Friday, October 06, 2017

Finding Rest in a Time of Exhaustion

The most common question I field this time of year is "Well, Ryan, do you have the farm put to bed?" I like the idea of tucking the farm and all the tractors into some warm flannel sheets for the winter. Ridiculous, I know, but the language of 'bed' makes sense this time of year. Like the land, we as humans need a cycle of rest after a season of exhaustion - even if you don't farm yourself, you may feel this pull. After millenia of your ancestors slaving like crazy in summer to make enough food or money to survive a winter, the instinct is baked into your being, into your genes.

Last Year Washing Produce at Midnight
In many respects, today's world makes rest even more critical. Instead of listening to our bodies and tuning into the seasons, we charge forward with a long to-do list in one hand and a grande Starbucks in the other, all the while glued to a devise which tells us constantly that we need to buy more stuff. In this environment, we're not only missing the subtle seasonal cues to slow down, we're running roughshod over human biology daily.

Taking on the role of your odd uncle who gives unsolicited advice to anybody who will listen, I think we all need to find an activity to unplug us from our 21st century problems, plug us into the rhythms of our physical world, and find some limits (Does that sound new agey?). Normall by this time of year I'm typically spent, completely burnt out. Last fall I had a hard time walking down the driveway to get mail - it was just too much of a task. This year I could go another two months with CSA harvests and deliveries. With the risk of sounding too hippy, I chalk it up to a year's worth of daily morning yoga. That's the activity that takes me out of my head and paying attention to myself. After abusing my body for 14 years at Lida Farm, only now do I think that I've found some limits, and, even though I could keep this farm season rolling, I'm ready to embrace fall and hang it up for a while - maybe even take a sauna.

In the box:

  • Acorn Sqush 
  • Pie Pumpkin: Perfect with this gnocci recipe attached with the sage
  • Butternut Squash
  • Harelred Apples: Nice for sauce or baking
  • Yellow Onions
  • Fresh Sage 
  • Daikon Radish
  • Salad Mix 
  • A couple small Rutabagas
  • Bunch of Beets
  • Garlic
Awesome recipe Mar and I made this week - Gnocchi with Sage Butter:

Friday, September 29, 2017

Organic Inspection

We see the words "certified organic," and, for some, it's a total mystery. What does it mean to be certified? Who certifies that it's organic? Lida Farm's been certified organic for the last four years, so let me shed a little light.

Last week we had our organic inspection, which is a significant part to the certification process. In the spring I submit all planned inputs to our certification agency from any fertilizers to the brand of bleach we use to clean the sinks (it's from Fleet Farm, for the record). All inputs have to meet standards set in the 90's by USDA, so materials need to be non-synthetic. Also seeds need to be certified organic themselves, if available. Our certification agency, OCIA, reviews all these plans and the ingredients to all these inputs lets us know if they meet the USDA standards. Then, when the organic inspector comes, he wants to see evidence that these were the inputs we used and he's on the lookout for any chemical use on farm.

Our inspector this year was a guy named Eli. After a quick walk around the farm to look at the fields, our packing shed where we store crops, and the buffers between us and conventional fields, we spend a few hours sitting at my kitchen table, looking over seed packets, field history records, and the documents I submitted in the spring. Eli has me do an audit of five different crops to see if I can explain the whole chain from seed to sale to a customer - we do five because last year we 228 different varieties. I show in my records when I planted the variety, where on the farm it was planted, which inputs were used on that field, and where and when I sold that crop variety. Four acres seems small until you start tracking every bed in this way....  Anyway, I think we passed.

In the very full box:
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • A purple top turnip
  • Buttercup winter squash: green
  • Spaghetti winter squash: yellow
  • Red Kuri winter squash: the red one
  • Yellow onions
  • Garlic 
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Red cabbage 
  • Fresh thyme
  • Fresh rosemary
  • Westlander kale
  • Italia pepper
  • Bunch of beets
  • Cucumber
  • Friday, September 22, 2017

    Record Heat on First Day of Fall

    Last year NOAA declared 2016 the hottest year on record - the third consecutive annual heat record. That means 2014 was the hottest year on record before 2015, only to have the record broken again just the next year. The jury is still out on 2017. 

    As somebody who does vegetable production for part of my living, I pay close attention to weather and the overall change in weather trends, i.e., climate. I have observed a couple major trends since I started on this path over 15 years ago. One, the shoulder seasons have shifted. Summer's keep extending into fall and springs have typically had large stretches heat. Two, storm events are certainly more intense. I don't I need to explain this to anybody who lives in the area and you've certainly heard me point this out before. 

    I bring up climate today simply because the future of agriculture has been on my mind. I've been wondering if my children viably take on this place 30 years from now. Considering that modern agriculture developed over two millennia in a very stable climate, such a drastic change over the next few decades could prove untenable. Sure technology can give us tools to adapt, however, such deep rooted influences on crops such as insect and disease migrations will most certainly prove a challenge. All told, these climate shifts make me nervous at best. 

