caramelized_fennel_and_onions/
A couple Cucumbers
A couple Yellow Summer Squash: Cook up and use however you like your zucchi done.
A smattering of Lettuce: I scraped the fields to find a mix of lettuces to fill the boxes this week.
Sweet 'Alisa Craig' onion
Green Beans 
'Norland' Red Potatoes



Friday, July 17, 2015

Tomatoes Around the Corner

A few days ago we experienced one of the best moments of the year: eating the first tomatoes.  They were orange Sungold cherry tomatoes in the high tunnel, and, man, they were good.  I'm not letting you know this to torture you, but let you know that they are coming soon.

Rainbow at Lida Farm after Yesterday's Rain
The challenge with packing 50 boxes each week, however, is that you need a really large quantity to make sure something can get to each of you.  At this point there's probably 6-7 pints of cherry tomatoes and that's about it, certainly not enough to supply the CSA this week, but, I hope, next week.  

In the box: 

Napa Cabbage: This is a monster cabbage.  These were so big we did some serious trimming back in the field and they still took up most of the box.    One thing we do is make into an Asian salad.   Allrecipes has a video recipe similar to what we've made before (sorry you have to watch an ad first): http://allrecipes.com/video/3111/napa-cabbage-salad/detail.aspx
Kohlrabi
'Alisa Craig' Sweet Onion: This one is pretty mild as far as onions go
Parsley
Summer Squash: Every one has at least one Zucchini and some have Yellow Summer Squash.  One recipe idea that I love are using the summer squash to make fritters.  Grate the summer squash and mix in with 2-3 eggs plus salt and pepper and some chopped onion.  Fry in a pan til each side browns a bit and firms up, like a pancake.  You can dress with cheese and/or salsa. I like these for breakfast.  
Cucumbers: First time for cukes in the Friday box!  There are two kinds here.  The light green/white ones are fully grown out pickling cukes and the dark green are a slicer variety called 'Marketmore'  I've found the skin on the pickling cukes to be a bit tough and bitter at times, so I suggest you peel them.  
'Provider' Green Beans; You know it's summer when these guys arrive. 


Friday, July 10, 2015

How to Deal with Produce

Sometimes I've found that people sign up for a CSA or take stuff home from a farmers market and it ends up going bad on them, not necessarily because the veggies weren't fresh, but because they didn't know how best to store the food.

We grow a lot of variety of produce.  With all that diversity, you learn that different plants like different conditions.  Not everything likes to sit in your crisper drawer in your refrigerator.  One such a plant is basil  I get a lot of questions about to keep basil from turning black.  Bottom line: Don't Put into the Fridge....it will go black.  I made this video to explain a couple ways to store basil in this weeks box:

Also find this week's farmcast where I explain about different produce in the box:

In the Box:

  • Bunch of Beets: Greens are looking good, so try cooking these up.  This one looks good...hey it uses bacon: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/beet_greens/
  • Kohlrabi
  • Green Cabbage 
  • Summer Squash (maybe a zucchini, maybe yellow summer squash)
  • Green Onions 
  • Small Head of Lettuce: Either a Red Butterhead type or Greenleaf type
  • Basil 



Friday, July 03, 2015

Our American Tradition of Agriculture

As we approach July 4th, all of us reflect on our nation and its history.  For many, our minds turn to our founding fathers, the Revolutionary War, and the Declaration of Independence.  My mind, of course, goes to farming.

At the time of independence, we were a country of farmers.  Part of the myth of our founding was that we were a nation of yeomen, freemen who farmed small plots of ground.  We all know that we were also a nation of plantations and slavery, but, mainly due to the writings of Thomas Jefferson, that's not the ideal we were handed down.  This Jeffersonian ideal of democracy built on the free association of hard-working free people remains an inspiration to many, myself included.  The yeoman farmers of yesterday were not serfs under the thumb of some Lord or Duke, but free and independent operators with a stake in their local governments and development.

Family from 80s farm crisis, Daily Globe
If small family farms were the bedrock on which our democracy was based, we have been in trouble for a long time.  For my entire life-I was born in 1977-family farms have been in retreat.  I clearly remember the farm crisis of the 1980s when Willie Nelson took the stage at Farm Aid and America's attention was turned to farm families' struggles.  Farm auctions and foreclosures blanketed the evening news.  Although the attention waned with time, the trend of family farm loss continued.  Instead of being a nation of independent yeoman farmers, it's hard not to feel like we've become a nation of farmers on contract to our overloads of Tyson, Smithfield, Cargill, and Monsanto.

Despite this doom and gloom, at least those of us in the sustainable agriculture communtiy still have hope.  There are many more farm operations like our own making a living today because people like you chose to buy your food directly from the farmer  It may sound Pollyanna-ish, but I firmly believe these simple choices are making a real difference in keeping that dream of family farm alive.

