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.

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.

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.
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.
Lettuce and our popular saute mix are done until fall.