Friday, September 12, 2014

It's Official...Lida Farm is Certified Organic

One of our major undertakings this year besides building this deep winter greenhouse and root cellar has been going through organic certification.  This is a process where we lay out for a third-party certification agency (ours is OCIA) lots of details about how we farm and exactly what inputs and materials (fertilizers, seeds, etc) we use to produce crops for the last three years.  Certification is pretty much the only way to obtain the label and right to the term organic.  Together with this paperwork we get inspected by that agency to make sure we are doing what we say we are doing and make sure that our inputs fit organic standards.

This sound simple enough, but what I realized is that how we grow is very complex.  Staff at OCIA said that most people's paperwork comes in at about 25 pages, ours was 110 pages.  This is due to the large number of types of crops and how we handle each one.  For example, we grew 393 different seed varieties in the past three years and have nearly 75 vegetable beds, many of which we treat quite differently due to the different crops grown in each.  An organic row crop farm may have 4 or 5 seeds and treat an entire 40 acre field the same.

All told, however, I feel really good about finally coming around to certifying.  After thinking about certifying for many years, I realized this is still the best way to assure you and all others that we take organic production very seriously and grow with integrity.  No longer do I have to yammer for 5 minutes about each of our farm practices when asked if our stuff is organic at a farmers market.  It's the real deal.  Receiving this official certificate in the mail this week, I felt quite proud.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Pretty Stressful Week

Many think that organic farmers like us live an idyllic life, watching over sheep in fields at sunset and waxing poetic about whole grains and our stewardship of earth.  Although we have done these things, this week certainly didn't give us moments of ponder and relaxation.  Instead, I was thinking that this may have been one of the most stressful weeks of farming ever.

A few overlapping projects and circumstances came together to make this a week to remember.  The primary stress was the weather, as I'm sure you may have experienced yourself.  We received hail not once, but twice this week,, both Monday and Thursday. The biggest issue, however, was the 4 inches of rain which poured out of the sky in two hours.  Thursday morning I woke up at 3:30 to close up the high tunnel so it didn't blow away, spent an hour sopping up water in the basement with a sponge, pulled the battery on our van since it rained so much in the open windows that the horn was stuck in the "on" position, and saw that the north wall of the barn collapsed on my way out to my dayjob at seven.  Whoa!

The rain also bowed out the bottom of the greenhouse we're constructing and put a small lake in our front field, putting under water the carrots we planned on harvesting and once again drowned the potatoes which should have gone in the box this week.  This all happened under the backdrop of starting delivery to the new food hub in Fergus Falls on Wednesday, getting a new batch of chicks, all the usual harvesting and produce orders, and greenhouse construction in our spare time (which this week entailed a form a prison labor shoveling rock).

Man, I'm getting tired, but at least this espresso is kicking in and the sun is shining.  I know it's going to be alright and we'll press right on through these challenges, the farm season, and all our projects just fine.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Become a part of the movement to make local foods available year-round!

Lida Farm is now embarking on a project to build an efficient and low-energy solar greenhouse to take our CSA to into the depths of winter.  Over the next 30 days we're running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project.  If you'd like to see clean energy and local foods come together to produce something great, please contribute: http://kck.st/1peQpEg

My semi-lame video tells the story:

Friday, August 22, 2014

High Season Extravaganza

A member favorite: cherry tomato mix
Walking around the garden this week, I stumbled upon a sight of high season I just adore: ripe melons!  They just kind of crept up on me.  I've been keeping an eye on them since July growing in the vines, but it seemed like it would still be a while.  I couldn't believe these guys were ready.  I immediately walked in my house and looked at the calendar: August 20!  Really? 

I tell this story not as evidence of my being out of touch, but to illustrate how I'm just as taken aback as anybody by how quickly summer comes and goes around here.  I'm just guessing that you feel the same.  I swear we were just setting plants in the ground a few weeks ago, but here we are with the end of the growing season in sight (we almost always have a frost in mid-Sept).