    In the box: 
    • Green Cabbage: Most received a half cabbage simply because they were too big to fit into the box. 
    • Buttercup Squash: Seems like most people's favorite type. Please store all winter squash in a dry, sunny location...that's where it does best. 
    • 2-3 Delicata Squash: The yellow ones with a green strip. 
    • Russet Potatoes
    • Canteloupe
    • A Couple Onions
    • A Mix of Colored Peppers
    • A Few Tomatoes
    • Carrots 
    • Thyme: Small bunch with red band.
    • Cucumber 
    • A Couple Small Corn: This came out of this last sad patch of corn. I figured we're far enough away from the main corn season that you'd appreciate even a couple stray ears. 

    Friday, September 15, 2017

    Farming isn't Wholesaling

    The world we live in today has what I call hyper-surplus. Lots of shopping happens in large big box stores with products piled 30-feet high or online where the likes of Amazon has virtually unlimited supply of anything. It's been well discussed that, in this environment, we've all been trained to get whatever we want whenever we want it - myself included.

    Over the years I've found that these expectations have bled into my own little business as well. I've gotten more incredulous reactions from people at the farmers market or on the phone when I tell people, "Sorry, I can't supply 50 lbs of beets...or, 5 bushels of tomatoes...or, 30 lbs of salad mix with a day's notice." It isn't that I'm keeping the good stuff all stored away in a warehouse and just choosing not to sell; that would be foolish. Indeed, if I had a warehouse of produce, you're darn right I'd sell any product at any quantity possible. But, this is where farming and wholesaling diverge - farming in general and Lida Farm in particular have very real limits. One, farming takes time. Two, land has limits of production, no matter how much agro-chemical companies try to tell us otherwise.

    Time: If a store run out of a product, it's simply time to re-order. If we run out of a vegetable, it's impossible to manufacture on the spot. I made the decision about how many celery plants to grow 80 days before harvest and there's no going back in time to fix it. The other time constraint is simply what it takes to harvest and prepare a vegetable. Today's salad mix, for example, took about two hours to harvest, wash, and bag - and this is just one of 12 crops in the box. Combine with juggling a farmers market and three farm stands, and it's a wonder we've been getting these boxes out mostly on time at all.

    Land: We grow produce on the four acres of tillage land which would actually work for vegetables on our 20-acre farm. We can certainly always do a better job of weeding and managing crops, but, let me assure you that no matter how well managed, an acre of produce can only produce so much stuff. Even with a very successful potato crop this year, we have at best 1,200 lbs left. Once they are gone, they are over until 2018. Even if we did a perfect job weeding, cultivating, and managing the crop, we might have 200 lbs more.

    Although these limits keep us from a few more sales, that's fine. I remind myself that we can only grow as fast as soil builds, which is quite a bit slower than our modern world generates pixels or robots manufacture goods. I also remind myself that I'm a human organism, which also has limits of time and energy, even a season not unlike plants. We should all remember that in this 24/7 world, our limits are not something to bemoan, but accept and celebrate because they make us humans, not machines.

    In the box:

    • Snap Peas: Edible pod...yes, these made their fall comeback 
    • Beans: Most received green, but some got yellow
    • Canteloupe
    • Delicata Squash: Yellow-striped sqaush. Good baked in oven dry. 
    • Acorn Squash: Great for stuffing. Try doing a stuff with breadcrumbs, the sage in the box, and bulk pork sausage. 
    • Russet Potatoes 
    • Cherry Tomato Mix
    • Fresh Sage
    • Red Onion
    • Yellow Storage Onion
    • Eggplant: Some received long Asian style, others traditional Italian style
    • Salad Mix
    • Poblano Peppers: Yes, these have some heat, but not much.

    Friday, September 08, 2017

    The Farm Tool that Gets a lot Done

    When you think of farm tools, what comes to mind? Hand hoes? Planters? Maybe red or green tractors? Yes, we use all those things and more at Lida Farm to raise a vegetable crop. Many farm tools and implements have a set season such as the transplanter, which gets its use in May and June and just patiently awaits next year for another round of action. However, one tool is used daily and is probably the most useful tool is one you would never think about: the iPod.

    Manual laborers the world over use music to keep the day moving along. It's fairly universal. I've heard radios blasting on Manhatten construction sites and in Tijuana auto body shops alike. Some workers like my dad like the constant background annoyance of AM news. My dad might be on vacation for two weeks and you could still probably hear Sid Hartman on the radio in the garage.

    Myself, I change up my music based on the needs of the day. Many a morning when I go out to do some easy chores, I listen to something chill and etherial like Gregory Alan Isakov or Jason Isbell (whom  I saw this week at Bluestem - thanks, Kelsey Wulf, for watching kids for our annual date night). General work throughout the day calls for some Grateful Dead and Ryan Adams numbers, but I have times when I really need some juice to get things done. In these instances-picture me pulling in 3,000 onions by myself or quickly cutting greens in the last 10 minutes before we have to rush off to the farmers market-I bring out some adrenaline-inducing noise: fast-paced electro-pop like Sylvan Esso, MGMT, and LCD Soundsystem or 3-chord rock n' roll like Faces and The Rolling Stones.

    So, we ought to thank the soil and sunshine for good produce, but every now and then we should also give a nod to role Mick Jagger played in getting in the crop.

