Food ideas for late June

I dropped the What We Eat series months ago, after a nice long run, because it just got to be too much to track and write up. We’re still feeding ourselves primarily from the farm, though, and want to do a better job of discussing what that looks like throughout the year. This is especially true during market season, when much of what we eat, customers can too. So here’s a quick look at some of the better meals we’ve had lately, mostly based on items you can buy at our stand on Saturdays. You’ll notice that many of these use the same core ingredients, which demonstrates the versatility of good seasonal vegetarian cooking, as all had completely different flavors and appeals. Also important, all of these taste pretty good cold as well as hot, which is a big deal to us in a house where the air is conditioned by fans.

LENTIL-VEGETABLE SALAD

Lightly cooked green lentils make a really nice base for a salad of fresh greens, herbs, and vegetables. We cooked the lentils for 20 minutes until just soft, then tossed with about a 1/2 cup of a simple dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, chopped garlic scapes, and ground mustard seed. We let these stand for a while, then mixed in our own home-made feta cheese, shelled peas, chopped snap peas, scallions, sweet Walla Walla onion, dill, and parsley. This tasty mix can be used many ways; as a side dish, spread on bread or in pitas, or as topping for a lettuce salad. It’s very easy to make and most of the core ingredients can be gotten fresh from us or other farmers in late spring/early summer. The dill, parsley, and feta really help make this dish. Based loosely on a recipe from Quick, Simple, and Main-Course Vegetarian Pleasures.

PINK FRIED RICE


There are countless ways to make fried rice, but this one uses beet greens to add a neat color and flavor. We stir-fried sweet onions, scallions, chopped & shelled peas, and beet greens along with some cashews, then added cooked Missouri rice, some soy sauce, and a few eggs. Simple, tasty, and easy. The flavors can really be expanded with things like ginger, fish sauce, lemon balm, and so on, but even this basic version is quite good. I think the pink color is neat.

BEET PASTA

A quick, simple meal. We sliced a bunch of beets into thin strips, then sauteed in a generous amount of butter until tender, 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, we sauteed minced green garlic, scallions, and sliced beet greens, timing the greens to be tender (but not mushy) when the pasta finished cooking. At the end, we added some chives and home-made feta cheese. We tossed everything together with basic penne pasta (not necessarily the best pasta shape for this topping, but that’s what we can acquire in bulk). Tasty and colorful.

CHERRY-GOOSEBERRY-RHUBARB PIE


A clear taste of the season, this used pie cherries from the Market, our own wild gooseberries, and our own rhubarb. Combined into a basic pie filling with sugar and baked in a good lattice crust, this is just fantastic. We keep the sugar lower than most recipes call for, because we like the tartness of the fruit to come through; it’s more authentic. Pies don’t need to taste like candy bars. This was served with fresh home-made goat’s milk ice cream.

Harvesting garlic

One of the more exciting parts of the farming year is here: garlic harvest. Garlic is one of our better crops, and we’re very proud of it. After planting in October, we maintain it throughout the winter and spring to make it to this date eight months later. The earliest-maturing varieties are ready to come out, and they’re looking good.
We begin harvest when the leaves really start to die back. Everything looks green in the photo, but in reality many of the tips are starting to brown. Also, the soil conditions are near-perfect: still moist from the recent rains but drying out enough to not be a mess. If things are too dry it’s difficult to get the bulbs out of the hard soil, while it it’s too wet everything’s so muddy that cleaning is a pain. We prefer to minimize washing garlic since we’re trying to dry it, especially in humid conditions.
The garlic is pulled, then sorted into four grades. Every year we’re working to save more heads for planting next year’s crop, as the high-quality organic seed garlic we use is very expensive (around $3/head). Plus, we feel strongly about preserving genetic strains that are uniquely adapted to this farm’s conditions. So we grade heads into Seed (premium quality to be planted in the fall), A (good-sized heads sold for full price), B (smaller heads sold for a lesser price) and sub-B (under-developed heads that we’ll keep for our own use). We track the graded amounts for each variety so we can compare yields year to year.
Each grade is then divided into bundles of 5-6 heads, tied with a length of old baling twine saved from hay and straw bales used elsewhere on the farm, and hung in the rafters of our prep shed to cure for weeks. Garlic needs a spot out of direct sun, but with plenty of air movement, to help it dry and cure properly. If the process works right, it will store for a long time, allowing us to keep selling it for months. Rafters work great to provide this kind of shady, dry location with enough airflow to keep mold away.

