Farm update, early August


We’ve had three really good market days in a row now, anchored by the very popular trio of diverse garlic, heirloom green beans, and edamame. We’ve been getting so much good feedback on these products and are thrilled with how well they’re selling and how much people like them. We haven’t had a whole lot of diversity lately, though, as our cherry tomatoes, okra, tomatillos, and other summer items are taking their time to come on.

The market garden has been somewhat neglected lately (I don’t even have current photos), as we’re spending so much time harvesting beans and edamame in the main field, and clearing & replanting beds for fall items. In the above photo, you see edamame in the foreground, newly planted fall greens & radishes behind them, sorghum off to the left, dent corn to the right, drying soup beans in front of the corn, then in the back middle we have edamame, amaranth, tomatillos, and okra. Not pictured are sunflowers, more beans, potatoes, and sweet corn (this latter just for us). The white blooms in the far back are a buckwheat cover crop which is loaded with bees right now.

Joanna, especially, has been getting fall items seeded in the market garden (collards, kale, mustard, bok choi, turnips, & more) . Our cherry tomatoes are finally ripening, and cucumbers & squash are finally producing (we only have small quantities of these last two).

Weather, as always, is a factor. Last week a strong storm swept over Goatsbeard Farm while I was working, pelting the dairy with pea-sized hail for about 15 minutes. Luckily this missed our farm, though the next morning a related front swept through with high winds, which funneled down our main field’s valley and flattened a lot of our very tall sorghum. Some of this has since made an amazing recovery, but there are still lots of broken stalks:

Otherwise we’re reasonably grateful to finally get some hot, 90’s weather. Makes life less comfortable, but we need it to really spur the tomatoes, peppers, okra, and more. And we’re still in very seasonal conditions that we really can’t complain about, given what they could be, especially with enough rain still to avoid too much need for irrigation.

We’re trying to stick to our summer schedule, working outdoors mornings and evenings and doing easier/indoor tasks during the afternoon. It works reasonably well, and I enjoy the chance for after-lunch naps.
On the blog this week, look for more on tomatillos, a post full of pretty wildlife pictures, and photos of good farm food.

Market plans, August 8

Good grief, have edamame been popular! We sold a lot last week, including 3lb to Uprise Bakery, and will be bringing similar amounts this week. I’ve been getting a lot of very good feedback about them, making the long daily harvests worthwhile. Overall we’re in a bit of a product rut, with about the same mix of items for the last few weeks and probably at least a few more weeks. But luckily they’re all very good and very popular products. Still, it’s a learning process on really getting our plantings correct to always have a diverse and worthwhile stand throughout the season.

NEW THIS WEEK
Nothing, really. The forecast heat & humidity will feel new.
ALSO AVAILABLE
8 varieties of garlic, all our standard herbs (basil, parsley, tarragon, lemon balm, 3 mints, chives), heirloom green bean mix, and several varieties of edamame.
DONE FOR NOW
Potatoes are done for a few weeks until our purple fingerlings are ready (if the voles haven’t eaten them all). Fin de Bagnol green beans are done for now, though we have a fall planting just coming up now.
COMING SOON
We got our first small harvests of tomatillos, okra, and cherry tomatoes this week. All of these will hopefully be producing market quantities within another week or two. Look for an article on tomatillos in next week’s Tribune food section.

Life with farm help

For the past month or so, we’ve had regular weekend help on the farm. An alumni of Joanna’s college (and another Geology major) has been working a summer job in Columbia, and has quickly integrated herself with the farm. Laura has been spending many partial/whole weekends out here, enjoying the farm and helping with whatever work we’re doing. It’s been a great arrangement, allowing her to get out of the city (she grew up on a farm) and giving us good company and excellent help.

It’s also allowed for some fun culinary cooperation. While Laura is vegan and we’re (on-farm) omnivores, we all respect the convictions that lead to our personal choices and enjoy crafting truly farm-fresh meals together. Laura is my kind of vegan, preferring to base her meals on real whole fruits, vegetables, and grains rather than processed meat substitutes (no tofurkey or soy dogs for any of us). We agree that it’s better to enjoy foods as they were meant to be, or avoid them altogether and accept that sacrifice to personal beliefs. Especially this time of year, it’s so easy to put together excellent meals based in our fresh produce that we don’t really think about the meals as “vegan”, in the sense of making a conscious choice to exclude something. It’s just a natural way for all of us to eat together on a diverse, productive vegetable farm.
Laura and her sister run a blog on food politics and other related issues, and she has written several recaps of time spent at our place. I found it fascinating to read her perspectives and descriptions on what goes on here, and thought other readers and customers might find these valuable as well. So enjoy:
Working with Laura has also been a good learning experience for us on working with regular helpers. By next year we’re going to need to arrange some form of help, whether interns or paid workers, as we keep expanding our offerings. So this has been a good trial run, and we’re grateful. We’ll miss her when she leaves.