Even though time is flying by, this is still an exciting time on the farm - a time of the year when we are just running to keep up.  All of the high season crops are in: tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, potatoes.  Each day we go out to the fields and spend hours simply harvesting, pulling in thousands of pounds of ripe produce.  It's a great feeling to see that abundance!  This is also the time of year when we start preparing for next year, mowing down fields which are way too overgrown with weeds.  Boy, that is probably the most satisfying feeling ever for me.  Things go from a terrible mess to a clean field in a matter of minutes.  

In the CSA box: 
Sweet Corn: most of it is a yellow variety called "Bodacious" but there is some "Silver King" white corn, and some bi-color "Luscious" variety mixed in. 
Mix of Cherry Tomatoes: I love the look and taste of these new "Artisan" variety you'll see mixed in with cherry types.  They are oblong and have tiger stripes.  They also really pretty up the pint. 
A Couple Red Slicing Tomatoes: This is a traditional "Celebrity" variety, my old stand by. 
"Cherokee Purple" Heirloom Tomato: This is a great tomato for fresh eating, just slice and eat with salt.  Certainly don't cook with this guy, it would be a shame. 
"Norland" Red Potatoes
Carrots 
"Red Wing" Red Onion
"Fastbreak" Canteloupe: We were a little short, so a select few of you got a variety called "Sun Jewel" which is a white-fleshed Asian variety - a real nice melon with good sweetness but really firm. 
"New Orchid" Watermelon: This is a orange flesh variety, really nice. 
"Bianca" Peppers: Yes, they are white, but have the taste and work like a green. 
Small "Stonehead" Cabbage

Cabbage Succotash
from the St. Paul Farmers Market Produce Cookbook
3 ears fresh sweet corn, peeled
3 cups green cabbage, chopped
2 cups lima beans, cooked (you can certainly substitute some other bean)
2 T butter
1 medium onion, chopped 
1 1/2 t balsamic vinegar
1 t salt 
1/4 t pepper

In a large pot, cook corn in boiling water until tender, about 7 to 10 minutes.  Cut kernels off the cobs with a sharp knife. 

Steam cabbage until tender, about 7 to 10 minutes.  In a large skillet, heat butter and saute onion until soft.  Add the cooked corn kernels, cabbage, balsamic vinegar, and mix well.  Salt and pepper to taste.   

Friday, August 08, 2014

Deep Winter Greenhouse Production

Site for greenhouse and cabin we recently moved for future interns
We at Lida Farm are currently in our 10th year of vegetable production here in Otter Tail County.  Like any organization which reaches such a milestone, we began to ask ourselves what's next.  And, like many others who have been part of the local foods movement in the Upper Midwest, we've decided to extend our season to the extreme by building a deep winter greenhouse.  The idea is to build a structure which will allow us to grow some greens and crops which could do well not only is the cooler temperatures of winter, but the low light intensity as well.

Right now we have a really big hole in our backyard which is making us a bit nervous because it looks like a bigger project than we expected.  However, as soon as tomorrow we'll start framing a structure which will hold 10-inches of insulation in the walls and sit 5-feet below grade to take advantage of the constant moderate temperatures of the earth at that depth.  In the five feet below the soil, we'll have a network of tiling in rock and radiant floor tubing to keep the greenhouse above freezing, even through winters as nasty as the one we left behind in April.  Since we're digging a big hole in the hillside near our house, we also decided to incorporate a small root cellar as well - why not, right?  Our major plans are to offer a limited number of winter and fall CSA shares to provide members greens and storage root crops during the time of year we really crave some good produce.  

In this week's CSA box:
Sweet Corn: Hey, we made it!  It's a mix of varieties, including Bodacious (Yellow) and Luscious (a bi-color variety from organic seed)
A mix of tomatoes:  These are just starting to turn as well, but boy are we happy they are starting up.
Japanese Eggplant: These guys taste just like a standard Italian one and you prepare the same way.
Basil
Sweet Onion
Pepper: Most received a purple variety called Islander which tastes like a green one.  Others got a light-green variety called Biscayne
Summer Squash: Most received green zucchini, but some received a yellow type.