Most of this work has been done in late evening so far, as the temperature and the sun drop. We’ve gone right through into dark the last two nights, finishing tonight by carrying the latest harvest into the house for light. They’ll be hung tomorrow morning.

We’ll be selling green (fresh) garlic for another week or two while the harvest is on-going, then there may be a short gap while the curing process finishes. Then we’ll have a consistent presence of our many varieties at market for the rest of the summer. Judging from the many eager questions I’ve gotten from customers who remember our garlic from last year, it’ll be none too soon.

Time management vs. disruptions

Recently when I wrote about our weekly schedule, one thing I didn’t really get into was the overall time management we use to keep up with everything. Keeping this place running takes some choreography, especially because many of our crop management techniques rely heavily on keeping ahead of problems like weeds and insect outbreaks. For example, it’s much more effective to keep things weeded and maintained on a regular basis as compared to the task of cleaning up an overgrown bed or field row. We really try to keep ahead of these things; it’s just so much more efficient to do things right in the first place.

The past week has thrown a serious wrench into our management plan, as all this rain and heat means the weeds are exploding, while we haven’t been able to do much about it since last weekend. As it turns out, running the farm tour last weekend was very poor timing given what came next, because the 2+ days we spent preparing for that could have been spent getting ahead on all the planting, weeding, and maintenance that are now a week or more behind. But, of course, we couldn’t have known weeks ago when we scheduled it that those two lost days would be followed by 10″ of rain, damaging hail, illness, and more.

I mention all this simply to illustrate the nature of running this kind of farm; you just don’t take days off very often. We do get mini-breaks a lot, an hour here or there, but it just isn’t practical or possible to ever stop working during the growing season because the task list is so susceptible to disruptions and distractions.

Brutal week

This past week was quite disruptive to the farm; until now we’ve had things running pretty smoothly and the weather had been quite good throughout the spring. That will never last forever, and this week marked the switch.

Monday through Tuesday we got 5″ of rain, which saturated the soil and forced us out of many outdoor tasks. Wednesday was a fine interlude, until the severe storms blew up that afternoon and pounded us with another 3″ of rain and damaging hail. Thursday morning I woke up feeling rather ill and wasn’t much use; Joanna had already planned on attending a quail habitat management seminar that afternoon, so she dropped me off at the doctor to check for tick disease. Tests were negative, but whatever it was didn’t really release me until the end of Friday. I struggled through helping with market harvest, but wasn’t of much other help. Besides, 8″ of rain meant that we definitely couldn’t do much else.

We had a decent market Saturday, but as we drove home that afternoon, the sky looked awfully dark, and the roads near home looked awfully wet. We got to the bottom of our hill to find that we had indeed gotten another strong storm, about 2″ in what the neighbors reported to be 30 minutes, which on top of the fully saturated soil produced one heck of a flood, including depositing a rather large log on our road:
These latest rounds of intense rainfall have caused damage in addition to the hail, and mean that everything is so wet it will be days before we get started on weeding and cleanup again (it’s not effective or good to pull weeds or work soil when it’s saturated). And, of course, we have a week coming up forecast for mid-90s and very humid.
It’s Missouri, and none of these events are at all unusual. But packed together like that, they made for a week to move on from. Interestingly, it was right about this time last year that I was writing about heavy rains and the problems they were causing…

Market plans, 6/20

It’s going to be a small market this week for us, due to seasonal changes and hail damage. I’m also not feeling very well, and Joanna may be selling for us on Saturday.

NEW THIS WEEK
Fresh garlic heads, first of the season. We’ll be bringing just a few to whet folks’ appetites, but the harvest will grow bigger and bigger over the next few weeks. Once the full harvest has been hung and cured, it will be a regular at the stand for the rest of the summer.
ALSO AVAILABLE
We should have beets again, though some leaves are shredded and we’ll be checking for damage to the roots. Some scallions and herbs will also be available.
Not sure if we’ll have any peas, we won’t know until we harvest tomorrow whether we have enough undamaged and mature ones to be worth bringing.
DONE FOR NOW
Lettuce and our popular saute mix are done until fall.