In the Box:

  • Garlic Scapes: These are the tops of garlic which can be  used in substitute for green onions or garlic. See recipe below for an idea.
  • French Breakfast Radishes
  • 'Farao' Green Cabbage 
  • Snap Peas: Don't shell these...just eat the whole thing
  • 'Lacinato' Kale: Dark green with a blue band 
  • A couple small heads of lettuce
  • Broccoli or Cauliflower: Most of you got cauliflower, but we had to substitute in broccoli in some boxes
  • Basil
Garlic Scape Carbonara from sarahcucinabella.com

INGREDIENTS
  • ½ lb campanella pasta, or shape of your choosing
  • 4 slices bacon (about 3¼ ounces), chopped
  • ¼ cup garlic scapes, cut into ¼ inch coins
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup freshly grated Romano cheese
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Set a pot of water to boiling on the stove and cook the campanella pasta (or desired shape).
  2. While it's cooking, cook the bacon over medium heat until browned. Remove the bacon pieces with a slotted spoon and add the garlic scapes. Cook until soft (2-3 minutes). Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. (Drain both the bacon and the garlic scapes on a paper towel).
  3. Whisk together the eggs, salt and red pepper flakes.
  4. When the pasta is done, quickly remove it from the stove and set a different burner to low heat. Drain the pasta and add it back to the pot, on the burner set to low. Stir in the garlic scapes and bacon. Add the egg mixture and stir feverishly for 3-4 minutes until sauce is thick and creamy. Don't let it overcook or it will be gloppy. Sprinkle the Romano cheese in, a little at a time, and stir to combine. Don't add it all at once or it won't mix throughout the pasta as well (since it will clump).
  5. Serve immediately.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Tribute to Good Neighbors

There is a long tradition of neighborliness amongst farmers.  In many respects this is something we look back on in nostalgic terms as if it is something which our parents or grandparents enjoyed in the good ol'days, but none of us really know about today.  Today this phrase "good neighbor" means being friendly and helping out every once in a while, doing something like watching a dog or picking up somebody's mail.

In farm country this had a different, more significant meaning.  A good neighbor was somebody who had just as many things to do as you, but dropped all of them to lend a hand.  And I don't mean a small job, I'm talking about 8 -10 hours of labor to put up hundreds of bales of hay in blazing heat to beat a rain or helping to pull a calf at some crazy hour of the night in the cold of winter.  That kind of neighborliness was done because all of us depended on it. Those kinds of assitance paid off in the end because dedicating a day to your neighbor would get repaid when you were in need yourself.  The community of growers was richer, not in a strictly montery was, but because the strong bonds built through work side-by-side.

That kind of work exchange which was almost necessary for survival amongst the small diversified dairy farms which covered Otter Tail and Becker Counties is just as voluntary a 'nice thing to do' as amonst any towndweller.  After all, most farms today are as automated as most manufacturing plants.  Who needs their neighbor?

In spite of all this, we are blessed with farm neighbors who still carry on the best sense of the term.  This weekend I have a neighbor who volunteered to lay cement block for a couple days to repair a barn wall destroyed in a rainstorm last year.  This is time worth hundreds of dollars and all he wants for payment is a nice dinner and help moving block.  I've had neighbors borrow us equipment, mow ditch embankments, herd our animals when escaped, birth lambs, plow entire fields who have asked for nothing in return.  I owe them all and would do whatever I could whenever they need it.   I think that's the feeling we should all have to build a real neighborhood.  

In the Box:
  • Sugar Snap Peas (please don't shell these...just eat them)
  • Radishes
  • Head of Romaine Lettuce
  • Bunch of Westlander Kale
  • Italian Flat Leaf Parsley
  • A few Baby Bok Choy
  • Scallions aka Green Onions
  • Spinach

Friday, June 19, 2015

Solstice for Dads

This year Fathers Day and the summer solstice co-incide, but I don't put any kind of great significance behind it (after all, my favorite stat is that Father's Day was the #1 day for collect calls, back when we had collect calls).  But, as a grower, I always pay attention to the summer solstice since it holds some sway over the growing season.

It's kind of a love-hate relationship.  It's depressing to think that all days after this point get shorter and we're on the slow decline back into winter - terrible thought, I know.  However, I love getting on the other side of the solstice since plants become easier to deal  In the CSA box this week you'll find a lot of greens that have their birth in spring.  Pretty much all of them are light sensitive so they like to bolt as we approach the longest day of the year - a really difficulty for me as a grower!  You may have been perplexed when observing your own garden that something like a radish or lettuce or even a broccoli looked great one day and was trying to bolt and go to seed  the next.  That's the solstice for ya.  Few people believe me when I sing the praises of fall lettuces and cole crops because everybody thinks these are spring crops, but, due to the shorter days after the solstice, they mature much better from here on out, making me a little less anxious and farming just a bit easier.  

In the CSA box (Check out farmcast about the box): 
  • 'Rover' Radishes
  • Brasing Mix
  • 'Two Star' Green Head Lettuce
  • Arugula: Green with band in oak-leaf shape
  • Mizuna: Light green with jagged leaves
  • Swiss Chard: Stuff that looks like muli-colored rhubarb
  • Cilantro
  • Spinach: Loose, unbunched leaves

Simple Sauteed Braising Mix Recipe from Full Circle, a huge CSA on the west coast.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Yield: Serves 2-4


INGREDIENTS
  • 2 Tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 medium white onion or shallot, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ pound Braising mix (or make your own)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • ¼ cup stock or water
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • Salt and pepper
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. In a large, high-sided sauté pan, heat oil over medium high heat.
  2. When shimmering add onions and cook until translucent, about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and sauté briefly, stirring quickly to avoid browning, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add in braising mix, tossing to mix.
  5. Sprinkle with paprika and add stock, covering and reducing heat to low. Cook until lightly wilted, about another 3-4 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and sprinkle with lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and serve.