Agriculture stories from NY state

I spent part of last week on a quick visit to western New York, visiting my mother & brother to celebrate their retirement and high school graduation, respectively. Joanna worked hard to keep things under control on her own while I was gone, and we’re both grateful for the current cool weather so we can catch up on weeding and other chores.

While there, I was able to visit several farmers markets and travel around some. This week’s blog will be dedicated to some of the interesting things I learned, saw, and heard while there, including:

– observations from markets in Brighton, NY and Ithaca, NY, and on the diverse and (relative to MO) robust nature of western NY local agriculture.
– discussion of a NY program that dedicates funds to specific checks that low-income folks can use to directly purchase fresh produce solely from farmers markets.
– some hair-raising stories overheard from an Iowa chicken CAFO employee on the train back home.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, we’ll be catching up with the weeds, starting our planting of fall produce, doing a lot of manual harvesting of fresh beans and edamame, and working out the best management strategies for our fast-growing young chicks and turkeys. Look for edamame at market next week, and at Main Squeeze and Sycamore, both of whom have expressed interest in sourcing it from us.

Market plans, July 18

Looking back at our market stand last year, it’s interesting to compare the annual differences. We’ve certainly grown, as July 20th 2008 was our first market stand for over a month, whereas this year we’ve finally been able to maintain a good stand every week since the spring. We started selling cured garlic that day, as compared to a week earlier this year. Cucumbers and beans are earlier this year, but tomatoes are way behind. Edamame is way ahead, as we started selling it last year in late August, but this year the first varieties should be ready next week.

Part of last week’s market stand: NEW THIS WEEK:
More varieties of cured garlic. We grew 12 this year, and will be selling 8 of them. This week there will be at least four varieties available, most likely German Extra Hardy, Bogatyr, Georgian Crystal, and Chet’s Italian Red. The others were harvested later and are finishing curing. We’ll also likely have some new cucumbers.

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

We’re going to hold off on selling baby squash for a bit; it’s not that lucrative and zucchini are something we put up a lot of for winter. We also don’t plant much of it, as organic zucchini is problematic and it’s just not worth using lots of space for. So we’re going to focus on making our freezer quota of zucchini soup and shredded zucchini for a while, and maybe bring more to market if the plants are still going strong later in the summer. Kohlrabi are also done; we did one test bed this year and liked the tender ones we got, but many didn’t bulb at all and overall the crop was a failure.

Fresh edamame! These are so close this week, but the pods just aren’t fleshed out enough for harvesting. They’ll definitely be available next week; given the customer reaction last year, we can’t wait to start selling these this year.

Market plans, July 11

This week, as we often do, we try to find the balance between selling product and keeping it for ourselves. Potatoes and garlic are a great example of this, as we could certainly sell everything we grow, but feel strongly about feeding ourselves year-round and so withhold a significant quantity for winter storage. So the market quantity is always smaller than what it could be, but we prefer that to purchasing shipped-in produce all winter.

The first harvests of green beans and potatoes will be available. The beans are Fin de Bagnol, a fantastic French bean with memorable flavor and texture. Many customers adored these last year and have been asking about them. This week will be the first small harvest, probably just a few pints; the core of production will be over the next few weeks. Potatoes this week will be fresh Yukon Golds; big, beautiful yellow potatoes and very tasty. We only grew one 40′ row of these this year, so they’ll be a one-time product at market. There are three more varieties of potatoes maturing soon.

Cured garlic heads will make their first appearance, most likely German Extra Hardy and Chet’s Italian Red. These were the first out of the ground, so will be the first cured available. Over the next few weeks, the rest will finish and we’ll round out our display of multiple garlic options.

More amaranth greens, which sold out fast last week. We really like these as a summer cooking green, and are looking forward to the first customer reviews. Also more scallions and multiple kinds of onions. Small amounts of fennel, kohlrabi, and baby squash will be present, along with multiple fresh herbs.

Fresh garlic, as all heads have been harvested and are curing.

Edamame, tomatillos, more potato varieties, and cucumbers.

