Saturday, August 15, 2015

Spontaneous Farming

I love the world of sustainable agriculture.  It attracts a great cast of actors few other fields can claim.  Organic agriculture attracts serious foodies, left-wingers in search of utopia, Christian home-schoolers, reformed hippies, would-be hippies, people who like to wear plaid, feminist crusaders, and, well, people who just like to eat tomatoes that taste better than cardboard.  It's a wild mix of passionate people who feel that agriculture holds a key to unlock many of the challenges which currently challenge us, including community dissolution, climate change, and healthcare to name a few.  I believe organic ag holds an important place to improve our world as well, otherwise I wouldn't be spending long hours in a the blazing heat to make this work.

A great example of this attraction came last week when my friend Zach and I were getting ready to harvest our garlic crop on Sunday.  It was a nice surprise when I found that a few folks who were traveling cross country caught up with Zach and decided to lend a hand for the day.  I doubt the same crew would have helped on a plumbing job or cashiering at the local big box.  Instead of just three of us digging up garlic by hand we had six, which makes a huge difference when pulling in over 1,000 heads. 
Garlic Harvest 2015 with Zach, Ryan, Loren, and our cross-country roadtripping friends
In the CSA box: 
Sun Jewel Melon: Yellow oblong things with white stripes. This is a Korean white-fleshed melon.  It's ripe, but is made to be eaten when firm.  
Roma Tomatoes
A Red Slicing Tomato
1-2 Heirloom Tomatoes: Some got a variety called German Pink (huge tomaotes) while others got Cherokee Purple variety (dark purple and green in color).  These are not for cooking, but best eaten fresh.
Biscayne Pepper: A light green and long pepper.  This is a sweet pepper.  
Big King Arthur Pepper
Dozen Sweet Corn 
Westlander Kale
Bunch of Carrots
Merino Garlic: This is still officially fresh garlic since it hasn't cured.  You may find it a bit stronger than garlic which is completely dried down. 

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Sweet Corn is Here

It's always a great time of year when sweet corn comes in.  Even your Uncle Ed who calls all vegetables 'rabbit food' and eats only potatoes gets in the act of seaching the neighborhood for corn.  Farm stands pop up on roadsides with hand-made signs like 'sweet corn, picked today.'  

Although this has been a long-time American tradition, the corn business is changing a bit now that GMO sweet corn is becoming more popular because it's easier to grow.  At this time, most sweet corn is still non-GMO ( as people plant tried-and-true varieties.  At Lida Farm, as certified organic growers, we are 100% non-GMO and pesticide free (all certified organic is non-GMO since GMOs are not allowed at all under organic standards).  If you're getting a hankering for more sweet corn, we've started to put a few dozen at a time on the farm stand (open 24/7 til October).

In the CSA box:
Sweet Corn: I'm the guy who is alway on people's case about not over-boiling sweet minute and turn off the heat.  Still, I really like roasted or grilled sweet corn:
Green Pepper
'Islander' Purple Pepper or 'Blanco' White Pepper
Big Sweet Onion
Swiss Chard
Yellow Beans: See recipe below
Red Tomatoes
'Orange Blossom' Tomato

Garden Bean Salad from Food Network Kitchen

1 small red or sweet onion, finely diced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
Kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 15 -ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 pound green and/or wax beans, trimmed and halved
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Freshly ground pepper

Soak the diced onion in cold water, 10 minutes.

Whisk the vinegar, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl, then whisk in the olive oil. Drain the onion and pat dry, then add to the dressing. Stir in the white beans.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the green and/or wax beans and cook until crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain the beans, then plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again, pat dry and add to the salad. Marinate at room temperature, tossing occasionally, about 1 hour.

Before serving, stir the parsley and chives into the salad and season with salt and pepper

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:
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):
'Alisa Craig' Sweet Onion: This one is pretty mild as far as onions go
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 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:
  • 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

  • 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
  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.