Oh, hail

We’ve had a rough few days here, weather-wise. Several rounds of storms brought around 5″ of rain early in the week, followed by a brutally muggy Wednesday that was crying out for strong storms to break out. And they did.

Lightning started crackling around us by late afternoon, and we soon had a very energetic thunderstorm building right over us. While I’ve seen worse storms in Texas and elsewhere around the West, this was the strongest we’ve had on this farm, with constant nearby lightning strikes, high winds, and heavy rain. The power kept flickering on and off, then finally died. Worse, pea-sized hail began to fall and kept up a pretty steady pelting for 10-15 minutes. Interspersed in this were larger chunks up to quarter-sized, bouncing impressively. Listening to our crank-radio, we heard reports of a funnel cloud being spotted along Highway 63 just southeast of us, and a tornado warning ended up being issued for parts of Callaway County, further along the storm’s track.

This storm dumped another 2.5″ of rain in less than an hour, on already saturated ground, producing another impressive flood on the stream and really causing problems for our produce, as this much water can drown roots and/or cause plants to topple over. But the real damage was from the hail, which shredded leaves and knocked down plants, while also punching plenty of holes in the row-cover fabric we use to keep insects off more susceptible items like squash. Here’s a photo tour of the damage:

Many scallions were knocked over, broken, or otherwise damaged. This one shows multiple hits that broke the upper two stalks, while the lower stalk looks like it took a direct hit that split it open like a bursting gun barrel. Not sellable.


Sturdier items like beets have some holes and broken leaves, but should be ok, especially as they’re nearing harvest. As we pull them, though, I suspect we’ll find some bruised roots that took direct hits on their shoulders. Given that we sell our beets with greens on, for extra food value, this will diminish the value of many.
Beans, too, are relatively resiliant to small hail, though like any other plant the holes and shredded leaves weaken the plant and make insects and disease more likely. This is a particular problem for organic growers who rely strongly on healthy plants to fend off problems on their own.
Hardest hit was zucchini, because these plants rely on upright, delicate stalks and large, tender leaves. These guys really got hammered, with the stalked broken and flattened and the leaves shredded. They’ll probably recover, but zucchini are so susceptible to insects and disease already that this will really increase their risk down the road.

Out in the field, we lost some young sorghum and corn to direct hits, while all the beans and potatoes are showing some shredded leaves. Still, it could have been worse, as I expect most things to recover. Very little was truly destroyed as it easily could have been if the hail had been any worse.

So we’ve now had around 8′ of rain this week, with another round of strong to severe storms expected Friday. For context, I looked into our blog posts from last year, and found a long article from June 26, 2008 lamenting the heavy rains and storms that were causing problems for us. It’s an interesting read for comparison; back then the whole state was getting pounded and rivers were rising fast, whereas this latest storm just impacted a narrow swatch of mid-Missouri.

It’s nice to not worry about irrigation so far, but this is far too much. I’m staying indoors today, with an expected heat index well over 100F; I’m not adjusted to this yet and nearly gave myself heat stroke yesterday working to finish a new goat hoop in our upper pasture.

UPDATE
And here is what hail-damaged peas look like:

Our market stand may be pretty small this Saturday.

Food safety and local TV

Local TV station KOMU called yesterday, planning to do a story on the food safety bills now before Congress (for background, see my post on HR 875). A very nice reporter drove out to the farm around 5:30 pm to interview and take footage for the 10pm newscast. We had a good time; she was intelligent and asked good questions, listening to the answers and asking followups. There is so much to say about how screwy these top-down, one-size-fits-all attempts to “fix” food safety that I was having a hard time condensing my thoughts into sound bites that would work for TV, but did my best.

This is why I don’t like TV as a medium, though. All reporters have to filter the large amount of information they gather, but TV makes it especially hard to present context and reasoned argument. After all, she spent over 30 minutes here, but had less than a minute to cover the entire topic. This format works for house fires and lost dogs, but not for serious public policy issues. It would be nice if (a) stations gave their reporters more time to do real stories, and (b) the audience demand supported such things.