Food ideas for early July

Here are more enjoyable meals we’ve had recently, rooted in our farm’s products and other local food sources. As early summer items start to come on, we’re truly enjoying the ability to make diverse meals from truly fresh ingredients. One of the nice things about running a farm is that you get to eat all the seconds, produce that isn’t quite perfect enough for market but is plenty edible. So we end up with meals like these:

First, we have the vegan feast:

A vegan friend stayed with us for a few days last week, and we had a great time eating lots of meals fully sourced in some newly-available products like potatoes, green beans, and amaranth greens. Above, you see: Herbed new potatoes. Freshly dug Yukon golds, cubed and boiled, with olive oil, dill, and parsley. Sauteed amaranth greens. We like these as a summer green, cooked just like any other (collards, kale, etc.). Here they’ve been sauteed with chopped fresh garlic and tomato vinegar. Fennel & friends salad. Lots of fresh veggies chopped and tossed with a simple vinegar dressing. Fennel, baby zucchini, string beans, sweet onions, and more. This was a great meal, almost entirely made from items harvested just before preparation, with lots of different flavors and textures to enjoy.

Next we have a nice combination of potatoes and garlic:


At upper right is a nice “potato cake” Joanna tried from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Basically another form of potato pancakes (which we often make), this involved thinly sliced fresh potatoes, sweet onions, basil, cheese, and salt. It didn’t hold together like the recipe suggested, but it made an excellent hash. At bottom is a roasted fresh garlic bulb with a fresh flatbread to spread it on. This particular variety was Russian Giant, which we’re not selling. It roasted wonderfully into a smooth, buttery spread with a really mild flavor (a bit too mild for me, though tasty). There’s nothing like the flavor of roasted garlic.
And finally the fish chowder:
Made from a family recipe (my stepfather is an avid fisherman), this was based on a fat fish from Troutdale Farm. I started a roux of butter and flour, then sauteed some sweet onions. To this I added chopped potatoes and fresh shelled peas, and just enough water to cover. All this was boiled until tender, then I added the flaked fish along with salt and pepper. Finally I added fresh goat’s milk and the roux, and slowly simmered into a thick, delicious chowder. All the produce was ours, the fish, milk, and flour local, leaving just the butter as non-local. This was really, really tasty.

Food safety and liability

During my recent TV interview on food safety legislation, a new angle on the whole food safety regulation hit me, which the reporter found so interesting that she set the camera back up and filmed me talking about it (though they didn’t end up using it). Right now, it costs us lots of money annually to have farm liability insurance, including product liability, which we feel we need to avoid losing everything to a frivolous lawsuit or an innocent mistake. Yet the government is working to set up massive new regulations that would tightly define how we’re allowed to produce “safe” food. So let’s think about this: if I follow all these new FDA regulations, clearly that implies the food I’m producing is safe, right? If it doesn’t, the law isn’t worth crap. So if I’m following the regulations that are forced on me, I shouldn’t have to ALSO carry expensive liability insurance, because the government’s new regulations are supposed to define and enforce what safe food production is.

I might be more inclined to play along with these new rules if they come with a guarantee that the government will make me immune to liability as long as I follow the rules. As it is, though, we’re going to get hit from both directions. We’ll be shut down if we DON’T jump through all the government hoops defining “safe” food, but none of those rules actually carry any legal protection or meaning when it comes to our liability. So we’ll lose money complying with all this crap AND lose money paying for expensive liability insurance.

Also, most of the proposed rules are based on process, not product. They don’t define what safe food is, they define how safe food should be produced. They say “do this, that, and this, and the food will be safe” but don’t actually define what the end result should be. In other words, in theory they can set a safe allowable level for, say, E coli. If that level can be met, who cares HOW it’s met? Maybe Dole and I will find different paths to that safe level that work well for each of us. But right now, the legislation assumes that if Dole and I both follow the same strict production method, that will make the food safe. It’s silly.

The real kicker here is that liability insurance is a joke; no agent will ever inspect our farm to see if we’re actually clean or not. Our rates are completely unrelated to how we farm; it’s just a formula somewhere. The company has no idea what we do or how we do it, and has no method for judging the actual risk or quality of our operation. But if we don’t pay their magic number, arrived at who knows how, we are completely open to losing everything through either one mistake or one misunderstanding.

The whole system is a joke, or would be if it didn’t have such real implications for real small businesses and real food supplies.

Farm update, early July

As summer arrives, our attention is shifting to the main field, where beans, corn, okra, potatoes, sorghum, tomatillos, and more are coming on strong. Above, you see a healthy set of edamame plants, already setting their pods. We’ve been harvesting the first potatoes and green beans for ourselves, and enjoying them immensely. Look for both at market next Saturday.

The market garden is in transition, with virtually all the spring crops out and summer items getting started. Tomatoes, peppers, green beans, sweet potatoes, squash, and cucumbers are all growing, but not yet ready for harvests. We always get a late start on these items because of the cooler conditions in our valley, and this year were set back even more by some trouble with our indoor starts. In some cases, too, transplanting/seeding summer items in the garden is delayed by waiting for spring crops to finish. This was especially true for our beet beds, which took forever to mature, delaying the tomato transplants that were intended to follow. Right now the market garden looks strangely barren, with so many beds in transition, and with all the garlic beds temporarily empty now that we’ve finished the garlic harvest.