Fresh duck meals

Earlier this year, somewhat on a whim, I brought home four young ducks from a nearby farm. Ducks are prolific egg layers and tasty, and I figured they would fit in well with our geese without adding too much management needs. That last part was wrong, as they were very independent-minded and continually failed to respect fencing. They regularly got into the chicken shed despite every attempt to rig things so chickens could get in and ducks couldn’t; once in they would eat all the grain and foul the water. Several times we caught them merrily exploring around the house, despite all the other birds’ willingness to respect their large fenced paddocks to range in. Finally, we’d had enough, and it was time for tasty, tasty duck.

We butchered all four one recent afternoon, saving two for fresh consumption and freezing two for later. We got four different nice meals out of the first two, briefly summarized below.

Roasted duck
We kept this one whole, stuffed the cavity with our fennel, onions, and garlic, and roasted it in a pan with chopped potatoes. I had rubbed the breast with orange zest, and the meat came out with a nice citrus flavor, while the roasted vegetables carried a good duck flavor.

Duck with peach marinade
This was loosely inspired by a recipe in the Tribune, which accompanied a nice column on the values of local foods and businesses. For our version, I marinated the breasts and legs from a single duck in a sauce of water, chopped market peaches, salt, sugar, and cider vinegar. Then I simmered everything together for hours, resulting in nice, tender meat that fell off the bone, topped with the reduced peach sauce. Served with sides of our fresh oven-roasted potato fries and sauteed fresh beans with garlic, this was a great meal (see below)

Duck broth vegetable soup
With any poultry we use, we always keep and boil the carcasses for broth, yielding lots of tasty liquid plus the last scraps of meat that are easier to strip once cooked. We generated several gallons of broth this time, freezing some and saving some for a basic soup. In this case, I just combined lots of our onions, garlic, potatoes, green beans, and zucchini in a long-simmering duck broth, with appropriate salt, pepper, herbs, and some frozen basil cubes left over from last year. Toward the end, I added a few cups of lentils for heartiness. Easy, filling, and tasty.

Duck stir fry
Finally, with the scrap meat left over from the four-carcass broth, I made a simple stir fry with the meat, our garlic, onions, green beans, and zucchini, flavoring it with soy sauce and rice vinegar. 15 minutes from start to finish.

All that from two young birds, plus two more in the freezer along with broth. Not a bad exchange, and our lives are just a little simpler again without four stubbornly independent birds crapping on our front step.

And, of course, no article on eating duck can end without a mention of the Fawlty Towers Gourmet Night:

Market plans, August 1

One of the challenges we regularly face consists of deciding when to stop harvesting something. From a harvest perspective, there are either one-time items (like onions, garlic, radishes, beets) or continually-producing items (like peas, beans, peppers, and tomatoes). Ok, and there are grey areas like cut-and-come-again greens. But the tough decisions come with the continual items, because their production is always in the form of a bell curve: early rises in yield, a peak in both quantity and quality, and then a slow tailing-off as the new growth slowly succumbs to pests and/or the plants just get old.

When to stop can be really hard to decide, because often there’s still a lot of food potential in the plants, but the quality is slowly declining to where they’re not really sellable anymore, or at least not at the near-perfect quality needed at market. We hate to rip up plants that are still producing food, but at some point they begin to create more work than practical as we spend more time sorting out bad product from good, and often we need the bed space for the next planting of something else.

This is our situation with regards to our popular Fin de Bagnol green beans this week. They’re still producing, and still loaded with flowers, but we’re definitely sorting out more and more bug-bitten or weird ones to get the same high quality we like for market, and we need the bed space for fall items. So this is the last week for these beans. Such tough decisions are one of the things that separate farming from gardening, in my eyes.