    In the box:
    1. Roma Tomatoes: Not great for fresh eating, but certainly good cooked down in a sauce
    2. Cherry Tomatoes: Very good for fresh eating!
    3. Watermelon: Luck of the draw variety
    4. Canteloupe
    5. Cippolini Onion: This is my favorite onion..has lots of flavor. It's the flat one. 
    6. Sweet Onion
    7. Norland Red Potatoes
    8. A mix of sweet colored peppers
    9. Fresh Rosemary
    10. Black Spanish Radishes: You would peel the black outside of these radishes but use however you like any radish. It's cool looking. 
    11. A Couple Summer Turnips: You have two types, Scarlet Queet and Harurai (white). These are great fresh with just a little salt or salt plus a vinegar. You can also add to a salad to give it some crunch.

    Friday, September 01, 2017

    Changing Colors of Harvest

    Packing boxes for members on Tuesday, it was remarkable how red the box was. The Italia peppers, the tomatoes, the cherry tomatoes, the radishes....   Reflecting on the season, produce comes in waves of color as we move from the solid greens of spring to the yellows and purples in high season eggplant, corn, and Islander peppers. And, certainly, we still have before us the wonder and vibrant oranges of fall, maybe a brilliant red of fall salad mix and the golden mix of winter squash. 

    The kaleidoscope of a produce season is nothing short of a miracle, that even in this harsh climate of the Upper Midwest, we have such diversity in our eating. With this potential in our gardens, it's all the more depressing that the typical Midwestern diet consists of many shades of tan and brown. I've been selling and talking produce for a long time now and it never ceases to amaze me that fresh produce for MANY people is some kind of special, once or twice a year kind of thing. Lots of people buy sweet corn twice a year and then go back to their slumber of fried foods and frozen dinners...maybe they'll indulge in a stuffed acorn squash or buttercup in the fall. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised; it is the Midwest after all and starches and meat rule. 

    But I'm not one to give up. I have seen plenty of good changes in the diversity of diet we ought to celebrate. Thirteen years ago I literally gave away kale and heirloom tomatoes at our farmers market and today people often request them. My outlandish references to kimchi and Caprese salad don't elicit as many blank stares. I consider this progress. 

    In the box: 
    1. Italia Peppers: These are sweet, not hot (lots of people think long peppers are hot for some reason)
    2. Watermelons: I grow a mix of red, yellow, and orange varieties. It's the luck of the draw for what you received. 
    3. Cucumber
    4. Fresh Oregano or Marjoram: Random little bunch in the box.
    5. Sweet Onion
    6. Fresh shallot(s): A shallot look like a small red onion and you'd use the same as you would a red onion. 
    7. Tomatoes 
    8. Cherry Tomatoes: Hurrah, we finally got these in the box! That took a while.
    9. Radishes
    10. Eggplant: Most got a Japenese style, but some received these cute little variety called 'Fairy Tale' and some traditional Italian style. Don't worry, it's just an issue of shape and they will all taste like eggplant. 

    Ratatouille Recipe via video
    Looking at this box and thinking about what might still be in your refrigerator, please consider making ratatouille. It's kind of the french way to use up a bunch of veggies in season this time of year. I'm getting lazy with typing recipes, so below is a youtube of this French guy walking through a recipe - please substitute things, it'll turn out. For example, you could use the sweet onion or fresh shallots instead of the red he suggests. 

    Friday, August 25, 2017

    Short on Time

    Rain on the horizon again, backed up on harvest for tomorrow's farmers market, and frustrated by too many demands for time...what can I say? Just seems like life and we'll need to just take it as it comes. I've learned that's the best recipe rather than struggling to the point of exhaustion. I'm just going to have to skip whatever words of wisdom I had for today and get on with it.

    The box felt pretty light today as we transition from some bulky crops - maybe that's a relief to some just trying to work their way through the backlog of veggies in their fridge.   

    In the box: 
    • Carrots: Not the best carrots I've ever grown, but I'm happy they actually made it in the box! It's been a struggle with these guys this year. 
    • A Couple Leeks
    • Green Pepper
    • Two Anaheim Peppers: The long green peppers in the box - usually not as hot as a jalepeno. 
    • Tomato mix
    • Dill 
    • Cilantro 
    • Bag of Beans: Some received yellow and some green
    • Cucumber: Hope folks aren't sick of cucumbers...I figure one or two a weeks are probably just fine.

    Friday, August 18, 2017

    Rain again?

    "You've got to be kidding..." It's was the only kid-appropriate phrase that I could utter as I watched one more downpour in earshot of my children. After waiting for close to 6 weeks for the window to simply use the flail mower in the garden, I was more than frustrated - as of today, I still am.

    I have never experienced an August this wet ever. Typically the ground is hard as rock and dry around this time of year. This period allows those tomatoes and melons to mature and ripen. It's also an opportunity when we get to put some areas to bed, mow down the old crops and weeds and maybe chisel plow the ground to knock back the quackgrass and thistle. This year, however, if I pulled a chisel plow through a field, I'd simply be constructing huge mudballs and construct deep ruts in the group to haunt us for the next couple of seasons. 

    As you may remember my blog post a couple weeks back was about the mid-summer reset. Well, we're still waiting for weather to cooperate to do that. Fall brassicas are sitting in trays looking ugly and I'd love to plant some spinach for fall boxes, but putting a tiller in the ground is impossible. 