There are many updates for the animals as well. We finally got around to a long-intended project, moving the goat’s paddocks and hoophouse up onto a brushy ridge over our vegetable field. They’re now in heaven with lots of fresh browse to eat; we’ll be rotating their area every 3-4 weeks through the summer to keep providing fresh food and to help manage worms.

We’ve added four young ducks, intending two for summer meat and two for future eggs and more ducks. One Ameracauna hen is sitting on five eggs, which are due to hatch sometime next week. We also got our summer shipment of chicks and turkeys in, adding another 25 birds to the rotation. Below are the turkey poults:

And here are the chicks:

These are all from Sandhill Preservation Center, a fantastic small family outfit in Iowa that specializes in preserving rare heritage breeds. In this batch, we have more Black Ameracaunas to match our existing flocks, plus two varieties of Rhode Island Reds. Last year, we felt our one RIR rooster was the best tasting of any breed, and they’re supposed to be decent layers as well, so we ordered more. These are straight-run, meaning mixed genders, which we like because the young roosters become our winter meat supply and we can keep the hens for laying. We’ll be writing more about these later, including our new trial methods of brooding chicks on a more natural diet than processed chicken feed.

Other projects have including running a temporary water line to the main field in anticipation of normal drier summer conditions, and another up to the goat’s new paddock. We’re still finishing the fencing on the main field, including stringing electric wire along the top now that the corn is beginning to form tassels and raccoon season can’t be far away.

And, of course, lots of weeding, hoeing, bad-bug-squishing, and all the other day-to-day tasks it takes to keep this place running. The weather has been really cooperative, with rain timed once or twice a week and recent temperatures quite enjoyable. So far it’s really been an excellent growing season for us, and we’re looking forward to delving into the heart of our market season with the full garlic, edamame, potatoes, and more.

Market plans, July 4

We are very much entering our transitional period from spring produce to summer produce. Most spring items like beets, radishes, lettuce, peas, and greens are finished, but core summer items like beans, tomatoes, okra, and more are not yet ready. So the next market or two will be smaller than usual for us, but what we have will still be fresh and worthwhile.

We may have some amaranth leaves, which have a really nice flavor when cooked and make a great mid-summer source of greens. Fennel bulbs and kohlrabi will also make their first appearance.

Fresh garlic heads, sweet onions, scallions, young summer squash, a variety of fresh herbs, and more.

Beets are gone. We harvested all our remaining beets last week due to heat. I brought them all to market in coolers, not expecting to sell them all, but intending bring the remainder back and store the roots for sale the following week. That didn’t happen, as beets of all types were so popular that we sold our entire remaining stock by the end of market. Clearly we need to plant more beets this fall/next spring. So sorry to those hoping for more; I wasn’t expecting such good sales!

COMING SOON: Green beans are close. The earliest Fin de Bagnol green beans are ready, though we won’t have marketable quantities until next week. These are the best-tasting beans we’ve ever found, and customers last year agreed. The first edamame pods are forming. We dug the earliest potatoes for ourselves this week, so those are coming soon. Cured head garlic should be available within the next few weeks.

Very busy week

This blog will be inactive until Friday’s market report. We are taking advantage of the unseasonably cool weather and using all our time to try to get ahead on work before heat returns. Enjoy your hiatus from daily ramblings.

Market plans, 6/27

The weather for Saturday looks truly uncomfortable; sunny and highs near 100 with high humidity. I’m not sure we want to stay at market all morning; things will just start wilting. We’ll see how fast sales go.


Lots of beets in three versions: full bunches, loose beet greens, and loose beet roots. Also scallions, herbs, and sweet onions. These latter ones, which we started selling last week, are intensely sweet and the best we can remember tasting. They’re priced high and they’re worth every penny. We’ll also have more green garlic to tide folks over while the main harvest cures.
Clarification: these are full garlic heads, not green garlic stalks. They’re just harvested fresh instead of cured first.

The heat this week has finished off the peas; we’re still getting some harvest, but the plants are failing fast and the pods are starting to get fungus on them. We’ll quit while we’re ahead.

Cured head garlic should start being available in a few weeks. Also coming soon are the first plantings of green beans and summer squash.

I had a few folks regret missing the garlic last week, as it was sold out by the time they came. If you want to be sure to get it, let us know ahead of time and we’ll hold some for you.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.