Recipe: Our suggestion is to simply grill everything.  Easy.  Delicious.  You can't go wrong.

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Week in-between the Seasons

I think of this week and the week in-between.  As I go out and scout the fields, I see a lot of tomatoes, but very few changing color.  I see many little eggplants, ears of corn not yet ripe or filled out, and peppers close, but not yet mature.  It always makes me both excited and anxious.  Excited for what's close to mature, and anxious because I really want to fill the CSA box with all these wonderful crops.  Typically the week in-between comes earlier, but, here we are, still waiting for these high-season crops at a the beginning of August.  When we look at the forecast, it sure looks like we're going to have some good growing weather with hot sunny days and nights in the 60's.


In the box:
Green Onions
Bunch of Beets
Mini-head of Romaine
Parsley
Kohlrabi
A couple Cukes
Salad Turnip
A little tomato or a pepper (I found a whopping 10 ripe tomatoes out there today, so I thought you would appreciate a sample anyway - everybody else received a Biscayne or Islander pepper)
Red Torpedo Onion
Sweet Onion


Friday, July 25, 2014

Beating Back the Weeds

Last night, like many a night before, we continued with our battle against really big weeds.  This time of year, in good soil, weeds like redroot pigweed and lamb's quarters turn into small trees with roots 6
Our Tine Weeder
inches in the ground.  When I should be looking over our onion field with row after row of beautifully-spaced and maturing white bulbs, I instead see a forest of green going to seed.  We got to this place this year from a wet spring which continued into early summer.  Oftentimes people think the major issue with lots of rain is that it sets back planting, but, on an organic farm like ours, the biggest challenge with a long, wet season is the inability to control weeds.  We use mechanical cultivation to take out weeds when they are just emerging.  Our cultivation equipment consists of an old Farmall H with shovels attached and a tine weeder which drags over the bed.  When not even able to walk on the totally saturated soils in June, we sure were not able to drive a tractor out there, and, once a full flush of weeds germinated at got to a good size, tractor cultivation doesn't do a great job of killing them.  So, it's come down to us, a lot of time, and our hands.  After a few weeks, I feel we are starting to win this war of attrition as we reclaim territory row by row.  It certainly is a great sight when I get to the end of a bed and can look back over the uncovered plants - ah, relief!  Recently rescued crops include the second planting of beans and a pretty bed of carrots.  

It was nice to see some members last week who came out picking peas.   But I know a lot of members still haven't been out.  Please know you are welcome and I'd be happy to show you the sights.  Got kids, maybe they'd like to see the pigs or give Peanut, the milk cow, a leaf of hay?  If you are in the neighborhood, stop on by.  Sunday's are typically good as we are almost always around.  

I hope you've been enjoying the "early season" veggies (hard to believe I'm saying that at the end of July).  I saw some cherry tomatoes turning in the high tunnel a couple days ago and melons starting to swell on the vine.  Over the next couple of week, expect to start making a transition to high season as corn, tomatoes, and peppers begin to ripen.

In the box: 
Cilantro 
Dill 
Red or Green Leaf Lettuce
Dino Kale 
Cucumbers 
Green Beans: Most of these are a variety called Grenoble I really like because of their dark color and waxy texture.
Pattypan or Staightneck Summer Sqaush
Sweet Onion: A variety called Ailsa Craig

Simple Cucumber Salad
Simply in Season (page 100)

So many of us (myself included) always reach for vinegar and salt when preparing cucumbers for the table, but, with so many now coming in, here's a creamy version which will use a few things from the box

3 cups cucumbers, thinly sliced 
1/2 cup sweet onion, thinly sliced 
3/4 cup plain yogurt
1-2 tablespoons fresh dill weed (chopped)

Place cucumbers and onion in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt.  Let stand one hour.  Drain.  Add yogurt and dill and serve.