    So, I continue to channel low-grade disgust as I read a forecast or simply look out the window at yet another storm coming our way. Maybe you've got rain fatigue yourself - I feel your pain. 

    In the box: 

    Potato Leek Soup
    adapted from Food Network

    • A pound of leeks, cleaned and dark sections removed. 
    • 3 T butter
    • A pound of potatoes, peeled and diced small
    • 1 quart vegetable broth
    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 1 cup buttermilk 
    • Chives
    Chop the leeks into small pieces.
    In a 6-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks and a heavy pinch of salt and sweat for 5 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the leeks are tender, approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    Add the potatoes and the vegetable broth, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, approximately 45 minutes.
    Turn off the heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in the heavy cream, buttermilk, and white pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Sprinkle with chives and serve immediately, or chill and serve cold.

    Friday, August 11, 2017

    The Path to Farming

    All the jars stood in a long row on the kitchen counter, the red of the tomatoes all bright and the glass all shiny wet after a hot bath. My thought went to pioneers desperate to push through a looming winter or the grand storehouses of lost empires. It felt right and natural for this 8-year old me to have fantasies of a little cabin in the Beltrami forest where our family hunted, a refuge where I'd chop wood and garden and live an an idyllic life by myself, one with nature.

    As I was trying to recall what brought me to today and this is one of my earliest memories of being attracted to farming. I've met few people who decided their life's direction at age 10 and I'm certainly not one of them. I never grew up farming and agriculture wasn't on my high school strength inventory (where you take a test which ID's jobs which would fit your interests).

    My only farm-related experience as a kid was gardening in an abondoned lot which sat between some potato warehouses in East Grand Forks. My Uncle Doc was warehouse manager for Ryan Potato, who lived in a trailer on-site and our family shared a gardenspace with his family and my Grandpa Adolph. A lanky man who worked three jobs his whole life, my grandpa meticulously set coffee cans around tomatoes and watered religiously. This plot would never be found in Better Homes and Gardens, yet it brought together family, supplied us food, and gave us kids a reason to explore huge tracts of weeds near the rail line. Reflecting back on it, this minor chapter in my childhood made some mark on my life.

    Fast forward to college, the 20-something me re-found his food connection when I stumbled into my local food co-op in St. Peter, MN. A storefront the size of my kitchen, this was the coolest place ever with a countercultural vibe, intermingling a bunch of local La Leche moms and left-wing college kids like myself. I never grew dreadlocks or picketed offices in my radical youth, but I fell in love with the co-op movement as it fit my Midwestern upbringing. It was both radical in spirit and practical in execution. This love affair led me to my two-year farm apprenticeship and four years working for Mississippi Market Co-op in St. Paul upon graduating, rich experiences which truly did make me the organic farm operator I am today.

    In the box:

    • Green Peppers
    • Tomato Mix: Man, are these tomatoes slow this year! I had to hunt and peck like crazy to get this little mix of types. 
    • Sweet Corn 
    • Celery
    • Red Onion 
    • Sweet Onion
    • Cuke 
    • Summer Squash 
    • Yellow Potatoes 

    Friday, August 04, 2017

    Mid-Summer Reset

    Well, we made it to the beginning of August. This is the time of year when the major high season crops come in like tomatoes and sweet corn and when we have to turn our attention to fall crops. In the next week I'll need to clear space for salad mix, fall greens such as spinach, and fall brassicas like cauliflower and kohlrabi.

    Argo, the farm dog
    Seems easy enough, yet I find it hard to do this time of year as we spend a lot of time harvesting, washing, and delivering produce. When you spend your time a lot of time picking Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, it's a juggle which doesn't leave an opportunity for much else. But it's something we just need to take on sooner rather than later since the longer we wait, the further into the fall the crops get postponed. Even though spinach typically takes 45 days, with days getting shorter and shorter, we'll need to plant this week to have ready by the third week of September.

    In the box:

    • Beans 
    • Sweet Corn 
    • Parsley 
    • Yellow Potatoes
    • Sweet Onions
    • Bunch of Beets: See pickle recipe
    • Purple Peppers: A little deceiving, they taste just like green
    • Cucumbers
    • Celery 
    Granny's Quick Pickled Beets

    1 bunch beets, tops removed 
    1 cup sugar
    1 cup water
    3/4 cup white vinegar
    1 tsp salt
    2 bay leaves
    8 whole cloves
    2 allspice berries

    Place beets in large saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Low heat and simmer til done, about 20-30 minutes. 

    While beets are cooking, combine remaining ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil; simmer 5 minutes. Drain, peel, and cut beets in slices or chunks. Put into a jar and pour hot liquid over beets. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Makes about 1 quart. 