NEW THIS WEEK:
Nothing in particular. In a few weeks we expect to start having our first multi-colored cherry tomato mixes, featuring six distinct varieties. The first ones are just starting to turn color now.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
The core of the stand this week will be 8 varieties of cured garlic, red potatoes, two types of fresh edamame, and two types of green beans (Fin de Bagnols and our heirloom mixes). We’ll have LOTS of edamame this week, so hopefully it will last through end of market for all the later customers who have missed it the past few weeks. Herbs will be a little less plentiful, as we donated a lot of chives, garlic chives, and mint to the Taste of the Market event Saturday night.

DONE FOR NOW:
Amaranth greens are finished, as the plants are getting tall and the leaves are getting stronger. Most onions are finished for now as well.

COMING SOON:
Cherry tomato mixes, okra, purple fingerling potatoes, and more are coming down the line.

Taste of the Market

This Saturday, the Columbia Farmers Market and Sustainable Farms & Communities are hosting a fantastic event that any area readers of this blog should attend. The second annual Taste of the Market is a celebration of local foods in mid-Missouri, with over 20 local chefs and providers making and presenting foods sourced entirely or primarily from local producers. For just a $5 cover charge, you can explore the possibilities of our local food system, along with Missouri beers and wines. The event also includes live music and an outdoor screening of a food documentary.

Visit the event’s main page to see details; this is not something to miss! Even better, it’s serving as a fundraiser for the Farmers Market Pavilion, which is very much needed as the market continues to grow (we reportedly hit 6,700 customers last Saturday, in only four hours!).
See you there!

Farm update, late July

The last few weeks have been the busiest of the season for us, as will be the next few weeks. We have a great deal of produce coming on, particularly items which need to be harvested nearly every day to ensure their quality. This is especially true for our green beans and edamame; right now we’re spending hours a day picking these. They’re worth it, but still a time sink. Below, you see Joanna and our friend Laura harvesting Fin de Bagnol green beans.

There is always weeding and maintenance to be done, and with this cool, wet summer the weeds are growing fanatically. We’ve been trying to focus attention on the most needy areas, and so there are always areas which get left behind. It’s a constant battle, and one of the real challenges of organic management.
We are also in the middle of our best window for seeing most fall crops, such as greens, radishes, beets, lettuce, and more. If these wait much longer they’ll start pushing up against first frost dangers, but they can’t be done too early or likely August heat will affect them. So we’re working to get all these new beds seeded as soon as their summer crops (like potatoes and beans) are finished and we can clean out the bed and reseed. This work is also timed around rain chances, to ensure that the soil conditions are proper and the newly seeded areas will get some moisture.
Overall, it’s been a fantastic growing season for us so far. We have had to do almost no irrigation, with enough rain to keep things happy. Cool temperatures are keeping things like tomatoes and peppers back, but are really benefitting our large crops of green beans, edamame, potatoes, and more. We went heavily into beans this year and are seeing excellent yields. The potatoes have been really nice as well, though we’ve only sold smaller amounts because we intend to store many for our own winter and spring use. Below, you see the yield from one red potato plant.
In addition to all the vegetable maintenance and harvesting, the animals are taking up a fair bit of time. We make rounds twice a day (morning and night) to do their needed chores, which take 30-45 minutes each time. For the goats, we move their net fences once a week or so to bring them onto fresh browse, and bring them some hay and fresh water twice a day. We milk Garlic once or twice a day, along with feeding her some grain. All the birds (chickens, ducks, and geese) are let out of their enclosures in the morning and herded back in at night, with daily checks on water and grain. They spend the day ranging within the confines of fences, and we collect eggs daily. We also have our younger birds to manage, who have recently been moved into an outdoors enclosure and are now happily foraging for bugs and other natural feeds while still having access to their basic cracked grains. These, too, are locked away at night and need their grain and water checked daily. They’re great fun to watch chasing down protein:

We’re also working on another never-ending but very important task: putting up food for winter. With green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, and more really producing, we have to find the time to process, freeze, and/or can these items. We’ll be grateful all winter for these, but there’s not enough time in the day right now.

And, of course, there are the weekly tasks. Fridays are completely taken with market preparations, and Saturdays are taken with going to market (especially as we’re getting busy and large enough these days for both of us to be beneficial at the stand). That leaves us five days a week to manage all the other needs, and for the last few weeks we’ve been going 6am to 10-11pm almost non-stop. We did take a rare night off on Monday to go see Food Inc, and very much noticed the lost time in terms of work not done. More on that film later.