In any case, watch the piece here and judge for yourself. I think it’s well done given the constraints, but no one sound bite can possibly convey the deeper discussion we had during her visit. I do wish they had used another quote from me, as that one out of context just makes me sound like any other business person instinctively bemoaning regulation, with none of the background arguments for why this particular regulation really is impractical. I felt particularly strongly about the point that on a farm like ours, customers can come out and inspect the production process for themselves; the FDA can’t possibly match that kind of relationship. To give credit, she did mention that during the voiceover, but with a couple more minutes she could really have delved into the issue in a way that would inform the viewer. Not her fault, though; it’s the nature of the (badly misused) medium.

June animal photos

I’ve had multiple requests to post more animal photos. I guess vegetables just aren’t as charismatic, though they’re less risky and more lucrative.

First, the newest arrivals. Joanna is holding one of four young ducks that we acquired this week as our first foray into duck-raising. We have them housed in a temporary mobile pen made from used chain-link fence panels, which we can drag around to keep giving them fresh browse. At least two of these will be meat when they get a bit bigger, but we may keep a pair to breed, as ducks are pretty prolific and could be a good side source of income. That’s if the coons don’t get them first, which is always a possibility with poultry.

Then we have a gosling, which like all baby animals is ridiculously cute.

And a kid meeting a hen. Just after the shutter clicked, she snapped her head around and pecked his inquisitive nose away. I would have loved to capture that.

And, for good measure, here’s a pretty fun video of the kids playing on our goose shed. I was hoping to capture one of the flying leaps they use to get on and off the shed, but you still get the idea. They just fling themselves into midair with no concept of where they’re going or what’s below them.

They’re insanely energetic, and we’ve been a bit worried that they would run over a gosling as they charge around and leap on and off the shed. As it turns out, that worry was justified, as I found a flattened gosling last night that had clearly been killed by one of the kids as it jumped off the shed and onto the unsuspecting gosling. So we’re down to one.

Farm tour recap

GETTING READY
We put a lot of effort into preparing for this first farm tour of 2009. We worked through a two page checklist to make sure the tour would be as safe as possible, especially for children. This included walking the tour route, making sure it was clean and safe (no tripping hazards, tools left out, etc.), and in some cases working to improve the route. We collected all tools and other hazards and placed them out of sight; this was especially important given that we expected several families with kids. We planned out what we wanted to say where, to keep it moving while hitting all the important topics. We cleaned up the house and the prep shed, and even did some mowing. Overall, we spent the bulk of our time Saturday through Sunday afternoon getting ready.

THE TOUR
We started in the market garden, explaining our core approach to integrated intensive organic growing. Then we moved up to the fruit plantings and discussed our active logging efforts and how that work fit into the rest of our farming. From there, we cut through some woods, over a ridge, and down into the main vegetable field, to talk about our expansion into larger-scale production. We finished by visiting with the farm animals as a nice, fun close. Afterwards, we served samplers of farm-fresh flatbreads with our fresh-made goat cheese and produce while answering any remaining questions.
I felt we had a great time, as those who came seemed to really enjoy the walkthrough and the discussion. It was a good first experience for us in giving an organized tour (as opposed to just hosting individuals by request). We’ll probably shoot for late July or early August for our next tour. By then, we’ll be in the peak of our summer growth, though the weather may not be as comfortable as the glorious day we had this time.

Recipe: roasted beet salad

Fresh spring beets are a delicacy. We grow multiple heirloom varieties with different colors, which offer many possibilities for good, simple meals. American cooking tends to reduce beets to an overcooked purple pulp, which is a real shame. I think beets are best lightly cooked, or even better roasted, which brings out their sweetness and flavor. Here’s an easy way to use a bundle of fresh heirloom beets from the market; remember to save the greens for cooking or making broth.

Preheat your oven to 350F. Peel the beets and slice cross-ways into thin circles, maybe 1/4′ thick. You want them solid, but not chunky. Evenness will help them roast correctly together. Toss the beets in a bowl with some olive oil, black pepper, salt, and a bit of apple cider vinegar. When the oven is ready, spread the beets on a baking sheet and drizzle the rest of the oil over them. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until they are partially tender but still solid (NOT mushy).

Prepare a simple salad base of fresh lettuce, maybe some nuts and raisins, and top with the roasted beets. A bit of feta cheese goes very nicely on this as well. A simple oil and vinegar dressing works well, so you don’t overwhelm the natural flavors of the beets.

Simple, but delicious for a light spring meal or side.