    Friday, July 28, 2017

    Lida Farm Tour

    A few CSA members took me up on my invite to join a little farm tour last week - thanks for coming. The tour was hosted with an organization called FARRMS, a sustainable agriculture organization in North Dakota. Part of their work is to support beginning and existing sustainable agriculture operators build their business and get going.
    I've hosted a number of tours at my place in the past and certainly participated in farm tours on other farms. There's no better way to learn the details of a farm operation than seeing it first hand and asking questions and getting answers directly from the farmer. \

    I'd say farm tours are more common among the organic community than the conventional farm communtiy, in part because there's greater experimentation in growing crops and tricks to deal with things like weeds and pests than on a conventional operation.  I also appreciate that the organic farming community is willing to share and support one another instead being competitive and throwing rocks at each other.
    The Half-Finished High Tunnel

    I don't know what tour participants had as a big takeawy from this week...maybe 'Ryan never finishes a project' or 'How do so many weeds grow in one location?' Whatever the takeaway, getting together and looking at crops should be a Midwestern tradition that never dies.

    In the box:

    • Sweet corn: Sorry Tuesday people, it just wasn't ready earlier in the week...a few days makes a difference. This is an early corn variety, so ears are always small.  You should see the stalks...they stand about 3 feet tall. 
    • Norland Red Potatoes
    • Cucumbers
    • Bunch of Beets
    • Green 'Stonehead' Cabbage
    • Green Onions 
    • Red Torpedo Onion: Use as you would any red onion, either fresh or in cooking.
    • 'Provider' Green Beans
    • Fresh Thyme: Small bunch in box.

    Friday, July 21, 2017

    Your Size is Not You

    First, let me say, I love the U.S., but I feel we have a problem in this country. Our culture loves big things: big cars, big yards, big businesses. I suppose it's not the bigness itself that's the issue, but this palpable sense that what's big is successful. Ladies over coffee fawning over another woman's kid whose billable hour is huge and clients are a household name drop phrases like "Wow, hasn't he made a name for himself." Neighboring farmers gawking at the 1,000,000 bushel bin put up by the ambitous guy down the road give their best Midwestern compliment, "Boy, he must be doing all right..." We judge places and organizations the same way. We're attracted to new development, more businesses of a growing community. We're dazzled with a store's bigger inventory, more products, and more and more and more.

    West Otter Tail County Fair with New Barn Quilt
    This thinking is quite natural. It's part of our biology to seek out abundance, just like our hunter-gatherer ancestors sought out huge berry patches. The problem, however, is how we internalize this thinking and apply judgement to our lives. I've felt this a lot in my adult life. Our 4H club is small - we're failures. Our school's enrollment fell - we're failures. Our sunday school attendance is down - we're failures. Our business is small - we're failures. I'm not alone - negatively judging ourselves in comparison to others is a pervasive and ugly epidemic in the 21st century that brings friends to antidepressents and rural communities to despair. Dollars flow to big box stores and local stores close. Everybody wants to be part of that big exciting congregation and rural churches suffer. That big school in the regional center offers more opportunity, so let's take our kids there and our district's school falls behind.

    If you know me and read this blog, I don't let these feelings affect me or second-guess the direction of my life. I put my energy into the small but beautiful things that feed my soul and our community regardless of the wider world: a tiny farm, small 4H club, and small sunday school. I also log hours on the board of MANNA Co-op in Detroit Lakes, a tiny store starting up in the next couple of weeks in the age of big box grocery. If we step back, I think most of us realize that these images of bigness and success are often mirages - they're fake. If I'm feeling cynical, these images of success are part of a big con game that multinational corporations are playing on us to consume more of their stuff or show their dominance to scare off competition; I certainly won't let some corporate exec in NY define me. So, what to do? Let's let go of all of this envy and baggage and dig into the work and love of our daily lives. It's exciting to see where it takes us.

    In the box:
    Fresh Fennel: See recipe
    A Couple Onions: The red one is a Tropea Torpedo Onion and the white is a sweet onion
    Norland Potatoes 
    Swiss Chard
    Greenleaf Lettuce
    A Cucumber
    A Couple Summer Squash

    Ryan's Organic Pizza Hotdish

    A pint of canned tomatoes
    Fresh Fennel 
    Mozzarella cheese 
    Olive oil 
    1 lb of penne pasta 
    1 cup of stock (chicken, beef, vegetable)

    Finished hotdish
    This is my organic take on my mom's pizza hotdish, which I love. I took a bunch of pictures like those food blogs with about 30 pictures before you hit the recipe :) 

    Sylvia with combined sauce and penne
    Heat oven to 350 degrees and put on salted water for pasta. Make a sauce by sauteeing equal amounts of chopped fennel stalk and onion in olive oil. When fairly soft, add minced garlic for about a minute before adding tomatoes, chopped parsley, 1/4 cup of wine and about 2T on anchovy paste (if you like the flavor). Let this simmer. Take penne out of water when almost al dente (leave will finish off in the oven).

    Applegate uncured pepperoni with Organic Valley Mozzarella for topping pasta

    Combine pasta and sauce and put into a 13 x 9 baking pan, cover with 1-2 cups of shredded Mozzarella, top with pepperoni, and put into oven until top browns a bit.

    As a bonus, you can take some of fennel fronds and combine with basil and lettuce for an herbed salad. I topped mine with caesar and Hakuri salad turnips.