So that’s life right now. Should stay about the same through August.

HR 2749 – votes upcoming

The latest effort by Congress to push through new food-safety regulations is moving forward today in the form of HR 2749. We’re both tired of trying to keep track of the daily shifts in language and content in these amorphous but far-reaching bills, but the fundamental concern remains the same: These attempts to over-regulate our food system are a one-size-fits-all sledgehammer attempting to regulate every aspect of food productions regardless of size or context, and regardless of the actual danger to Americans posed by various aspects of that food system. The real danger here is that we’ll end up pushing through harsh legislation by playing on the fears of consumers about industrial food, but will end up with laws that won’t fix the real problems but will crush small farms’ independence. Just consider how many corporate food lobbyists have direct access to Congress as compared to folks like us.
Anyway, the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund is collecting last-minute messages and petition signatures to send on to Congress today. Here’s what we sent to our reps:

My wife and I run a small vegetable farm together, selling at local farmers markets and restaurants in Boone Couny. This is our primary business and we’re working to make a decent living at it. We urge you to oppose all efforts to implement overly strict food safety regulations that will seriously impede our ability to run a good business that grows fresh food for our community. At our scale, food safety is best enforced by the customers who know our faces and our growing methods; we don’t need new Federal rules holding us down when we’re not the ones causing food safety problems in the first place. Please support us, not these overreaching and un-American laws.


Beyond this, we’re just to busy to try to have more of a say. I don’t have any real hope that we’ll get a better system, at this point we’re just hoping not to be driven out of business.

Market plans, July 25

Market this week should be the same as last week, with more garlic and edamame.

NEW THIS WEEK:
More cured garlic, 6-8 varieties this time. Also more fresh edamame, two different varieties.

ALSO AVAILABLE: Amaranth greens, onions, herbs (including basil), green beans, fennel, potatoes, and more.

DONE FOR NOW: Yukon Gold potatoes.

Edamame

Fresh edamame are a delicious seasonal treat from the farm. These are edible soybeans, especially popular in Japan but catching on in the US. Generally you can only find them frozen in speciality food sections, but they can certainly be grown fresh by local farmers (just look at how many acres are in their commodity cousins in Missouri). We grew some for the first time last year at a foodie friend’s suggestion, and were amazed at their popularity. They just flew off the market stand, no questions asked. So this year, we planted a lot more.

We’re growing four varieties this year, each with their own features. Some mature faster, some have larger pods, some plants are taller, and so on. Above you see Joanna in a lush stand of beans; you can tell that the variety in the two right rows are taller than those to the left.

These were planted in our 2.5’x40′ beds, with lots of carefully planned experiments on spacing. We’re running a series of tests to determine the optimal spacing for our land, so that each variety is planted in either one or two rows per bed, with plant spacings of anywhere from 2″-6″. As we harvest, we’re trying to track what differences we see in per-bed and per-plant yield so we can improve our yields next year. We’ve already decided that the double-row plantings make harvest more difficult, as the plants tend to crowd the narrow aisles and make it hard to move.

Edamame form bush-habit plants with the beans mostly clustered along the stem, as seen above. Some varieties mature all at once, while others slowly mature to their own beat. Our earliest two varieties, Fiskby and Agate, fit the latter pattern, so we’ve been out every day or so harvesting pods as they mature. Edamame are reasonably easy to grow overall, as they quickly form a thick canopy that shades out weeds, and as a legume actually improve the soil as they grow. But harvesting them is extremely time-sensitive if you’re not using heavy equipment, as you have to move slowly down the row searching for plump pods among the still-growing ones. Much of the price we charge reflects the work involved in hand-picking to get just the right quality; this time investment will get even heavier as more varieties come on.

Edamame are quite easy to prepare; we just toss them in boiling salted water for 3-5 minutes. After this light cooking, they’re easy to shell and eat like a pea, with a really nice flavor. Some people will shell and then toss into a stir fry or salad, but most just eat them like popcorn. Several customers last year told me their kids loved the fun of shelling edamame, and they do make a tasty, salty, yet healthy treat.

In a time when most soybeans are large-scale, GMO, heavily sprayed commodities, we enjoy growing fresh organic beans as direct food rather than grist for the industrial food mill. Come to the market and try some for yourself!