    Friday, July 14, 2017

    New Equipment for a Small Farm

    There was a point last year when pushing a two-wheeled Vermont handcart up the hill near our house for the 1,000th time when I decided that I'd had enough. Since I started farming on my own in 2001 down in Lake Elmo, I transported my harvest bins around by hand. At that time I started I was 25; today I'm 40. I knew farming had already aged my body and continuing with this low-tech form of transportation was only going to age me quicker. 

    So, this spring I fell in love in with an Italian tiller from Grillo. Sometimes called walking tractors, these glorified tillers are used extensively in Europe where farms the size of mine are much more common.  Yes, they have rototillers like any old Troy-Built, but they are designed to fit a huge range of implements from mowers to cultivators to potato diggers. Considering my need for a nimble form of transport and a tiller to fit into the little spaces on the farm where the tractor doesn't work, I coughed up the $5k to bring this beauty on farm together with a cart. 

    It seems a bit funny sometimes driving around the farm on a seat behind a tiller, but with the special 'drive gear' it makes for a pretty nice ride and I'm confident will save me from early knee and back surgery. 

    In the box: 
    • Fresh Basil 
    • Fresh Fennel: Big bulb with celery-like stalks 
    • Broccoli
    • Arugula: Oakleaf-shaped green banded with a red band
    • Dino Kale
    • Green or Fresh Garlic: Cloves inside just like cured could let dry down until papery in a sunny, dry location 
    • Hakurai Salad Turnips: I just love these things...they are a very mild turnip that is made to  eat raw.
    • Summer Squash: Both a zucchini and a yellow straighneck or yellow zucchini, which you use the same as green zucchini. 
    Fennel Parmesan Recipe (adapted from Food Network)

    1 fennel bulb, cut horizontally into 1/3-inch slices
    Olive Oil
    2 T Parmesan Cheese

    Lightly oil the bottom of a 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish. Arrange the fennel in the dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then with the Parmesan. Drizzle with the oil. Bake until the fennel is fork-tender and the top is golden brown, about 45 minutes. Chop enough fennel fronds to equal 2 teaspoons, then sprinkle over the roasted fennel and serve.

    Friday, July 07, 2017

    Extreme Weather and Vegetables

    A giant wind blew across our bed at 5 am and a wind tunnel enveloped the upper story of our house for the next half hour. I initially thought it was just a front which would quickly pass over and I could go back to bed, but as the intensity increased, I knew I'd have to move and move quickly. Any passerby at the time could have caught the sight of me streaking across our yard at a breakneck speed to drop the roll-up sides of the greenhouse. You see, a hard and sustained wind like that would turn that open greenhouse into a 100-foot airplane wing, which, if I were lazy and stayed in my room, I could have watched take off into the neighbor's field like Mary Poppins leaving a party.

    In my line of work, I always hear about weather, and one of the common stories I've heard this week and I've told myself is how the weather has changed.  I'm 40 years old and I distinctly remember hail being a very rare occasion - maybe once every 2-3 years. Neighbors with more life under their belt than me always talk about a time when rain came slowly. A gentle rain would give the earth its 1 to 2 inches of precip over 8 - 24 hours. Instead, each time we receive and inch of rain as of late, it drops out of the sky in 40 mintues or comes with a 40-mph wind. This was the case the evening of the 4th of July. Violent winds coupled with hail and a downpour of rain - the level of downpour I imagine one would find in the rainforest. 

    This change in the weather has a signficant impact on agriculture. Although this effects all forms of ag, I think it has an acute impact on commercial vegetable production.  Certaily my friends growing corn and soybeans have issues with extreme weather and it can certainly affect their yield, but, at the end of the season, these tough crops almost always produce something to fill the contract. I've seen field corn laid flat on the ground in July which produced a decent crop by October. Hailed-on lettuce or ripped greens, on the other hand, don't pass muster with a customers and just don't get sold. Vegetable crops are delicate and fickle. In the big picture, they were bred to grow under very specific conditions and as our climate changes, I have to wonder what the future will look like in the long run. 

    In the box: 
    • 'Farao' Green Cabbage: See recipe below  
    • 'Imperial' Broccoli
    • Flat-leaf Parsley
    • Spinach: You'll see evidence of the hail 
    • Romaine Lettuce: Not the prettiest lettuce I've grown...looking good until the big storm this week. 
    • Bunch of Beets
    • Green or Fresh Garlic: Garlic with the stalk still on. You can use right now (it's a bit more pungent when fresh), or simply leave out in a dry, sunny location to cure it over the next 10 days for longer storage. 
    • Zucchini
    Dave's Mom's Best Slaw

    6.5 cups of coursely chopped cabbage, loosely packed
    1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks (about 1 cup)
    1/2 cup prepared mayo
    1/4 cup sugar 
    2.5 tablespoons cider vinegar
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 cup evaporated milk 
    1/2 cup minced fresh parsley

    2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or scallions (optional)

    Working in batches, fill a blender to the top with chopped cabbage and add cool water until 3/4 full. Whirl on low speed for about 4 seconds, just until the cabbage is evenly chopped - but not too fine - and transfer to a colander. Repeat with the rest of the cabbage. 

    Place the carrot chunks in the blender and cover them with cool water. Whirl for about 8 seconds. Drain the carrots very well. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, sugar, vinegar, salt, and evaporated milk and set aside. 

    In a serving bowl, mix together the well-drained cabbage, carrots, and parsley. Toss with the dressing and add more sugar, vinegar, and/or salt to taste. If you like, serve with chives or scallions. Tightly covered and refrigerated, this slaw will keep for a week. 

    Friday, June 30, 2017

    Men, Community, and Farming

    "Hand me that pipe have to turn that really tight for it to hold...thinking about where the world's heading, I really want you to go to school so you can work with your mind and not your hands..."  I received many lessons about life and talked about important things in our lives while working a jobsite with my dad.

    Since then, the men I've connected with the most has been through work. And I mean real work-not the two of us looking at an Excel sheet together-but physically laboring together. The act of work alone brought us together, and time working together was also the opportunity when we talked about things that matter: death and love, fatherhood, community responsibilities.

    I've had similar experiences with women in my life, certainly, but I bring this up in the context of men in large part because men have been in a funk lately. Men are all worked up about their identity and their role in today's age...the path just isn't as clear as past generations. This causes a whole host of issues as men shirk their 'traditional' responsibilities as fathers and husbands and engagement with neighbors.  

    Maybe it's just my blue collar upbringing, but I imagine we're in this funk because we've lost those work settings where we mentored young men and connected with each other. Since the beginning of civilation we've labored together side-by-side in this fashion and now we remotely play Playstation or watch ESPN together. In my view agriculture has and can still play this all-important role of bringing us together for real connection and giving us purpose. Instead of bemoaning the loss of farming as we often do, let's do some fencing already! Invite over some friends, get some nails, and build and create. Chase some calves together through a pasture. I think men and the world will be better for it - at the very least women will enjoy getting them out of the house for awhile.

    In the box:

    • Broccoli
    • Garlic scapes (see recipe below): Small bunch of green curley things with a rubber band. You can also check out this link if you're confused about how to use them.
    • Swiss chard: Colorful green banded together
    • Greenleaf lettuce
    • Napa cabbage: This is the second week, so I hope I didn't wear out my welcome on this one.
    • Radishes 
    • Cilantro: Small bunch of banded green
    • Spinach; Loose green on top
    • Kohlrabi: Big bulbou
    • Snap peas: Edible pod
    Green Surprise Dip

    1 cup steamed kale, Swiss chard, or spinach
    1 cup plain yogurt
    1 cup cooked chickpeas
    1/4 cup mayonnaise
    2 cloves of garlic (or use a 2-3 garlic scapes)
    1/2 onion
    1 tablespoon lemon juice or to taste
    1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste 

    Puree in blender or food processor. use as a dip for veggies, crackers, or chips. 

    Friday, June 23, 2017

    First Harvest of 2017 at Lida Farm

    Life can throw people curveballs, and so can Minnesota weather. Weren't we all just sweating in a dry heat about a week ago? This morning I put on a sweatshirt to pick radishes in a light rain because it's 50 degrees out. 

    Our wild weather ride provides me intersting growing challenges. So far I've really been striking out getting carrrots to germinate well. With the sun beating down day after day through May (when we typically seed carrots), the top of the ground just dries out too quickly and carrot seed is planted very shallow. On the other hand, hot and dry weather also keeps weed seeds from germinating, so we were able to get a fair amount of cultivating and hoeing done in May and early June. I suppose it balances itself out. 

    Kohlrabi Harvest at Lida Farm

    Yesterday, pulling kohrabi for the box, I hit a wonderful 'harvest flow.' Brand new harvest knife, LCD Soundsystem on my iPod and a beautiful evening...all was right with the world and harvesting was coming easy. This time of year I get excited about pulling veggies out of the ground and getting a new season rolling. There's nothing finer than getting something in your hand which took months of work. Let's just hope it's not just a flash in the pan and I can keep the energy up for the whole season. 

    In the box:

    • Napa Cabbage: Big item on bottom of box. See reciple below.
    • Green Onions aka Scallions
    • Westlander Kale
    • Small Bunch of Arugula: Oakleaf-shaped green with rubber band 
    • Kohlrabi 
    • Lettuce: This is a mix of types coming in, so people received green butterhead, greenleaf, or red butterhead. We doubled up small heads. 
    • Two Bunches of Radishes: Everybody received standard red radishes and some french breakfast radishes. 
    • Snap Peas
    • Fresh Mint

    Napa Cabbage Salad from All Recipes


    • 1 head napa cabbage
    • 1 bunch minced green onions
    • 1/3 cup butter
    • 1 (3 ounce) package ramen noodles, broken
    • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
    • 1 cup slivered almonds
    • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
    • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
    • 1/2 cup white sugar
    • 2 tablespoons soy sauce


    1. Finely shred the head of cabbage; do not chop. Combine the green onions and cabbage in a large bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
    2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
    3. Make the crunchies: Melt the butter in a pot. Mix the ramen noodles, sesame seeds and almonds into the pot with the melted butter. Spoon the mixture onto a baking sheet and bake the crunchies in the preheated 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) oven, turning often to make sure they do not burn. When they are browned remove them from the oven.
    4. Make the dressing: In a small saucepan, heat vinegar, oil, sugar, and soy sauce. Bring the mixture to a boil, let boil for 1 minute. Remove the pan from heat and let cool.
    5. Combine dressing, crunchies, and cabbage immediately before serving. Serve right away or the crunchies will get soggy.

    Wednesday, June 07, 2017

    Getting Ready for CSA Season

    Late night produce washing (fall, 2016)
    What does it take to get another CSA season off the ground? Energy, money, and the right frame of mind.

    Let's start with energy. Now that I'm 40 I'm pretty sure that I don't have the same amount of energy as when I started our CSA at the ripe age of 27. And I certainly don't have the grand sense of adventure of 24-year-old Ryan, who, as an apprentice at Foxtail Farm, looked forward to his second season like a new rock band firing up the van for their second world tour. Lately, all this heat and dry conditions have been testing my energy as we dash to keep ahead of weeds and weepy plants.

    Next, money. Ah, yes, the dreaded thing we Midwesterners often shy away from. I think for folks from the outside, a produce farm looks pretty simple, you know, a bigger version of anybody's home garden. In many respects, it's highly complicated and certainly one the highest input or expensive farms per acre you can find, especially when certified organic.  So far this season I guesstimate that about $23,000 has gone out the door.  The big checks were for a new greenhouse (which I've yet to finish) at nearly $10,000 and a new tiller at $5,000, but a bunch of others are pretty common no matter the season:

    • $3,500: organic seeds - crazy when you think that we only plant 4 acres
    • $1,700: organic fertilizer
    • $770: organic certification fees
    • $600: propane 
    • $600: waxed CSA boxes
    • And the list goes get the idea
    Lastly, and probably the most important, is getting in the right frame of mind. I think anybody can relate, whether you're running 5k or expecting 20 guests for a big holiday dinner, the ability to get your head in the game is critical to success. 

    Only in the past week, over 3 months since we planted our first seeds for the summer season, have I been getting there. I almost need a little panic to give me the adrenaline I need to go 'all in'  on the season. I received my warning shot this past week as pretty much every inch of ground has begun sprouting weeds and the plants are almost screaming for water in the hot, 20 mph wind. Game on, Ryan!

    Friday, April 28, 2017

    Do you want to buy from corporations or neighbors?

    Where you buy your food matters. Twenty years ago, if you bought organic, you were buying from family operators. Today, organic has gone corporate. Organic retailers and manufacturers are publically traded and stock market traders want their financial return.

    In the shadow of well-known organic brands owned by multinational behemoths like General Mills and ConAgra stands a thin phalanx of local farms building an alternative supply chain. When you choose to buy from these families and neighbors, you feed not just your stomach but really the businesses which will grow around you. It's not only money in the pocket of the farmer himself, but how those dollars flow to other local farmers and small businesses in your backyard. 
    Hugh Dufner, Hugh's Gardens
    A simple example is my potato seed. Last week I drove to Halstad Minnesota to pick up 500 lbs of seed potatoes from Hugh Dufner of Hugh's Gardens. Hugh has worked the trenches of organic production and marketing for a long time, and, like many I've known in organic farming, he is more motivated by healthy foods and farming than a dream of some potato empire.

    When I visited his warehouse, I was impressed by the activity. Five people were employed working the wash and packing line, a real buzz of activity in a seemingly sleepy town.   

    An even more inspiring part of Hugh's story is how he is actively transitioning his business. Instead of liquidating or selling out to some of the many new large operators jumping into the organic market, he instead is training in two young farm operators to take over. They are buying a home and moving up to Halstad. This is what a true organic food movement looks like. We not only grow without pesticides, but we deliver on the promise of organics to contribute to the wealth of rural communities. 

    Too often as corporations enter into organic food, they employ their same old tried and true tactics: drive down price by squeezing suppliers and cutting labor and wages. Their replacement of family-based businesses may save you 10 cents on your next food purchase, but I assure you that your rural communities becomes all the poorer for it. Instead, please seek out local producers like ourselves who are committed a local food system that benefits our Main Streets, not Wall Street.  

    Fergus dropsite is filled, but we still have room in Pelican Rapids, Detroit Lakes, and Perham on Friday afternoon. See or contact for details.  

    Sunday, February 05, 2017

    Taking on Memberships for 2017

    Crossing over the  line into February, we're just weeks away from starting summer transplants like peppers and tomatoes.  Yes, summer will come sooner than you think!  
    Now is the time to make plans for your summer produce needs.  We offer two kinds of CSA shares: a full share where you receive a 3/4 bushel box of what's in season every week for 16 weeks and an every-other-week share where you receive a box, well, every other week over the same time.  

    Full-Weekly Share (3/4 bushel box each week, 16 boxes):
    • Pick up at drop site or farm - $495

    Every-other-week Share (3/4 bushel box every other week, 8 boxes):

    • Pick up at drop site or farm - $255
    1.     MANNA Food Co-op in Detroit Lakes (Fridays)

    2.     Clean Plate Grocery in Perham (Fridays)

    Riverview Place  in Pelican Rapids (Fridays)

    4.     Keller Williams Realty in Fergus Falls (Tuesdays)

    5.     On site at Lida Farm (Fridays)

    Please fill our our 2017 order form below to join for the year.  We ask for half the payment when you sign up with the remainder due half way through the summer.